Napoletana Pizza: Chef Frank’s Story

 

 


Intro: The Big Day

Since my arrival in Naples a few days ago I have spent almost all of my time watching and working with the world’s best pizzaiolos. These pizzaiolos are all individually capable of producing Napoletana pizzas that will leave you speechless and wanting more.

Teaching the rest of the world how to create Naples-style pizza from scratch, however, takes a patient, unique and seriously committed person. Today, thanks to my host Caputo Flour, I will work with Enzo Coccia. Many believe that he is the premier teacher of the proud art of being a pizzaiolo. Enzo has taught his trade to people from all over the world. He is passionate about pizza and he takes his responsibility to instill the proper Napoletanaculinary tradition in all of his students (including me!) very seriously.

By the end of the day I am humbled by the simple precision of this sophisticated artisan. His professional makeup falls somewhere between scientist and magician. I harbor a sneaking suspicion he just might know the real formula for turning base metals into gold or water into wine. One thing is for sure–we have produced two beautiful batches of dough that are ready for the oven.

A Byte of Pizza History A modern pizza, that is, with mozzarella di bufala and tomato was made in 1871 in Naples for Princess Margherita of Savoia by Raffaele Esposito. This patriotic pizza, of basil, tomato and mozzarella, in honor of the new tricolor Italian flag’s red, green and white, became the pizza alla Margherita. 1

Sometime during the day, a day in which Enzo has demonstrated patience many times, he mentions ‘the Pizzaiolo’s life mixes a pinch of life, love and work’. I can’t help but feel fortunate to work for Wood Stone and to be here in Naples experiencing this moment. I feel fortunate for meeting Enzo and his fellow Pizzaiolos, the artisans that live this special life.

Please enjoy the recipes and procedures I learned in Naples  –Chef Frank and the Team at Wood Stone

1Per the Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN) Discipline and Specifications Manual. http://www.verapizzanapoletana.org/


The Dough

When the day started, little did I know it would require more ‘Forte’ (Strength), ‘Via’ (Go) and listening to ‘No’ (a word which with the slap of a wrist needs no translation into any language) then I can remember needing in a long time. We began the morning making dough by hand. I think to myself “no problem.” I’ve made dough thousands of times before and many of those times by hand. But it was never like this!

Enzo first demonstrates this process. The pizzaiolo kitchen does not contain a rolling pin, dough sheeter, or dough press. All of these devises are far too aggressive and change the airy texture required of Napoletana pizza. If you are sincerely in search of the real thing get ready to use your hands, fingers and patience. His astute demonstration takes about 40 minutes, most of it kneading the dough. Then it’s my turn.

Instruction Ingredient Brand/Description Metric Weight Baker’s Formula
A Water Semi-warm 75-80°F 1 liter 34 oz 53%
A Yeast Compressed Cake 5g 0.2 oz 0.3%
A Sea Salt 50g 1.8 oz 2.8%
B Caputo Flour High quality protein 1.8 kg 4 lbs 100%
Yields: 14 Dough Balls  /  200g  /  7 oz

