A pizza dough is actually really simple. It’s just a mixture of flour, water, yeast and salt. The science behind these simple ingredients is quite remarkable though, so I’ll do my best in explaining it to you trying not to get too nerdy.
Disclaimer. There are many schools on how pizza should be made, many different recipes and many techniques. The following is our family recipe, tested by I cannot even count anymore how many people and, if followed properly, will give you an excellent pizza crust.
This is the single most important element of the pizza dough. Flour contains the gluten we so badly need to create those bubbles we like so much. The longer we want our dough to grow, the stronger the flour we need to keep the air in the dough and avoid collapsing. Here comes handy the W index, which is an indicator of a flour’s strength.
|Less than 170||9-10,5||Weak Flours. For biscuits, shortcrust pastry, grissini, crackers, cakes with chemical leaveners and such|
|170-240||10,5-12,5||Medium Flours. For bread, baguettes, focaccia and pizza|
|300 or more||13-15||Strong Flours. For sourdough starters and long rising doughs such as panettone|
Now, the proteins contained in flour are four, but depending on where the wheat is grown, the proportion of these proteins may vary, so the only way to find the perfect, local flour for your pizza is to try them out.
Here we are talking about the hydration of the flour, meaning how much water can the flour take in. Just remember this: the more protein a flour has, the more it will absorb water, the more elastic the dough will be and the easier it will be to bake long-rising leavened goods.
|W INDEX||PROTEIN %||HYDRATION %|
|Less than 170||9-10,5||50-55%|
|300 or more||13-15||70-80%|
The leavening agent
Last but not least, let’s talk yeast. The purpose of yeast in a dough is to produce gas such as CO2 (carbon dioxide) which, at high temperatures, expands creating the bubbles we like. They also produce substances that affect the flavour and aroma of the baked product.
In our family we’ve always made pizza with fresh yeast and it’s worked like a charm. It’s less processed than the dry yeast, it’s very affordable, you can freeze it and it’ll stay good for a month.
The amount of yeast depends on the hydration of the dough, the leavening time and the temperature (are you raising your dough at room temperature or in the refrigerator?), but it’s about 0,2-1% of the flour weight. Meaning that for 1 Kg of flour you need 2-10g of fresh yeast. Divide to 3 if you use dry yeast.
So now you see what’s wrong with all the recipes that ask you to add crazy amounts of yeast? You want to give your yeast time to eat all the sugar they find in the flour and emit carbon dioxide, aka, the bubbles. Hence this explains why sugar shouldn’t usually be added to the dough, because the yeast will in time find enough sugar from the flour itself, whereas by adding sugar to the dough you would just speed the leavening. Some say that added sugar will make the crust more brown, but we tried both ways and we prefer the version without sugar. At any rate, if you want to try and add sugar to your dough, prefer a natural sugar such as malt syrup and at a ratio of 1% of the flour’s weight.
Papà Toio’s Pizza Dough
Many times I try to come up with fancy recipes for the blog, when really most of the times are the simple recipes the ones you are interested about. This one is a family heirloom: Papà Vittorio’s (called Toio by his friends) Pizza Dough.
At first I felt very jealous about this recipe. I refrained from sharing it. After all, my dad took years to develop it and perfect it. I think it was less than two years ago when I made pizza for 40+ people using this recipe and after that everyone wanted to know how to make it too. So I started with one friend, wrote the recipe down for him and the look on his face when I gave him this piece of paper was like the one a kid would have after having understood why the sky is blue. So then I decided I’d share the recipe with everyone who asked. Lately people have been at home and have had more time to cook and bake from scratch. And the requests for my dad’s pizza dough started flowing in, so I thought I’d put it here for all of you to use and enjoy. And yes, don’t worry, my dad gave his blessing on this and he’s just happy people enjoy making his pizza dough. So, let’s get crackin’!
What about the tomato sauce?
I want to reveal you a secret. The secret of Italian pizza: good, fresh ingredients. Without them, no can do.
This is also true for the tomato sauce. Many ask me what’s in the Italian tomato sauce and my answer is usually a confused face followed by the answer: tomatoes? On pizza there goes tomato pulp, traditionally San Marzano tomatoes, not some weird sauce you boil! Add some oregano or basil and good olive oil, and that’s literally it. But I get you, the tomato pulps you find in your nearest supermarket taste terrible so you feel like adding some garlic? Sure, I forgive you. Just remember: you just won’t be able to recreate that wonderful Margherita you ate that time when you visited Naples. Simply because if you live in a land with snow 8 months a year or anyways you don’t live in a Mediterrean country that has super hot summers, you probably just won’t be able to get the key raw ingredient you need and long for.
Papà Vittorio’s Pizza Dough
- 1000 g of medium flour 11-12% protein
- 600 ml lukewarm water
- 5 g fresh yeast
- 24 g salt
- Add flour and salt to a bowl and mix well.
- Melt the yeast into the lukewarm water and gradually add it to the flour. Mix with your hands or with the help of a spoon.
- When the dough starts to come together, pour it on a floured surface and knead the dough energetically for about 10-15 minutes, until it looks nice and smooth.
- Lightly oil or flour the bowl and place your dough in it, make a couple of cuts 1 cm deep on the dough.
- Take a kitchen towel, wet it and squeeze out of it the excess of water. Cover the bowl with the wet towel and place the bowl inside your turned off oven, door closed. *
- Let the dough rise for 12 (maximum 15) hours. **
- Heat your oven as hot as it gets.
- Gently remove the dough from the bowl onto a floured surface. Divide the dough in 7 and gently roll each dough with circular movements and shape it into a ball. Let the dough balls rest under a towel for at least half an hour.
- Once your oven is ready, take one dough ball and start working it into a pizza shape, either with your hands or with a rolling pin.
- Top with your favorite toppings and bake it until the crust is slightly browned and crispy looking! ***
A special thanks to Jami from Tuba that finally helped me understand how flours work here in Finland!
One last thing. Let’s debunk the myth many non-Italians have, that is that the combo wine + pizza is a match made in heaven. I dare you go a pizzeria in Naples and ask the waiter what should you drink with your pizza. My husband, wary of my strong opinions about the matter, did it and the befuddled look in the eyes of the waiter is something I’ll hardly forget. The answer is one: BEER. Pizza and beer. Beer and pizza. This is the only combination you’ll ever see in Italy. Coke for kids. Enjoy!