In The Recipe Lab: Pizza Dough Challenge! ‘00′ vs. ‘All Purpose’

100111-demian-pizza-flour-1There is so much ink spilled about correct pizza technique and so much on-going conversation about it from every angle that it can be difficult to keep all the opinions straight.  Let alone figure out the best method for producing superior pizza at home.  Should you knead or not knead?  How long should you let it rise?  Instant yeast or regular yeast?  What temperature should the water be?  So many questions.  So little time to eat pizza.

Though all of these questions (and many more) are important and can have substantial impact on the quality of the pizza dough, the question that has intrigued me most lately is that of the difference between typical ‘all purpose’ flour and the Italian ‘00′, or ‘double zero’ (or ‘doppio zero’), flour.  Is it worth it to spend the extra time and energy required to track down ‘00′ flour?  Or could regular flour be used with no discernible shortcomings?  Many experts have weighed in on both sides.  I read somewhere that Marcella Hazan has given ‘all purpose’ flour the thumbs up.  Actually, the pizza dough recipe in her ‘Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking’ calls for it.  A scandal among Italian cooking purists?  Even The Silver Spoon cookbook allows it (although it says “preferably Italian type 00″ (p.193)).  So what to believe?  Is ‘all purpose’ flour equal in performance to ‘00′?  The only way to find out was to test them both.

Now just to find some ‘00′ flour.  This became an issue.  Whole Foods, Fairway, Gourmet Garage, Manganaro’s on 9th, Milano Market near Columbia… nobody had it.  The only other place that came to mind was… Little Italy.  I had no desire to wade into what has become a tourist trap neighborhood.  But Di Palo’s is there.  So I dutifully called them and, sure enough, they had it.  So I hoofed it down there and got some.  ‘Antimo Caputo’ ‘00′ to be exact.  Evidently this stuff is used by the pros.  It turns out that Alleva, on the same block, has it too.  Twenty cents cheaper.  And no line.  I’ll keep that in mind for next time.  But for now…  the Pillsbury ‘Best’ is waiting!

100111-demian-pizza-flour-2To set up the experiment I looked to what seems to be one of the most talked about new-ish pizza places in town.  Namely – Co.  Heck I even wrote a review.  Owner Jim Lahey is famous for making dough sing at Sullivan Street Bakery.  A few months ago New York Magazine published his recipe for ‘no-knead’ Pizza Margherita.  ‘No-knead’ is very hot these days.  Who wants to exert any effort?!?  So I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to test his recipe while also testing the two flour varieties. 

100111-demian-pizza-flour-3I started in on the recipe by combining the dry ingredients.  The ‘00′ is on the left and the ‘all purpose’ is on the right.  I suddenly realized that I did not have the instant yeast the recipe calls for.  Only regular yeast.  So, looking for guidance, I consulted the blog of food writer Jennifer Perillo.  Her post about pizza gives a basic pizza dough recipe calling for 1 1/2tsp of dry yeast.  Which I happily substituted.  But then I started second-guessing myself.  Her recipe calls for way-less salt.  Did that have something to do with instant yeast?  And it also calls for olive oil to be added with the water.  I quickly got to thinking about all of the variables that could be tested along with the flour; olive oil, water temp, salt content, etc.  But I eventually settled down and decided to focus on what I had set out to do.  The other ingredients, as Alton says, will have to wait for another show.  So I went back to the Jim Lahey recipe and continued to follow it, adjusting only for the yeast.  For the water requirement I used bottled water to guard from the fluoride or bleach in city water harming the yeast (although NYC bagel companies seem to do all right…) at exactly 110F (43C) (suggested on the yeast packet).  Better to err on the ’scientific’ side…  Anyway, once the sticky balls were formed I covered them and let them sit for… actually… 36 hours.  I just couldn’t get to them between the 12 or 24 hour mark.  But I figured the longer they had to ‘ferment’ the better no?  100111-demian-pizza-flour-4

The photo above shows the risen dough after the lengthy fermentation period (’00′ still on the left).  They were already looking a bit different.  I continued to follow the ‘no-knead’ recipe by folding each expanded ball once, cutting it in two and letting it sit for 15 minutes.  I then tried to channel the sexy moves of a pizza maker and stretch out the dough without making a hole-y, non-circular, mess.  I immediately found the ‘00′ to be a bit softer and more pliable than the ‘all purpose’.  But the ‘all purpose’ was still pretty good.

