How do you make Neapolitan pizza? Here’s the Perfect Recipe

In Pizza Oven Recipes

Making the perfect Neapolitan pizza is a topic of much debate among professional and amateur pizza makers alike. Discussions often focus on the dough preparation, spreading techniques, topping choices, and cooking methods. Although pizza seems like a simple and quick dish to prepare, pizza chefs know that creating an exquisite pizza involves hours of hard work, study, and the selection of the best methods and ingredients.

In recognition of the skill involved, UNESCO declared the art of the Neapolitan pizza chef an intangible heritage of humanity in 2017. This honour highlights the wealth of knowledge and tradition that goes into preparing authentic Neapolitan pizza.

In this article we’ll try to clarify the main aspects to consider when making authentic Neapolitan pizza.

First, we’ll discuss the dough, including the choice of ingredients and the rising methods and times, followed by the authentic Neapolitan pizza recipe.

Next, we’ll cover crucial traditional aspects, such as hand-kneading the dough, the “slapping” technique, and preparing specific sauces and toppings.

Finally, we’ll explain how to perfectly cook pizza in a wood-fired oven, and provide tips for making Neapolitan pizza at home using an Alfa oven.

The Neapolitan pizza dough recipe

Let’s start by discussing the choice of raw ingredients, the crucial foundation for achieving excellent results in any dish.

The Neapolitan pizza recipe requires type 0 or 00 soft wheat flour, water, salt, and yeast. To honor Neapolitan tradition, avoid using any other types of flour and do not add oil or any other fats to the dough.

The quantities of ingredients for the pizza dough are typically based on one liter of water, which requires about 45-50 grams of salt and approximately 1.7 kg of flour, resulting in a dough with about 60% hydration.

The hydration can also be slightly lower, meaning you add a bit more flour to the same amount of water, resulting in a dough that rises faster and remains rather tough, a characteristic of Neapolitan pizza.

Alternatively, you can slightly increase the dough’s hydration by decreasing the amount of flour relative to the water. Ensure you use stronger flours to form a good gluten base. This adjustment requires extending the rising times to match the growth period, producing a more easily digestible pizza. To achieve this, reduce the amount of yeast and let the dough rest in the fridge.

Finally, the amount of yeast you add to the dough varies based on several factors. Consider the temperature and the planned rising time, which can differ depending on whether you manage the rise slowly or quickly and the room temperature.

Another key factor in proper rising is the type of yeast used and how it interacts with the quality and amounts of the other ingredients in the dough.

For reference, it’s best to use between 2 and 5 grams of fresh brewer’s yeast per kilogram of flour. If using dry brewer’s yeast, use between half and a third of the amount of fresh yeast. For those using a starter culture, the amount can vary greatly, typically between 5 and 20% of the weight of the flour, depending on the starter’s strength and the other factors mentioned.

Now that we’ve taken a good look at the ingredients and the correct amounts in the Neapolitan pizza recipe, let’s take a look at a few important precautions for fully respecting the Neapolitan tradition, with some advice on all the stages of preparing our favourite dish.

How to make authentic Neapolitan pizza

The main features of the traditional Neapolitan pizza recipe concern three fundamental aspects, which are:

  • The method of making the dough.
  • The dough spreading technique.
  • The main ingredients in the pizza sauce.

So let’s take a look at the Neapolitan pizza recipe for each of these preparation steps.

1 – The method of making the dough.

Now that we’ve covered the ingredients and their quantities, let’s discuss the method for making Neapolitan pizza dough.

Making Neapolitan Pizza Dough

The Neapolitan pizza recipe involves making a direct dough, where all ingredients are added simultaneously, without pre-mixes like biga or poolish.

The only technique used to strengthen the dough’s gluten is autolysis, although many Neapolitan pizza makers skip this step. Autolysis involves starting a dough with at least half the water and flour from the recipe and letting it rest for about 30 minutes. This process helps activate the flour, enhancing the dough’s elasticity and toughness.

For homemade Neapolitan pizza, the dough is usually made in the afternoon and eaten in the evening. Pizzerias often refrigerate their dough to manage rising times over several days, but this is unnecessary for home baking. At home, the dough typically rests at room temperature, only being refrigerated for a few hours in very hot weather.

