A store shelf with various pizza flours

The Ultimate Guide to Pizza Flour – How to Choose the Ideal Flour for Pizza

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What makes pizza flour unique? Why are there so many options to choose from? What are the actual differences between them, and how do we select the most suitable one for our specific needs? In this post, we will explore everything you need to know about choosing flour for making pizza, with one goal in mind – answering any questions you have ever had about pizza flour

Disclaimer: Everything in this post is primarily based on practical experience in baking, both my own and that of other bakers. It includes a combination of technical flour data, scientific insights, and knowledge shared by leading food technologists from around the world.

Upon first reading, you may find some of the information in this post to be contrary to what you have traditionally believed about pizza flour (or flour in general). However, I encourage you to continue reading (and perhaps revisit certain sections), because I guarantee that this information is invaluable and can greatly enhance your pizza-making skills. For a better understanding of this post, I also recommend reading the previous post about flour in general: A Guide to Understanding Flour – Types, Role in Baking, Characteristics, and Essential Knowledge.

Introduction – What Exactly Is Pizza Flour, and What Makes It Special?

First, let’s clarify one thing:

The term “pizza flour” is primarily used for marketing purposes. In most cases, it refers to a type of flour that shares similar characteristics with bread flour (which itself is a broad and undefined term). Although there are differences between pizza and bread, both require flour with sufficient gluten content, both in terms of quantity and quality (what is considered “sufficient” varies depending on the particular type of bread or pizza being prepared). Therefore, while pizza flours do have characteristics suitable for pizza making, it is important to acknowledge the significant influence of marketing in this context.

As discussed in the previous post of this series about flour, the key characteristic of wheat flour is its ability to develop gluten. Gluten is what gives structure, volume, strength, and elasticity to baked goods. Making pizza (or bread) without gluten is like building a house with plastic foundations (apologies to our celiac friends). Therefore, in order to bake great pizzas, it is crucial to use flour that can produce a sufficient quantity and quality of gluten. Once we have found such flour, the information printed on the packaging, including the manufacturer, country of production, or classification, becomes irrelevant.

Let’s consider the average consumer as an example, since the majority of consumers fall into this category (we, as hardcore pizza lovers, represent only a small percentage of all flour consumers). When this person want to bake a pizza, they typically visit the supermarket and explore the different types of flour available. What are the chances that they would choose to purchase flour labeled as ‘pizza flour’ instead of ‘bread flour’ or ‘all-purpose flour’, even if these other flours are equally or perhaps even more suitable for making pizza?

In my experience, most people are likely to choose the flour labeled as “pizza flour”; Why? Marketing, marketing, marketing. Flour mills are well aware of this. Making money is their primary goal, and if they can make a small change to the flour and market it as “pizza flour” to attract new customers or expand their existing market, they will do it. This is a crucial point that deserves to be highlighted, and it can also be applied to many other areas (but let’s stick to the realm of pizza flour for now 😉).

This does not mean that flours labeled as pizza flour are “fraudulent,” as most of them have indeed been specially created for pizza making (as will be discussed later). However, it does mean that to make a great pizza, there is no need to use flour labeled as “pizza flour” (or flour of a specific brand, type, origin country, etc.).

Think about it for a moment – there was a time when there weren’t countless types of flour. Bakers used the few local flours that were available to them. Interestingly, when we bake pizza at home today, we often try to recreate the same “classic” pizzas that started it all, made with basic flours. Nowadays, there is an abundance of flour options available for making pizza, far exceeding our actual needs. And the sole driving force behind the existence of these options is – you guessed it – marketing.

Properties of a Quality (Pizza) Flour

Let’s start with the end goal – what we want from flour suitable for making pizza is flour that will produce a dough that can retain its shape during fermentation without becoming wet or sticky; The dough should be easy to handle, especially when stretching it into a pizza base, finding a good balance between extensibility and elasticity. Additionally, the dough should be able to capture the gases produced during fermentation, resulting in a crust with a distinct cellular structure (“air pockets”).

It is important to keep in mind that while flour contributes to achieving all of these qualities, an effective dough management process is equally essential, if not more so.

Protein Quantity and Quality

When choosing flour for pizza, it is important to take into account both the quantity and quality of protein. As for protein content, a range of 10-14% is generally recommended (the exact protein content may vary depending on the type of pizza being made).