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As can be seen in the above photo, the ‘00′ stretched out a bit more to form a slightly bigger pizza.  The ‘all purpose’ started ripping little holes when pulled any bigger than what is shown.  No big deal though.  So I layered on the peeled Italian tomatoes, high-quality olive oil, a little salt and the buffalo mozzarella.  Also, since basil is totally out of season, I splashed on drops of my homemade pesto that I had frozen from the summer when huge bouquets of basil were less than $2 at the Union Square farmer’s market.  You’ll see it in the next photo.

For the pizza’s oven situation, I actually did a twist on Jennifer’s recipe.  For some reason I just wasn’t feeling the broil called for by Jim.  Not to mention that I didn’t have two pre-heated pizza stones that would cook the crust.  But I also didn’t want to do the five minute ‘pre-bake’ that Jennifer’s recipe called for.  For me, the closer I could get to a pizzeria process the better.  So I set the oven at 450F (~235C) and put the pizzas in.  After about 22 minutes they were done.

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Looking pretty good…  The differences I noticed right away were that the ‘all purpose’ flour crust looked a little more jagged around the edge.  I think the dough did not retain its’ moisture as well as the ‘00′ so became less pliable.  And speaking of pliable, I cut into both of the pies and started eating… and neither of the pizza crusts were as elastic as they should be.  When done by the professionals, pizza crust should bend and stretch as it is pulled apart.  It should also be multi-dimensional, soft in places, crisp in others, thick and bready, thin and chewy.  These crusts were definitely limited in their range of characteristics.

100111-demian-pizza-flour-9I will say, though, that the ‘00′ produced the superior pizza.  I think that it responded better to the process, from the rising time to the pie-forming stretch.  The ‘00′ rose more, retained a lighter dough feel, stretched easily, baked evenly and formed a pie crust well.  Also, and most importantly, the ‘00′ went the furthest in achieving the multi-dimensionality that I spoke of earlier.  But, really, both pizza doughs fell short of my hopes.  What happened?  Was it the absence of olive oil in the dough?  Doubtful.  Too much salt?  The crust didn’t taste salty so, no.

Then it hit me.  Maybe the crusts were a little flat in character because I hadn’t kneaded either of them!  I had heard Alton Brown talk about this before.  Kneading the dough develops the gluten in the flour giving the dough its’ texture, character and stretchy-ness.  The more I looked into it the more important I realized the kneading process is.  I think it may be a mistake to try to eliminate it.

So my great flour experiment ended with a surprise conclusion.  Regardless of the flour you use you must make sure to knead the dough!  Sorry Jim.  It is very important.  And the minor physical exertion won’t kill you either.  In fact it will probably aid in burning a few calories, making room for the new calories you will get eating all of that pizza.   As for me… I think I am going to have to run this Recipe Lab experiment again with the inclusion of some much ‘needed kneading’.  But I am encouraged in that I am closer than I have ever been to achieving a professional level pizza at home.  Let the testing continue!

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  • Jennifer says:

    Demian, I totally agree, kneading is so very important for the dough. I will have to look into testing my recipe with the ‘00′ flour. Here’s the playdate pizza Fridays!

  • dmcavanagh says:

    Demian, can’t you get your oven to at least 500, you need all the heat you can get, and a pizza cooked for 22 minutes is going to make the cheese funky. I preheat my oven with baking stone in place for 1 hour at 500 and my pizzas cook in about 5 minutes. To simulate “00″ flour, you can mix some cake flour with AP flour. “00″ is hard to find, especially in smaller cities and towns. I prefer a dough made with a 50/50 mix of unbleached AP flour and bread flour. It has more body but is still soft enough to stretch easily. give it a try. My recipe for 2 large doughs is 1 &1/2 cups cool water, 2cups @ of UAP and bread flour, 1T olive oil, 2t sea salt and 1t instant yeast. I mix it in a Breadman bread maker for the full 30 minute dough making cycle, divide into 2 dough portions, place in greased bowls and rested at room temp for 30 minutes. Then, I refridgerate them overnight of for up to 3 days. Make sure to take them out of fridge a couple hours before you want to make pizza, so they can warm to room temp. Give my recipe a try, I think you will be pleased.

  • [...] on the outcome of the original Pizza Dough Challenge, my findings were less about which type of flour, Italian ‘00′ or regular ‘all [...]