Pizza Alla Pala (Pizza on a Peel): from the dough to baking.

In Pizza Oven Recipes

Discover the allure of ‘pizza alla pala’, a renowned recipe in the baking world celebrated for its unique characteristics and delicious flavors. Unlike traditional pizza, ‘pizza alla pala’ distinguishes itself through its dough and baking process, making it a fascinating hybrid of Neapolitan pizza and pan pizza.

This article delves deep into the essence of ‘pizza alla pala’, providing a comprehensive guide and expert tips for crafting this exquisite dish. It compares the dough’s features and preparation techniques with traditional pizzas, emphasizing its higher hydration for a lighter, tastier outcome.

Explore the step-by-step recipe for ‘pizza alla pala’ dough, highlighting its challenging yet rewarding nature. Learn about optimal baking methods to achieve a perfect balance—crispy crusts with a moist center—at high temperatures, essential for preserving its golden-brown appeal.

Discover how Alfa’s range of domestic ovens enhances the ‘pizza alla pala’ experience, offering superior cooking capabilities and efficiency with minimal fuel consumption.

The characteristics of a ‘pizza alla pala’

The ‘pizza alla pala’ is a version of the typically Roman pizza quite widespread throughout central Italy, where it can have various names and differences in preparation depending on the local variations.

The characteristics that most differentiate a ‘pizza alla pala’ from other types of pizza can be summarized in two groups, that is:

  1. The type of dough
  2. The kneading and baking method

Let’s explore the two points below to see what the peculiarities of this preparation are.

1. Type of Dough

The defining feature of ‘pizza alla pala’ dough is its high hydration level, typically ranging from 70% to over 80%. Hydration ratio, indicating the weight of water relative to flour, significantly influences dough variables such as gluten strength and maturation time, crucial for achieving a perfect pizza.

Contrasting traditional Neapolitan pizza dough, which usually maintains 60-65% hydration, ‘pizza alla pala’ requires higher hydration. This distinguishes it from plate pizza, which uses weaker flour (type 0 or 00) that absorbs less water, resulting in quicker leavening.

Managing a more hydrated dough poses challenges, likely contributing to the emergence of pan pizza, popular for its ease of handling and quality. Despite differences, both pan pizza and ‘pizza alla pala’ share increased dough hydration compared to plate pizza. However, ‘pizza alla pala’ is distinguished by its use of a peel for baking directly on oven floors, akin to plate pizza, yet with larger sizes suited for multiple servings.

Next, we’ll delve into crafting ‘pizza alla pala’ dough and offer essential tips before exploring kneading and baking methods, highlighting contrasts with plate pizza.

2. The Kneading & Baking Process

The next critical phase in preparing ‘pizza alla pala’ involves the post-dough preparation steps: kneading, seasoning, oven placement, and cooking.

These steps are crucial and require careful handling due to the high hydration of the dough, making it delicate and challenging to work with. A key initial precaution is generously flouring both the work surface and hands before beginning to knead the risen dough. This step is essential because highly hydrated dough tends to be stickier and absorbs more flour during kneading compared to less hydrated dough.

During the kneading process, the objective is to achieve a uniformly thick pizza base without any thin spots. This ensures the dough does not stick to the work surface or the peel, preventing potential holes during baking in the oven.

Proper kneading also enhances dough consistency during baking, ensuring even cooking throughout the pizza. This results in a uniformly cooked pizza, avoiding dry spots from thinner areas or overly soft sections from uneven dough thickness.

The optimal method for kneading ‘pizza alla pala’ dough involves gently redistributing trapped air without allowing it to escape. This delicate process requires careful handling to avoid overworking the dough, ensuring ample flour is used underneath to prevent sticking. This technique differs significantly from kneading dough for traditional round pizzas, which involves a rotary motion. With ‘pizza alla pala’, the dough is shaped into a rectangular form to fit the peel.

Once the dough is shaped—a slightly rounded rectangle larger than a standard pizza—it’s transferred to a clean, floured surface. Toppings follow the same principles as other pizzas, ensuring ingredients are sized appropriately for even cooking. The unique aspect of baking ‘pizza alla pala’ lies in its placement in the oven, where the peel determines its final shape and successful outcome.

Similarly to a round pizza, we slide the peel under our pizza with snappy movements. When all of the pizza is on the peel we can proceed with a further light spread, until all the lateral edges of the peel are covered.

The last lengthening of the pizza takes place when it is put in the oven, when we let the pizza descend from the peel gradually while pulling it towards the mouth of the oven, thus managing to further lengthen it and obtain the shape of a rounded rectangle.

A ‘pizza alla pala’ is considered as two round pizzas (or eight slices), thus as a reference we can say that a 550-600 grams dough ball can provide a ‘pizza alla pala’ for two people which is 35-40 cm wide and 60-70 cm long.

We will look more closely the topic of cooking in the third section, but for now we can state that the above is obviously highly influenced by the type of oven used. However, we can generalize by saying that the two types of pizza usually share the need to be rotated 180° to obtain uniform cooking.

After having seen the main characteristics of a ‘pizza alla pala’ and the differences in its preparation compared to other types of pizza, let’s now have a look at some tips to obtain excellent ‘pizza alla pala’ dough.

How to make the dough for ‘pizza alla pala’

Creating and handling highly hydrated dough, like that used for ‘pizza alla pala’, requires some manual skill that can be easily mastered with practice. Here are essential tips for achieving a dough that is both highly hydrated and manageable during kneading.

For beginners, it’s advisable to start with a dough hydration level around 70% and gradually increase it with experience. This approach helps in understanding the dough’s behavior and ensures better results.

To prepare dough for two ‘pizza alla pala’ (serving four), you’ll need 500 grams of flour and approximately 350-360 grams of water. Add about 13 grams of salt (40 grams per liter of water), the same amount of extra virgin olive oil, and 2-3 grams of dry brewer’s yeast (or double the amount if using fresh yeast).

These adjustments ensure a dough that is not overly wet yet maintains elasticity for easy handling and shaping.

After determining the necessary ingredients, the choice of flour blend becomes crucial for crafting a perfect ‘pizza alla pala’ dough. It’s essential to select a mix of robust flours capable of absorbing high levels of water while maintaining elasticity and developing strong gluten.

Experiment with combinations of soft wheat flours (0, 00, type 1, type 2, and wholemeal) along with other flours like soy or rice, or even durum wheat semolina.

Additionally, stronger flours and increased hydration necessitate longer maturation times. This process allows complex molecules to break down into simpler structures, crucial for achieving a light and easily digestible pizza crust.

To synchronize maturation and proofing times effectively, prepare the ‘pizza alla pala’ dough one to two days ahead of baking and refrigerate it. This technique slows down the proofing process, enhancing the dough’s texture and flavor development.

For a user-friendly approach to crafting ‘pizza alla pala’ dough, consider the sequence of combining ingredients, starting with these considerations.

A crucial technique for enhancing gluten formation, particularly in highly hydrated or dense doughs like ‘pizza alla pala’, is autolysis—often employed in various baking processes, including panettone.

Autolysis involves creating a pre-dough using half of the total water and approximately the same amount of flour, then allowing it to rest for at least an hour. During this stage, the goal isn’t to fully form the dough but rather to ensure all flour is hydrated with minimal stirring.

This resting period allows the flour to absorb water effectively and encourages gluten development. Each subsequent kneading session further strengthens the gluten structure.

Following the autolysis phase, proceed with the ‘pizza alla pala’ dough by incorporating the remaining flour and additional water containing dissolved yeast.

When using a kneading machine, it’s crucial to maintain a low speed to prevent the dough from overheating, especially in warmer weather when using cold water is advisable. While kneading by hand eliminates this concern, mastering the technique to achieve a highly hydrated yet resilient dough requires practice.

Increase the speed slightly only towards the end of kneading, after allowing the dough to rest again to minimize stress on the developing gluten structure. Gradually incorporate the remaining ingredients—salt, oil, and the remaining water.

Once all ingredients are added and the dough is smooth, homogeneous, and elastic (not sticky or prone to tearing), transfer it to a container at least three times its size. This allows ample room for the dough to double in volume while maintaining adequate airflow.

After resting at room temperature for at least half an hour to initiate leavening, the dough should be refrigerated for 12-16 hours. This slow process allows for gradual doubling in volume, aligning leavening and maturation for optimal results.

About three to four hours before preparing the pizza (adjusting based on yeast quantity and room temperature), remove the dough from the fridge. Let it rest at room temperature for a few dozen minutes to reach optimal working conditions.

Next, proceed to portion the dough into balls for ‘pizza alla pala’. Typically, these portions are sized for two round pizzas, but with a larger oven and peel, you can increase pizza size accordingly.

Shaping the dough balls involves folding the dough inward to create a sealed external skin that encapsulates the dough well. Allow the ‘pizza alla pala’ dough balls to rise at room temperature until they double in volume again. Then, you’ll be ready to stretch, top, and bake the pizza, as detailed earlier.

How to cook to perfection a ‘pizza alla pala’ with an Alfa oven in your home

Let’s now explore the topic of cooking a ‘pizza alla pala’, seeing how to obtain optimal results based on the type of oven.

The Alfa range of domestic ovens includes models that are spacious enough to bake two ‘pizza alla pala’ simultaneously, such as the Allegro, the Dolce Vita or the 4 Pizze wood-fired steel ovens, in addition to the traditional wood-burning oven models.

As for fuelling the oven, we can say that a ‘pizza alla pala’ can be made in all fairly large ovens, but it needs a strong heat boost to swell as best as possible during the final leavening of the dough (during cooking).

It is also true, however, that a very hydrated dough can better withstand a longer stay in the oven without drying out too much, thus achieving good cooking consistency even around 300° C. On the other hand, cooking at a temperature above 450° C, as can happen for pizzas cooked in a wood oven, could leave the central part of the dough still not cooked enough when the outside is already nice and crunchy. The ideal cooking temperature for ‘pizza alla pala’ dough is therefore between 350 and 400° C.

As regards fuelling the oven, it is obviously possible to choose both gas and wood-burning tools, while for domestic use electric ovens are not recommended as they do not reach very high temperatures (due to high consumption).

In a nutshell, the advantages of a wood oven are the natural aroma that the fuel gives to the dishes and the ability to reach very high temperatures, while in favour of gas ovens there is certainly an extreme ease of handling and more homogeneous cooking in the various areas of the oven.

Alfa domestic ovens are cooking tools with performances comparable to professional ovens, perfect for an outdoor kitchen to be taken advantage of during the summer.

Thanks to their well-finished design and the ability to be moved when used, our mobile steel ovens allow you to furnish the house’s outdoor areas and to use them to create extraordinary cooked dishes.

One of our solutions will no doubt enable you to make excellent pizzas, both on a plate and on a peel, as well as many other oven recipes such as firsts, seconds, side dishes or desserts. All you need to do is choose the right oven for your space and try your hand at making ‘pizza alla pala’ at home. By following our advice, and with a little practice, you will certainly be able to obtain excellent results with the pizza dough and its perfect cooking.