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What an exhausting time it has been. Surely a lot of us had grand plans for 2020, and what a year it could have been. 2020 didn’t only sound great but offered so many opportunities. I went in with rose-tinted glasses thinking this would be the year. Veganism is on a remarkable rise; people are getting more aware of environmental and political issues. But no, 2020 decided to be the synonym for everything bad and throw major hissyfit. Stores went into lockdown; I could not see family and friends, all the food markets shut down, and we became a caretaker for my elderly dad during this time since he, like many people, suffered badly from being alone and got scared into staying inside. We decided to have him move in during this time and did what we could. Safe to say, I had my work cut out for me on all levels.
All this happened when I just had settled in after living here for roughly two years and was looking forward to a brand new year. You know that feeling when you have your favourite places for everything, ranging from fresh food markets to hairdressers. Don’t you love it when you finally discovered the great parks to walk your four-legged friend and found great places to go out and eat? We sorely missed the latter the past months, so we tried our best to recreate our favourite dishes that we ate at our favourite places, and traditional Neapolitan style pizza was on the top of the list.
Neapolitan style pizza is a class on its own. To me, it is THE pizza and let me explain the difference. While there are many varieties like the New York-style pizza, for example, which features a thin pizza crust, the texture of the two is very different throughout. Neapolitan pizza has a very thin crust at the base, with dough puffing up beautifully around the sides, which provides a very airy crust. The exceptionally thin base of the Neapolitan style pizza is cooked rapidly and is the main reason why the pizza remains light and airy in texture but still leaves a great base that doesn’t break or tear.
There is a long-standing history behind Neapolitan pizza and basic guidelines regarding what can be called a Neapolitan pizza. It starts with the ingredients, which are kept very simple. The topping requires Roma or San Marzano tomatoes that grow in Naples’s region, the home of this delicious pizza. For the original dish, you would need mozzarella, made from the milk of the water buffalo which lives in Campania. I will, of course, not use this, but I find it important to know how dishes are created and where the ingredients originate from. It gives you a feel of how people lived back in the day and how their surroundings shaped their way of life and influenced their culture and food. The dough is made from type 0 or 00 wheat flour, yeast, salt and water. You have to use this type of flour for the best result as it contains the right amount of gluten necessary for this pizza style.
The dough itself has precise requirements. It has to be formed by hand, but you can use a low-speed mixer to help with the kneading phase. To form it, you create a small dough ball from the risen and rested dough. The dough is then placed on a lightly floured surface, carefully flattened out with your fingertips, leaving a little edge around the small disc of dough and then you lift it off the work surface and stretch it. You do not use a rolling pin, and you must stretch it. The dough should not be thicker than 3mm (1/10 inch) and is baked for 90 seconds at a temperature of at least 485°C (900°F). The last part was the most difficult for us. We do not own a professional pizza oven, and our oven at home only reaches 275°C (525°F). However, we found a way to make it still work for us and come as close as humanely possible to the original, that we were served at our favourite Italian place here in Flevoland.
Before you get started with anything, I would urge you to invest in a good pizza stone. It might sound gimmicky, but trust me, it is a game-changer. You need a surface that is as hot as possible to bake your pizza on, and these stones are made explicitly for just that. They have a lot more thermal mass than a baking tray, so they store and distribute heat better than any flimsy metal pizza pan ever could. Without them, your pizza will cook a lot slower, which is a problem. The longer a pizza remains in the oven, the more moisture the dough will lose due to the baking process, which results in a hard crust. If you ever struggled with hard crusts while baking your own pizza, this might be the reason. Keep in mind that pizza stones are very porous. They will stain over time and discolour. There is nothing wrong with it, and it is frankly quite unavoidable. To show the state that one of our stones is in, I decided to show the one we have had in use for about one year now. The discolouration happens when toppings fall onto the stone, or you bake things on it that have slight grease in them. To clean it, you can put it in the oven at the highest possible setting for about an hour to burn the things off that might be stuck on it. Following this, you give it a nice soak in warm soapy water and give it a good scrub. Let it completely dry before the next use. The discolouration will remain because it is a porous material, but it will be clean. We don’t soak our pizza stone after every use. It is enough to wipe it clean. There is nothing wrong with not “washing” the pizza stone when nothing got stuck on it because the very high temperate of the oven takes care of burning all possible germs.
Making your own Neapolitan style pizza might sound time-consuming, but it is straightforward, and most of the time spent is waiting time, so it is the ideal dish to make on weekends or even mid-week if you got around 3 hours in total from the time you start making the dough. Now that we covered the basics, let’s start with the fun part—the actual making of the dough.
For this, all you technically need is a bowl, a flat surface, a proofing cloth and four ingredients. Start by adding 200g of flour to a bowl, make a well, and add half the water and the yeast. Gently stir the yeast into the water and let it sit for two minutes.
Add the remaining water and give it a quick stir. You will end up with a very wet and sticky dough. Lightly flour a clean surface. I use a wooden chopping board and add the sticky dough to it. Add half of the extra flour and start kneading it. Keep kneading and slowly adding flour until you end up with a very smooth and bouncy dough ball. I tend to use almost all the extra flour for this since I am usually left with about 2 tbsp. The exact amount left depends not only on the weather and the manufacturer of the flour but also on the altitude you live at. You will know your dough is ready when you can press a finger into the surface, and it bounces back to its original shape.
