No-Knead Neapolitan-style (Sourdough) Pizza Dough

20 Jul

A little while ago I posted a pizza I’d made, and promised to report back with the details on the process once I’d worked out the kinks. I’ve been working with Jim Lahey’s no-knead pizza dough and a few methods for baking it in a home oven that are supposed to mimic the effects of a commercial wood-fired pizza oven. The Sourdough Surprises project this month was pizza, so I took the opportunity to make a sourdough version of the dough.

sourdough Neapolitan-style pizza heading into the oven

To clarify, when I say “pizza”, I’m talking Neapolitan–style pizzas: thin-crispy-chewy-airy crust and a few carefully chosen toppings, baked in a wood-fired oven at a zillion degrees so they come out minutes later, smoking hot and slightly charred and delicious. There is one place in Victoria, Pizzeria Prima Strada, that makes pizzas like this, and man, are they good! A Neapolitan-style pizza is very different from the thicker-crusted, toppings-laden pizzas that most people are familiar with in North America. My friend Lynette just got back from three months in Europe, where she ate real Neapolitan pizza, and this was her conclusion on North American versus Neapolitan-style pizza: it’s hard to compare them because they are really two totally different animals, and both are good in their own ways. But right now we are talking Neapolitan-style pizza.

pizza margherita with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and basil – one of the classic Neapolitan-style pizzas

What makes a Neapolitan-style pizza? First off, the dough is lean, meaning that it’s just flour, water, salt, and yeast (or in this case, sourdough) – no fat or oil. Secondly, it is topped sparingly – a thin layer of sauce, two or three toppings, and a bit of cheese (or not). In this case, it can be fun to use good quality, fancy toppings because you don’t need very much of them. Thirdly, is it baked at an incredibly high heat in a specially constructed wood-fired brick oven, usually in mere minutes. This is where making this kind of pizza at home gets tricky – a conventional home oven only goes up to 500˚F or 550˚F max, whereas commercial pizza ovens can hit upwards of 700˚F to 900˚F. (This is also why the toppings are so scarce – too much on the pizza would prevent the dough from cooking properly before it burned to a crisp.) Thankfully, there are many homemade pizza aficionados out there who have dedicated a lot of time and effort to figuring out how to mimic this method at home, which I will cover in another post. For now, let’s talk pizza dough.

Pizzeria Prima Strada’s mobile wood-fired pizza oven. (Photo by Peter Bagi and Deddeda Stemler, from Pizzeria Prima Strada’s website.)

As I mentioned, this is a lean dough: just flour, water, salt, and sourdough. I’ve made it with yeast before as well, so I’ve included it as a variation because I know not everyone has a sourdough culture living in the back of their fridge (but you should!!). Like all no-knead breads, this dough requires a good long rest (18 hours or so), so plan accordingly.

18 hours of bubbles

Tip number one: Make sure your starter is good and active, and then trust your starter. I was pretty worried when, 10 hours after I’d mixed the dough, it hadn’t changed in shape or appearance at all, but then when I woke up the next morning, the dough had risen to almost double and was full of beautiful bubbles. (If you are making the yeast version, trust your yeast!)

Tip number two: You waited a really long time for the dough to get all full of bubbles, so when you are working with it, be gentle with the dough so that you don’t squash all the air out of it.

Tip number three: This dough has a very high hydration level (ie, there is lots of water for the amount of flour), which means it is very sticky. Use lots of flour on your work surface and sprinkle the dough with flour to prevent it from becoming a sticky mess, but DON’T knead extra flour into the dough – just use the flour to stop the outside of it from sticking to everything.

I think we’re ready to make pizza dough!

No-Knead Neapolitan-Style Pizza Dough

Adapted from Jim Lahey’s “My Pizza“, via several sources. Makes enough dough for 4 smaller pizzas (8” – 10” inches) or 3 slightly larger pizzas (10” – 12” inches), each serving one person. I prefer the smaller size because it is easier to work with when it comes to baking (more details to come!), and find that it is still plenty of pizza for one.

