Following up on the recent suggestion of Pizza Napoletana, I decided yesterday to start a dough using a combination of Bel Aria 00 flour and a bread flour, in an effort to increase the protein/gluten levels of the Bel Aria 00 flour to make it more suitable for Neapolitan style pizzas. While I was at it, I also decided to make a dough using a combination of the Bel Aria 00 flour and Caputo 00 pizzeria flour. Both doughs incorporated a Caputo 00 natural starter, in amounts at the upper end of the 1-5% range (by weight of water) recommended by pizzanapoletana. pizzanapoletana also recommended using 10-15% of bread flour with the Bel Aria 00 flour. I chose to use the 15% figure for both doughs.
The ingredients for the first pizza were as follows: an 85%/15% blend of Bel Aria 00 flour and King Arthur bread flour (4.60 oz. of Bel Aria 00 flour and 0.80 oz. of King Arthur bread flour), 3.45 oz. water (around 64% hydration), 3/4 t. Sicilian sea salt, 1/2 t. olive oil, and about 3/4 t. Caputo 00 natural starter (about 0.20 oz.). The ingredients for the second pizza were the same as for the first pizza except that the flour blend (also 85%/15%) was Bel Aria flour (4.60 oz.) and Caputo 00 pizzeria flour (0.80 oz.). Both doughs were kneaded entirely by hand, using the basic processing techniques as previously described. The finished dough weights in both cases were around 9 oz., or enough to make two 12-inch pizzas.
Once the kneading of the two doughs was completed, they were lightly coated with olive oil and put into plastic storage bags and set on my kitchen counter at a room temperature of around 65-70 degrees F. Initially, both doughs were in a ball shape, but after several hours they started to slouch into a pancake-like affair. Both dough balls remained on the kitchen counter for 24 hours. I then reshaped the two dough balls and left them out at room temperature (in their storage bags) for another 5 hours (ripening period). So, both dough balls were at room temperature for a total of about 29 hours. During the 5-hour ripening period, the two dough balls slouched again into pancake-shaped disks. It turned out that this behavior was not a deterrent to a successful outcome, and I mention it only so that anyone repeating my experiment is not discouraged in seeing the dough behave that way. One of the things I specifically looked for as I examined the doughs from time to time was the telltale odor of fermentation, like a sourdough smell. At first the odor was faint, but with time intensified.
Both dough balls handled easily when the time came to form them into skins. The dough with the KA bread flour had a surprising amount of elasticity, given the fact that it had remained at room temperature for over 29 hours, but it relaxed as I shaped it and produced a good skin to work with. The dough with the Caputo 00 flour was more extensible than the other dough and also shaped nicely. There were no signs of overfermentation and there was some bubbling of the skins in both cases, but not enough to warrant taking photos. Both skins were dressed in the same manner and baked in the same manner as previously described.
The photos below show the results of tonight's efforts (the first photo is of the Bel Aria 00/KA bread flour pizza and the second photo is of the Bel Aria 00/Caputo 00 pizza). Both pizzas turned out exceptionally well, although I preferred the pizza with the Bel Aria/King Arthur blend. The crust was chewy, with softness in the center and a nice crunch at the rim. And with a ton of flavor--really, really nice but without an overpowering sourdough-like flavor. I would rank the pizza among the best Neapolitan-style pizzas I have made. The other pizza was also very good but the texture of the crust was not quite up to par with the first pizza, even though it had a more airy crust.
But either way, the results indicate that it is possible to use a low-protein 00 flour like the Bel Aria 00 flour together with a commonly available bread flour (such as the KA bread flour) to make a very good, if not excellent, Neapolitan style pizza in a standard home oven. It also means that one need not buy a 55-pound bag of Caputo pizzeria flour, even though it is a good flour, when 1 kg. (2.2 lbs.) bags of Bel Aria 00 flour are available from several sources. One point that should be kept in mind, however, is that I used two pizza stones, one on the bottom rack of my oven, and a second one at the upper rack of my oven directly under the broiler element (both stones were preheated for about an hour at 500-550 degrees F). The second stone was used to create increased top browning of the crust during the final minute or two of baking. However, I believe it is possible to dispense with the upper stone and simply place the pizza for the final minute or two directly under the broiler element. Alternatively, you can put the stone on the middle rack and turn on the broiler for a final few minutes of top cooking.
I'd like to thank pizzanapoletana for his suggestion on how better to use the Bel Aria flour. I think it may open the door more widely to our members to have the experience of trying out Neapolitan style pizzas. Grazie mille, Marco.