We already know that when discussing flour, protein is typically referred to as “gluten”. However, not all the protein in flour is gluten. A good example of this is wholemeal flours, which typically have a relatively high protein content – the “extra” protein in these flours comes from the bran and germ, and these proteins cannot form gluten.

To make things even more complicated, the presence of protein in flour does not necessarily indicate its quality in terms of gluten development. Flour with high protein content but of low quality will yield inferior results compared to flour with low protein content but of high quality (all things being equal).

How can these two factors be evaluated? Unfortunately (or fortunately), the only way to do so is through actual baking. While technical data can provide a general direction, there is no substitute for observing, feeling, and tasting the end product (i.e., the pizza).

When it comes to technical data, the most informative measure of both the quantity and quality of gluten is known as the “Gluten Index.” This index is determined using a specialized device called the Glutomatic. The values of this index range from 0 to 100%, with 100% indicating the highest quality gluten. Unfortunately, the gluten index is typically not publicly disclosed in the technical data of the flour available online.

Gluten Ball Test

If you are interested in a way to measure or compare gluten content in different flours, you can perform the “gluten washing” test.

The test involves creating a dough ball and then washing away the starch from the dough using running water. This process will leave behind a mass of gluten consisting primarily of gluten and water. The gluten-forming proteins in flour, glutenin and gliadin, are not soluble in water and therefore remain in the dough.

This gluten mass, known as “wet gluten,” is then weighed and the weight is divided by the total dough weight to determine the wet gluten content. Wet gluten content typically ranges between 25% (for weak flour) and over 35% (for very strong flour). By comparing the wet gluten content obtained from different flours, it is possible to determine the gluten “potential” of each flour.

For a more in-depth analysis, the gluten can be baked in the oven, which allows us to directly see the general structure that a specific flour will give to a baked product in terms of volume, texture, etc.

The official test protocol can be found here.

תמונה שממחישה מבחן כדור גלוטן
If you’ve ever wondered what dry gluten looks like – this is it

In the example above, you can see the wet gluten of two all-purpose flours, based on doughs weighing 150 grams. The ball made from the right flour contains 21.5% wet gluten, while the one on the left contains around 25% wet gluten. For comparison, the wet gluten content of Caputo Chef flour was 25.5%.

Gluten washing test using ‘Caputo Chef’ flour. As you can see, the resulting dry gluten (after baking) is significantly different from that of the local all-purpose flours shown in the previous picture (whether it is good or not depends on the application)

Please note that the results of the gluten washing test can vary depending on who performs the test and how it is conducted. These results are not absolute, but rather comparative; In other words, the gluten washing test can help determine different levels of gluten compared to other flours as long as it is performed in the same exact manner. It is important to understand that the results obtained from conducting the test at home will differ from those obtained in a lab, but they can still serve as a basis for comparing different flours.

In the test I conducted above, Caputo Chef yielded the same amount of wet gluten as an all-purpose flour with 11% protein. That being said, please keep in mind that this does not indicate anything about the QUALITY of the gluten; as can be seen in the pictures, the gluten obtained from the two flours is completely different (and again, this is neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’).

The Effect of Flour on Flavor

Effect of White Flour on Flavor

White flour is milled from the endosperm of the wheat kernel, which is primarily composed of starch (about 75%). Starch, by itself, is tasteless; That is why professional kitchens use starch or flour to thicken sauces, as it doesn’t affect the flavor profile of the sauce.

What does this mean for pizza (and other baked goods)? In general, the flavor of the end product will not be affected by the type or brand of flour used, as long as it is made with “pure” white flour.

The flavor of a pizza crust is influenced by factors such as the dough formula, the by-products of fermentation, the baking method, the sauce, the cheese, and how all these components come together – and NOT by the flour; Therefore, “flavor” should not be a consideration when choosing flour, as it has minimal effect on it.

Effect of Whole Wheat / Wholemeal Flour on Flavor

When CAN flour affect flavor? This happens when using wholemeal flours or flours that are not completely white (meaning they also contain parts of the bran). These flours have a distinct nutty/earthy flavor (think wholemeal bread). As the flour contains more of the wheat kernel (specifically bran), this flavor becomes more pronounced and intense.

The higher the ash content in the flour, the more bran it contains; As a result, flours with a higher ash content may affect the flavor of the final product, although for most people, the difference will likely be minimal. Italian 00 flours, for instance, are nearly devoid of bran and germ, which makes them practically flavorless.

