More than 100 years ago, pizzas began emerging from East Coast coal-fired ovens as millions of Italians pursued a better life in America. What was once seen as a foreign food has since evolved into an American staple: About 350 slices of pizza are consumed each second!
The breadth and variety of today’s pizza stretches the imagination – deep-dish, stuffed-crust, thin, thick, New York, Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis-style, take and bake, frozen and bites. The options are limitless. Pizza is also served everywhere, from the finest restaurants (fois gras, truffle and caramelized onion) to the gas station hotbox (pepperoni, sausage and ham). Our flair for over-the-top creative fusion has taken pizza to new heights of style and presentation, flavor and complexity, and delivery and convenience.
A recent artisan movement, however, is dedicated to returning pizza to its simple and traditional Italian origins. There is a great deal of debate surrounding the topic of true Pizza Napoletana; there are even official Italian Government certifications for those who wish to prove the veracity of their pizza. In truth, simplicity is the key to producing great Naples-style pizza: simple dough, fresh and unassuming toppings, and a hot, fast bake.
Delicious Naples-style dough
Similar to the artisan influence with bread, Naples-style dough utilizes the primary building blocks of baking – flour, water, yeast and salt. The dough is not overly fermented since it is usually made the same day it is baked. The stretched dough is typically never larger than 10 or 11 inches.
The traditional formula is based on standard Italian flours and the flour commonly used for the Naples-style dough is Type 00. Italian law establishes that flour is to be produced to specific characteristics and then labeled as specific flour type: Type 00, 0, 1, 2 or Wheat. The different designations are relative to the ash value of the flour.
Domestically, we do not have flour standards that mandate the level of ash. Therefore, we do not have designated flour types. Type 00 flour has certainly created a buzz in the pizza industry, and many operators are willing to pay the price for imported flour in order to advertise “authentic” Italian ingredients, but domestic millers have flours available that meet the need for developing a Naples-style crust.
Toppings with taste
Although there are strict rules regarding the toppings that can be used in producing “certified” Naples pizza, there is still plenty of room for creativity while adhering to authenticity. The most basic starting point is Pizza Margherita; it is simply topped with ground tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, a bit of fresh basil and a generous drizzle of olive oil.
The real key is not to overload the pizza with toppings; just use a couple of quality ingredients that complement each other well. Do you want to add a bit of salt to the tomatoes? Do you want to skip the sauce and add olives and a bit of sausage? Go for it; just don’t get too carried away, or those footsteps you hear outside your bakery might be the Italian Pizza Police. The minute you add fruit other than figs or grapes, you have stepped out of bounds.
Naples-style pizza is baked quickly and directly on the floor of a very hot oven. The return to stone hearth pizza baking in the United States actually preceded and may have inspired this latest quest for original Naples-style pizza. The certifying groups insist that the bake time be no longer than 90 seconds; this means that your oven deck needs to be somewhere between 675°F and 750°F. Air temperatures in these ovens can actually top 1,000°F.
Naples-style pizza is characterized by some crispiness of the edge, where the rapid oven spring creates thin membranes covering a wonderfully inconsistent crumb. It is a balance between crispy and chewy, between fresh and charred. Due to its short stay in the oven at these temperatures, the pizza crust retains much of its moisture, and is best enjoyed right away. A longer bake (2 to 3 minutes) at a lower temperature (575°F – 625°F) results in more crispness, and may deliver a more texturally pleasing pie – especially if delivery is required.
Guidance for a bakery cafe
For anyone thinking of adding Naples-style pizza to their menu while the US consumer is still hungry for it, here are some considerations. Study up on the style, but don’t be intimidated by the certifying groups. Your consumer is likely to allow you a fair amount of creative license in your interpretation of Naples-style pizza. Determine just how authentic you need to be to please yourself and your customers.
You don’t need to import your flour, olive oil, water, tomatoes, cheese or even your oven; US producers and manufacturers have already got you covered. Do we still need to travel to France, or import French flour and ovens to get a great loaf of French bread? Mais non! Using US-made products and regional specialties as toppings can make your cafe the place to go for those who care about their food. Just remember to keep it simple, and be true to your inner pizzaiolo!
Michael Brockman is a Corporate Chef at Wood Stone Corporation, and Tim Huff is a Technical Services Manager at General Mills’ Bakery & Culinary Technical Services Team.