Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Pizza Napoletana

This week in the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge, we made the 25th bread in the challenge: Pizza Napoletana. Wow! Have we really made that many breads? My, how time flies while you're having fun, as the saying goes...

I love making pizza! I've been really psyched about trying this one.  I agree with Peter Reinhart's contention that it is the crust, not the toppings, that make a good pizza.  For some time now, I've been on a quest to find Pizza Nirvana, and I do believe this pizza crust has earned a place on my list of favorites.

Some of my other favorite pizzas are: Bread Machine Deep Dish Pizza prepared in a bread machine and baked in a La Cloche, No Knead Deep Dish Pizza made with a mixture of all-purpose and Semolina flours and baked in a 9" x 13" pan, and Brick Oven-Style Pizza made with a poolish and baked on a baking stone.

According to Peter Reinhart, "the single biggest flaw in most pizza dough recipes is the failure to instruct the maker to allow the dough to rest overnight in the refrigerator.  This gives the enzymes time to go to work, pulling out subtle flavor trapped in the starch.  The long rest also relaxes the gluten, allowing you to shape the dough easily, minimizing the elastic springiness that so often forces you to squeeze out all the gas." 

This Pizza Napoletana is similar to brick oven pizza in that it utilizes a poolish but it seems to have a smoky flavor.  Or, maybe it's because I rolled the dough too thin and it got a little burnt on the bottom. I don't know, but it sure was good!   All I know is that pizzas made with a poolish are so much better that there really is no comparison. I really liked this pizza and so did my taste tester.

Pizza Napoletana
I used the pizza dough from the Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart.

Before we get to the pizza crust, let me tell you about my favorite pizza sauce.  I've also been on a quest to create a homemade pizza sauce that is worthy of all of these wonderful crusts.  I found a combination I like.  It has a little kick to it which my sons and I really enjoy.

Here is my go to pizza sauce recipe. It's a combination of a couple of different recipes. It makes enough to top several medium pizzas.

My Favorite Pizza Sauce Recipe
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (you can add more if you like)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, undrained (or you can use fresh tomatoes if in season).
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil (or use dried basil if you prefer)
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar (I usually add a little more because I like the flavor)


Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 teaspoon olive oil to pan. Add onion; sauté 3 minutes or until tender. Add garlic to pan; sauté 30 seconds. Stir in wine; cook 30 seconds. Add tomato paste, oregano, black pepper, salt, crushed red pepper flakes, bay leaf and tomatoes and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat, and simmer for 15 minutes or until thick. Then stir in basil and vinegar and cool. It took about 30 minutes for my sauce to thicken. It also cooked down a good bit. This makes a chunky sauce so if you prefer a smooth sauce, you can puree it in the blender. I like it either way but my taste tester prefers the sauce smooth so I usually puree it.  Feel free to experiment.

Now on to the pizza crust....

Making the Pizza

On the day you want to make the pizza, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator 2 hours before making the pizza. 

Dust the counter with flour, and then mist the counter with spray oil.  Place the dough balls on top of the floured counter and sprinkle them with flour; dust your hands with flour.  Gently press the dough into flat disks about 1/2 inch thick and 5 inches in diameter.

Sprinkle the dough again with flour, mist it again with spray oil, and cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap or a food-grade plastic bag.  Let rest for 2 hours.

Baking the Pizza

45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lowest rack of the oven.  At least that's where it works best for my oven.  Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500 to 550 degrees).  I baked the first pizza at 550 degrees and it burned a little bit so I lowered the temperature to 500 degrees for the second one and that seemed to work out better.  If you don't have a baking stone, you can use the back of a sheet pan, but don't preheat the pan.

Generously dust a peel or the back of a sheet pan with semolina flour or cornmeal.  I used cornmeal.  Make the pizzas one at a time.  Dip your hands, including the backs of your hands and knuckles, in flour and lift 1 piece of dough by getting under it with a dough scraper.

I'll just let you know right now that I didn't shape the pizza exactly the way the book describes.  I still don't have the hang of stretching the pizza in the air and then tossing it. I did stretch it in the air a little bit, then finished stretching it on the counter.  I didn't need a rolling pin, I just used my fingers to spread the dough out.  

When you've stretched the dough enough (about 9 to 12 inches in diameter), lay it on the peel, making sure there is enough semolina flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide.  Or, you can do what I did and place the dough on parchment sprinkled with cornmeal then transfer the whole thing to the peel.  I find that much easier to manage.

I parbaked the first pizza crust for a few minutes before adding the toppings.  I didn't parbake the second pizza and we could definitely tell the difference.  We like it parbaked much better!

Lightly top the pizza with sauce and then with your favorite toppings.  In addition to the yummy pizza sauce, I topped my pizza with onions, green peppers and mozzarella cheese.

Slide the pizza onto the stone and close the door.  Wait 2 minutes, then take a peak to make sure it is baking evenly.  If necessary, you can rotate the pizza for even baking. The pizza should take about 5 to 8 minutes to bake.


Cooling and Serving the Pizza

Remove the pizza from the oven and transfer to a cutting board.  Wait 3 to 5 minutes before slicing and serving, to allow the cheese to set slightly.  This was the hard part!  But we managed.


Now it's time to enjoy some of this yummy pizza!

Thanks for joining us this week in the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge!  And, a big thanks to Nicole at Pinch My Salt for getting us started on this journey.  We're learning a lot and having loads of fun!

The next bread in Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge, is Poolish Baguettes. 
Happy Baking!


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