I made this kale and crème fraîche pizza last summer on Instagram stories, and I’ve been meaning to post the recipe here ever since. It’s included below along with all the tricks I know to make great Neapolitan-style pizza at home.
If you’re looking to up your homemade pizza game at home — to pull rounds of dough from your oven with ballooned and blistered edges, with crisp but pliable crusts — I have a few thoughts. Let’s start here:
Two Tips to Start
- The single best and easiest step you can take to make better pizza at home is to invest in a Baking Steel. (Details follow.)
- Next, get comfortable working with high-hydration pizza doughs. High-hydration doughs, such as Jim Lahey’s popular no-knead dough (recipe below), are doughs with a high proportion of water relative to the flour. The high proportion of water allows these types of doughs to be mixed together quickly and easily — no kneading or stand mixer required — and it also will create a dough (and, in turn, a crust) with beautiful air pockets throughout:
See those bubbles?
Those bubbles become these ballooned textures throughout the dough:
Let’s dig a little deeper.
Why the Baking Steel vs. a stone?
Steel is a more conductive cooking surface than stone. This means heat transfers more quickly from steel to food than it does from stone to food. Why is this important for pizza? Serious Eats’ Kenji J Lopez Alt offers this explanation:
- “How does the baking surface affect hole structure? Well those crust holes develop when air and water vapor trapped inside the dough matrix suddenly expand upon heating in a phenomenon known as oven spring. The faster you can transfer energy to the dough, the bigger those glorious bubbles will be, and the airier and more delicate the crust.”
Makes sense, right?
How to Handle High-Hydration Doughs
In a word: minimally. Jim Lahey says:
- “While I’m not picky about the flour — either bread flour or all-purpose is fine — what does concern me is how the dough is handled. Treat it gently so the dough holds its character, its texture. When you get around to shaping the disk for a pie, go easy as you stretch it to allow it to retain a bit of bumpiness (I think of it as blistering), so not all of the gas is smashed out of the fermented dough.”
As soon as I began really paying attention to how I shaped my pizza rounds by taking care to use a gentle hand, I noticed a difference in the finished product. The air pockets pervading the unbaked round really affect the texture of the baked pizza.
Anything Else To Consider?
Tipo 00 flour. Several years ago, a series of delicious lunches at 2Amys Pizzeria in NW Washington DC convinced me it was time to get my hands on some tipo 00 flour, the flour requisite in the production of D.O.C. Neapolitan pizza. I ordered a few bags from Amazon and couldn’t have been more pleased with the results: when made with tipo 00 flour, my homemade pizza had never tasted so good nor had the texture been better.
Truth be told, I don’t always have tipo 00 flour on hand, and when I don’t, I get fine results with all-purpose flour. I do feel strongly, however, that tipo 00 flour produces a superior product, especially in regard to texture. The crust of the baked pizza is a bit more tender, and the outer edge has a bit more chew. Additionally, the unbaked dough is softer, more delicate, and easier to shape — it doesn’t resist the shaping as much as the dough made with bread flour.
Contrary to popular belief, the “00” is not an indicator of protein content. It refers, rather, to the fineness of the milling, “00” being the finest grade in the Italian classification system.
If you’re not up for purchasing a new flour just yet, you absolutely can use all-purpose flour or bread flour. Be sure to look for unbleached and unbromated flour. My preference is King Arthur Flour.
D.O.C. Neapolitan Pizza
Finally, since we are talking about Neapolitan pizza, it’s worth noting that this means. According to the strict requirements outlined by the Italian government, to produce D.O.C. Neapolitan pizza, the dough must be made with tipo 00 flour, fresh yeast, water and salt. The toppings must not extend beyond Italian plum tomatoes, mozzarella di bufala, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh basil and dried oregano. The pizza must be baked in a wood-burning oven; the dough must be shaped by hand; and the final size must be no larger than 11 inches.
Let’s Get Started: Equipment
1. Baking Steel:
I like to place my Baking Steel in the top third of my oven.
2. A pizza peel. You need a mechanism to get the dough round from your counter to your Steel. A peel plus a sheet of parchment paper makes this easy.
