Many pizza recipes call for ‘good quality’ flour – but what does this mean? There is a lot of material online for finding the best pizza flour in the USA or Italy but very little in the UK. In this article I will explain the differences in types of flour, and then compare the best flours available in UK supermarkets and online.
So what is the best pizza flour in the UK?
The best pizza flours have a protein content of 12-14% which will give the best taste and texture. Finely milled Italian Tipo “00” flour is best for high heat, Neapolitan pizzas, while strong bread flour is best for home oven, thin crust or New York style pizzas. Large brands such as Allinson, independent mills such as Shipton Mill and quality supermarkets have their own varieties of which should be used for the style of pizza being made.
Here is a comparison of the types of flours and the brands available, with my own recommendations.
About Flour, Protein And Gluten
When flour hits water, two wheat proteins glutenin and gliadin react to form gluten. Gluten forms this network of strands which you’ve probably noticed in a dough ball that’s been allowed to proof. It is super stretchy and gives your pizza crust its structure and texture when it’s baked as it rises up when the carbon dioxide is released.
So the flour choice here directly influences that gluten network, as more protein means more gluten. Higher protein content will make your gluten network stronger and more elastic – this will make your dough harder to stretch out in a disc, often springing back if not rested long enough. And in the baked crust, it will be chewier rather than light and easy to tear apart.
Then the time – how long you leave the dough to proof. Gluten gets degraded over time, so the network becomes less elastic. But also the longer dough is left, the better the flavour develops from the fermentation. So if you are thinking of leaving your dough to cold proof in the fridge, you will have to start with a higher protein content flour to ensure there is still gluten strength at the end. As a rough gauge, 12% for 24 hours, 13% for 36 or 14% for 48+. If you try and work with a 14% flour and only leave it rest for a few hours, it’s going to spring back on you quite hard and might be difficult to shape.
How To Find The Protein Content In Flour
The protein content is specified as a percentage of the entire flour. You can see how much protein a certain bag of flour has by looking at the label’s nutritional values. If you cast your eye to the ‘Nutritional values per 100g’ then the protein value shown is the percentage for that bag. It’s a legal requirement to express nutritional values per 100g in the UK so you will find this on every product.
14g protein of 100g is a 14% protein flour
Types Of Flour For Pizza
Plain flour has a lower protein content – around 9-10% which is slightly too little than is best for pizza making. A lot of home cooks will probably have this in the cupboard, and may be wondering if it’s OK to use for a recipe they’ve found. The answer is yes, it will work fine, but if you want a better pizza then you should pick up some flour with higher protein content like bread flour.
Plain flour is an all round flour which can be used for bread, pastries and cakes, but doesn’t do any of them particularly well. Self raising flour is basically plain flour with a raising agent such as sodium bicarbonate. It’s used for sponges and pancakes and isn’t designed for pizza and bread as yeast is used for raising.
Strong White Bread Flour
You can find this in any supermarket thanks to an increased popularity in baking, and this will do the best for cooking pizza in a home oven. This flour comes in protein content around 12-14% so will be suited for a home oven pizza, thin crust or New York style. High gluten flour gives a texture a bit more like bread – like a sourdough or ciabatta with its holes.
As its got more gluten development, it will be very elastic. You may find it hard to stretch or roll out. The key is to bring it to room temperature and give it a decent rest before stretching.
Different flours absorb different amounts of water, with higher protein being able to take on more. Being consistent with your flours is a good way to get good results each time.
’00’ Bread Flour
Italian flours are graded on how finely they are milled – the ’00’ refers to the lowest grade and finest milling. It is also made from the softest wheat, so produces a delicate dough. Usually this flour has a medium-high protein content around 12.5%. It’s developed for high temperatures in a wood fired oven, which means a home oven doesn’t get the most benefit. It’s more expensive and harder to work with, so if you aren’t cooking in a wood fired oven, then use other bread flour.
