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Homemade Neapolitan Pizza

While I enjoy eating pizza, my husband, Nabil considers himself a pizza connoisseur.  Due to his pizza passion, we regularly make pizzas from scratch.  Many recipes that we’ve tried don’t come close to the quality you can buy in restaurants though.  Since this was unacceptable to a “pizza connoisseur,” my husband has spent hours researching methods to achieve the best Homemade Neapolitan Pizza.

After serious deliberation he chose to buy a pizza steel, which is a slab of food grade steel that food is baked on in the oven.  Using the steel over more traditional “home methods” such as baking stones, cast-iron skillets, and aluminum baking sheets, allows pizzas to bake incredibly quickly and adds the perfect amount of crispiness to each bite.  The steel also allows the oven to retain a consistent temperature (even if you can’t help but open the oven to sneak a peek while treats are baking).  I typically leave the steel in the oven when baking non-pizza recipes, so the temperature remains consistent for the entire baking time. 

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Ingredients for Homemade Neapolitan Pizza:
  • 1½ cups (350g) water (90-95°F/32-35°C)
  • 2¾ tsp (15g) fine sea salt
  • 1/8 tsp (0.3g) instant dried yeast
  • Scant1 4 cups (500g) white flour, preferably 002
Making the Homemade Neapolitan Pizza Dough:

Place water into the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl if mixing by hand) and stir in the sea salt until it has dissolved.  Add the instant dried yeast to the water and let it sit for approximately one minute before stirring until the yeast is dissolved. 

Add the flour all at once to the water mixture and begin mixing in the flour using a dough hook on the “stir” setting (i.e., the lowest speed) until the dough forms a cohesive ball/clump (approximately 30 seconds – 1 minute). 

If mixing by hand, gently use your hand to stir until the dough begins to form into a single rough clump.  Squeeze the dough multiple times in your fist to fully incorporate the flour into the mixture and periodically fold the dough from the bottom of the bowl onto the top of the mixture until the dough forms a cohesive ball/clump.  This should only take 30 seconds – 1 minute to complete.

The temperature of the dough at this point should be approximately 80°F/27°C. 

Kneading and First Rise:

Allow the dough to rest in the bowl for 20 minutes before tipping it out onto a lightly floured counter.  Knead the dough for 1 minute or until the outside of the dough ball is very smooth.  Place the pizza dough ball (seam side down) into a lightly oiled bowl.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap (make sure there is an airtight seal), place a kitchen towel over the top, and allow the dough to rise for approximately 2 hours.  The dough should be kept at room temperature (i.e., 74°F/23°C). 

Shaping Pizza Dough Balls:

Lightly flour the counter and your hands before gently removing the pizza dough from the bowl.  Arrange the dough into a rectangle (it doesn’t need to be perfect), flour the surface of the dough, and cut the dough to divide it into 3-5 equal portions.  The fewer portions you make, the larger the pizzas.  The more portions, the smaller the pizzas. 

Shape each cut portion into a ball by cupping your hand over the dough ball and pressing down lightly while rotating your hand in a circle.  As you do this, the outside of the dough should become tauter and firmer.  Avoid tearing the dough as you are shaping the balls.  If the balls are sliding on the counter while trying to shape them, move the ball to a part of the counter that has no/less flour on it and try the shaping process again. 

Second Rise:

Place the dough balls seam side down on a lightly floured baking sheet.  Ensure there is space between the balls, so they have room to rise without touching each other.  Lightly flour the tops of each ball and cover the baking sheet with an airtight layer of plastic wrap.  Let the dough rest at room temperature for 6 hours.3 

After resting, the dough can be used at any time during the next 4 hours. 

Preparing for Baking:

While the homemade neapolitan pizza dough is finishing its second rise, prepare the pizza toppings.  Use any toppings you want/like.  We like to get creative sometimes.  My husband typically makes the pizza sauce from scratch, but you can use store-bought toppings if you would prefer.

At least 45 minutes before baking, move an oven rack to the highest level in the oven, place your baking steel on the oven rack4, and preheat your oven to the highest temperature it can be set.  In many American ovens, this is 550°F/288°C. 

Set a lightly floured pizza peel (i.e., the shovel-like tool that is used to move baked goods in and out of an oven)5 on the counter next to your work area. 

