Neapolitan pizza is the most authentic, traditional, and delicious style of Italian pizza. Topped with fresh ingredients like San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil leaves, this style of pizza comes with an airy crust.
The crust is so light and fluffy that, when you squeeze it, it goes right back up. The sauce is simple and reveals the taste of the tomatoes. And the mozzarella is light and watery.
In this post, I’m going to walk you through my six steps to making Neapolitan-style pizza from scratch at home.
The six steps are as follows:
- Use the right flour;
- Make pizza dough ahead of time;
- Avoid common mistakes most home cooks make;
- Stretch out the pizza dough;
- Add toppings;
The Best Flour for Pizza Dough
When it comes to making pizza, all the elements are important. But none is as important as the pizza dough. Without good dough, even the best toppings in the world will taste mediocre on a cooked pizza. Everything starts with the right kind of flour. Here’s why.
What flour should I use for pizza dough? The best flour for making pizza dough is Italian double zero flour (also known as “00” or “Doppio Zero” flour). Pizzaiolos from Naples, Italy, use this finely milled flour to make Neapolitan-style pizza with a flavorful crust with air bubbles and a tender, soft bottom. My all-time favorite flour for pizza dough, also recommended by some of the best pizza makers in the world, is Antimo Caputo 00 Flour.
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The name “double zero” comes from the grading system that Italian wheat mills use for their flour. The grades are 2, 1, 0, and 00, and tell you how finely ground the flour is—and how much of the bran and germ have been removed. 2 is a wholemeal flour whereas 00 is the most refined and comes with the lowest level of bran. Double zero flour is, in other words, some of the finest flour money can buy.
To make traditional Neapolitan-style pizza dough, you should use 00 flour. This is because 00 flour has 12.5% gluten, giving your dough just enough stretch and producing a chewy crust without crossing the line and getting rubbery. Bread flour, in contrast, contains 14% to 15% gluten.
You can substitute 00 flour with 0 flour or, if you can’t find any imports from Italy where you live, bread flour or all-purpose flour. You will notice a texture and taste difference as different types of flour are ground differently and have varying gluten levels.
Ingredients for Pizza Dough
You only need a few simple ingredients to make the perfect pizza dough (and the perfect pizza as a whole). Pizza is a creation of la cucina povera, which means “cooking of the poor” or “peasant cooking” in Italian.
The term “cucina povera” refers to the frugal genius of Italian cooks who made the most of the few ingredients they had in the gardens, forests, and oceans of their home country in a style of cooking that’s simple and delicious.
This is why the most traditional and authentic Italian meals like pizza, pasta, or pappa al pomodoro are only made with 3-4 ingredients.
What ingredients do I need for pizza dough? To make pizza dough, you need 1 liter of water at room temperature, 50 grams of salt, 1 gram of fresh yeast, and a pack of 00 flour. Weigh the salt and yeast on a food scale to make sure you’re using the right amount for this recipe.
You can also add extra virgin olive oil to pizza dough to give it a crispier crust. For every 1 liter of water you use to make pizza dough, add 50 milliliters of oil.
How to Make Pizza Dough
Let’s learn how to make pizza dough from Enzo Coccia, Italian pizzaiolo and owner of pizzeria La Notizia in Naples, Italy:
Coccia uses a traditional wooden madie to make dough. Unless you already have one handy at home (which I’m going to presume you don’t), you can just as well use a large stainless steel, glass, or plastic bowl like I do.
- 1 liter of water at room temperature
- 50 grams of salt
- 1 gram of fresh yeast
- 1 pack of 00 flour
- Pour some water in the bowl and use your hand to melt the salt in it. When you don’t feel the grains of salt in the water anymore, it’s equally dissolved;
- With your dry hand, take the fresh yeast, put it in the other hand, and carefully melt it in the water using your fingers;
- Start adding the flour and turning it with your hand. Use the force and energy of your hand to knead the flour well;
- Initially, your dough will be sticky and uneven. Add flour and keep kneading the dough. Toss it and turn it;
- When the dough turns into a smooth and soft ball, you’ve reached il punto di pasta. It’s ready.
Shape the dough into pizza dough balls the size of fresh mozzarella. Put the dough balls on a tray. Close the tray with a lid or cover it with plastic wrap. Leave it to rise at room temperature, sheltered from the sun, for 4-6 hours at room temperature or for 1-2 days in your fridge.
When the dough has risen, you are ready to make pizza.
Most Common Mistakes When Making Pizza
Why Is My Pizza Dough Tough?
Making pizza dough is a grounding and sensory experience. You use your hands and intuition to tell when things are going well. And you can easily tell when the dough is right or when something has gone wrong.
One way for pizza dough to go wrong is when it’s too tough and elastic. Here’s some reasons why that could happen to your pizza dough.
