It seems like I’m on a perpetual quest for the perfect pizza dough. My idea of a perfect pizza is a thin, crisp crust (not necessarily brittle and crunchy all the way through, though I like that style at times), with a delicate layer of sauce and just a few toppings. I’m not into the thick crust, overloaded “thanksgiving lovers” pizza, though I can understand and respect the folks who are.
The trick for making the type of pizza I like is a dough that has sufficiently developed flavor so that it tastes like something even if it’s thin. It also has to be the type of dough that takes to rolling thinly. I once found a recipe for the perfect pizza dough. If I remember correctly, it incorporated semolina (or was it durum?) along with all-purpose flour, and a little olive oil. And it took little time to make. I could whip it up the afternoon of the evening I wanted pizza for dinner.
I made it several times and it rolled out beautifully and stayed even and flat during baking. It was a gem of a recipe. And I lost it. I can’t even remember where it came from. One of my cookbooks? I’ve looked and come up empty handed. A web site? I’ve searched and found some that sound similar, but not the same.
I was excited to try the BBA Pizza Napoletana recipe because I know Peter Reinhart is a pizza aficionado and, since he knows bread, I figured he’d have some helpful ideas about getting that perfect crust. And he does. At least in some respects, this is a really good crust recipe. In particular, the flavor development is excellent, and this is at least partly due to the slow, cool, overnight fermentation of the dough in the refrigerator.
Making the dough is a simple affair of mixing (chilled) flour, salt, yeast, and ice water. Keeping all the ingredients chilled helps delay the onset of fermentation. If you’re using high-gluten or bread flour, the recipe suggests adding 1/4 cup of olive oil to the dough to help tenderize the dough (olive oil is not a traditional ingredient for Neapolitan pizza dough), but the all-purpose flour version is fine without it.
This is an extremely sticky, wet dough, so either knead it in the mixer (the dough will clear the sides of the bowl, but will stick to the bottom), or knead by hand in a bowl by using a stretch-and-fold kneading technique. For either method, knead for 5 to 7 minutes, then turn out onto the floured counter, divide the dough into pieces (one for each pizza you plan to make), and roll each piece into a ball, flouring the outside well to keep it from sticking. The whole process of mixing up the dough is quite fast (only about 20 minutes total).
You can now put the dough balls in the refrigerator to ferment overnight for baking the next day. If you want to prepare the dough for a later day (which is what we did), you can lightly oil the dough balls and put each in a separate freezer-safe bag and put in the freezer. When you’re in the mood for pizza in the next three months, all you have to do is transfer the frozen dough balls to the refrigerator the day before you want to make pizza and then follow the regular recipe from there.
On baking day, remove the dough balls you want to use from the refrigerator, allow them to warm up for a couple of hours, then stretch the dough flat, add your toppings, and bake. Since I like a crisp crust, rather than putting the toppings on and baking it all at once, I pre-baked each crust for about four minutes, then added the toppings, and finished the baking for another few minutes.
See step-by-step photos for this bread here.
We froze our dough and saved it for a weekend when we had some friends of our daughter over for a sleepover. The kids made their own pizzas (one all cheese with no sauce, one mostly sauce with little cheese, and one with fairly equal amounts of each), and Michael and made ours: duck confit, homemade chutney from a friend, and chevre. It was a wonderful pizza.
Pizza Napoletana dough is not the pizza dough of my dreams, but it’s so simple to make and store, and the flavor is great, so this recipe will stay on my list to make again. At least I know that I won’t be able to lose this one!
The Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge is a group of home bakers, scattered across the planet, focused on one goal: completing every recipe in Peter Reinhart’s book, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, in order, and writing about our experience. Want to join us? Buy or borrow a copy of the book, open a big bag of flour, and plunge in!