The first thing that comes to most people’s minds when you say “pizza” is a light, airy crust with high edges and toppings in the thin middle.
The Neapolitan pizza crust is a yeasted dough made from flour, water, yeast, and salt. This crust rises and bakes quickly into a light, airy, well-risen crust to support the classic Neapolitan pizza. Napoletana Pizzas will have a thin/crispy base with a thicker, chewier, puffy yet crunchy edge. In Italian, this is called the Cornicione.
The keys to this pizza type are a hot oven and a strong gluten structure in the dough.
Here’s what you need to know about the history, science, ingredients, recipes, and cooking methods for Neapolitan pizza crust.
What is Neapolitan pizza crust?
Neapolitan pizza is pizza made in the style that originated in the city of Naples in Italy. It’s believed to have originated in the 1500s during the reign of King Umberto I and Queen Margherita, where the classic pizza Margherita received its name.
It is so well-respected in the country that the Italians formed The True Neapolitan Pizza Association, or the AVPN (with the acronym taken from the Italian name, Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana).
The AVPN was formed in 1984 and supported by the Chamber of Commerce, Handicrafts, and Industry. This organization explicitly regulates the classification of Neapolitan pizza; a pizza cannot officially be called Neapolitan without their seal of approval.
They have strict standards for the dough and its ingredients and the sauce, cheese, and other toppings that you are allowed to put on the pie.
They even have special certifications for pizzaioli (pizza makers)!
Neapolitan pizza is served in a round disk about 13-15 inches across, with a very thin center (often no more than a tenth of an inch thick) and a wider, thicker, bubbly crust (up to half an inch tall).
If that’s the pizza you imagined, you are one of the millions who enjoy a Neapolitan pizza crust.
What makes Neapolitan pizza crust unique?
The Neapolitan pizza crust is unique in that it is a highly hydrated, stretchy, and quickly baked dough.
The pizza is cooked ideally in a woodfire oven, allowing fast baking and a shorter cooling time. The gases trapped in the dough expand quickly, meaning the pizza does not have a chance to dry on the inside.
It is also a dough with high gluten content. Gluten is a form of protein present in wheat and other grains. It is a naturally occurring binding agent whose structure holds disparate chemicals together to form solid internal networks in a food. Hence, making the pizza dough so stretchy and high-rising.
What is a Neapolitan pizza crust made of
The traditional Neapolitan dough is considered lean or yeasted dough created from only four ingredients.
The first is high-quality 00 (or incredibly fine) flour. Some experts recommend bread flour, while others insist that you can use all-purpose flour. You might also use a “pizza flour,” precisely milled for pizza dough making.
The next is room temperature water. Again, some will recommend filtered water, though it’s unnecessary; you can use regular tap water.
Next is yeast, either instant or fresh. Ensure that the yeast is alive and active.
Finally, add sea salt. You can use kosher salt or a courser grind, though it will not give you the same texture as classic salt.
With so few ingredients involved, it’s essential to have high-quality ingredients and allow for a more extended fermentation period for the yeast. This period will help develop a richer flavor and better rise.
Variations in the dough making method
You can skip some steps in the process for certain variations on the dough and depending on the recipe you follow. For example, if you make a single-pie dough recipe, you do not need to portion it off.
You can skip the overnight rest, though you will be missing out on the depth of flavor this provides. The amount of rising time you’ll need is different depending on the recipe you’re using, as will the amounts of each ingredient.
Additionally, there are multiple ways to knead your dough.
You can use the traditional kneading method by hand until the pizza dough passes the “windowpane test.” Or until you can stretch a small amount of dough until translucent without tearing it.
You can also use a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment or food processor, though these will not always produce an evenly mixed and kneaded dough.
Cooking Neapolitan pizza crust
The best and most classical method of making Neapolitan pizza is in a woodfire pizza oven. These ovens can reach incredibly high temperatures (upwards of 750 degrees Fahrenheit or 400 degrees Celsius) and infuse the pizza with a smokier flavor.
You can use a home oven set on its highest setting with a pizza stone, though this will not offer the same crispness and char flavor as a classic pizza oven. You will also have to watch closely to avoid burning.
If you choose to use a broiler to heat your pizza, ensure at least eight inches of clearance between the surface of the pizza and the heating element.
Any less may cause a fire due to the pizza rising enough to contact the element.
Neapolitan pizza crusts are some of the most classic and recognizable versions of the food. When you think of pizza, it’s probably the Neapolitan crust you imagine – light, fluffy, crispy on the outside yet full of air and flavor.
Its particular ingredients, recipes, and cooking methods are well-guarded secrets for many chefs and pizzaioli. Still, all of these recipes started as a typical mid-week food for hard-working people, and the dish remains such today.
Though it’s definitely not the only kind of pizza and may not even be the oldest kind, it is a well-deserved favorite for people in Naples and worldwide.