Dough Preparation Process

The Neapolitan pizza recipe calls for a fast dough. An important aspect is that salt and yeast can be added simultaneously but separately, as direct contact weakens the yeast. Typically, salt is added at the end to avoid drying out the moisture, which is crucial for the gluten formation, but this step is less significant for Neapolitan pizza due to the quick preparation and rising times.

To stay true to Neapolitan tradition, prepare the dough on a wooden board. Start by placing the flour with salt on one side and yeast on the other, ensuring they don’t touch. Gradually add water to the yeast side and begin mixing that part of the flour by hand. Once the yeast dissolves and half the flour is mixed, finish adding the water and incorporate the flour with salt, mixing gradually.

Knead the dough vigorously for at least ten minutes, turning it over itself several times with both hands. A good technique for developing gluten is to lift the outer parts of the dough over the center in circular folds, forming a single smooth, homogeneous ball.

Strengthening the Dough

To further reinforce the dough, use the three-fold technique: spread the dough in two opposite directions and fold it back on itself. This increases gluten elasticity and is done after a ten-minute rest post-mixing, followed by another ten-minute rest before forming the dough balls.

For authenticity, each dough ball should weigh around 300 grams and should rise in wooden containers.

2 – The dough spreading technique.

Once our dough balls have risen well and the oven has been properly preheated, it’s time to roll out our pizzas like true pizza chefs.

Spreading the Dough

To make an authentic Neapolitan pizza, start by gently crushing the dough to move the air from the center towards the edges, forming the characteristic Neapolitan pizza crust. Lightly flour both the worktop and the dough, and repeat this on both sides of the pizza.

At this stage, you should have a small, thick disc of dough. This needs to become thin in the center with a pronounced Neapolitan crust. Achieve this with the few typical movements of the Neapolitan spreading technique, known as slapping.

The Slapping Technique

The slapping technique involves lifting one edge of the pizza with one hand and placing it on the other hand. With a quick rotation of the wrist, turn and enlarge the dough simultaneously. By repeating this movement quickly, you can enlarge the pizza in a short time, typically using only three or four slaps to complete the rotation and finish spreading the dough.

This technique requires practice to master. Additionally, the dough slapping technique needs to be performed with speed to be effective; if done too gently, it won’t properly spread a well-made dough.

3 – The main ingredients in the pizza sauce.

Now that the base of your pizza is ready, you can proceed with the pizza sauce.

Pizza Sauce and Toppings

For Neapolitan pizza, the key ingredients are tomato and mozzarella, complemented by extra virgin olive oil and basil, which form the soul of the iconic Margherita pizza.

Tomatoes

To fully adhere to the Neapolitan pizza recipe, use San Marzano PDO tomatoes. These should be puréed manually, without electrical tools, to preserve their quality. Season the sauce exclusively with salt, avoiding oil, oregano, or other spices.

Mozzarella

Mozzarella is another crucial ingredient and can be made from cow’s milk or buffalo milk. According to Neapolitan tradition, mozzarella must be cut by hand into strips that are not too thin and allowed to drain for at least a few hours before use.

Additional Tips

To honour Neapolitan tradition, ensure that both the tomato sauce and mozzarella are at room temperature when applied to the pizza. Also, add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil only after cooking the pizza.

By following these steps, you can create a pizza that respects the authentic Neapolitan tradition, delivering the true flavours of this classic dish.

How to cook Neapolitan pizza in a wood-fired pizza oven!

Once your pizza has all its toppings, it’s time to grab your pizza peel and cook it. Here, you’ll need to take certain precautions to respect Neapolitan tradition:

Using the Pizza Peel

Choosing the Right Peel

Traditionally, pizza peels were made of wood. However, technological innovations have led to the development of lighter aluminum peels. These modern peels are designed to optimize different phases of pizza making: they are perforated to allow excess flour to slide off, equipped with a slide for better grip, and are much more resistant.

Transferring the Pizza

To put the pizza on the peel, place the peel on your worktop and slide the pizza directly onto it. Do this without crushing the Neapolitan pizza crust, rotating the pizza as you move it to enlarge it to its final size directly on the peel.

Sliding the Pizza into the Oven

Slide the pizza off the peel in one quick motion, directly into the oven. This step will determine the final shape of your pizza. To help ensure a round pizza, give it a slightly oval shape when placing it on the peel, compensating for any elongation that might occur if not placed perfectly in the oven.

Cooking in a Wood-Fired Pizza Oven

Now that you know the Neapolitan way to place pizza in the oven, let’s briefly discuss cooking in a wood-fired pizza oven.