You tried shaping it into a pizza right after you took it out of the fridge. Whether you let the dough rise in the fridge or stored it there after rising, you always need to take it out and let it warm at room temperature (about 75°F or 25°C). Let it warm for 30 to 45 minutes before spreading it out into a pizza.
You didn’t cover the tray with a lid or plastic wrap when you left the dough to dry. If you didn’t close the tray with a lid or cover it in plastic wrap, the dough will dry up as it rises. Consequently, the dough will lose moisture and become tough, making it uneven and crusty. If you don’t have a tray big enough for the dough balls or you don’t have that kind of space in your fridge or on your kitchen countertop, wrap each piece of dough in a resealable zipper bag and store in your fridge.
Why Isn’t My Pizza Dough Rising?
You’ll know your pizza dough is not risen when you can’t knead it into a pizza shape. The dough is hard and difficult to spread out while making. The pizza itself will be hard to digest.
Yeast are single-celled fungi. It feeds on carbohydrates for energy and produces alcohol and CO2 (carbon dioxide) bubbles as a result. The bubbles get trapped in the dough, making the dough rise. The alcohol evaporates during baking.
You didn’t dissolve the salt in the water before adding fresh yeast to it. Salt slows down yeast growth and, in high enough concentration, can kill yeast. If your pizza dough hasn’t risen at all after a few hours, then you probably didn’t dissolve the salt well in the water before you added fresh yeast to it.
You used too cold or too hot water to make your dough. Another thing yeast doesn’t like is cold or hot water. If you use water that’s too cold or too hot to make your dough, you may have harmed or killed the yeast bacteria. This is why you should always use water at room temperature.
You didn’t give your dough enough time to rise if you put it in the fridge. For a number of reasons, some home cooks prefer to put their dough in the fridge to let it rise. Whereas a rise at room temperature will take a minimum of 4 hours, a fridge-rise at 38°F or 3°C can take 1-2 days. Make sure you’ve given your dough enough time to rise before you knead it into a pizza.
Why Is My Pizza Dough So Sticky?
If your pizza dough is sticky, you added too much water and too little flour to the mix. Add more flour and continue to knead the dough until you take the stickiness away.
When you knead pizza dough by hand, do so energetically for 10 minutes or more. You need to work the dough and turn the mix of flour, salt, yeast, and water into a homogenous and solid dough ball.
My two cents? Like Enzo Coccia demonstrated in one of the YouTube videos above, add water in small amounts and do so continuously until you get to the right balance of water and flour. If you pour too much water at once, you’ll need to balance it out with more flour.
Why Is My Pizza Dough Dry?
One reason why your pizza dough is dry is that you haven’t added enough water to the mix. Your dough will start to tear as you knead and, later on, spread it out. A perfectly balanced pizza should not be sticky (which means it’s too wet) or dry (which means it doesn’t have enough moisture).
Another reason may be that you are using old flour or low-quality flour. Consider buying a high-quality flour imported from Italy, ideally double zero (00) flour. My personal favorite is Antimo Caputo 00 Flour.
At the end of the day, making pizza dough is a skill. The more you practice, the better at it you’ll become. Be conscious and observant about the way you incorporate flour and water, and make sure to do it in small steps, bit by bit. Over time, you’ll become a natural in knowing just how much of both to use for homemade pizza.
How to Stretch Out Pizza Dough
If you froze the dough or kept it cool in the fridge, take it out and leave it at room temperature for 30 minutes (fridge) to several hours (freezer).
You’re going to need a flat and clean surface, like a large wood cutting board, a kitchen countertop, or a dining table. When baking bread, my great grandmother used to cover the dining table in her living room with a vinyl tablecloth. She’d sprinkle the surface with a little flour and knead the dough on it.
Stretching Out Pizza Dough
- Sprinkle the surface that you’re going to work on with just enough flour. Take the risen dough and use your hands to press it down, turning it into a thick pizza shaped disc;
- With the middle three fingers of each hand, press the dough out from the center and towards the outside. Flatten the middle and push out the air to the crust;
- At this stage, don’t worry about making a perfectly shaped disc or perfectly flat middle. Perfect pizza is imperfect;
- To stretch the dough, lift it using both of your hands and rotate it in one direction. Keep rotating and use the pull of gravity as your helper;
- As you rotate the dough and gravity is doing some of the work for you, pull the dough from hand to hand.
My best advice for stretching out pizza dough well is to do it slowly and consistently. Rotate the dough, letting it stretch out in your hand. Pull gently and use gravity as a helper. Don’t make sudden movements. Even if you make a mistake here and there, don’t worry. It’s a skill you’re going to become better and better at as you do it more and more.
