Neapolitan Pizza Dough Hydration

“Neapolitan” refers to something from Naples, which is exactly where Neapolitan pizza was born back in 1889. It came into existence after Queen Margherita of Savoy visited the city and a special pizza was made in her honor.

The toppings of the pizza were made to reflect the colors of the Italian flag. Neapolitan pizza is even on UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage, which means that it must be made in a specific way in order for it to be considered authentic Neapolitan pizza. 

Authentic Neapolitan pizza is a flat style of pizza made with tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. However, these topping ingredients must be a specific type to lay claim to the pizza’s protected status.

In terms of cheese, Neapolitan pizzas must be made with one of two specific kinds of cheese. The first is Mozzarella di Bufala Campana, a protected cheese made from the milk of water buffaloes that live in the Campania and Lazio regions.

The second is Fior di Latte di Agerola, a cow’s milk mozzarella from the Agerola area. 

There are also two tomato options to choose from when making Neapolitan pizza, both of which grow in the fertile volcanic soil near Mount Vesuvius.

The first is famous San Marzano tomatoes from Italy, which you can often find exported around the world. The second is the Pomodorino del Piennolo, a smaller grape tomato from the same region.

What’s so special about Neapolitan pizza?

Neapolitan pizza is in a whole other league than your average American pizza. It’s all about the best quality ingredients and great flavor. The topping to crust ratio on a Neapolitan pizza is very high, providing an intense and flavorful experience. 

However, Neopolitan pizza isn’t only known for its ingredients, it is loved for the tradition and precision of its craft. When it arrived in Europe from Peru in the 16th century, people initially didn’t know what to make of it.

However, people in poverty weren’t in a position to turn down food just because it’s unfamiliar. They began putting tomatoes on their flatbreads, and the dish began to catch on. 

Hundreds of years later, Naples has honed pizza into a craft. The Neapolitan pizza has specific requirements for ingredients, size, construction of its dough, and the way it’s prepared in a wood-burning oven.

How is Neapolitan pizza dough prepared?

You won’t need a fancy electric mixer for Neapolitan pizza dough, it’s best made by hand or with a low-speed mixer. Traditional Neapolitan pizza is hand-stretched and tossed and should have a thickness of around 3mm.

Next, the toppings are added (the specific kinds that we mentioned earlier). It’s then placed in a wood-burning pizza oven for just 60-90 seconds. You’ll know it’s ready when the dough is soft and tender. 

Preparing traditional Neapolitan pizza takes a certain level of skill and experience. This is why many aspiring chefs study the method in Naples. This style of pizza prides itself in the detailed process - from the sourcing of the specific ingredients to the traditional cooking style. 

What is meant by pizza dough hydration?

The hydration of pizza dough is the amount of water in relation to the amount of flour, expressed as percentages.

If a dough contains 1000g of flour and 400g of water, it has a hydration of 40%. The hydration will affect the properties of the flour, such as elasticity, stickiness, and rise of the pizza crust.

Too little hydration and the crust will come out dense and dry, while too much will result in a sticky and watery dough that is tricky to shape and difficult to slide into the oven.

In between these two extremes is the sweet spot of hydrating pizza dough. If done correctly, hydration will result in better oven spring, a more porous structure, and crispier crusts. It’s all about finding the perfect flour-to-water ratio. 

Why is pizza dough hydration important?

Hydration level is probably the most crucial element of making the perfect pizza dough.

Even by adjusting the amount of water slightly, you can significantly impact the final result of your dough. There are a few different factors that hydration effects, including rise, elasticity, and stickiness. 

  • Rise -  The higher the hydration levels in your dough, the faster it will rise. This is because water speeds up chemical reactions in the dough, as it allows the yeast to move freely within it. The more water you use will also weaken the gluten in the dough which creates large air pockets. These air pockets are filled with gas - the product of the fermentation process. Bubbles will then become visible on the surface of the dough which encourages a lighter and fluffier crust it is baked. The less water you add to your dough, the more dense the final result will be. Dense pizza doughs are notoriously difficult to stretch out.  
  • Elasticity -  The more water you add to your dough, the floppier and stretchier your dough becomes. The right amount will result in a soft dough that’s easy to shape and toss. However, avoid going overboard with the water. This can make the dough soggy which can be incredibly difficult to knead and shape. On the other hand, don’t be too stingy with the water either. A less hydrated dough will feel firm and dry, which results in very little elasticity. A dough with no stretch is very difficult to shape. Even once it’s baked, it’ll feel dense and tough. 
  • Stickiness - The more water you add to your pizza dough, the stickier and harder it will feel to the touch. A sticky pizza can be incredibly challenging to shape and toss, that’s if you even manage to peel it off the countertop. Struggling to get a gooey pizza in the oven is a potentially dangerous pursuit, so it’s best to avoid over-hydrating your dough. If you ever somehow find yourself working with a sticky dough, consider getting your hands on a pizza dough scraper. They’re essential in every pizzeria and will save you a whole load of time in the long run. 

