Italian pizza dough is traditionally made from type “00” flour, a highly refined bread flour from which virtually all the bran and germ found in wholewheat flours have been removed. “00” flours milled specially for pizza come from hard wheat, which has more protein than a soft flour better suited to cake flours. Long rising times at warm, ambient temperatures let the dough develop and help yield a lighter, chewier “crumb,” to use the baker’s term for the internal structure of a bread crust with the desired hole structure. This network of air pockets in varying sizes compresses under pressure. This crunch, whether in crisp fortissimo or yielding pianissimo, is one of the great pleasures of pizza eating.
Many artisan pizza bakers replace some, most, or all of the refined flour in their dough with stone-ground wholewheat flours and wholegrain flours. Heirloom wheat varieties and ancient grains, such as spelt, einkorn, and kamut, are increasingly in demand and in vogue, reflecting trends in artisanal bread baking. These give crusts more substance, fiber, and micronutrients, and a complex, nutty flavor. The challenge for pizza bakers is that these healthy and flavorful flours, especially those lower in gluten, can produce a less elastic, more fragile dough that is more difficult to stretch out and manipulate.
With pizza flours, the selection may only be as good as the purpose behind it. When pizzaiolo and baking guru Massimo Bosco enters a pizzeria for the first time he is curious to hear what the pizza maker has to say about his flour. “Many pizzaioli do not know what flour they’re using,” says the owner of Pizzeria Panetteria Bosco in the town of Tempio Pausania in northern Sardinia. “And if they do know they are unfamiliar with its characteristics.”
As a rising agent for pizza dough, a natural sourdough starter yeast is an artisanal alternative to a dry yeast or commercial baker’s yeast. A sourdough starter is itself a dough or, more precisely, a “mother dough”—madre lievito in Italian. It originates from a blend of wheat flour and water that is periodically fed more flour and water as it rises and ferments. When a small quantity of this mother dough is worked into the master pizza dough the bubbles get trapped and perform their levitation act, all the while delivering a unique flavor. The unused portion of the mother dough is continually refreshed and regenerated, to give life to more dough and more pizza.
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