Instruction

Combine (A) In a large mixing bowl combine the Water and Sea Salt. Mix with fingers until dissolved. Crumble the Yeast with fingers into Salt Water mixture. Mix until completely dissolved. Mixing (B) Add Caputo Flour gradually, mixing with right or left hand continuously until the dough no longer sticks to the bowl – this stage takes about 5-7 minutes of vigorous work and it is best to have someone else pour in the flour.
Continue to slowly add flour. If it begins to feel lumpy stop adding flour, continue the mixing until the lumps disappear and then continue adding flour. Take the large dough ball out of the bowl and place on a lightly floured surface and cover for 5 minutes with a damp cloth.
Kneading Grab the large dough ball on one side, bang it down hard on your table 2 or 3 times until it is about 15 inches long. Place the dough perpendicular to you hips. Starting at the end closest to you knead with both fists. Slam your right fist into the right side of the dough at a 90 degree angle rolling your fist up and over the dough. Repeat this step with alternating fists until you reach the end of the dough and then starting where you just ended, come back down the dough. Repeat this process until the dough stretches too far away from you to comfortably knead. At this time, starting at the end closest to you, roll the dough up – like a jelly roll. Get a firm grip on one side of the open sides and bang the dough hard down on your table 2 or 3 times until it stretches to about 15 inches.
Our goal is to pinch and shape this large dough ball into 7-8 ounce dough balls. Begin by cutting a 3 inch wide strip of dough. Lightly wrap your forefinger and thumb around a 7-8 ounce portion then bring the middle fingers of your opposite hand gently but firmly over the top of the dough stuffing and stretching any rough edges under the forefinger and thumb. As middle fingers exit pinch this dough ball off by placing thumb on top of forefinger and squeezing hard.
My right hand was slapped numerous times for twisting of f the dough ball. These dough balls are placed in a lightly floured dough box. When the box is full, flour is lightly sifted over the dough balls and then the box is covered. Pinch hard enough for the dough ball to fall off without help from your other hand. Proofing Depending on your environment (room temperature) proofing will require 4-8 hours, before the dough is actually ready to open and bake. This dough may be retarded overnight if you like.

Throughout my training day with maestro Enzo Coccia I wanted to ask “Why? Why? Why? Enzo, why do you shape your dough this way?” The answer, as I learned for myself, is Napoletana pizza is light and airy, this method allows a knowledgeable Pizzaiolo to make and use his dough the same day; it helps the dough temper and mature more evenly.Enzo believes shaping by hand on a tabletop stretches the dough into a tight ball that requires over night aging to be successful. Of course while I struggled with this process Enzo knocked off 3 whole boxes of dough in minutes. Practice Makes Perfect.


The Pizza

What is the difference between a good and a great pizza? All things being equal – the bake!

What is the difference between a good and a great cook? For Pizzaiolos and cooks everywhere it’s about responding to our environment. To this point I have lead you to believe that if you follow this recipe and process you will get a great result. The only thing I can really promise you is a great learning experience, and then only if you’re willing to pay attention! Enzo, my teacher, will adjust the amount of yeast he uses according to room temperature; the warmer (it was 100°F the day we made dough) the smaller the amount of yeast used. On days of high humidity he uses more flour to reach the same percentage of hydration and/or consistency. Enzo responds to his environment so that he can deliver the same great pizza on a summer or winter day. The recipe and process offered here is a great starting place. Get a feel for your dough, the desired baking result, and then respond as your environment requires.

Instruction Ingredient Brand/Description Metric Weight
A 1 Dough Ball Napoletana Style 190-220g 7-8 oz
B Sauce Crushed Tomatoes 75g 3 oz
C Cheese Mozzarella 50g 2 oz
C Extra Virgin Olive Oil 10g 0.5 oz
C Fresh Basil 1 Medium-sized leaf

Instruction

ProofingYeast eats sugars and produces flavor (alcohol). Gluten develops and the dough relaxes. Depending on the temperature where your dough is stored (average is 75°F) and the amount of yeast, this dough should take about 4-6 hours from time of shaping to be ready to bake.
Opening Dough (A)Press fingertips (all but thumbs) of both hands in to dough ball beginning at the edge away from you – do not touch outside ½ inch edge of dough ball (Image 2a). Continue pressing fingertips moving towards you a fingertip width at a time until you reach the other edge. Do this twice. Turn the dough ball 90 degrees and repeat two more times. Your dough ball should now measure 8-9 inches across.
This next part requires the most amount of practice. Lay your 9 inch pizza skin on a lightly floured prep surface. Slide your open faced left hand at a 90 degree angle half way under this pizza skin. Flip this skin up on your open faced right hand (Images below). Using mostly your wrist flip the pizza skin back on to you open faced left palm, continue this motion until the pizza skin is about 11 inches wide.
Saucing (B)Starting in the center and then using a circular motion, evenly spread 3 ounces of crushed Italian Tomatoes to within 1 inch of pizza edge (Image 4).
Toppings (C)

  • Cheese – 2 ounces of sliced fresh Mozzarella Cheese sprinkled equally over sauce (Image 5a).
  • Basil – Tear a medium sized Basil leaf into 4-6 pieces place on pizza.
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Starting at the center of the pizza using about 1T, draw a 6 on the pizza (Image 5b
MovingRaw Pizza to Pizza Peel – Push thumb and middle finger of both hands under the outside edge of pizza, pointer finger can be used to lightly clamp down on the top edge of pizza as you gently pull it over a lightly floured pizza peel (Image 6).