The two biggest ’00’ Italian brands are Caputo and San Felice which you won’t find in your local super market. You can buy it from a quality food shop or deli selling Italian produce, or online. It’s a high quality, specialist flour that is likely imported so you will pay a bit more. There are non-Italian brands which do imitations, but watch out for ’00’ pasta flour which will have a lower protein content designed for pasta.
Use The Right Flour For The Right Pizza
The two most popular pizza varieties are the Neapolitan which is cooked in a wood fired oven and the thin crust or New York style, which is more suited for a conventional oven.
Neapolitan pizza is cooked blisteringly hot in a wood fired oven which puffs up quickly, leaving a slightly charred, crisp outer layer and a delicately soft interior. The specialist Italian 00 flour has been developed to work well in the hot oven for this pizza style – the flour is milled the finest grade for softness, and has the ideal amount of protein. Its usually eaten with a knife and fork as the slices don’t hold up.
Thin crust or New York pizza is cooked for a longer period in a cooler oven and has different characteristics – a chewier, stronger crust which allows the pizza to be picked up ‘by the slice’. It is the style which is more commonly cooked at home, as home ovens cannot reach the same temperatures as a pizza oven. Therefore, flour labelled as ‘strong bread flour’ with slightly higher protein content works well – 12-14% depending on how long you proof.
These brands you can find in your local supermarket – the smaller shops tend to only sell their own brand flours so you will need to find a larger supermarket for better ranges.
Allinson Strong White Bread Flour
Protein Content: 13%
This is probably the most common non supermarket label bread flour brand you see in the shops. This flour has a protein content of 13% so comes in stronger than the standard supermarket strong bread flours which can be 11-12%. It’s a good choice if you are starting to ferment your dough over night or longer. It makes great thin crust pizzas in your home oven.
Allinson Very Strong White Bread Flour
Protein Content: 14%
This flour packs more protein, and therefore more gluten development so will produce a stronger, elastic dough. This flour makes great thin crust New York style pizzas which are crisp on the bottom, with a satisfyingly chewy crust. It will hold up to longer resting times than its lesser protein counterpart, so you can develop flavour for longer and still retain a chewy crust. Go for this if you are fermenting your dough for days, as the extra protein will stand up to the longer rest.
Marks And Spencer Bread Flour
Protein Content: 12.1%
I find Marks and Spencer’s produce to be great. Heston Blumenthal ranks their canned plum tomatoes in the same league as Italian San Marzano in his book ‘In Search Of Perfection’. Their strong white bread flour has a moderate 12.1% protein so starts to get weak and tear when stretched after given over 24 hours to rest. It does produce great pizzas though, and I recommend.
Waitrose have a Waitrose Duchy Organic strong white bread flour at 13.4% and a Canadian very strong at 14.9% – both great products but perhaps the Canadian flour slightly too high protein necessary for making pizza.
Other mainstream supermarkets tend to sell strong bread flour which aren’t that strong, such as Tesco’s at 11.7%. While these will do OK, they are not the best for longer rests. As they are mass produced they can also vary in terms of consistent results so I try to source out better flours.
McDougalls ’00’ Extra Fine
Protein Content: 10.2%
Another household name of the baking world in the UK. This is McDougalls take on a fine Italian style flour which you can find at your supermarket. It has 10.2% protein which is a bit low for pizza flour – this flour is more suited for making pasta. It will get very soft if you ferment it overnight, so must be used quickly if you are to use it. It’s hard to get ’00’ pizza/bread flour in supermarkets, so you are best off getting an Italian ’00’ flour at a specialist shop or online.
Independent and Online Brands
Independent brands can be bought locally, but most easily online. This list shows independent UK flour mills. The following brands are well known for their superior quality.
Shipton Mill is known for its creamy coloured, flavoursome flours from Gloucestershire. Baking forums all over the internet will recommend these. The Guardian has an article on the history and praise of its mill. Their website has a range of specialist flours which will work for different purposes, and you can buy it on Amazon to avoid the delivery charges if buying small amounts.
