Tuesday 1 January 2013


Saturday was D-Day, Dough-Day to be clear, we didn't venture to Normandy. The aim was simple, to try a variety of dough recipes with a view to finding our favourite. We were sticking to classic Neapolitan pizzas which happen to be both our personal favourites and notoriously difficult to perfect. The dough has fewer ingredients typically than New York, or square pan Sicilian styles, but the higher temperatures required in cooking mean there's a fine line when aiming for a charred exterior but soft chewy cornicione - or crust to you and me.

I'm an engineer by background and the geek in me took over as I insisted on minimising the variations between each pizza so we could be sure that all we were testing was the dough. Each pizza was formed from the same flour (not Caputo Tippo 00, which I know I'd be marked down for in Naples, but Stoate's Organic Stoneground Strong White flour - I've got a 25kg sack of the stuff which I really should use up before ordering another). The same toppings were used, this was classic Neapolitan style so it had to be margheritas. The oven was held at the same temperate, well, within the relms of what's possible on a small domestic wood fired oven. We heated Bertha so the temperature of the stone read ~300 °C with a flue temperature of 400 °C. Ideally I'd have liked this higher as traditional Neapolitan ovens tend to run around 500 degrees, however there the heat source is from one side and they have a much more even distribution. In Bertha the fire is directly below the stones, so the bottom of the pizza tends to cook much quicker than the top. As a result, we ended up having to take them out early to avoid burning the base, which means the crusts lack the telltale leopard spot charring typical of Neapolitan pizzas, but you can't have everything… I'm already planning to experiment with the blowtorch to rectify this.
finally... almost pizza time
Margherita was the order of the day

time to cook

Bertha in action

Anyway, back to the dough. I ended up trying 4 variations, a sourdough recipe with a strong pedigree, as I believe it's used by Franco Manca, "The Best Pizza Dough Ever" recipe from 101 Cookbooks, which stems from acclaimed baker and author Peter Reinhart. We also tried a no knead recipe from the Slice pizza blog and finally another Peter Reinhart recipe (I'm a bit of a fan) from his Crust and Crumb book, which started with a pre-ferment, poolish or sponge, so was a bit different to the others. Four dough recipes - can't be that hard I thought. Error. Each required several day's preparation along with an elaborate mixing and resting schedule, so out came the note book again. I didn't help myself by selecting mainly US recipes either, how many millilitres of water are in a cup… (well it turns out it depends on your cup, that'd be 236ml for a US one or 250 for a metric one - I worked on the assumption that they're patriotic about their cups in the US, so went with 236).
my scribbles, complete with pizza stained tasting notes
Here's a summary of the different doughs I made:

Working Name
Pre-ferment / Special Preparation
Active sourdough starter (Clare)
20h ferment
Water: 250ml
Flour: 425g
Starter: 7.5g
Salt: 4.5g
Overnight rest for dough
Water: 196ml
Flour: 284g
Yeast: 1.5g
Salt: 6g
Olive oil 28g
No Knead
Room temp rise 8-12h
Refrigerate to prove for 2-4 days
Water: 242ml
Flour: 373g
Yeast: 5.6g
Salt: 7g
Active poolish
Overnight rest
Water: 89ml
Flour: 224g
Yeast: 0.5g
Salt: 7g
Olive oil: 56g
Poolish: 140g (Flour: 126g, Water: 236g, Yeast 1g)

As you can see from the ingredients column there was considerable faff to sort the ratios into manageable quantities, if we'd stuck to the original recipes we'd have ended up with enough dough for 32 pizzas, which even by our gluttonous standards seemed ambitious. This way we had just over 500g of dough from each recipe so we could make two 250g pizzas.

On to the pizzas themselves, and confusingly in the order we ate them:

No Knead:
Our thoughts: Very light and airy, best rise, crust like fluffy white bread, not much flavour.


Our thoughts: Sweet. Less rise, more 'crumb' texture. Tastes like potato cakes! More caramelised, could work well with blue cheeses and figs.

Our thoughts: Better rise than Poolish, lighter than No Knead, still little flavour.

Our thoughts: More complex and substantial, interesting flavour. Sweeter tomato mixture would work well to balance the sour flavour from the dough.

So there you have it, 4 different dough recipes with some surprisingly different results. I don't believe you can say which is the best, that's too subjective, but what we can say is which was our favourite, and that was the sourdough by quite some margin. It had a far more interesting flavour and added more to the overall taste rather than being just a receptacle for the topping. The dough was also one of the easiest to make too. Guess I shouldn't be too surprised that the recipe from the award winning Franco Manca came out on top, but we learned a lot along the way.

The first pizzas turned out so well we didn't feel the need to repeat the process, so after stuffing ourselves with an extra sourdough pizza we took the spare dough and made some focaccia (mmm… salt and olive oil) and a loaf too:


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