Enjoying pizza on a Friday night has been a tradition in my family ever since we lived in London. We were lucky enough to live not far from the Orgegano (now Stef's at Oregano) in Islington where we would go for their delcious pizza parmigiana, umbria and calzone.
Ever since time I've been trying to recreate the flavours and textures in my kitchen at home. My first attempts at hand kneading were frankly terrible and resulted in a pizza that lacked the lightness and chewiness that the professional chefs so easily produced.
As time went by I got better at making pizza at home. The feedback from family steadily improved and I finally achieved that light and airy pizza base using a conventional oven. Here's the method that works for me.
These ingredients and methods have been compiled and adapted from advice and lessons learned from expert pizzaioli like Giampiero de Falco the original owner of Al Volo in Mt Eden, the staff at Oregano and more recently from the videos by Enzo Coccia and Davide Civitiello.
This recipe should make enough pizza dough for four or five adults based on 200g servings.
Neapolitan pizza dough
- 320ml water (37%)
- 9g salt (1.5 tsp) (2%)
- 3g of yeast (>1%) (fresh if you can get it, or a teaspoon of dried yeast)
- 7g sugar (1%)
- 16g olive oil (2)
- 500g of Italian 00 flour (~58%) or similar medium protein content flour (or a mix of half plain, half strong flour)
- 12-18 grape- or cherry tomatoes (traditionally the Pomodorino Vesuviano variety) or two cans of crushed Italian tomatoes
- 1 tsp of salt (adjust to taste)
- Drizzle of olive oil
- 6-8 large leaves of fresh basil
- 50-100gm of mozzarella sliced into 1 x 4 cm strips
- A splash of Worcestershire sauce to taste (optional)
- A slpash of balsamic vinegar to taste (optional)
- Pizza stone or heavy baking tray
- Pizza spatula (optional), metal fish slice and a sharp knife
- Two large mixing bowls
- Air-tight plastic containers for cold leavening
- A large serving spoon
- Salt, pepper and extra flour for dusting
Prepare the dough
For best results start at least one day before you intend to serve to allow time of cold leavening.
Tip: Begin with the water and then add dry ingredients.
Pour the water into the first bowl then add the salt and mix until dissolved. In the second bowl, add half the flour then crumble your fresh yeast and combine with the flour. If you're using dry yeast, first rehydrate the yeast in half a cup of tepid water before adding to the flour
Begin adding the flour and yeast mix to the salted water to make the initial mixture. Add the sugar gradually as you work the mixture together.
Gradually add the rest of the flour measure as needed to make a solid (but still sticky) ball of dough. The exact measure of flour required for this recipe will depend on the ambient humidity and temperature of your kitchen. 500 ml of water should absorb 500 - 600 gm of flour.
Add the oil to the mixture and combine. Add it early in the process if working the mixture by hand, or three minutes towards the end if using a mixer
Tip: A wood-fired pizza oven burns at about 450°C and cooks a pizza in 90 seconds. Your home oven clearly won't get that hot, so your pizza will take longer to cook — about 8-12 minutes. Your homemade dough needs to be reasonably wet to withstand the longer cooking time in a conventional over.
Once the mixture reaches a solid consistency fold it out onto your work surface to begin to knead. Knead the dough on a floured work surface for about 20 minutes or until you get a smooth and elastic dough. Cover the dough so it doesn't dry out and leave to rest for 20 minutes
After the dough has rested, cut it in half to form two long strips. Cut each strip into 200g portions for adults or about 150g for children
Form each portion into a ball by hand (or by gently rolling it on the worktop beneath the palm of your hand) and then cover and leave to prove for 6-8 hours.
Tip For improved flavour, texture and digestibility, transfer the dough balls to air-tight containers. Allow enough space in your containers for the dough balls to expand. They should remain seperate from each other while proving. Prove the dough at ambient temperature for an hour before refrigerating for up to 24 hours. The dough will continue to ferment in fridge. The longer, slower fermentation will help develop the flavour and structure of the dough. Air-tight containers will protect the dough balls from the drying effect of the fridge and allow an atmosphere of CO2 to and stave off oxidation.
Prepare the tomatoes
Tip: The tomato topping should not be cooked or blended. You're not making a pasta sauce. Instead, you're creating a light topping which highlights the freshness, texture and flavour of the tomatoes. The flavours of your pizza bread and toppings should complement each other without one overpowering the other.
In a medium bowl break up the of tomatoes by hand. Add torn basil leaves and drizzle of olive oil and combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. For best results prepare the tomatoes the day before to allow the flavours to develop.
Add Worcestershire sauce and balsamic vinegar to balance and finish the tomatoes. This addition isn't authentic, but I like the umami boost you get from the Worcestershire sauce.
Prepare the mozzarella
Cut your mozzarella into slices of about 1 x 4 cm. Cut the mozzarella rather than tearing it to keep the water leaking out of the cheese and saturating your pizza dough as it cooks.
Stretch the pizza dough
Set your oven to it's highest temperature and place the pizza stone or over tray high in the oven.
In this step you're aiming to work the dough as little as possible while forming it into a circular shape.
I can't stress this enough. At no time should a rolling pin come into contact with your pizza dough. While it's tempting to use a rolling pin, all you're succeed in doing is crushing the air and structure out of your dough. Rolled-out dough will result in a tough, leathery pizza. Resist the temptation to roll!
If you cold-proved your dough, remove your container(s) from the fridge an hour or so before cooking time and let the dough balls to come back up to room temperature.
Remove the dough balls from the air-tight containers (you might notice a gasp of CO2 escape as you open the lid) by gently folding them out onto a piece of baking paper.
If your dough balls have expanded into each other, carefully cut them apart with a sharp knife then lift them out of the container with a fish slice or pizza spatula. You don't want to dent or break the risen dough otherwise it with collapse. In one steady movement slide the slice / spatula under the dough ball without breaking its surface tension. Lift it out of the container and place on the baking paper.
Using the pads of your fingers, lightly poke the dough moving from the centre outwards and leaving the perimeter untouched. Flip the dough over, rotate half and repeat. You can now gently stretch the dough.
Place the palm of your hand flat on one side of the dough and with your other hand stretch the dough. Rotate the dough by a quarter turn and repeat until you'll pulled the dough into a plate sized circle. You should be able to form the dough in to a circle fairly quickly. Work as gently has possibly to keep as much air in the dough as you can.
Dress the pizza
Spoon the tomatoes onto the pizza base. Work the mixture with the heel of a large spoon until it covers the base except for the crust. Add the mozzarella strips, basil leaves and finish with a drizzle of olive oil.
Cook the pizza
Slide the pizza on to the pizza stone or baking tray and cook for 6-12 minutes depending on the strength of your oven. The pizza is ready when the crust and underside is golden brown. The crust should be soft and chewy when eaten.
Serve the pizza with a drizzle of olive oil, cracked pepper or or a dash of a mild chilli sauce.
Did something go wrong?
Did your dough not turn out the way you expected? Was your pizza too dry? In this video Enzo Coccia — a master pizzajuolo from Naples — describes the six most common problems made during preparation of the pizza dough.