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Neapolitan pizza dough from a real pro
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Neapolitan pizza dough from a real pro

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Pesto Pizza

Pesto pizza: Feel free to use your own homemade basil pesto or a high quality purchased pesto made with extra-virgin olive oil. Spread a thin layer on the dough, top with a layer of fresh basil leaves, and sprinkle with shredded pecorino and mozzarella. Bake on a preheated pizza stone or steel if you have one.

Despite the hot weather, I’ve been adding heat to my kitchen by firing up the oven to bake pizza. I’ve been pizza crazy lately, and I want to share with you a terrific recipe for Neapolitan Pizza dough created by Melbourne, Australia, chef Johnny (Gianni) di Francesco. I happened across his YouTube video recently, and he has so much to say and demonstrate, you just must have a look. But before heading there, I want to tell you about this terrific pizza dough.

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When making dough, professional bakers usually describe its consistency using the term “hydration.” This just means the percent of water in the dough. For example, a 60% hydration tells us that the dough is 60% water by weight in relation to the flour. So 1,000 grams of flour (1 kilo) needs 600 grams of water to achieve 60% hydration.

The kind of flour you use for pizza is most important. Johnny di Francesco uses Italian Tipo 00 (type 00) for his dough. For pizza, a 12.5% to 12.7% protein content is ideal. In the United States, flour companies are beginning to label their bags to show the protein strength of the flour. Bravo to that! For example, King Arthur bread flour has a protein level of 12.7%.

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I’ve also become a fan of Italian pizza flour, Antimo Caputo brand, Tipo 00, which is also high in protein (12.5%) and makes a great pizza. My feeling is that it’s not only the protein content but the fineness of the milling that plays a role in the final result. The Tipo 00 is more finely milled than King Arthur bread flour. I’ve not made side-by-side tests of King Arthur bread flour and the Antimo Caputo Tipo 00 flour in pizza dough, but I’ve switched to the Italian flour exclusively because my results are always consistent. It’s available from many online sources. Johnny di Francesco is spokesperson for a particular brand of Tipo 00 flour, but it’s not necessary to use it to achieve similar results.

One more thing. You’ll often see Tipo 00 flour referred to as a soft wheat flour, suited for making cakes and pastries. Not so! Tipo 00 simply tells you that the flour is finely milled; it has nothing to do with gluten content.

Happy Pizza! The video link to Johnny di Francesco is at the end of the recipe.

Neapolitan Pizza Dough

Johnny di Francesco’s pizza dough has flour, water, salt and yeast. Here’s his full recipe. It makes enough dough for 6 pizzas. I cut it in half to make three 270-gram (scant 10 ounces) balls of dough, enough for three 10-inch pizzas. Johnny uses a small nub of fresh yeast, the size of the tip of his little finger. I use instant yeast.

You can make the dough by hand or with a stand mixer and dough hook. Johnny lets the balls of dough rise overnight in a cool place (60–65 degrees Fahrenheit) and then refrigerates them.

600 ml (600 grams) cool tap water

30 grams salt

1,000 grams (1 kilo) pizza flour

2 grams (2/3 teaspoon instant yeast; I use SAF brand)

1. Put the water into a large bowl and stir in the salt. When dissolved, add 100 to 200 grams of the flour (just eyeball this amount) and mix it in. Johnny uses his fingers. Add the yeast at this point and stir it in. It dissolves quickly. It’s important to keep salt and yeast apart from each other at first because direct contact with salt will kill the yeast.

2. Once the yeast is dissolved, gradually mix in the remaining flour to make a firm non-sticky dough. Turn the dough out on your work surface — lightly floured if necessary — and begin kneading it by folding the dough over and over itself and pushing it away and bringing it back towards you for 7 to 10 minutes until you have a smooth, elastic dough. Feel free to use both hands.

3. Shape the dough into a ball and take its temperature with an instant-read thermometer. It should be between 73 and 78 degrees F. If it’s a bit higher, that’s OK, too. The dough temp will tell you that the gluten has been sufficiently developed. Another test to see if the dough is well- kneaded is to push the tip of a finger into the top of the dough ball, remove quickly, and the indentation should disappear in a second or two.

4. The next step, letting the dough rest, is important. Cover the dough with a damp cloth and let it stand on your countertop (or in a bowl) for 2 hours. During this rest, the dough relaxes and will be easy to shape into pizza dough balls for their final rise.

5. Cut the risen dough into 6 equal portions (about 270 grams each) and shape each into a taut ball (see the video). Place the balls well apart in two or more covered containers. Johnny says to let the dough rise overnight between 60 to 65 degrees F. This long cool rise is important for the full development of the dough’s texture and flavor.

I bring the pizza balls in their containers down to my basement, where the temperature is a cool low- to mid-60 degrees F. At the end of the long rise, if the balls of dough have risen and spread out a lot, I reshape them, cover, and refrigerate for 1 to 4 days.

6. When ready to bake pizza, let the balls of refrigerated dough stand on a lightly floured surface, covered with a dry towel, for a couple of hours before shaping and baking.

Shaping the pizzas is a trip. Johnny does it so quickly it’s nothing short of amazing. Just follow his movements and over time you’ll get the same results, but maybe without the same speed. If you have your own way of shaping pizza crust, please carry on.

7. To make the pesto pizza in the photo, I spread the pesto onto the shaped dough, cover it all over with fresh basil leaves, and sprinkle with a couple of ounces each of grated pecorino and shredded mozzarella.

I bake the pizza on a preheated baking stone or baking steel.

8. For baking, I lay the shaped dough onto a sheet of cooking parchment resting on a board or one-rimmed cookie sheet. After putting the toppings on, I slide the pizza and parchment onto my heated baking surface. Be sure to preheat a stone or steel for 1 hour at 500+ degrees F. My pizzas bake in 8 minutes. Traditional pizza ovens do the job in under 2 minutes. Slide the pizza onto a cookie sheet, transfer it to your cutting surface, and let the pizza rest for a few minutes before cutting and serving.

NOTE: If you want to make multiple pizzas, shape and top each while the previous one bakes. Feel free to invent your own toppings.

Time to watch Johnny di Francesco sharing his tried and true methods for producing outstanding Neapolitan pizzas. Here’s the link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Q_9h6VKm9c

Warning: You may see a political ad first. When “Skip Ad” appears, click on it and you should get to the video.

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Greg Patent is a James Beard Award-winning cookbook author for “Baking in America,” a food journalist, blogger, and radio co-host for “The Food Guys” on Montana Public Radio. Please visit his blog, www.thebakingwizard.com, and follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

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