Untreated Organic White Flour – No.4
Protein Content: 12%
One of Shipton Mill’s most popular flours, this flour is a blend of organic Canadian and English wheat. Canadian wheat is known for its very high protein content, so the additional of English wheat mellows it and adds to the flavour. Guaranteed to give you consistent results time after time. As it is untreated and organic, it doesn’t have any malted barley added which provides sugars for browning and fermentation – so your recipe will be better with some included.
Italian Style 00 White Flour
Protein Content: 12%
Shipton Mill have an Italian style 00 flour which is great for a Neapolitan pizza. Made from the softest, whitest grade, Shipton Mill say on their website – ‘As only a very small fraction of the whole wheat berry can be used to make this pure flour, it is treated with great respect and is very precious’.
Marriage’s Organic Strong White Bread Flour
Protein Content: 13.4%
A popular independent brand which is readily available online. Marriage’s do a ‘Strong White Bread’ at 13.4% and then a ‘Very Strong White Bread’ at 14.9% which are both great. It produces fantastic thin crust, New York style pizzas on my pizza stone and is consistent. Marriages website says – ‘We carefully select organic wheats renowned for their bread making qualities to create this strong white flour’.
Other reputable UK flour brands that can be found online and in local shops are Doves Farm and Matthews.
Caputo Tipo ’00’ Pizzeria Flour
Protein Content: 12.5%
This is the classic Italian flour created by Antimo Caputo to make the perfect crust in a wood fired oven. It is probably the best pizza flour to create a Neapolitan pizza, and can be bought in your local Italian deli or online. It’s better at high temperatures, so you won’t get the best benefits from the high price tag in a home oven. It’s also very soft from the blend of soft wheat so that crust interior has a heavenly texture, but can be difficult to work with. Highly recommended if you have a wood fired oven, but if not, then stick to British flour.
When you start out making pizza you are wondering if that plain flour in your cupboard will do the job. Once you start getting more advanced, you will be sourcing the best flours you can get your hands on. Flour is very cheap – the difference between basic flour and an artisan, organic, stone ground flour is fairly minimal. So it makes sense to get the best flour you can seeing as it is the largest ingredient in your pizza recipe. Consistency is also important, so that you can reach for your go to and it will deliver every time.
This article rounds up the best flour available in the UK, with a list of independent millers which I suggest you check out. Experiment with a few flours and then pick one you like, and buy a big bag to last you a while.
Best Flour For Pizza Peel
Use a mixture of half semolina and half flour that was used in the dough. The semolina grains will allow the pizza to slide easily over the peel and the flour will stop it sticking. The semolina adds good texture to the base and the addition of flour will soften the mixture to prevent it becoming too coarse and crunchy when cooked.
Can you use pasta flour for pizza?
00 flour sold in supermarkets can either be targeted at pasta and pastries or bread and pizza. The protein content will be your guide – below 12% is usually for pizza, as the pasta flour will be much softer. You can use pasta flour for pizza but the crumb will end up being smaller and softer. It will be delicate and may not be able to stretch into a pizza base without tearing.
Is pizza flour the same as plain flour?
No. Plain flour is an all purpose flour which can be used for various uses such as bread, pizza, cakes and pastries and will have lower protein content, resulting in lower gluten and less stretch. Pizza flour will have more protein in it to allow it to be proofed for longer, and then stretched out to a pizza base without tearing. Plain flour can be used for pizza but won’t perform as well as pizza or bread flour.
Why is 00 flour better for pizza?
00 flour comes from the whitest part of the wheat, and is milled the finest grade to produce a soft flour. It has a medium-high protein content around 12-13% and has been especially developed for use in a wood fired oven. The extreme heat rises the crust quickly, and so all these factors produce a crust that is charred on the outside, with a soft, moist interior that is slightly chewy. For conventional oven pizzas, you can use other bread flour with a high protein content as they are cooked at a lower temperature.