Begin shaping each ball of rested dough by placing the dough on a well-floured surface (e.g., the counter) and use your fingertips to push down on the center of the dough ball so the air moves toward the outer edge of the pizza.  In other words, the middle of the pizza should be deflated while the outer edge still has air.  Flip the dough over and repeat this process. You can also use the optional traditional stretching method below to reach the desired pizza size.  

Stretching the Homemade Neapolitan Pizza Dough (this step optional):

To stretch the pizza dough, imagine that the pizza is a clock.  Use floured hands to gently pick the pizza up at 10 and 2 on the “clock” and hold it in the air above the counter (i.e., vertically/straight up and down).  Your thumbs should be on the front of the pizza and approximately ½” from the edge of the dough.  Your other fingers should be in the back. 

Gently rotate your hands around the “clock” letting gravity stretch the dough.  After going around one time, change your grip one hand at a time from holding the dough to making your hand a fist and positioning your fist in the same position your thumbs had been.  Gently move your fists around the “clock” in the same manner as when you were holding the dough.  Gravity should still be stretching the dough (i.e., the dough should be hanging vertically).  Do not let the pizza dough stretch to the point that it tears.  Typically, in Neapolitan pizza, the center is quite thin, but you want to make sure there is enough dough to avoid ripping otherwise all of your delicious toppings will fall through your pizza.  If it seems like the dough is stretching too much, you can always move the pizza so it is partially resting on the counter while moving your hands around the edge of the dough. 

If at any time, the pizza dough gets sticky, just dust it with flour and then resume stretching the dough. 

Putting Dough on Pizza Peel:

At this point, the pizza should be the desired size (roughly 10-12 inches in diameter if the dough was divided into 3 portions).  Place it on the lightly floured peel and before topping it, gently shake the peel to ensure the dough slides without sticking.  If it does stick, immediately remove the dough, add more flour to the peel, and then try again to shake the dough on the peel.  If the dough does not slide freely at this point, it’s likely you’ll have trouble sliding the pizza into the oven to bake, which can result in squished or torn pizzas with toppings typically falling to the bottom of the oven and burning (not enjoyable…trust me).  Continue sprinkling flour until the dough slides freely on the peel. 

If you’d like, you can avoid this hassle by placing some parchment paper under the pizza rather than flouring the peel.  This allows the pizza to slide easily.  There are a few things to keep in mind if you decide to use the parchment paper method.  First, the excess parchment paper (i.e., the paper that is not covered by the pizza) will need to be trimmed before going into the oven.  This exposed paper has the potential to catch fire.  Second, the bottom of the pizza crust does not brown as much when using parchment paper.  As you can see in the picture, I opt for convenience. 

Adding Toppings and Baking Pizza: 

IMPORTANT NOTE: As I mentioned above, we use a baking steel (similar to this one) in our oven to bake the pizzas.6  This results in the pizzas cooking very quickly.  It’s likely that if you use other materials (e.g., cast-iron skillet, baking stone, baking sheet) you will need to increase the baking time. 

There are two primary methods of baking that we use to cook our Homemade Neapolitan Pizza. 

The first method, and the one pictured here, is to cover the pizza dough in a thin layer of sauce and toppings and then place it in the preheated oven to cook for 2-4 minutes.  Without opening the oven door, turn on the broiler and continue cooking for an additional 1-3 minutes (or until done).  Keep in mind that less is more when adding pizza toppings for this pizza.  If you add too much sauce or toppings that are high in moisture, the dough can become soggy while cooking. 

The second baking method yields a crunchier pizza crust.  This is my preferred method.  Place the pizza into the oven WITHOUT toppings and bake for 2-4 minutes.  Then, take the pizza out of the oven and carefully add the toppings.  Return the pizza to the oven, turn on the broiler and bake for an additional 1-3 minutes (or until done). 

Ready to Eat!!

Use a pizza peel to remove the pizza from the oven and set it on a cooling rack.  The pizza edges should be puffed and brown, while the toppings should be cooked through and the cheese melted and browned.  Allow the pizza cool for a minute before cutting and eating. 

If making additional homemade neapolitan pizzas, allow the oven to return to the preheated temperature (approximately 5-10 minutes) before putting another pizza in the oven to bake. 

Whether you’re having a relaxed night in or a get together where everyone makes their own personal pie, it’s the perfect way to get creative with your meal.  Have fun with the toppings and see what delicious combinations you discover!

Let me know if you have any methods that you use to make delicious pizza at home.  I would love to pass them on to my husband in his quest to make the best homemade pizza!