Can’t I just use a rolling pin to stretch out pizza dough? Don’t stretch out Neapolitan-style pizza dough with a rolling pin. It will push out all the carbon dioxide bubbles from the dough’s rising and condense the dough into a tough, rubbery texture. The best (and, in my humble view, only) way to stretch out pizza dough is by hand.
Add Toppings to Your Pizza
Marinara is the simplest classic Neapolitan pizza. It’s also incredibly delicious because it lets you highlight the taste and quality of your ingredients.
To make pizza Marinara, top the pizza with sauce from canned San Marzano tomatoes, olive oil, and, optionally, sprinkle with salt and black pepper.
Margherita is the most popular classic Neapolitan pizza. The story goes that it’s named after Queen Margherita of Savoy who, along with King Umberto I, was on a visit to Naples.
The queen grew tired of the French cuisine that was served to royals at the time—and ordered a simple pizza. The pizzaiolo created a pizza that represented the colors of the Italian flag. Green from fresh basil leaves, white from the fresh mozzarella, and red from the tomato sauce.
For the tomato sauce, use canned San Marzano tomatoes and salt. For the mozzarella, use Fior di Latte (cow’s milk mozzarella), Mozzarella di Bufala (buffalo milk mozzarella), or a fresh mozzarella that you can buy from the Italian deli or grocery store in town.
Bake the Pizza
How to Bake Pizza In a Pizza Oven
Pizzaiolos make pizza in wood-fired and coal-fired pizza ovens that reach temperatures as high as 800°F or 425°C. That’s the best temperature which cooks a Neapolitan pizza for as little as 60 to 90 seconds.
If you’re really into making pizza at home, you’ll probably want to invest in a gas-fired ROCCBOX to put in your backyard.
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It’s portable, reaches super-high temperature, and can help you cook up restaurant-style pizza in seconds.
How to Bake Pizza in Your Home Oven
Most home cooks make pizza in their home ovens, and that’s okay.
While you can do it directly in your oven, I do recommend that you buy a pizza stone.
Why use a pizza stone? The pizza stone conducts and holds heat from the oven, helping you cook the pizza faster and more evenly. For the best result, preheat your stone at maximum temperature in your home oven for 40 to 60 minutes before making the pizza.
If you don’t want to buy a pizza stone, you can also bake a pizza in a cast iron skillet. Whichever you choose, the trick is to cook your pizza until the bottom is crispy and the crust is beginning to blister.
Depending on the temperature your oven can reach, this will take anywhere between 3 to 6 minutes. The higher the temperature, the faster the cooking time, the tastier your pizza.
- Large bowl
- Home oven
- Pizza stone
- 1 liter water
- 50 grams salt
- 1 gram fresh yeast
- 1 pack Italian Double Zero (00) flour
- 1 can tomatoes
- 1 bunch fresh basil
- 1 pack fresh Mozzarella cheese
Make homemade Neapolitan pizza dough
- Pour room temperature water in a bowl and use your hand to melt 50 grams of salt in it.
- With your dry hand, take the yeast, put it in the other hand, dip it in the water, and carefully melt it.
- Start adding the flour and kneading the dough by hand. Use the force and energy of your hand to knead well.
- At first, the dough will be sticky and uneven. Keep adding flour and kneading until you come to a smooth and round dough.
- When the dough turns into a soft and smooth ball, cut it into small fresh mozzarella-sized pieces. Shape them into smaller dough balls.
- Place the dough balls on a tray and cover it well with plastic wrap. Leave the dough to rise at room temperature and sheltered from the sun for up to 9 hours.
Stretch the risen pizza dough
- Sprinkle the surface you're going to use to stretch the pizza dough with some flour.
- Take a dough ball from the risen dough and press it down with your hands into a thick pizza-shaped disc.
- With the middle three fingers of each hand, press the dough out from the center and towards the outside. Flatten the middle and push out the air to the crust.
- To stretch the dough, lift it using both of your hands and rotate it in one direction. Keep rotating and use the pull of gravity as your helper.
- As you rotate the dough and gravity is doing some of the work for you, pull the dough from hand to hand.
Make Pizza Margherita at home
- Preheat your pizza stone at maximum temperature in the oven for 45 minutes.
- Put canned tomatoes in a blender and season with a pinch of sea salt before mixing. Blend for 5-10 seconds until it turns into a pizza sauce.
- Spread the sauce on the pizza dough. Don't add too much sauce in the middle and make sure to not cover the crust with sauce.
- Using a pizza peel, slide the pizza on the pizza stone and let it cook for 3-4 minutes. Don't add the mozzarella cheese yet, you'll add it a little you're done cooking the pizza.
- Add fresh mozzarella to the pizza and let it cook for another 2-3 minutes.
- The total cooking time for your pizza should be 6-7 minutes. Take the pizza out of the oven and garnish with 2-3 fresh basil leaves.