Pizza is one of the most famous dishes in the world, and probably one of your favorites. It can be hard to get your hands on great Neapolitan pizza. But you don’t need to travel to Italy to have authentic Neapolitan pizza. With a few simple ingredients and a couple of cheap tools, you can make better pizza than your local pizzeria. And here’s how!
What is Authentic Neapolitan Pizza?
Neapolitan pizza is a thin, crispy pizza that has a raised edge, with simple, well-balanced toppings. You’ll usually find San Marzano tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella on the pizza, combined with one, or a couple of toppings. Neapolitan pizza is baked in a hot wood-fired brick oven, and therefore often comes with a charred edge.
In 2017 the culinary practice of Neapolitan pizza baking was even granted UNESCO-status.
To be considered a true Neapolitan pizza, it has to follow the strict regulations defined by the AVPN (The True Neapolitan Pizza Association). AVPN was founded in 1984 to protect the art of authentic Neapolitan pizza. The organization defines everything in the pizza baking process from the ingredients and toppings to the method of making the dough.
That’s why this recipe is based on AVPN’s standard. That’s what true Neapolitan pizza is!
The standard is however hard to follow, that’s why I’ve created this recipe, to try to make it easier to make amazing pizza for anyone.
What Makes Neapolitan Pizza Dough Different?
The crust is perhaps the most important element of Neapolitan pizza, it’s therefore important to master the dough.
Neapolitan pizza has a flat thin base and a raised edge. To make a really thin pizza base the dough has to be elastic and stretchy. It’s actually required to be stretched out by hand according to the AVPN. To achieve the right consistency of the dough, a high gluten flour, combined with kneading is required. The pizza dough should then be left to rise for 8-24 hours before forming the pizza base.
Because of the long leaving time, you don’t want the dough to be too hot, since this will make the yeast work faster. Therefore, you have to start with cool water, unlike most other types of dough where you want lukewarm water to get the yeast started.
Since Neapolitan pizza is served in portion-sized pizzas, the dough for is split into pizza balls after bulk fermentation. This process is often referred to as “balling”. According to the AVPN, each pizza dough ball should be between 200 and 280g (7-10 oz).
The pizza should also be stretched by hand, and the final pizza should have a diameter between 22 and 35 cm (8.5 and 14 inches).
Ingredients for Authentic Neapolitan Pizza Dough
An authentic Neapolitan pizza dough consists of only 4 simple ingredients: flour, water, salt and yeast. To make great pizza it’s important that each of these ingredients are the best you can get your hands on.
Flour is the most important ingredient in the pizza dough. You simply can’t make authentic Neapolitan pizza dough with all-purpose flour. Firstly, it’s not approved by the AVPB, secondly, then you’ll not get the right consistency. What you need is an Italian Tipo 00 or Tipo 0 flour. Tipo 00 is an Italian-milled, finely ground wheat flour with high protein content. “00” refers to the finest milled flour on the Italian flour scale and is also the highest quality flour made from the core of the wheat.
The protein content of Tipo 00 flour is around 12%. The high gluten protein content is important to make an elastic, stretchy dough. When you’re kneading the dough, gluten strands get longer and stronger and make the dough strong and elastic. You can read more about pizza flour here.
I recommend using Caputo pizza flour for your pizza dough. Antimo Caputo is well known for their quality flours, and is considered one of the top pizza flour producers in Naples, The company is also an approved suppliers by the AVPN.
Read more about Caputo flours here.
The water has to be clean, and ideally around 20°C (68°F) when you start baking. The reason you start with cold water, unlike most other pizza recipes, is that you want the dough to be at the perfect temperature for rising at around 23°C (73°F). When you’re kneading the dough the temperature will increase, and if you start with too hot water the dough may be too hot when you’re done kneading.
If the weather is very hot, you want to start with even colder water to reach the ideal fermentation temperature. You should however not go lower than 10°C (50°F), since that can slow down the fermentation too much.
Using a stand mixer to knead the dough will increase the temperature more than kneading by hand due to the mechanical work. You should therefore also start with colder water if you’re using a stand mixer.
You should use good, fine sea salt for your pizza dough. The main purpose of salt is to tighten the gluten structure, to make it retain more water and CO2. This will make the dough less prone to tearing and help develop a nice and elastic dough. Salt also controls the rate of rising by slowing down the yeast. In addition to that, salt also helps enhance the flavor of the pizza crust.
Traditionally natural fresh Neapolitan yeast or brewer’s yeast is used for pizza dough. But you can also use active dry yeast, like Caputo Lievito. Because Neapolitan pizza is left to rise for 8-24 hours, the amount of yeast is pretty low.
Another thing worth mentioning is that the amount of yeast is not propositional with the other ingredients in the recipe. For example: for one liter of water, you should use 0.3g of active dry yeast, while for five liters of water, you should use 1g of yeast, not 1.5g, so even if the amount of dough is multiplied by five, you should only multiply the amount of yeast by around three.
How to Make Authentic Neapolitan Pizza Dough From Scratch
- 1 liter (33.8 oz) of water
- 1.7 kg (3.5 lbs) of type 00 flour
- 50g of salt
- 3 g of fresh yeast or 1g of dry active yeast
Making Authentic Neapolitan Pizza Dough
Traditionally Neapolitan pizza dough is mixed in a wooden tray, but a big mixing bowl will also do. The first step is to pour the water into the tray or mixing bowl. It’s important that the water isn’t too hot, since that may kill the yeast. The ideal temperature is around 20 °C (68°F). The reason why we start with the water, and not flour, like most recipes, is that it’s much harder to add extra water later if the dough ends up too try. Next step is to add the salt, and dissolve it in the water.