Using wholemeal flours (such as wheat, rye, spelt, etc.) or partially wholemeal flours (like the Italian tipo 1) will result in a final product with a distinct flavor profile. However, taste preferences are subjective, and while some people may enjoy this combination, others may not – so feel free to experiment with various types of flour.

With that being said, it is important to remember that the presence of bran in the flour actively weakens the gluten structure in the dough; Therefore, to achieve optimal results in terms of flavor, gluten balance, and dough strength, it is recommended not to exceed 20% wholemeal flour of the total flour weight in the dough formula (this will be discussed in detail later on).

Effect of Protein Content on Flavor

As a general rule, flour with a higher protein content has the potential to brown more during baking, which indirectly enhances flavors due to the Maillard reaction.

The proteins in the flour, specifically the amino acids produced during fermentation when the proteins break down, participate in the Maillard reaction and contribute to the browning of the crust; Therefore, dough made from flour with a higher protein content will potentially result in more amino acids breaking down during fermentation, leading to a stronger and more intense flavor during baking (all other things being equal).

The W Index

For more information on the Alveograph test, which is used to determine the W index, please refer to the Alveograph page on the Encyclopizza.

Allow me to start with the main point: The obsession often seen with the W index or the “strength” of the flour and the need to adjust the W index to fermentation times is, in most cases, completely unnecessary.

The Purpose of the W Index

The purpose of the W index is to provide a general indication of the strength of a dough sample made from the tested flour. This sample undergoes a specific laboratory test under particular conditions and criteria; conditions that do not necessarily align (and usually do not align) with real-life baking scenarios where the dough is actually prepared, outside the laboratory.

Will a flour with a W index of 320 be “stronger” than a flour with a W index of 250, all things being equal? Most likely; However, it is crucial to understand that the W index is not the sole determining factor for choosing a flour, and it should not be considered the ultimate measure of dough strength.

What does the W index actually tell us? Essentially, it indicates the strength of the flour, specifically – how resistant the resulting dough is to overfermentation; Or in simpler terms – it tells us how well the dough (flour) can withstand fermentation, before the gluten structure becomes too weak for baking. Nothing more, and nothing less.

Generally, a higher W index suggests that the gluten in the dough will be stronger, which theoretically makes the dough more “resistant” to prolonged fermentation.

Please note: A flour that can absorb more water is not necessarily stronger, and the W index does not have a direct relation to the water absorption capacity of the flour!

When it comes to white flour, as a general rule of thumb, the stronger the flour, the more water it can absorb due to its higher protein content. However, it is important to remember that proteins in flour, regardless of the type, can absorb 1-4 times their weight in water.

The bran in wholemeal flours (or flours that contain varying amounts of bran) increases the protein content of the flour, thus increasing its water absorption capacity (but NOT its strength, as these proteins are not gluten-forming proteins); Furthermore, the dietary fiber found in bran, which also has a relatively high water absorption capacity, further increases the flour’s water absorption capacity. As a result, flour containing bran will necessarily have a higher water absorption capacity compared to bran-less white flour.

In terms of gluten development (and all things being equal), a flour containing bran will not be stronger, but rather weaker, because the bran interferes with gluten formation; As a result, the flour is less resistant to fermentation, and will yield a weaker dough, and a baked product with less volume.

In addition to the factors mentioned above, there are other factors that can affect the water absorption capacity of flour without contributing to the strength of its gluten structure. For instance, the level of damaged starch, which can absorb a considerably larger amount of water compared to intact starch; Another factor is the inclusion of various additives in the flour, such as additional starch or soy flour (which consists of approximately 50% protein that cannot form gluten).

And this is where things start to get complicated:

The fermentation process, specifically the action of protease enzymes breaking down gluten in the dough (thereby weakening it), is influenced by various external factors. These factors are not necessarily directly related to the flour itself, or if they are, they may not be reflected in the W index. Factors such as fermentation temperature, amount of yeast, enzymatic activity of the flour, salt level in the dough, and final dough temperature – all play crucial roles in achieving successful fermentation and preventing overfermentation.

If so, the purpose of the W index is to indicate the dough’s resistance to overfermentation; However, accurately conveying this information without considering all of the above factors, is practically impossible.