3. Parchment paper. For easy transfer of pizza from peel to Steel, my preference is to use parchment paper, which stays with the pizza in the oven. The alternative is to sprinkle your peel with cornmeal or flour or something to prevent it from sticking. These ingredients ultimately end up burning on the Steel or making a mess on your oven floor. No thank you. Recently, I’ve been buying these rounds, but standard rectangular sheets of parchment work just fine, too.
4. Quart containers: These are the handiest containers for all sorts of things (soups, stocks, stews) but especially rounds of pizza dough. Dough can stay in the fridge for up to 3 days.
The two containers on the left hold freshly made dough; the two on the right hold dough that’s been stored in the fridge for 2 days.
Bubbles! The advantage of storing dough in the fridge for a day or two. More on this in the recipe.
Visual How-To: Making the Pizza Dough
I’ve included two pizza dough recipes below. The first is Jim Lahey’s, which requires a long rise. The second is the peasant pizza recipe from my cookbook, Bead Toast Crumbs, which requires a short rise. No matter which recipe you use, the process is the same:
Whisk together flour, salt, and instant yeast (SAF is my preference):
Add water, and …
… mix to form a sticky dough ball:
Let rise in a warm spot till nearly doubled.
Turn out onto a floured work surface.
Divide and …
… ball up, using as much flour as needed.
If you are baking pizza immediately, let the dough rest for 30 minutes to an hour before shaping or transfer the balls to quart containers and stick in the fridge.
This is dough after a night in the fridge.
Turn it out onto a floured work surface and use your fingertips to gently stretch the dough into small discs.
After an hour, the discs will have puffed.
Prepare your peel with a piece of parchment and a drop of olive oil.
When you are ready to bake, gently stretch a round of dough with your hands (not a rolling pin) into an 11-inch (roughly) round, being careful not to deflate all of the air bubbles.
Once your dough is stretched and on the peel, you can top it however you wish. This is one of my favorites: crème fraîche with kale, garlic, and parmesan. Step one, spread 2 tablespoons crème fraîche over the dough. Top with a minced garlic clove.
Sprinkle lightly with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.
Top with kale tossed with olive oil and sea salt.
Transfer to Baking Steel that has heated for at least 45 minutes at 550ºF.
Bake 5 minutes. Serve immediately.
Here’s a classic Margherita Pizza:
The beauty to the Baking Steel + high hydration dough: oven spring.
Dough Source: Jim Lahey’s: My Pizza. This dough takes five minutes to throw together but must be made a day or two before you plan on baking.
I love to use this Tipo 00 flour, which I order in bulk and store in the freezer, for this recipe because one bag conveniently weighs 1000g, which is what the recipe calls for.
- 7 1/2 cups (1000 grams) all-purpose or tipo 00 flour, plus more for shaping dough
- 4 teaspoons fine sea salt (I use Diamond Crystal kosher salt)
- 1/2 teaspoon instant or active dry yeast
for each pizza:
- extra-virgin olive oil
- baby kale, about 2 oz.
- nice sea salt, such as Maldon
- 2 tablespoons crème fraîche
- 1 garlic clove minced
- 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- Whisk flour, salt, and yeast in a medium bowl. Add 3 cups water; stir until well incorporated. Add more water if necessary, a tablespoon at a time — dough should not be stiff. Cover with plastic wrap or a cloth bowl cover and let dough rise at room temperature in a draft-free area until surface is covered with tiny bubbles and dough has more than doubled in size, about 18 hours (time will vary depending on the temperature in the room).
- Transfer dough to a floured work surface. Gently shape into a rough ball. Divide into 6 equal portions. Working with 1 portion at a time, quickly shape into a ball. Dust dough with flour; set aside on work surface or a floured baking sheet. Repeat with remaining portions.
- Let dough rest, covered with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel, until soft and pliable, about 1 hour. Proceed with recipe or transfer each to a plastic quart container, cover, and store in fridge.
- To Make the Pizzas: Pull out a pizza round from the fridge one hour before you plan on baking. Dust dough with flour and place on a floured work surface. Place a Baking Steel on a rack set in the top third of the oven, and heat oven to its hottest setting, 550°F. Be sure the Steel heats at the hottest setting for at least 45 minutes.