Check Out These Other Bread and Savory Recipes

Homemade Neapolitan Pizza

Equipment

  • Baking steel (or baking stone, cast-iron skillet, upside down aluminum baking sheet)
  • Pizza Peel

Ingredients

  • cups (350g) water (90-95°F/32-35°C)
  • tsp (15g) fine sea salt
  • tsp (0.3g) instant dried yeast
  • Scant 4 cups (500g) white flour, preferably 00

Instructions

Making Homemade Neapolitan Pizza Dough

  • Place water into the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl if mixing by hand) and stir in the sea salt until it has dissolved. Add the instant dried yeast to the water and let it sit for approximately one minute before stirring until the yeast is dissolved.
  • Add the flour all at once to the water mixture and begin mixing in the flour using a dough hook on the “stir” setting (i.e., the lowest speed) until the dough forms a cohesive ball/clump (approximately 30 seconds – 1 minute).
  • If mixing by hand, gently use your hand to stir until the dough begins to form into a single rough clump. Squeeze the dough multiple times in your fist to fully incorporate the flour into the mixture and periodically fold the dough from the bottom of the bowl onto the top of the mixture until the dough forms a cohesive ball/clump. This should only take 30 seconds – 1 minute to complete.
  • The temperature of the dough at this point should be approximately 80°F/27°C.

Kneading and First Rise

  • Allow the dough to rest in the bowl for 20 minutes before tipping it out onto a lightly floured counter. Knead the dough for 1 minute or until the outside of the dough ball is very smooth. Place the pizza dough ball (seam side down) into a lightly oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap (make sure there is an airtight seal), place a kitchen towel over the top, and allow the dough to rise for approximately 2 hours. The dough should be kept at room temperature (i.e., 74°F/23°C).

Shaping Pizza Dough Balls

  • Lightly flour the counter and your hands before gently removing the pizza dough from the bowl. Arrange the dough into a rectangle (it doesn’t need to be perfect), flour the surface of the dough, and cut the dough to divide it into 3-5 equal portions. The fewer portions you make, the larger the pizzas. The more portions, the smaller the pizzas.
  • Shape each cut portion into a ball by cupping your hand over the dough ball and pressing down lightly while rotating your hand in a circle. As you do this, the outside of the dough should become tauter and firmer. Avoid tearing the dough as you are shaping the balls. If the balls are sliding on the counter while trying to shape them, move the ball to a part of the counter that has no/less flour on it and try the shaping process again.

Second Rise

  • Place the dough balls seam side down on a lightly floured baking sheet. Ensure there is space between the balls, so they have room to rise without touching each other. Lightly flour the tops of each ball and cover the baking sheet with an airtight layer of plastic wrap. Let the dough rest at room temperature for 6 hours.
  • After resting, the dough can be used at any time during the next 4 hours.

Preparing for Baking

  • While the homemade neapolitan pizza dough is finishing its second rise, prepare the pizza toppings. Use any toppings you like. My husband typically makes the pizza sauce from scratch, but you can use store-bought toppings if you would prefer.
  • At least 45 minutes before baking, move an oven rack to the highest level in the oven, place your baking steel on the oven rack, and preheat your oven to the highest temperature it can be set. In many American ovens, this is 550°F/288°C.
  • Set a lightly floured pizza peel on the counter next to your work area.
  • Begin shaping each ball of rested dough by placing the dough on a well-floured surface (e.g., the counter) and use your fingertips to push down on the center of the dough ball so the air moves toward the outer edge of the pizza. In other words, the middle of the pizza should be deflated while the outer edge still has air. Flip the dough over and repeat this process. You can also use the optional traditional stretching method below to reach the desired pizza size.

Stretching the Homemade Neapolitan Pizza Dough (this step optional)

  • To stretch the pizza dough, imagine that the pizza is a clock. Use floured hands to gently pick the pizza up at 10 and 2 on the “clock” and hold it in the air above the counter (i.e., vertically/straight up and down). Your thumbs should be on the front of the pizza and approximately ½” from the edge of the dough. Your other fingers should be in the back.
  • Gently rotate your hands around the “clock” letting gravity stretch the dough. After going around one time, change your grip one hand at a time from holding the dough to making your hand a fist and positioning your fist in the same position your thumbs had been. Gently move your fists around the “clock” in the same manner as when you were holding the dough. Gravity should still be stretching the dough (i.e., the dough should be hanging vertically). Do not let the pizza dough stretch to the point that it tears. Typically, in Neapolitan pizza, the center is quite thin, but you want to make sure there is enough dough to avoid ripping otherwise all of your delicious toppings will fall through your pizza. If it seems like the dough is stretching too much, you can always move the pizza so it is partially resting on the counter while moving your hands around the edge of the dough.
  • If at any time, the pizza dough gets sticky, just dust it with flour and then resume stretching the dough.