The W Index and Type of Wheat

It is important to note that the Alvograph (and consequently, the W index) was specifically designed for European flours made from soft wheat, that are relatively low in protein content. As a result, its use is primarily limited to Europe, particularly France (where it was invented) and Italy; Outside of these two countries, the use (and publication) of the W index is quite rare and mainly restricted to pizza flours (for marketing reasons, obviously).

The reason for this is that when it comes to soft wheat, there is typically no direct correlation between protein content and the quality of the gluten it produces. Two flours from different types of soft wheat may yield dough with different properties and strength, even if they have the same protein content; And this is exactly the purpose of the alveograph test (and the W index) – to provide information on the properties of these flours and distinguish between them.

On the other hand, when it comes to hard or stronger wheat, there is mostly a direct correlation between protein content and the quality of the gluten it produces. In general, in flours made from hard wheat, a higher protein content translates to more gluten and stronger flour. Therefore, there is no reason (or need) to use the W index in flours milled from stronger wheat.

Additionally, the alveograph is not suitable for testing hard wheat flours with higher protein content because it is specifically designed for European soft wheat; As a result, when testing dough made from hard wheat, the alveograph provides unreliable and inconsistent results. For testing the properties of stronger flours, it is customary to use the Farinograph, which provides more accurate information.

Therefore, the W index is primarily used in Italy and France, and its usage outside of these countries is rare because it is not considered necessary, useful, or reliable for evaluating the quality of flour.

To conclude, the W index was established as a general indication of the strength of European flours because their strength cannot be accurately estimated based solely on protein content.
Therefore, if you are using Italian/French flour, the W index can be useful in estimating the flour’s strength (with an emphasis on the word “estimating”).

On the other hand, the strength of non-European flours, or those milled from non-European wheat, can often be directly estimated based on their protein content, making the W index completely irrelevant and unnecessary (and it is usually not available either, as these flours do not undergo an alvaograph test).

The W Index and Fermentation Times

Another important consideration regarding the W Index is its (alleged) correlation with fermentation times.

It is common to come across the table below (or a similar version) in various Italian (and non-Italian) sources. This table attempts to establish a correlation between different W index and fermentation times.

When discussing the W index in relation to fermentation times, it is important to clarify that these times refer to fermentation at room temperature, rather than in the fridge (according to Italian sources). Now, what is considered “room temperature”? That’s a good question – it refers to any temperature ranging from 16-30°C/60-86°F. This makes the link between fermentation times and the W index even more tenuous since temperature is the main factor driving fermentation.

Note that the column ‘fermentation hours in the fridge’ is my addition. The numbers in this column reflect the fact that dough fermentation occurs at a much slower pace when cold fermented. Generally, the fermentation processes in the fridge take place 4-8 times slower than when the dough is fermented at room temperature (A post on this topic will be published in the future).

W IndexHours of Fermentation
(Room Temperature)
Hours of Fermentation
(Cold Fermentation)
16028
180312
210416
240624
260936
2801248
3001560
3202496
38048192
40072288

To conclude, contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary to use very strong flour when fermenting dough in the fridge. Medium-strength flours can work just fine, depending on the total fermentation time and proper dough management process.
The same applies to preferments that are fermented in the fridge, in terms of the W index and the need to use a ‘strong’ flour when making a preferment.

W Index – Summary

The W index is a technical parameter that indicates how the flour will perform during fermentation. However, it’s important to note that this indication may not necessarily apply in real-world conditions outside of the laboratory; Therefore, knowing the W index will not actually help us make a better pizza, and is not really necessary.

Instead of placing (unnecessary) emphasis on the W index, a much better approach would be to focus on mastering your dough management process – this primarily includes achieving the ideal final dough temperature and adjusting the amount of yeast based on fermentation temperature and time.
You can accomplish both of these tasks with the help of PizzaBlab’s dough calculator and final dough temperature calculator.

Flour and Fermentation Times

Do I Need to Use a Specific Flour Labeled for Short/Medium/Long Fermentation?

After understanding the purpose (or lack thereof) of the W index, we can now proceed to more practical considerations when selecting the appropriate flour for different fermentation times.

We already know that the stronger the flour – usually determined by its protein content – the better it can withstand longer fermentation. However, this doesn’t mean that weaker flours can’t be used for long fermentations.

Also, keep in mind that cold fermentation in the fridge significantly slows down the fermentation process; As a result, the need for using strong flours, which are suitable for longer fermentation at ROOM temperature, decreases considerably.

