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Hi I've just built a wood fire oven at home and I want to know how to get he pizza crust soft? Any tips for success with traditional Italian-style bread? Some people say to put sugar in and other people say not to.

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Do you want crunchy crust (like in Neopolitan style pizza) or soft? –  Stefan Jan 11 '13 at 14:58
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If you want it traditional, there should be no sugar in your dough. The few continental breads which contain sugar are very rich celebratory breads (panettone, brioche, etc.) but normal bread never has any sugar, this is an American specialty. –  rumtscho Jan 11 '13 at 14:58
    
@rumtscho And we are all the sweeter for it! Our yeast party like it is their last meal... erm... –  SAJ14SAJ Jan 11 '13 at 15:03
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You went to all the trouble to build a wood fired oven and you didn't once read that the major benefit of such an oven is how crusty and crunchy things are when baked in it? And now you want the dough to end up soft anyway? Perhaps do pizzas in your old oven and only cook things in the wood-fired that are ok to get crispy –  Kate Gregory Jan 11 '13 at 16:37
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I added the tag wood-fired-oven because I understand the OP want to make the pizza there (it's in the title), and the specific characteristics of those ovens allows them to make very different pizza to ovens where there's no flame when the pizza is being made. I still think the tag is appropriate for this specific question. –  J.A.I.L. Jan 12 '13 at 21:26

4 Answers 4

Italian pizza crumb must be soft (morbida, as Italians say) in its inner part (the one below the tomato sauce), and its outer rim can be more or less crispy.

You can check the requisite for being soft at this link from the Vera Pizza Napolitana association (check the "Description of the product"):

The consistency of the " Verace Pizza Napoletana " - (Vera Pizza Napoletana) should be soft, elastic, easy to manipulate and fold. The centre should be particularly soft to the touch and taste,

...

The crust should deliver the flavour of well-prepared, baked bread.

The outer part can be crunchier or softer, depending on your taste. It will depend on the strength (W value) of the flour. You can check it in this Italian pizza flour manufacturer.

Using a longer fermentation time will extract more taste from the flour. That's why a crunchier outer rim is usually associated with tastier pizzas.

That long fermentation also helps the dough been extensible and not stretching back, which is desirable when you are shaping the pizza. I wrote more details on it in this answer on pizza flours.


In order to achieve a soft center, the pizza is done in a very little time (from 60 to 90 seconds). To get this, you need a very hot oven (over 450ºC / 900ºF).

It is difficult to get a thermometer that measures that temperature (most infrared ones usually can't measure over 350ºC). You can check if the oven is too hot throwing flour in it. If it catches fire (in less than 5 seconds) then it's too hot. If it just gets dark, then it's ok. After using this method, remember to remove the burnt flour, or it will give a bitter taste to the pizzas you'll later put on it.

To get the outer rim of the pizza rise like bread, you should have some flames in the oven. They will radiate a lot of heat, so you have to rotate the pizza 180º during its baking, so it will get done equally in all the border.

The flames should be in one side of the oven, never at the back. This way the air that enters to feed the flame will induce a rotating whirpool that helps the air in the oven to be hotter.

As the floor surface of the oven is very hot (>400ºC), the pizza you put in it won't actually be touching it: it will be floating on its own steam. That's why the bottom of the pizzas are not burnt.


You are asking about adding sugar or not.

Sugar is the food yeasts eat.

Flour has no sugar. But it has starches, which are molecules made of many sugar molecules together. Flour also has enzymes that can break the starches in sugar molecules. That happens when you add water to the flour, and the enzymes can move easily to do their work. But they need time to do so.

When you add flour, water and yeasts, the late ones have to wait a bit for their food. If you add sugar, they'll have food since the beginning (the sugar you added) to the end (the sugar from broken starches): sugar is added to make the dough fermentation in less time.

So, if you want a quick risen dough, add (a small quantity of) sugar. If you want a tasty one, don't.

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Perhaps you should describe in more detail exactly what kind of pizza crust you desire--there are a lot of types or styles of pizza crust.

In most breads, soft crust is achieved by 1) not adding steam to the oven which enhances crust formation; and 2) brushing the crust with butter or milk after it comes out of the oven. The second would be very non-traditional for pizza, though.