This process will take you about 10minutes by hand. You can use a shortcut and do this with a kitchen machine if you like, but I prefer doing this step manually. If you use a machine, then I would advise you to use the slowest setting possible. Do not under any circumstance skip on the kneading time. It is the most important step of making this dough. The time is needed to release the gluten, which created a wonderfully elastic dough.
Cover your dough ball with a damp proofing cloth to prevent it from drying out. You can use any lint-free kitchen towel that has not been washed with fabric softener or invest in a good proofing cloth I did after a few weeks of making my own pizza. I hold it quickly under running tap water and squeeze the excess out as best as possible to dampen it. You can, of course, also do this with a spray bottle, but this seems like the easier thing to do for me.
Because I have such a large proofing cloth, I can completely encase my dough ball. I place it onto the cloth and wrap it closely over it. Now I got two hours of spare time that I tend to use for grocery shopping, or I go and have some me time, which tends to be the case when I make pizza mid-week.
After two hours, your dough will have expanded a lot, and it can happen that it sometimes sticks slightly to the cloth. Do not be alarmed by this. It’s perfectly normal. Just scrape it off the cloth and drop the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and this is what I use my remaining 2 tbsp of flour for. Divide the dough and roughly form it into a ball.
The dough should be very elastic at this point and easily formed. Shaped it into firm little balls by continuously pulling the dough to the bottom and tucking it under the dough ball. Now it’s time for the second round of proofing. Place your little dough balls in containers that can be sealed. Place a lid on them and let them rest for another hour. This is the moment when I turn on the oven with the pizza stone inside of it. It would be best if you had it to be thoroughly heated through.
The dough should be very elastic and not sticky at all. First, lightly flour a surface and place the ball onto it. Next, you shape the pizza by gently pressing and pulling. If you are a pro, you can at this stage form it in a few seconds by twirling it around and doing fancy pizza dough throws. I am sure you have seen pizza bakers do that on TV, or if you are lucky, then you saw it in real life. What a sight!
However, I am far from having reached that skill, so what I do is the following. First, I gently form a small disc with my fingertips by pushing it down from the centre towards the border. Then I stretch the dough lightly and keep rotating it while doing so. The dough is very elastic, so you can go quite thin with it without worrying about it ripping.
Transfer your pizza dough onto a pizza peel or thin cutting board that is lightly covered in semolina. Semolina is the real MVP here since it stops the pizza from sticking. Next, add the toppings of your choice, in this case, tomato pizza sauce and vegan mozzarella. I get mine in a shredded form, so when I make pizza, I tend to cluster it up to mimic mozzarella slices once it is melted.
Now slide the pizza onto the hot pizza stone and watch it like a hawk since it’s cooked in less than 5 minutes, and it goes from perfect to charcoal real quick… and here we go. Perfect pizza.
The speedy cooking time makes this a perfect dish for parties since everyone can have their own choice of topping, the main work is done hours ahead, and you can, in fact, run two pizza stones at once without a problem.
Homemade Neapolitan Pizza Crust - As Close As It Gets
Preparing the dough:
- Add the flour for the dough to the mixing bowl. Make a well and add half the water. Add 1 tbsp of dry active yeast to the water and gently stir it in with a fork. Let it rest for 2 minutes.
- Add the remaining water and salt and mix it roughly with the fork.
- Dust a flat, clean surface generously with some of the flour needed for kneading. Transfer the flour out of the bowl onto it. Add half of the kneading flour and work it into the dough. Add more flour as you go until you have a smooth and non-sticky ball of dough. I am usually left with about tbsp of flour at this point. You will know your dough is ready when you can press a finger into the surface, and it bounces back to its original shape. This process will take about 10minutes. It will take less with a kitchen machine.
- Place the dough ball onto a damp proofing cloth and cover it. It is necessary to use a damp cloth to prevent it from drying out. Let it rest for 2 hours.
After the first resting phase:
- After two hours, your dough will have expanded a lot, and it can happen that it sometimes sticks slightly to the cloth. Do not be alarmed by this. It’s perfectly normal. Just scrape it off the cloth and drop the dough onto a lightly floured surface. This is what I use my remaining 2 tbsp of flour for. Divide the dough and roughly form it into balls.
- The dough should be very elastic at this point and easily formed. Shape it into firm little balls by continuously pulling the dough to the bottom and tucking it under the dough ball. Now it’s time for the second round of proofing. Place your little dough balls in containers that can be sealed. Place a lid on them and let them rest for another hour.
- This is the moment when I turn on the oven with the pizza stone inside of it. It would be best if you had it to be thoroughly heated through.
After the second resting phase:
- The dough should be very elastic and not sticky at all. First, lightly flour a surface and place the ball onto it. Next, you shape the pizza by gently pressing and pulling.
- Gently form a small disc with my fingertips by pushing it down from the centre towards the border. Then stretch the dough lightly and keep rotating it while doing so. The dough is very elastic, so you can go quite thin with it without worrying about it ripping.
- Transfer your pizza dough onto a pizza peel or thin cutting board that is lightly covered in semolina.
- Add the tomato sauce and vegan cheese.
- Slide the pizza onto the hot pizza stone and watch it like a hawk since it’s cooked in less than 5 minutes, and it goes from perfect to charcoal real quick.