The best advice that can be given in this context is trial and error. If a particular flour works well for you, then that’s all that matters – making the W index or any other classification on the label irrelevant. It is entirely possible to make an excellent long-fermented pizza even with relatively weak flours; It may require more skill and experience, but that’s the only way to improve, regardless of the flour’s strength or anything else. Of course, each flour has its own limits (using a 9% protein flour for long fermentation is not a good idea), but reaching these limits greatly depends on the skill of the baker and the dough making process.

My point is – filter out the marketing background noises and focus on baking. In most cases, pizza flour labeled as “short fermentation” can actually handle a longer fermentation with a proper dough management process. The commonly asked questions of ‘whether flour X is suitable for Y hours of fermentation’, are irrelevant; And when it comes to bread flours – most of them will easily withstand long fermentations.

And remember – a good dough management process, which primarily involves adjusting the amount of yeast based on fermentation time and temperature, is much more important than focusing on a specific type of flour (as long as it has properties suitable for baking pizza or bread, as defined at the beginning of the post). Therefore, a more productive approach in this context would be to concentrate on learning how to properly ferment dough, rather than obsessing over flours that are supposedly suitable for specific fermentation times.

Using “Strong” Flours for Short Fermentation

So, we have learned that it is possible to use weaker flours for long fermentation; But what about the opposite – using strong flour for a short fermentation (‘short’ meaning a few hours at room temperature or up to 12 hours in the fridge)?

At this point, we understand that flours with higher protein/gluten content are stronger. We have also observed the potential consequences of excessively strong and elastic gluten, such as dough that is difficult to work with and results in a tougher, chewier texture. Furthermore, we are aware that during fermentation, the dough undergoes various processes that lead to the breakdown of proteins, gluten bonds, and starch. Given this information, what can we expect if we ferment the dough using a strong flour, for a short period of time?

The process we refer to as “fermentation” consists of several factors, including:
(1) the physical rising of the dough
(2) the “maturing” of the dough
(3) the by-product of these two processes

In the context of flour and short fermentation, both processes can be accelerated by increasing the amount of yeast and/or the temperature. Adding more yeast leads to greater gas production and a faster breakdown of gluten, since the yeast itself produces protease enzymes.

In the context of flour and short fermentation, both processes can be accelerated by increasing the amount of yeast and/or the temperature. Adding more yeast leads to greater gas production and a faster breakdown of gluten, as the yeast itself produces protease enzymes.

So, what does this mean in practice when using strong flour for a short fermentation?

In a dough that is fermented for a short period of time, the process of dough maturation may not occur completely. The higher the protein/gluten content in the flour, the longer it will take for it to break down. In other words, a dough that is fermented for a short period of time and made from strong flour (which has a high gluten/protein content) may be more elastic, resistant, and harder to work with because the gluten only partially softens. Additionally, due to the gluten not being fully broken down (softened), the end product will have a tougher, chewier texture.

And what about the “digestibility” of a dough that undergoes a short fermentation, regardless of the type of flour used? A dedicated post will be published in the future to explore this subject further. For now, I can say that this is mostly a myth and a short-fermented dough is NOT “less digestible”.

To summarize, while it may not be ideal, it is definitely possible to use a strong flour intended for “long fermentation” even for a short fermentation. However, it is important to keep in mind that such dough may behave differently, being more elastic and harder to work with.

Tips for Making an Emergency Dough (Very Short Fermentation)

A few tips for very short fermentation times (1-3 hours at room temperature, also known as ’emergency dough’):

  • Aim for a final dough temperature of 29C/84F (but avoid going above 32C/89F, as the gluten-forming proteins in the dough will start to lose their ability to form gluten bonds). This will speed up the fermentation and maturing process, resulting in a more “mature” dough in a shorter period of time.
  • Adjust the amount of yeast according to the fermentation time and temperature. The yeast is the main source of protease enzymes in the dough, as it produces them during fermentation. By using PizzaBlab’s dough calculator, you can obtain the optimal amount of yeast to achieve ideal fermentation, even with a short fermentation period.
  • To address an overly elastic dough, you can add a small amount of fat to the dough – any type of oil will do. Aim for a quantity of 1-5% (based on baker’s percentages). Fat acts as a dough softener, thereby improving the extensibility of the dough.
  • During a short fermentation, there is not enough time for biochemical gluten development. Therefore, our goal is to achieve sufficient gluten development by the end of kneading. However, it is challenging to determine what qualifies as ‘sufficient development’ because it varies depending on the type of flour used. If the flour is very strong, we aim for well-developed gluten, but not full development, as that would result in a dough that is too elastic and difficult to work with. Conversely, if the flour is relatively weak, it is best to achieve full or near-full gluten development by the end of kneading. In both cases, trial and error is the only way to truly understand what is ideal.