What factors affect hydration levels?

There are a few factors that you should take into consideration when working with hydration.

These include adding too much flour or water, humidity, measurement accuracy, and altitude. 

  • Too much flour -  It’s important not to overdo it when adding flour to your dough as you knead it. The water and flour levels need to be specifically balanced to create the perfect pizza dough. If you use heaps of flour during kneading, you’re going to lose hydration. This is because the percentage of flour in the mixture has increased and the percentage of water has decreased. To avoid any dehydrated doughs, consider setting aside the flour you plan to use before you begin. Ration it appropriately during kneading and do not be tempted to add any more - you’ll starve your dough of water.
  • Too much water -  Sometimes it is necessary to dip your hands in water rather than use flour to prevent sticking during kneading. However, using too much additional water as you knead will increase the hydration of the dough. This is because the percentage of water in the mixture will be higher than the percentage of flour, making it slimy and difficult to handle.
  • Measurements - To ensure an accurate measurement of your ingredients, we recommend ditching cups and opting for a kitchen scale instead. Kitchen skills are far more accurate and leave little room for error when preparing pizza dough. Try to get your hands on a kitchen scale that can weigh in grams as this will improve the accuracy thus improving the result of your dough. Measuring ingredients such as flour in a cup is difficult to do accurately. 
  • Altitude - If you happen to be preparing your pizza dough at high altitudes, be prepared for your flour to feel a little drier than usual. The drier the flour is, the more water it is able to absorb. To remedy this, you should increase the amount of water that you use at high altitudes to achieve the same result you’d get at sea level
  • Humidity - You’re also going to need to take into account the humidity of your environment; both your kitchen and outdoors. This is because humidity can directly impact the hydration of your dough. The more humid the environment, the more moisture the flour will absorb from the air. If you live in a particularly humid place or cook in a very humid kitchen, you may have to decrease the amount of water you add to your dough in order to balance it out. On the other hand, if your environment isn’t humid enough, it could dehydrate your dough. If your location or kitchen is particularly dry, you should add more water accordingly to ensure the best results. 

How is Neapolitan pizza dough prepared?

You won’t need a fancy electric mixer for Neapolitan pizza dough, it’s best made by hand or with a low-speed mixer.

Traditional Neapolitan pizza is hand-stretched and tossed and should have a thickness of around 3mm. Next, the toppings are added (the specific kinds that we mentioned earlier).

It’s then placed in a wood-burning pizza oven for just 60-90 seconds. You’ll know it’s ready when the dough is soft and tender. 

Preparing traditional Neapolitan pizza takes a certain level of skill and experience. This is why many aspiring chefs study the method in Naples. This style of pizza prides itself in the detailed process - from the sourcing of the specific ingredients to the traditional cooking style. 

How hydrated should Neapolitan pizza dough be?

According to The True Neopolitan Pizza Association’s (AVPN) International Regulation, an authentic Neapolitan pizza should have a dough hydration between 55.5-62.5%. This is a pretty low percentage because wood-fired ovens are much hotter than conventional ovens.

As the pizza bakes very quickly, not a lot of moisture is evaporated from the dough. This low hydration percentage also makes the dough easier to shape.

Low hydration dough is typically less sticky than it’s high hydration counterpart. This makes transporting your pizza from your countertop to the oven a breeze. It helps to prevent the likelihood of any sticking, too. 

What if I don’t have a wood-fired oven?

If you’re not lucky enough to have access to a wood-fired oven, don’t stress. By making some adjustments to the hydration, you can successfully bake Neapolitan pizza dough in your home oven.

For the best results in a home oven, we recommend hydration of 65-70%. The reason for this increase in hydration is because the pizza will need to stay in the oven for a longer amount of time, therefore more moisture is evaporated.

More water is added to your dough during the preparation process at home to prevent dehydrating it and spoiling your pizza. If you use low hydration dough, you’ll end up with a hard, dry, and crunchy crust.

You can probably get away with using dough in the 65-70% hydration range. Some people prefer this lower hydration as it makes it more stretchy and can improve the crispiness of your crust.