 


The Oven

Hot, Hot, Hot! I’m told there are over one thousand wood-fired ovens in Naples. I believe it, there seems to be a wood-fired pizzeria on every corner. Even more amazing is that almost all are baking essentially the same pizza and all of them are busy. During my trip, I ate in 33 pizzerias all over Naples. All were very, very good; a couple were especially good.

What do people love about Napoletana pizza? It’s fast, it’s flavorful, it’s fresh, it’s fragrant, and it’s fantastic! The quality of the dough, tomatoes, cheese and intensity of the ovens create a slightly charred rustic experience that is hard to get over. It is awesome!

Is wood-fired a critical element? Citizens of Naples think so. Cook times average 60-90 seconds, with most closer to 60 seconds. This speed equates to around a 750°F floor temperature. Probably the most important Pizzaiolo‘s oven technique is that every pizza is spun 180 degrees and then lifted 4-6 inches off the oven floor within the last 10-15 seconds. This elevates the pizza into the smoky part of the oven dome, creating the potential to influence flavor profile. This spin and move off the floor is critical to a balanced bake. Left only on the intense floor these pizzas would surely burn before the tops are colored nicely.

A Wood Species
B Fire Management
C Fire Location
D Pizza Placement
E Pizza Station

 

Instructions

Wood Species (A)
Wood Species – well-cured Oak appears to be the Pizzaiolo’s species of choice.

  • 75 % Oak for coaling and open flame
  • 25 % Sawdust or light species for fire starting and intense open flame.

 

Fire Management (B) 
At the end of the night a metal door is put in front of the oven opening, For start of day the night door comes off the fly ash is removed and fire started on existing coals (Image 1a) with sawdust and small pieces of dry wood. Larger pieces of oak are then added (Image 1b). It takes about 90 minutes to establish a good coal bed and saturate the oven .*During busy hours the open flame licks about half way across the dome. Anytime the oak fire lags behind, sawdust or small pieces dry, light wood are added to maintain the balance of air and floor temperature.
Fire Location (C)
Most fires are located against the left-hand wall of the oven and take up about a third of their ovens floor space.
Pizza Station (D) 
Most stations feature 3 main positions. First, the Pizzaiolo opens the pizza and moves them to the saucing station, after which they’re loaded onto a wood peel and released onto the volcano’s floor then spit out seconds later (Image 3).*Each and every one of these positions qualify as artisan in my mind but only the main person carries the Pizzaiolo title. This procession unwavering for generations.
Pizza Placement/ Rotation (E)  Pizzas are normally built, loaded into the oven and baked in-groups of three or four (Image 4a and 4b)
Of course pizza 1 is ready to spin, lift and finish first. Then as pizza 2 comes out of the oven, pizza 4 is spun back into position 1, 3 is finished, and then number 4. All of these pizzas were elevated off the floor for a few seconds (Image 4c and 4d).
This sequence takes less than 2 minutes from the time the first pizza hits the oven floor. About this time four more pizzas are ready to bake. The finished pizzas all look the same, a slight scorch across 20-30% of the barely-thicker-than-a-credit-card bottom and a beautiful airy 1-inch thick outer crust full of tiny bubbles and occasional blisters (Image 4c).Hopefully, Napoletana Pizza is no longer a mystery. Those that are willing and follow through with this simple, fresh idea will be rewarded with a masterpiece of their own that transcends time itself. This piece is meant only as a starting place. If you are looking for your own Naples learning experience I can highly recommend Enzo Coccia, Caputo Flour and Orlando Distributors.