Understanding Gluten Content in Flour
To decide which flour is right for you and your pizza, it’s important to understand the differences between the various types of flour, including all-purpose flour, bread flour, pastry flour, and cake flour. Upon closer inspection, you’ll notice that the flours have different textures. For example, cake flour is very soft and fine, and almost feels like silk, while bread flour is a bit coarser. The difference in texture is due to the amount of gluten. Cake and pastry flour have very low gluten contents (8–10%), making them “soft” flours, while bread flour has a high gluten content (12–14%), making it a “hard,” or “strong,” flour. All-purpose flour is a combination of “hard” and “soft” flours and contains 10–12% gluten.
Gluten is a protein that, when wet, creates an elastic system throughout the dough and it is what gives bread its chewy, springy nature. The process of kneading dough traps the bubbles of CO2 released by the fermenting yeast in the web that is created by the gluten strands, allowing the dough to rise. The amount of gluten in the flour is what determines just how rubbery and chewy the bread will be. This is why cake and pastry flours have less gluten than bread flours—no one wants to eat a chewy cake.
Finding the Right Flour For Your Dough
Of course, when making pizza dough, we want our crust to have some chewiness. The choice of flour depends on the type of crust you want: Do you like a thin, New York-style crust, a chewy, Neapolitan-style pizza, or deep dish? Different flours will give you different results and you should experiment on your own to find the one that produces the best-tasting crust for you. Let’s take a look at some of my recommendations:
All-purpose flour is just as it sounds: mostly good for everything. It will taste good in most pizza dough recipes, but it can sometimes be a bit harder to stretch out, as it may tear more easily. All-purpose flour is great for Sicilian and deep-dish pizza crusts and will do well in thin crust, New York-style, and Neapolitan-style pizzas as well. Your average supermarket brand is adequate, but many, including me, swear by King Arthur.
Bread flour is most people’s go-to for home pizza baking. It’s easy to find in any grocery store (again, King Arthur is a favorite brand), affordable, and adds some extra oomph and crisp to thin crust and New York-style pizzas. It will make your crust crispy on the outside and chewy and textured on the inside. You’ll find that it won’t tear as you stretch it out, although sometimes it can be hard to stretch into shape, continually springing back because of the high gluten content. If you are interested in an even higher gluten content, look for King Arthur’s Sir Lancelot variety, which contains 14% gluten and is available on its website.
If you want to make Neapolitan-style pizza, which is thin in the middle and puffs up around the rim, and are ready to leave the comfort of your local grocery store, seek out the more expensive Caputo Tipo 00 flour. The “00” refers to the texture of the flour: Tipo 00 is the finest grind you can get, 0 is the middle, and 1 is the roughest. This fine grind, along with a 12.5% gluten content, which gives your dough just enough—but not too much—elasticity, produces a crust that is chewy but not rubbery, with just the right amount of puff on the edges that get charred in some spots in the oven.
Caputo flour can be found in Italian or specialty grocery shops, or online. You can also try King Arthur’s Italian-Style flour, the “American clone of Italian 00 flour,” which you can buy on King Arthur’s website. Be aware that if your oven does not perform well with temperatures over 500º the Caputo Tipo 00 flour may not brown and char sufficiently for a good Neapolitan-style pizza so it’s probably not worth the high price tag.
Experiment and Have Fun
Choosing the right type of flour is the first step in making a great pizza. While there may not be a definitive answer for the “best” flour for all pizza doughs, there are significant differences between types that should be taken into account before delving into your recipe. Each type will give your dough a different consistency and it’s up to you to decide what kind of dough makes the best crust for your pizza. Have fun experimenting and enjoy eating lots of pizza!