- Place a sheet of parchment paper on a peel. Drizzle a few drops of oil (1/2 a teaspoon or so) into the center. Spread with your hand. Gently shape dough into a 10″–12″ disk handling it as minimally as possible. Arrange dough disk on parchment-lined baking peel.
- Top pizza as desired or to make this kale and crème fraîche pizza: Place the kale in a small bowl, drizzle with olive oil, season with sea salt, and toss. Spoon crème fraîche over the dough leaving a 1/2-inch border or so. Sprinkle with the garlic and a handful of the grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Top with the kale. Shimmy the pizza, parchment paper and all into the oven.
- Bake pizza until top is blistered, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a work surface. Slice and serve.
Keywords: pizza, neapolitan, no-knead dough, jim lahey
This is a double recipe of the peasant pizza dough in my cookbook, Bread Toast Crumbs.
This recipe yields 4 rounds of dough. Recipe can be halved; dough can be refrigerated. I refrigerate individual rounds of dough in quart containers.
If you are unfamiliar with the peasant bread dough, it is a very wet, no-knead dough. The key when handling it, is to use as much flour as necessary to keep it from sticking to the board and your hands.
Mozzarella: Buy fresh mozzarella not stored in brine to prevent the dough from getting too soggy.
If you need to use active dry yeast instead, proof it in the lukewarm water with a pinch of sugar first for about 10 minutes, until foamy, before adding to the other ingredients.
Note: Here’s a trick for making the perfect warm spot for the dough to rise. Set the oven to 400° F and let it preheat for 1 minute, then shut it off. The temperature will be between 80° F and 100° F. you should be able to place your hands (carefully) on the oven grates without burning them.
for the dough
- 4 cups (512 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for assembly
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon instant yeast
- 2 cups lukewarm water (made my stirring together 1.5 cups cold water and .5 cups boiling water)
toppings for kale & crème fraîche:
- extra-virgin olive oil
- a couple handfuls of baby kale
- 1 to 2 cloves garlic
- Sea salt, such as Maldon
- 2 tablespoons crème fraîche
- grated Parmigiano Reggiano, about 1/4 to 1/3 cup
- To make the dough: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and instant yeast. Add the water. Using a rubber spatula, mix until the water is absorbed and the ingredients form a sticky dough ball.
- Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel or plastic wrap and set aside in a warm spot to rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the dough has doubled in bulk.
- If you are baking the pizzas right away (as opposed to refrigerating the dough for another day), place a Baking Steel or pizza stone in top third of oven and preheat oven to its hottest setting, 550°F. Be sure the Baking Steel heats for at least 45 minutes once the oven temperature reaches 550ºF.
- Cover a work surface or cutting board liberally with flour — use at least 1/4 cup and more as needed. The dough is very wet, so don’t hesitate to use flour as needed. Using two forks, deflate the dough by releasing it from the sides of the bowl and pulling it toward the center. Rotate the bowl quarter turns as you deflate, turning the mass into a rough ball. Turn the dough out onto your floured surface and use a bench scraper to divide the dough into 4 equal portions. With floured hands, roll each portion into a ball, using the pinkie-edges of your hands to pinch the dough underneath each ball. Let the balls sit on their tucked-in edges for at least 30 minutes without touching.
- Proceed with recipe or transfer each round of dough to a plastic quart container, cover, and store in fridge.
- To Make the Pizzas: Pull out a pizza round from the fridge one hour before you plan on baking. Dust dough with flour and place on a floured work surface. Gently shape dough into a 10″–12″ disk handling it as minimally as possible. Lay a sheet of parchment paper of a pizza peel, and pour a few drops of oil into the center of it. Transfer the dough round to the parchment-lined baking peel.
- Top pizza as desired or to make this kale and crème fraîche pizza: Place the kale in a small bowl, drizzle with olive oil, season with sea salt, and toss. Spoon crème fraîche over the dough leaving a 1/2-inch border or so—I use about a tablespoon per pizza. Sprinkle with the garlic and a handful of the grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Top with the kale. Shimmy the pizza, parchment paper and all into the oven.
- Bake pizza until top is blistered, about 5 minutes. Transfer to cutting board. Cut and serve. Discard parchment paper.
Keywords: pizza, neapolitan, no-knead dough
All the pizzas you could make: