Neo-Neopolitan Pizza Dough

From Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day (Ten Speed Press, 2009)

Pizzerias have long known the value of overnight, delayed fermentation, and I’ve written about this extensively in American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza, as well as in other books. After teaching hundreds of pizza and focaccia classes around the country and assessing the relative benefits of the many versions of pizza dough that I wrote about in other books. I’m including and updating the most popular versions here.

This recipe is a variation of the neo-Neapolitan dough I introduced in American Pie. I recommend making individual size pizzas, because the heat in home ovens simply isn’t sufficient to do a good job on larger pizzas. This dough will keep for up to 4 days in the refrigerator or for months in the freezer; just be sure to move it from the freezer to the refrigerator the day before you need it, so it can thaw slowly, then treat it like refrigerated dough. Both the sugar and the oil in this formula are optional. If you leave them out, you have a Napoletana dough (though not a true pizza Napoletana dough unless you use Italian “00” flour, which is softer and more extensible than American flour and does not require as much water). However, in my pizza classes across the country, this version, which is similar to the dough used at some of the top American pizzerias (such as Frank Pepe’s, Sally’s, Totonno’s, and Lombardi’s), always gets the most votes for favorite.

Serves 4

5-1/3 cups (24 oz / 680 g) unbleached bread flour
2 teaspoons (0.5 oz / 14 g) salt, or 1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt
1 teaspoon (0.11 oz / 3 g) instant yeast
2 tablespoons (1 oz / 28.5 g) sugar, or 1-1/2 tablespoons honey or agave nectar (optional)
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (17 oz / 482 g) water, at room temperature
2 tablespoons (11 oz / 28.5 g) olive oil (optional)

Do Ahead:

  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl. If using a mixer, use the paddle attach¬ment and mix on the lowest speed for 1 minute. If mixing by hand, use a large spoon and stir for about 1 minute, until well blended. The dough should be coarse and slightly sticky. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes to fully hydrate the flour.
  2. Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium-low speed, or continue mixing by hand, for 2 to 3 minutes, until the dough is smoother but still soft, supple, and somewhere between tacky and sticky.
  3. Spread 1 teaspoon of olive oil on a work surface, then use a bowl scraper to transfer the dough to the oiled surface. Rub your hands with the oil on the work surface, then stretch and fold the dough one time, reaching under the front end of the dough, stretching it out, then folding it back onto the top of the dough. Do this from the back end and then from each side, then flip the dough over and tuck it into a ball. Divide the dough into 5 equal pieces, each weighing about 8 ounces (227 g). Form each piece into a ball, then place each into a separate sandwich-size freezer bag misted with spray oil. (Or, if you have room in the refrigerator, you can form the dough into tight balls and refrigerate them on a pan, as described below.) Seal the bag and refrigerate overnight or for up to 4 days, or in the freezer for several months.

ON BAKING DAY:

  1. About 90 minutes before you plan to bake the pizzas, place the desired number of dough balls on a lightly oiled work surface. With oiled hands, stretch and round each piece into a tight ball, then place them on a pan that’s been lightly oiled (preferably with olive oil). Loosely cover with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature until ready to bake.
  2. About 1 hour before baking the pizzas, preheat the oven and a baking stone as high as the oven will go. If you don’t have a pizza stone, you can assemble the pizzas on baking sheets covered with parchment paper and bake them on the pans. While the oven is preheating, prepare your cheeses, sauce, and toppings.
  3. When ready to assemble and bake, put about 1 cup (4.5 oz / 128 g) of flour in a bowl. Use some of it to dust the work surface, your hands, and the peel, if you have one. Put one of the pizza dough balls in the flour to coat the bottom. Transfer to the work surface and gently tap it down with your fingers to form a disk. Slide the backs of your hands under the dough, then lift it and begin to rotate it, using your thumbs to coax the edges of the dough into a larger circle (see page 25 for photos of this process). Don’t stretch the dough with the backs of your hands or your knuckles, let your thumbs do all of the work; your hands and knuckles merely provide a platform to support the dough. If the dough starts to resist and shrink back, set it on the floured work surface and let it rest for a minute or two. You can move on to another dough ball, repeating the same gentle stretching. Continue working the dough and resting it as need be until it is about 10 to 12 inches in diameter. It should be thicker at the edges than in the center and the center should be thin but not paper-thin. If the dough rips, you can try to patch it, or you can form it back into a ball, move on to another dough ball, and try again in 15 to 20 minutes.
  4. When the crust is ready to be topped, place it on the floured peel. Use flour rather than cornmeal or semolina, as it doesn’t burn as quickly in the oven. Top the pizza as desired, then slide it onto the baking stone. If you aren’t using a baking stone, just put the panned pizza in the oven.
  5. Bake for about 4 minutes, then use the peel or a spatula to rotate the pizza. It will take anywhere from 5 to 7 minutes for the pizza to fully bake, depending on the oven (convection ovens bake faster). The edge should puff up and be a deep golden brown, perhaps even slightly charred.
  6. Remove the pizza, garnish as desired, then let it cool for 1 minute before slicing or serving.