The Impact of Flour on the Characteristics of Pizza Crust

The Impact of Protein Content on Dough and Crust Characteristics

The protein content of flour directly affects both the behavior of the dough and the final result. The primary effects of protein content in flour are:

  1. The water absorption capacity of the flour (whether it can absorb more or less water)
  2. How the dough behaves (whether it is elastic, extensible, soft, or tough)
  3. The final volume of the pizza or baked goods
  4. The degree of browning during baking, which directly affects the flavor and crispness of the crust
  5. The [crumb] texture of the final product (whether it is soft or “hard” and chewy)

As you can see from the above, using flour with different protein content allows us to achieve different crust/crumb characteristics, depending on the desired results.

Impact on Water Absorption

In general (and for white flour), a flour can absorb more water as the protein content increases.

For most styles of pizza (containing around 60% hydration), this is not a significant factor because the majority of flours can easily handle this hydration level. However, it becomes crucial for pizzas that require higher hydration, such as Al Taglio or modern Neapolitan. Flour with a high water absorption capacity allows for higher hydration without the dough reaching its “saturation” point, which would result in a weaker gluten structure and a sticky, challenging dough to work with. This, in turn, would inevitably affect the final product as well.

Impact on Dough Behaviour (How the Dough Handles)

As a general guideline, and all things being equal (say 60% hydration and a standard dough formula), flour with a higher protein content will result in a dough that is more elastic and “stiff”. For instance, a flour with 13% protein content will always produce a dough that is more elastic, stiff, and “resistant” than a flour with 10% protein content.

In practice, this means that flours with a higher protein content may result in a dough that is more resistant and challenging to work with. Such dough may also require additional fermentation time to allow the protease enzymes to sufficiently “soften” the gluten. This is the main reason why flours with a higher protein content are generally less suitable for short fermentation (however, this does not mean that they cannot be used in short fermentation, as discussed in the previous section on short fermentation using strong flours).

Italian flours, for example, most of which have a low to medium protein content, produce doughs that are highly extensible and easy to work with.

It is important to note that there are various dough conditioners (specifically dough reducers/relaxers) that work to soften the dough in an “artificial” way, thus making it possible to obtain a workable dough when using high protein content flour for short fermentation. One example of such a dough reducer is L-cysteine (E920).

Impact on the Volume of the Pizza/Baked Product

The protein content also directly affects the volume of the baked product. While the quality of the gluten also plays a significant role in this context, a general guideline is that a higher protein content in the flour leads to more gluten formation and a stronger gluten structure; A stronger gluten structure can capture more gases, resulting in a larger volume.

For standard round pizzas, there is no need to consider this issue, as even “regular” flours will provide sufficient volume; However, for square pizzas like Al Taglio, Pala, Detroit, and Sicilian, where volume is important, using flour with a higher protein content will help achieve greater volume.

Impact on Browning (And Consequently on the Flavor and Crispness of the Pizza)

The protein content directly affects the browning of the crust, and, indirectly, also impacts the flavor and crispness of the pizza.

What causes the dough to brown during baking is the Maillard reaction, which occurs when reducing sugars and amino acids interact. Amino acids, which are the “building blocks” of proteins, are present in the dough as a result of the breakdown of gluten during fermentation by protease enzymes.

Since amino acids are the result of proteins (gluten) in the dough being broken down during fermentation, a dough made of flour with higher protein content, will potentially contain more amino acids; And the greater the amount of amino acids in the dough, the more intense the Maillard reaction during baking, resulting in more browning.

A dough that has browned more during baking will necessarily:

  1. Yield a crust with stronger and deeper flavors. In other words, the protein content of flour indirectly affects the flavor of the crust.
    It is worth noting that the degree of baking and the fermentation of the dough also play a role in this regard; For example, during a shorter fermentation time, the proteins will not be fully broken down into amino acids, as this is a process that takes time.
  2. Yield a crispier crust. When people talk about a “crispy” pizza (that is not a cracker style pizza), they typically mean a tender interior with a crispy, “eggshell”-like exterior – this crispy exterior is achieved through the Maillard reaction.