Sourdough version

In a large bowl, combine:

1/4 cup active, bubbly sourdough starter (any hydration level; mine is 100%)

1 1/2 cups warm water

Beat with a whisk to completely dissolve the sourdough in the water, then add:

3 3/4 cups all purpose flour

2 tsp fine sea salt

Mix with a wooden spoon until it comes together in a shaggy, wet mass.

Scrape the dough into a clean bowl, big enough to let the dough rise to at least double. Cover it with plastic and let it sit at room temperature for about 18 – 24 hours until doubled in size (mine took 24 hours but my house is quite cool).

Yeast version

Omit the sourdough starter. Mix together the flour, salt, and 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (instant or otherwise) in a large bowl. Add the warm water and stir. Continue as above.

Once the dough has risen to double its size, gently scrape it out of the bowl onto a well-floured surface (be gentle so you don’t squash the air out of it). Sprinkle it with more flour and gently coax it into a circular shape. With a large knife, cut it into three or four equal pieces (try to make each cut one single downward motion – sawing back and forth at the dough will deflate it). Shape each piece of dough into a ball by pinching the corners into the middle, then turning it over and smoothing the edges under. Place back on the well-floured surface, sprinkle with more flour, and cover with plastic wrap. Let it rest for 1 hour before shaping and baking.

If you are not going to use right it away, you can put the covered dough on a floured plate (make sure the balls of dough are not touching) and place it in the fridge for a few hours. To store it for longer in the fridge (up to 3 days), place each ball in a Tupperware container large enough for it to spread out a bit. Let the refrigerated dough sit at room temperature for 2 – 3 hours before using. (You can also freeze the dough: wrap it gently in plastic wrap, then put it in a freezer bag. Let the dough thaw overnight in the fridge, then unwrap it, cover it lightly, and bring it to room temperature as above.)

To shape and bake the pizzas, see this post. And be sure to check out the Sourdough Surprises blog to see all the other sourdough pizzas that were made this month and be inspired by some delicious toppings! Here’s one that I made with pepperoni, bocconcini cheese, and fresh oregano.

This post submitted to YeastSpotting.

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19 Responses to “No-Knead Neapolitan-style (Sourdough) Pizza Dough”

  1. Shelley C July 20, 2012 at 9:59 am #

    YUM! I love that you went classic Neapolitan style – that is awesome. I bet the flavors were absolutely delicious. I seriously want a pizza peal now so that I can really put my pizza stone to the correct use! I can’t wait to read the next installment to see the cooking process! WONDERFUL job!

    • Korena in the Kitchen July 20, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

      Thanks Shelley! I’ve had the pizza stone for a while but just bought the peel (only $10!) and it is awesome for pizza making :)

  2. Suz July 20, 2012 at 10:06 am #

    Oh wow, SO beautiful! Your pizza crust looks so light & perfect. YUM.

  3. Ilan (IronWhisk Blog) July 20, 2012 at 3:28 pm #

    Wow.
    That looks delicious.

  4. Jane @ The Wayward Oven July 20, 2012 at 5:18 pm #

    I love pizzas with simple toppings and both of yours look delicious. And almost perfectly round! I don’t know how you manage that, and with a high-hydration dough. Am checking back tomorrow to see how you do the shaping.

  5. Bam's Kitchen July 21, 2012 at 6:11 am #

    I love thin and crispy… Beautiful shots but I think you forgot the best one (You know the one of you whipping the pizza in the air flipping it like the professional do.) Just kidding. Great shots and love your recipe! So you are making 4 pizza’s tonight? Take care, BAM

  6. Barbara Bamber | justasmidgen July 23, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

    I’ve bookmarked this one to try. My friend thought the tart I made today was the best “pizza”.. and I reflected that I could stand to learn how to do a thin-crust Neopolitan style pizza! And here you are today showing me how! Do you have a post for the Sourdough Starter.. I don’t have one and would like to do this:) xx

  7. Lisa July 26, 2012 at 10:37 pm #

    Your Neapolitan pizza is perfection..and the SD crust makes it that much better! Fun joining in Sourdough Surprises with you! I love it..That csaid… I can’t take my eyes off your SD pasta! I’m hopping over to look :)

    • Korena in the Kitchen July 26, 2012 at 10:42 pm #

      Thanks Lisa :) I’m really enjoying all these opportunities to use my starter!

