The Ancient Secrets of Pauls Pizza Dough
July 23rd, 2021
Many people think that the secret of a good pizza is in the toppings. While Naepolitaneans are strict about the amount of ingredients resting on top of their traditional pie, Americans tend to indulge in abundance. Some pizza lovers enjoy generous amounts of cheese, while others appreciate a good tomato sauce. Whatever your inclinations, the truth is that there would be no pizza without its base. From the selection of the right flour to the kneading skills of the cook, Pauls Pizza strongly believes that the key to a delicious pizza relies on the dough. Those lucky enough to try our Southwest Detroit pizza will never forget the texture of the flatbread over which our famous pizza is spread. In this article, we will learn how far the history of dough stretches before it landed into our ovens.
The history of flour
One of the most important discoveries that have molded civilization into what we know of it today occured around 10,000 years ago when our ancestors began to cultivate land from the seeds of wild plants. The Natufians, who lived between Mesopotamia and the Middle East, were the first people to process wild cereal grains. 4,000 years later they realized that the seeds could be grounded by crushing them between two stones. Archeologists found mortar and pestles, saddlestones and querns in neolithinc sites. It is assumed that early versions of bread were created, though they would look more like heated flat cakes of ground seeds and grains. The following development was the rotary quern to mechanise hand grinding.
A manuscript from 160 BC includes a recipe for bread using flour and water, then kneading and baking the dough. In the book “De Agricultura”, which described the ways to establish and equip a farm, care for cattle, and cultivate and harvest plants, the roman Cato the Elder wrote about “a flat round of dough dressed with olive oil, herbs and honey baked on stones”. The Etruscans, who settled between 900-800 BC on the West Coast of Italy, seemingly invented focaccia bread, which they topped with herbs, spices, seeds, nuts and olive oil. They would heat the flatbread on a hot tile or an earthenware disk over a fire. The Egyptians introduced an important innovation: between 1,000 and 3,000 BC they added yeast into the mix. By exposing it to the sun’s warmth, the dough would undergo a fermentation process which, after baking, became the first-known leavened bread.
The varieties of flour
Today, there are several technologies available to ground a broad diversity of cereals. Since the Stone Age, flour has been a staple ingredient for many cultures. Although today it is the main ingredient for making pasta, cakes, cookies and other food products, it was originally used to make bread-like flat cakes that later evolved into pizza dough. One could say that from its origins, it was flour’s destiny to become pizza. Nevertheless, as it happens with things that are humbly essential, flour is taken for granted. As a functional ingredient, its particularities are sometimes underestimated.
While all-purpose flour can be used for almost every recipe and performs well in Sicilian, deep-dish and thin pizza crusts, it is difficult to stretch out. Bread flour is the most common one for home pizza baking. It is affordable, easy to find and it has a better crisp and texture than the all-purpose variety. Although it does not tear when stretched out as the aforementioned alternative, bread flour has high gluten content which reduces flexibility. Pizza flour, also known as 00 grade flour, is a specialist flour suited for making pizzas in wood fired ovens. Its gluten content is less than the bread flour and was designed especially for Neapolitan style pizzas with a crisp crust and a soft, moist interior.
All about the base
Now we understand flour from its origins to its ramifications. Yet that is not enough to create a pizza dough the way Pauls Pizza does. We have established that using different flours impact the stretch, flavor and texture of a pizza. But if it were that simple, then the True Neapolitan Pizza Association’s rules for making the best pizza would not extend to 14 pages. Factors such as the temperature of the water that goes into the dough, the fermentation time, the shaping of the pizza, the ingredient sourcing and the cooking instructions influence the quality of the result.
Some things to keep in mind are that the specialized, non bleached, and non brominated pizza dough is made from soft wheats, which leads to higher flexibility but lower fermentation tolerance. Also, it has less malt or enzymes which can result in underdeveloped crust color which is a potential turnoff when it comes to presentation. As with any type of bake, it is important to be accurate with measurements, ideally using scales over measuring cups to achieve a precise weight. Some people recommend using oil to tenderize the dough while kneading it, to maximize the gluten development and add a subtle flavour. Dedicating time to the stretching and folding of the dough is paramount to create the ideal gluten reaction. Choosing the right yeast also changes the outcome.
The evolution of dough led to great advancements without which the world would look quite different today. Bread was the main source of calories for early civilizations, fueling the development of technologies, cities and recipes that continue to grow in our current days. At Pauls Pizza we are grateful to our ancestors for domesticating grains. The journey towards the perfect dough began thousands of years ago, and thanks to the Etruscans, the Romans and the Egyptians, today you can find Southwest Detroit pizza on highly improved fatbreads. Since 1995 we have taken on the responsibility of continuing the legacy and further developing our recipes to provide the best pizza to our community. Visit Pauls Pizza to taste an exceptionally crafted pizza dough topped with the most delicious ingredients.