With many flour types out there, it can be confusing to know what to use when you are buying ingredients for pizza. Some recipes call for pizza flour – but what exactly is pizza flour?
Pizza flour, known as 00 grade flour, is a specialist flour that has properties suited for making pizzas in a wood fired oven. It is essentially a white bread flour with a medium high gluten content, and fine milled for a soft texture. It is most commonly used in Neapolitan pizza.
Pizza flour is usually called “00” grade flour. The 00 comes from the grade of flour found in Italy – 00 being the finest flour with the whitest, refined part of the wheat. The scale goes up to 0, 1 and 2 increasing in coarseness and including more of the outer part of the wheat.
How it differs from regular bread flour and when it is best to use either flour will be discussed in this article.
Why Is Pizza Flour Used?
As I mentioned, pizza flour is usually classed as 00 grade flour, refined to the whitest part of the wheat, and milled very fine so that the flour is super soft.
This makes for a silky soft dough that keeps this tenderness when cooked in the fast cooking times of a hot wood fired oven. The Neapolitan pizza style aims to have a crisp crust that has a soft, moist interior. Using this type of flour helps achieve that along with the oven. The flour has been designed for Neapolitan style pizza cooking, with properties like optimal water absorption and browning to name a few. These pizzas are cooked in 1 – 2 minutes.
In a home oven, the effects are a little less because the temperature is much lower, requiring up to 10 minutes of baking. This transforms the crust to be dryer and have more chewiness, which you might associate with an American style pizza. This is why standard bread flour is more common, and probably more suited for home bakes. That’s not to say you can’t use 00 at home – it still makes great pizza in both ovens.
What Flour Can Be Used To Make Pizza?
Traditionally, the Italian 00 flour is used for Italian pizza – notably the Neapolitan style pizza. There is actual legal classification that if you want to make and sell a true Neapolitan pizza then you must use 00 or 0 grade flour. This pizza is soft and floppy, and you eat it with a knife and fork because it’s difficult to pick up in slices.
Pizza then arrived in New York in the 20th century and was made popular worldwide. Italian Americans probably started making pizza with the bread flour available locally. As normal bread flour has more gluten to make it stronger, this made stronger pizzas that could be picked up by the slice and so that style become popular there.
That’s why bread flour is commonly used for home bakes and New York style pizza, and Italian 00 flour is used in Italian pizzerias and those lucky enough to have a wood fired oven at home. All purpose flour may be used but isn’t ideal for pizza – it all comes down to having a large enough protein content that creates the gluten.
Gluten is the key component
Gluten is the stretchy network that is formed when flour meets water. Kneading strengthens this network and makes strands of stretchy dough. With more protein in the dough, more gluten is formed. Protein content is usually stated as a percentage. As a reference, cake and “plain” flours are about 9%, all purpose flour around 11%, bread flour typically around 13% or higher. Pizza flour is found somewhere in the middle around 12-13%. This allows enough gluten so that the base can be stretched thin without tearing, but not so much gluten that the pizza is chewy and bread like from strong flour.
00 Flour Vs Bread Flour
- 00 flour has lower protein and therefore gluten content – about 12% and bread flour has 13-14%
- 00 dough is softer so makes a softer crust
- As it’s softer it needs delicate handling or it tears
- Bread dough is stronger and can stand up to longer fermentation as this breaks down gluten strength over time
- Bread dough usually makes a firmer crust
Types Of Pizza Flour
Italian 00 Pizza Flour
This is the real deal. Pizza came from Naples and its no wonder they produce the best pizza flours. Two of the most common brands are Caputo and San Felice and you can’t go wrong with either.
Caputo is a mill in Italy which is devoted to just pizza flour. Perhaps one of the only flour mills in the world which is solely focused on pizza flour. It is the flour used in most Napoli pizzerias, and it is known worldwide for the quality of the flour. The most common is the blue “pizzeria” flour, which has a protein content of 12.5%. You can find it in Italian deli shops and online.
Other Pizza Flours
Around the world there are flour brands which have made a version of the Italian 00 flour. Treat these with caution as some are better suited for making pasta than pizza. They are finely milled and soft but don’t have the protein content to make a stretchable pizza dough.
An example of that is King Arthur’s Italian-Style flour – it claims to be for pizza but it has a protein content of 8.5% which is way to low. This is a pasta flour for sure. I read a review on their website of someone who tried to make pizza and failed, the customer support wrote back: “Our Italian Style flour is a low protein flour at 8%. It will not swap out one for one in place of all purpose flour in regular pizza recipes.”
So just keep an eye on these so called pizza flours. If in doubt, you can mix a bread flour with these 00 flours to ensure it is strong enough.
Do I Need To Use Pizza Flour?
Pizza flour is by no means an essential ingredient for making pizza, especially if cooking in a home oven. More importantly, look for a flour that has a suitable protein content for a good gluten network. All purpose or bread flour work well. Extra strong bread flours can make a dough that is too tight and therefor might snap back when shaped, so aim for a flour with 12-13% protein. Avoid flours used for pastry, cakes for variants like plain or self raising flour.
With that said, you should definitely give pizza flour a try. Get your hands on a proper Italian 00 flour and see the results for yourself. Of course, you get the best results from cooking in a wood fired oven. But it makes lovely soft, delicate pizza in a home oven too.
You might find it soft and weak, which can be hard to stretch and shape. But practice makes handling this dough a little easier.
Best Alternatives To Pizza Flour
My go to flour for the home oven is a bread flour. Some popular brands are King Arthur if in the USA or Allinson if in the UK. If you can find a smaller mill that does good flour then even better because they usually make consistently good flour.
So there is the run down of what pizza flour is. Hopefully you can try a proper Italian pizza flour at some point, and watch out the for imitations which aren’t so good.
It’s a premium product for sure, and the pizza created with it has a great texture. It is by no means essential for making pizza at home. A regular bread flour is great for the style of a home oven pizza.