To conclude, flour with a higher protein content has the potential to yield a crust that is more flavorful and crispier.

Impact on Crust/Crumb Texture

Protein content in flour directly affects the texture of the end product, specifically the softness, toughness, or chewiness of the crust (or crumb, in the case of bread).

As a general guideline, flour with a low protein content will yield a softer crust, while flour with a high protein content will result in a chewier and “tougher” crust; This is because a higher protein content leads to a stronger and more elastic and cohesive gluten structure, resulting in a firmer texture in the end product.
It’s also important to note that the impact of gluten content on texture also applies post-baking – the higher the protein content of a flour, the “tougher” the pizza will become once it cools down.

Of course, in this case as well, the properties and quality of gluten can also affect the texture, in addition to its quantity. However, the above rule of thumb generally applies to most flours and applications.

Let’s take New York pizza, for example, which is known for its chewy texture. It is traditionally made using high protein content flour, specifically strong American flour with a protein content of 12.5% or higher; On the other hand, Neapolitan pizza, known for its soft texture, is traditionally made with weak Italian flour that has a medium-low protein content.

By using different flours with different protein content, we can achieve different crust textures according to our preferences.

It is important to note that while the protein content of flour directly affects texture, the texture of the final product is also influenced by the kneading process (particularly the degree of gluten development at the end of kneading) and the timing of baking (specifically, the balance between elasticity and extensibility). These topics will be covered in future posts.

The Impact of Enzymatic Activity in Flour on Browning (Using the Right Flour for Your Baking Temperature)

The enzymatic activity in flour (measured by the Falling Number), has a significant impact on the browning of dough when it is baked. In general, flours with high enzymatic activity are more suitable for baking at lower temperatures (350°C/660°F or below), while flours with low enzymatic activity are better suited for baking at higher temperatures (350°C/660°F or above). But why is this the case? Let’s find out.

How Enzymatic Activity in Flour Affects Browning

Let’s first discuss the impact of enzymatic activity in flour on the dough, both before and during baking.
*This is going to get a little technical – If this section feels overly technical to you, feel free to skip ahead to the following sections, which are more concise.

Firstly, let’s clarify the meaning of “enzymatic activity in flour”.
In short, enzymatic activity in flour (measured by the Falling Number index) refers to the level of activity of the alpha-amylase enzyme in the flour, which is responsible for breaking down starch into sugars. The higher the enzymatic activity in flour, the faster the breakdown of starch into sugars will occur – during fermentation, and especially during baking (contrary to common belief, the majority of starch breakdown in the dough actually occurs during baking, and not during fermentation).
To conclude – the higher the enzymatic activity in flour, the faster the breakdown of starch into sugars in the dough.

The sugars obtained from the breakdown of starch serve two purposes in the dough:
(1) They are used as food for yeast during fermentation
(2) They accumulate in the dough as residual sugar and participate in the Maillard reaction during baking

Secondly, as we have already seen in the previous sections, the primary factor that affects browning in baking is the Maillard reaction. The Maillard reaction in dough involves the interaction between two components: amino acids (which result from the breakdown of proteins/gluten during fermentation) and sugars (which result from the breakdown of starch during fermentation); All things being equal, a dough with a higher concentration of amino acids OR sugars will undergo a more significant Maillard reaction, resulting in a greater degree of browning during baking.

To put it simply – the more sugars present in the dough, the more it will brown during baking.

When it comes to browning during baking, it is important to understand one key point: the majority of residual sugar (resulting from starch breakdown) that participates in the Maillard reaction is created during baking, not during fermentation! Let me explain why this is the case –

Amylase enzymes, like any other enzymes, become more active as the temperature increases. During baking, specifically at around 60C/140F, the activity of the amylases reaches its peak; As a result, the breakdown of starch into sugars is significantly accelerated during this phase compared to the fermentation phase – in fact, it occurs approximately 40 times faster than in a dough that is fermented in the fridge.

In addition to increased amylase activity, the starch in the dough undergoes a process called gelatinization. When starch is gelatinized, it allows the amylase enzymes to act more easily on the starch granules and convert them into sugars; As a result, a significant amount of starch is rapidly converted into sugar – making most of the residual sugar in the dough come from the baking phase, rather than fermentation.