Traditionally, pizza ovens were made of bricks, but their extreme weight and difficult handling logistics have led to new models with refractory cores and steel coatings, like our FORNINOX ovens.

Advantages of Modern Ovens

A traditional wood-fired pizza oven needs to be lit at least two to three hours before use to reach the optimal cooking temperature of around 450°C, necessary to cook pizzas in about 90 seconds as per Neapolitan tradition. This requires consuming more wood (which is costly) and standing in front of the oven to control the fire for a longer time.

The high weight of refractory brick and concrete ovens also necessitates a fixed installation, requiring a very solid base that permanently occupies part of your outdoor area.

Choosing the Right Firewood

To respect Neapolitan tradition, it’s crucial to select the best firewood, such as oak and beech, which should be well-dried and certified for food use.

By adopting modern innovations like FORNINOX ovens, you can enjoy the benefits of traditional wood-fired cooking with greater efficiency and flexibility, while still honouring the authentic Neapolitan pizza-making process.

Cooking Pizzas in a Traditional Wood-Fired Oven

When cooking pizzas in a traditional wood-fired oven, consider the temperature differences between various areas of the oven. These differences arise from the distance between the pizza and the fire, which cooks by irradiation and promotes the perfect Neapolitan pizza crust, and the position of the pizza relative to the oven’s base and mouth, as the base temperature affects the cooking of the lower part by conduction.

Balancing the Cooking Process

To achieve perfect results, align the cooking of the upper and lower parts of the pizza. Rotate the pizzas 180° halfway through cooking to ensure even cooking on both sides.

After cooking the last pizza, extinguish the remaining fire by placing the lid on the oven, allowing it to cool down slowly.

Managing the Oven

Operating a large outdoor pizza oven requires considerable experience. However, you can opt for a small and innovative oven to cook Neapolitan pizza at home, even in smaller spaces like a terrace.

Making Neapolitan Pizza at Home

For those interested in making Neapolitan pizza at home, Alfa Forni offers a range of residential wood-fired ovens that replicate the traditional cooking process.

Advantages of Modern Ovens

Modern ovens eliminate the need for prolonged fire-watching and reduce wood consumption compared to traditional ovens. This makes them ideal for home use while still delivering authentic Neapolitan pizza.

By using an Alfa wood-fired pizza oven, you can enjoy the process and results of traditional Neapolitan pizza-making, even in a home setting.

After describing the process for perfect pizza cooked in a wood-fired oven according to Neapolitan tradition, we highlight the range of Alfa residential wood-fired ovens that allow you to prepare this extraordinary dish with ease and authenticity.

In addition to having to watch the fire for a long time, the disadvantage of traditional ovens lies in the fact of having to consume a large amount of wood.

However, these two negative aspects can be overcome thanks to the technology of the steel wood-fired pizza ovens by Alfa. These cooking tools were created to meet the needs of amateur pizza makers who want to experiment with cooking with wood at high temperatures, but with the advantage of being much faster to warm up, managing to reach very high temperatures in tens of minutes.

The great thermal efficiency makes our domestic steel ovens capable of cooking pizzas worthy of a professional pizzeria. In addition to the extraordinary heating performance, our steel ovens can also ensure a second very important advantage, namely ease of movement.

In fact, steel is much lighter than the brick and refractory stone with which traditional pizza ovens are made, and this feature has allowed us to develop solid structures with wheels on which to install residential outdoor ovens, made to measure for most of our models.

Ovens without a custom base can still take advantage of mobility by being installed on our multi-functional base for pizzas. This accessory includes a steel table equipped with professional wheels, on which you can place an Alfa steel oven, which also gives you space to spread the pizzas in addition to including useful accessories such as a pizza peel holder.

Conclusion

To sum up, respecting the authentic Neapolitan pizza recipe at home is entirely possible by following our advice on dough preparation, ingredients, and choosing a high-temperature pizza oven.

Benefits of Alfa Ovens

Alfa steel wood-fired or gas ovens overcome the limitations of traditional wood-fired ovens, offering unmatched thermal efficiency that saves both wood and time.

Ideal for Home Use

These ovens are the perfect choice for pizza enthusiasts who don’t want to permanently occupy their outdoor spaces. They are especially suitable for those with terraces or smaller gardens, thanks to their portability and ease of use.