The thing is, to the best of my personal knowledge, mostly people who build wood and coal fire ovens are after Neopolitan style pizza, which Serious Eats (linked) describes as:

Small (about 10-inch diameter), thin-crust pizzas made in a wood-burning oven. Usually have a puffy "cornicione" (lip or end crust) and marked by use of the freshest ingredients applied sparingly for a careful balance.

The crust for this style of pizza is usually crunchy, not soft.

See the Serious eats article on preparing this kind of dough:

Their key points are:

  • Quality ingredients, including 00 or similar flour
  • Long slow ferment
  • Blazingly hot oven

Here are their recommended ratios (for US flour products, obviously):

  • All-purpose or bread flour: 100%
  • Salt: 2%
  • Instant yeast: 1.5
  • % Water: 65%
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00 in Italian flours only means how fine they've been milled. –  J.A.I.L. Jan 11 '13 at 14:46
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and I do not think a real Neopolitan pizza can be considered soft, it should be hard and crunchy, and to do them you need LOTS of heat, like from a wood oven. 500C/930F!!! –  Stefan Jan 11 '13 at 14:51
    
@J.A.I.L. Sure that is true :-) I was just summarizing the information in the reference link. –  SAJ14SAJ Jan 11 '13 at 14:51
    
@Stefan I agree, which is why I found this question confusing. –  SAJ14SAJ Jan 11 '13 at 14:51
    
@SAJ14SAJ I know, I just wanted to highlight that point which is (to me) the main point of Neopolitan pizza (I wish I had a wood fired oven) –  Stefan Jan 11 '13 at 14:54

By soft and tasty pizza crust I'm going to assume you mean crisp on the outside but soft and chewy on the inside which is the characteristic of pizza dough cooked at high temperature in a wood fired oven. You need this high temperature to produce that crisp on the outside but soft and chewy on the inside.

There's no magic or sorcery to good pizza dough. The ingredients really are very simple, good quality flour, water, salt, sugar and yeast. Please note the sugar is there to activate the yeast and allow it to grow it's not there for any other purpose other than that. Salt is there for flavour, but too much will kill the yeast.

The rest is up to you. Good quality pizza crust is all down to the kneading, resting period, kneading again and spreading to the required size and cooking at high temperature – it's this that determines whether your crust will be good or bad.

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I don't think salt in pizza dough is for flavour. It already gets a lot of it from the sauce and cheese (which already has a lot of salt). I think this kind of dough has salt (usually more than other doughs) in order to slow down the fermentation, and make the dough stiffer. –  J.A.I.L. Jan 11 '13 at 23:08
    
@J.A.I.L. You don't think or know? ‘Too much salt will kill the yeast, but leave it out and the dough will be flavourless’. From The PizzaExpress CookBook, Peter Boizot, Page 22. And as far as I'm concerned Peter Boizot who started the Pizza Express restaurants in London in the 60's is a leading authority on italian style pizza's. –  spiceyokooko Jan 12 '13 at 0:58
    
I know pizza doughs have more salt than common bread doughs. I know tomato sauce or mozzarella cheese has a lot of salt. I know salt slows down fermentation, and makes doughs stiffer (and more maleable). I know the crumb of pizza below the sauce (in Italian pizzas) is very thin, so I think you won't get much of that flavor below the sauce (I've never found support to that idea). The only part of the pizza you can taste the dough is the outer rim. And you shouldn't need more salt in it than in a normal bread. –  J.A.I.L. Jan 12 '13 at 20:57
    
@J.A.I.L. I never said anything about more salt than normal bread. I said...*salt is there for flavour*. Do you put salt in bread? Yes, then why not put it in pizza dough for the same reason? To suggest the other ingredients have sufficient salt is entirely irrelevant. –  spiceyokooko Jan 12 '13 at 23:46

Sometimes in wood fired ovens with thicker crust pizzas by the time the inside cooks the outside is way to crunchy. You can put a pot of water in your oven or spritz water in to sort of steam cook just to keep things from getting to dry. You will still end up with soft inside and not over done outside.

I havnt tried in wood fired but for moist soft crumb powered milk is added to dough. Might be something to experiment with.

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