Putting Dough on Pizza Peel

  • At this point, the pizza should be the desired size (roughly 10-12 inches in diameter if the dough was divided into 3 portions). Place it on the lightly floured peel and before topping it, gently shake the peel to ensure the dough slides without sticking. If it does stick, immediately remove the dough, add more flour to the peel, and then try again to shake the dough on the peel. If the dough does not slide freely at this point, it’s likely you’ll have trouble sliding the pizza into the oven to bake, which can result in squished or torn pizzas with toppings typically falling to the bottom of the oven and burning (not enjoyable…trust me). Continue sprinkling flour until the dough slides freely on the peel.
  • If you’d like, you can avoid this hassle by placing some parchment paper under the pizza rather than flouring the peel. This allows the pizza to slide easily. There are a few things to keep in mind if you decide to use the parchment paper method. First, the excess parchment paper (i.e., the paper that is not covered by the pizza) will need to be trimmed before going into the oven. This exposed paper has the potential to catch fire. Second, the bottom of the pizza crust does not brown as much when using parchment paper.

Adding Toppings and Baking Pizza

  • IMPORTANT NOTE: As I mentioned above, we use a baking steel (similar to this one) in our oven to bake the pizzas.6 This results in the pizzas cooking very quickly. It’s likely that if you use other materials (e.g., cast-iron skillet, baking stone, baking sheet) you will need to increase the baking time.
  • There are two primary methods of baking that we use to cook our Homemade Neapolitan Pizza.
  • The first method, is to cover the pizza dough in a thin layer of sauce and toppings and then place it in the preheated oven to cook for 2-4 minutes. Without opening the oven door, turn on the broiler and continue cooking for an additional 1-3 minutes (or until done). Keep in mind that less is more when adding pizza toppings for this pizza. If you add too much sauce or toppings that are high in moisture, the dough can become soggy while cooking.
  • The second baking method yields a crunchier pizza crust. This is my preferred method. Place the pizza into the oven WITHOUT toppings and bake for 2-4 minutes. Then, take the pizza out of the oven and carefully add the toppings. Return the pizza to the oven, turn on the broiler and bake for an additional 1-3 minutes (or until done).

Ready to Eat!!

  • Use a pizza peel to remove the pizza from the oven and set it on a cooling rack. The pizza edges should be puffed and brown, while the toppings should be cooked through and the cheese melted and browned. Allow the pizza cool for a minute before cutting and eating.
  • If making additional homemade neapolitan pizzas, allow the oven to return to the preheated temperature (approximately 5-10 minutes) before putting another pizza in the oven to bake.
Notes:
  1. “Scant” means that the measurement should just barely come to amount.  In other words, don’t pack the dry measurement cup full and you could even fill it slightly below the rim of the measuring cup.  (Back to “Ingredients” section)
  2. “00” flour is a very fine flour that is commonly used in pizza making.  You can substitute all-purpose flour, but the texture will likely be a little different (e.g., the dough will be a little less elastic and will have smaller bubbles in the crust while baking).  You might need to add a little extra water if you only use all-purpose flour. (Back to “Ingredients” section)
  3. If you want to use the dough for the following day, let the dough rise for the second time for 4 hours (rather than 6), then place the covered dough balls in the refrigerator overnight.  Remove the dough from the refrigerator one hour before cooking.  (Back to “Second Rise” section)
  4. If you don’t have a baking steel, you can use a cast-iron skillet, baking stone, or even an upside-down aluminum baking sheet instead.  All of these products should help transfer the heat into the pizza dough and make it bake more quickly although baking times will likely increase if using products other than a baking steel.  (Back to “Preparing for Baking” section)
  5. We have both a wooden and metal pizza peel and we have found that the wooden peel is easier for putting pizza into the oven, because the pizza is less likely to stick to the wood.  (Back to “Preparing for Baking” section)
  6. If you would like information about how to obtain, prepare, or maintain a baking steel, please feel free to email me at [email protected]. (Back to “Adding Toppings and Baking Pizza” section)
  7. I adapted this recipe from Ken Forkish’s Saturday Pizza Dough recipe in “The Elements of Pizza” Cookbook.

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