Proceed by adding around 10% of the flour while incorporate it into the water. Try to get a smooth consistency without any lumps. Next you can add your yeast, and dissolve it. Continue adding flour, until almost all is incorporated.
Now you can transfer the dough to a lightly dusted work surface, and start kneading. A stand mixer with a dough hook can be used, but I recommend just kneading by hand. This gives you more control over the dough. Continue kneading the dough for at 20-30 minutes, until the dough gets nice and smooth. You can check if dough is done by lightly pressing the dough down with one finger. If it’s ready, the dough should spring back. The dough should now be around 23°C (73°F), and is ready for fermentation.
The first part of the rising process is bulk fermentation. Here we’ll leave the whole dough in room temperature for at least 2 hours. The purpose of bulk fermentation is to get the yeast started. When the dough is fermented in bulk the yeast tend to work better than in smaller, individual pizza-sized dough balls.
Place the whole dough in an airtight container with some extra room to let the dough grow. You can also leave it in a bowl with covered with plastic wrap or a damp towel.
Make Dough Balls
The next step is making dough balls, also called balling. You want to make dough balls between 200 and 280g (7-10 oz). I usually aim for 250g (9 oz), this will make 11 equal-sized pizza balls. 250g dough balls is perfect for 30 cm pizza (12 inches).
Balling can be done in several different ways, but the easiest is probably to cut them into the right size using a knife or a dough scraper, then roll the dough balls like you’re shaping bread rolls. I recommend using a kitchen scale to measure your dough balls. They don’t need to be 100% accurate, but you want to aim to be within a few grams at least.
If your dough balls end up too heavy, you can just cut off a small piece at a time until you reach the desired weight. And if they end up to light, use some of the excess dough from another dough ball, and just lightly press it to the bottom of the dough ball.
When they’re all measured, and equal in weight, fold each of them over themselves a couple of times and shape them like a bread roll. Then place them either in one large rising box, or in smaller, or individual containers. The container has to be airtight to avoid a hard crust to develop on the surface of the dough balls. You can also use plastic wrap over bowl if you don’t have any airtight containers. If you put several dough balls in one container, leave some space in between each dough ball, so they have some space to grow.
The Second Leave
Now you wan to leave the dough balls for 20-24 hours in room temperature, or ideally slightly lower at around 20 °C (68°F). The long leaving time will enhance the taste of the final pizza final crust, and create more complex flavors.
Forming the Pizza
The last step is to form the pizza. Take one pizza ball out of the container with a spatula and dip it lightly in flour (Tipo 00 flour). If the dough were placed too close to each other during the second leave they might not be round anymore. If the dough ball is not round and even, press the edges in and spin the dough on the countertop a few times.
Next, press the dough with all your dingers, starting from the bottom and working your way up to the edge furthest away from you. You should leave 1-2 cm (0.5-1 inch), that will form your raised edge. Turn the pizza, and repeat a couple fo time until you have a nice, even pizza base with an edge.
Continue by placing your right han flat, inside the edge, and drag the pizza lightly outwards with your left hand with your thumb and index finger on over, and the three other finger underneath the dough. Try to stretch the dough around 10%, and fold it over the inside of your right arm. Then throw it over and back to the countertop. The dough should now spin around 1/3 of a rotation. Continue this until the pizza base is around 0.25 cm (0.1 inches) in the center, and has a diameter of around 30 cm (12 inches).
Topping and Baking Neapolitan Pizza
Authentic Neapolitan pizza can have a variety of different toppings, but most of the them have at least tomatoes and mozzarella.
Since Neapolitan is baked in a very hot oven, the tomato sauce is not cooked before it’s added to the pizza. The best tomatoes for Neapolitan pizza is San Marzano tomatoes. If you’re using tomato sauce, I recommend using around 80-90g (3oz) for each pizza.
Check out our recipe here: Authentic Neapolitan Pizza Sauce.
If you’re using cheese for your pizza, the main cheese should be fresh buffalo mozzarella or the “fior di latte” (mozzarella made from cow milk). These cheeses are high in moisture, and also often comes in a container willed with liquids. I, therefore, recommend to remove the cheese from the container, let it drain for a while, and then store it in some paper towel to get rid of some of the moisture.
You can also use grated hard cheeses on your Neapolitan pizza. Just sprinkle the cheese over the pizza with a circular movement.
Baking Authentic Neapolitan Pizza
According to the AVPN, Neapolitan pizza should be baked in a wood-fired pizza oven at 430-480°C (800-900°F). At this high temperature, the pizza will be done in 60-90 seconds.
When you have topped your pizza, move it to a pizza peel (read more about pizza peels here), and make the final adjustments to the shape of the pizza. Then move it to the oven and slide it off, into the pizza oven and bake it till the crust is starting to brown, and the cheese is melted. The heat is usually uneven in the pizza oven, being hotter closer to the fire, so you may have to turn the pizza to cook it evenly. When the pizza is done, slide the pizza peel under the pizza and remove it from the oven.
If you don’t have a pizza oven at home, a great alternative is to use pizza steel. A regular convection oven usually can’t reach 430°C (800°F), but you want to get it as close as possible. Therefore, pre-heat the pizza steel in the oven at the highest setting for at least 45 minutes to an hour to make sure the pizza steel is as hot as possible. If you have a grill element in the oven, turn on that too to make it even hotter. Then use a pizza peel to transfer the pizza, in the same way as for the wood-fired oven. The cooking time on pizza steel is around 5-6 minutes, depending on how hot your oven gets. If you want to read more, check out our article on pizza steels.