To compete with a wood-burning oven, you should always bake your pizza on the highest setting. Consider using a pizza stone or pizza steel too, as these can increase the temperature and cook your pizza faster. For beginners though, 65-70% hydration is a good place to start. 

How flour type affects hydration

The type of flour you choose to use will dramatically affect the level of hydration necessary to make traditional Neapolitan pizza dough. It will depend on how much water your flour is able to absorb.

Therefore, not every dough will be the same at the same level of hydration. To get around this, you’ll need to find out the absorption level of the flour you’re using.

Is water absorption the same as hydration?

No. Water absorption shouldn’t be confused with hydration, as they’re very different things. It can get confusing as water absorption is also measured in percentages, so the figures can look similar.

Water absorption is the amount of water needed to attain the standard of viscosity, which is 500 B.U. This just refers to the standardized dough consistency.

As no two flour types are the same, they all require a different of water to achieve the same consistency. In a nutshell, water absorption is the amount of water that is needed to produce a certain consistency. 

If you want certain hydration levels, you’ll need to find out how much water your flour is capable of absorbing. For example, flour that has an absorption of 55% will have the same properties at 55% hydration as flour with 65% absorption at 65% hydration.

So the doughs will be equal in terms of consistency at different levels of hydration.

What type of flour should I use in my Neapolitan pizza dough?

The recommended flour type for Neapolitan pizza is Tipo 00. It’s commonly used in Italian cuisine and is known for its fine texture. This fine texture helps to achieve a soft and springy crust.

Despite its fineness, Tipo 00 flours are strong, this is why they produce doughs that are super easy to stretch. Flour strength refers to the amount of protein that is present in the flour.

There are two different types of protein found in flour; gliadin and glutenin. These will then combine to create gluten once they’re mixed with water.

Gluten is what makes the dough so strong and capable of holding shape. The protein content of a typical 00 Tipo flour is 12%, which is pretty high. To put it into perspective, your average all-purpose supermarket flour will probably contain no more than 10% protein. 

What does Baker’s percentage mean?

 If you’ve ever stumbled across the Baker’s percentage, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s going to be complicated.

However, it’s fairly easy to get your head around once you understand the formula. Baker’s percentage refers to the size of the portion of an ingredient in the dough, compared to flour.

The formula works as follows:

bakers percentage formula

As an example, imagine you’re working with a recipe that requires 2% salt. This means that 2% of the amount of flour you use should equal 2% of the amount of flour.

So 1000g of flour would require 2% of salt. The baker’s percentages are beneficial when scaling the recipe and far more effective than just pure weight. 

What if I can’t wrap my head around Baker’s Percentage?

If you can’t quite figure out the formula to baker’s percentage, we can’t blame you. Some recipes use just percentages, but fortunately, there’s a neat way to convert these percentages into weight measurements.

When showing a formula in bakers percent, the flour weight is always equal to 100%, and the amount of each ingredient is expressed as a percent of the total flour weight.

To change a dough formula by weight into bakers percent, you’ll want to divide the weight of each ingredient by the weight of the flour and multiply by 100. Here’s an example:

Starting with weight measures:

  • Flour: 40 lb. (640 oz.)
  • Salt: 11.2 oz.
  • Instant dry yeast: 2.4 oz.
  • Olive oil: 6.4 oz.
  • Water: 23 lb. and 3.2 oz. (371.2 oz.)

Converting to bakers percent:

  • Flour: 100% (always)
  • Salt: 11.2 oz. divided by 640 x 100 = 1.75%
  • Instant dry yeast: 2.4 oz. divided by 640 x 100 = 0.375%
  • Olive oil: 6.4 oz. divided by 640 x 100 = 1%
  • Water: 371.2 oz. divided by 640 x 100 = 58%

Now that we have the dough formula in bakers percent, we can manipulate the size of the dough based on the amount of flour we want to use.

Let’s say we want to increase the dough size to 50 pounds of flour:

  • Flour: 100% = 50 lb. (800 oz.)
  • Salt: 800 x 1.75, then press the “%” key = 14 oz.
  • Instant dry yeast: 800 x .375, then press the “%” key = 3 oz.
  • Olive oil: 800 x 1, then press the “%” key = 8 oz.
  • Water: 50 x 58, then press the “%” key = 29 lb.

Note that the weight of the ingredient will always be shown in the same weight units (pounds, ounces, grams, kilograms, etc.) that the flour weight is shown in. 


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