  8. My Italian Smörgåsbord (Aka Barbara) August 3, 2012 at 2:07 am #

    this pizza dough is spectacular. I have not yet experimented much with pizza and I have been looking forever for a method that convinced me to put my hands at it. When I first saw your pizza on yeastspotting (I am a regular, too), I though “hey, look at that! finally someone got pizza right”. The border of the crust is as airy as it should be and the center looks incredibly soft and moist – similar to what I have experienced in Naples several years ago. Thank you for sharing this recipe, it will make my family very happy one of these days :)

  9. Edd Almond November 9, 2012 at 1:36 am #

    Thanks for the recipe. I’ve tried a few different methods of making a sourdough pizza base (several of them requiring intensive kneading) and your recipe produces a dough which is easily their equal. Great work :D

  10. Tim Smith May 10, 2013 at 12:24 pm #

    This is a great post. I absolutely love outside-the-box pizza recipe ideas! Good job & keep it up. Usually I prefer my pizza to be cooked in a restaurant setting with commercial pizza ovens, but cooking them at home is still good too.

  11. DB March 25, 2014 at 3:16 pm #

    Hey I just saw your response to my broiler question on the sister post to this one. I have one more question, more specifically about the dough, so I thought I’d post it here in case it helps others out too:

    While I don’t have Jim Lahey’s book, I have been playing off of his “no knead” sourdough boule for about a year with great results. With that, however, I do knead out the dough after the first long, wet, proof, but just barely — about 10-12 times or so to smooth the mass out. I also find that the dough needs slightly more flour incorporated otherwise it is too unwieldy. I found this specifically to be a problem with making pizza dough, and I ran controlled experiments with kneaded, and un-kneaded chunks of the total mass. I found that the un-kneaded “balls” felt nothing like any pizza dough I have ever shaped (they feel “alive” after the long sourdough bacteria feeding proof) and I wasn’t even able to really get a hold of them, much less top them and peel them into the oven. I know you said it has been some time since you made this pizza, but if you can remember– do you really not knead the dough AT ALL before shaping it into balls for pie-making? It seems impossible!

    Another question comes to me about something I read about the grave importance of refrigerating sourdough pizza dough for at least a day, to help the glutens develop? My other experiment control is cooking non-refrigerated dough (yesterday’s dinner) and dough that has been refrigerated overnight (tonight’s dinner). We shall see if there’s any difference.

    Sorry for the long winded questions. I am fairly new to sourdough baking, but I’m loving it, and pizza making has been a quest for perfection of mine as well.

    • Korena in the Kitchen March 25, 2014 at 6:44 pm #

      Haha, OK, you are really challenging my memory here…

      First, I really didn’t knead the dough before shaping it into pies. Really ;) Dough at this high hydration level is a totally different animal to “conventional” dough – I think it feels more like bubbles and water barely contained in dough more than anything, but that’s how it’s supposed to be. It does take some getting used to with handling and shaping, and you especially need to give it a coating of flour, which sort of gives it some surface tension to work with. I’ve made a few no-knead bread recipes that call for some folds after the first rise, which helps to develop the gluten further. With an 18 hour rise for this dough, however, I would think it’s unnecessary because all that water plus the long rise time develops the gluten instead. Plus you’re not turning it into a loaf or boule, just what essentially amounts to a dough pancake, so it doesn’t need to hold its shape.

      The overnight refrigeration would definitely enhance the sourdough flavour, and the extra time might contribute to more gluten development, but I don’t know if it would be strictly necessary for a successful pizza. I guess the flavour and the texture would be the telling factors on whether it makes an appreciable difference.

      I hope that helps! (And I should preface all of the above with *in my experience*… I’m no expert!)

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