The higher the concentration of amylases in flour (or, in other words, the higher its enzymatic activity), the more starch will be converted into sugars during baking; To put it simply – higher enzymatic activity means more starch breakdown during baking, resulting in more residual sugar in the dough, which leads to faster and more intense browning.

Now, how does all of this relate to the choice of flour and baking temperature? We will explore this in the following sections.

The Impact of Temperature on the Maillard Reaction

Before we continue, it is important to understand an important concept – the baking temperature greatly influences the “intensity” of the Maillard reaction, which in turn affects how quickly the dough browns. For example, when baking at 400°C/750°F, the Maillard reaction occurs much more rapidly and intensely than at 300°C/570°F.

As we are about to see, this is a crucial factor in relation to baking temperature and the enzymatic activity in flour.

Baking at High Temperatures

When baking at high temperatures (350°C/660°F and above), the Maillard reaction occurs more quickly and aggressively, resulting in faster browning of the pizza. Therefore, it is preferable to use flour with low enzymatic activity when baking at high temperatures – this helps to limit browning, and prevents the pizza from becoming overly browned during baking.

For example, let’s consider a classic Neapolitan pizza, which is baked at around 450°C/850°F for no more than 90 seconds. To achieve the desired soft texture of a Neapolitan pizza, a moderate level of browning is desired. Excessive residual sugar in the dough, whether due to high enzymatic activity or the addition of sugar, combined with baking at such high temperatures, can accelerate browning to the point of charring; Therefore, in such cases, it is best to use flour with low enzymatic activity.

In other words: flours with low enzymatic activity are more “resistant” to browning, making them particularly suitable for baking at high temperatures (i.e., in a wood-fired oven).
This does not mean that flour with high enzymatic activity cannot be used for baking at high temperatures; However, if choosing to use such flour, extra attention must be paid to the dough during baking to prevent excessive browning.

Baking at Low(er) Temperatures (Home Oven)

When baking pizza in a home oven, the temperature typically does not exceed 300C/570F. All the points mentioned earlier apply to baking in a home oven as well, but in reverse: When baking at these temperatures, it is best to use flour with HIGH enzymatic activity – this will increase the residual sugar content in the dough, and promote browning during baking.

..But what happens if we use flour with low enzymatic activity (like most Italian flours) for baking in a home oven (without adding a high level of sugar to the dough)? There are two possible outcomes:

  1. The crust will not brown properly and will remain pale, giving it an unbaked appearance. This is not only unappetizing, but it also results in a crust that lacks A SIGNIFICANT amount of flavor due to inadequate browning.
  2. Alternatively, the crust will eventually brown, usually after a long baking time; However, this will result in a very dry crumb, giving the pizza a cracker-like texture (which is great if you enjoy cracker style pizzas).

Therefore, when baking in a home oven, it is best to use flour with HIGH enzymatic activity.

One option we bakers have to enhance the enzymatic activity of flour is by adding diastatic malt powder to the dough. Diastatic (enzymatic) malt powder contains active amylase enzymes, and adding it to the dough allows us to “manually” boost its enzymatic activity.

Alternatively, you can increase the amount of sugar in the dough by adding sugar, honey, or other types of sugars to it.
It is important to note that adding sugar to flour with low enzymatic activity will not necessarily “solve” the lack of browning during baking; This is because a relatively large amount of sugar (about 5%) will be required to “compensate” for the low enzymatic activity, and this high amount of sugar will also affect other aspects of the dough, such as texture and yeast activity.

When it comes to baking in the oven, it is important to understand that “artificial” browning techniques, such as using olive oil on the crust prior to baking, are purely cosmetic and do not enhance the flavor of the crust (except for the taste of fried oil). These methods cannot substitute the authentic browning (Maillard reaction) that results from a proper fermentation and baking process. In reality, resorting to applying oil on the crust to achieve browning indicates that something went wrong in either the dough preparation or the baking process.

The Effect of Enzymatic Activity on Crust/Crumb Texture

The enzymatic activity can also affect the texture of the crust.
Generally, dough made from flour with high(er) enzymatic activity will result in a more open and “airy” crumb structure. This is because higher enzymatic activity leads to a faster breakdown of sugars, providing more food for the yeast, and resulting in increased yeast activity; As a result, more CO2 is produced, creating more “air” in the dough.

An example of this is Caputo’s Nuvola flour, which has high enzymatic activity (uncommon in Italian flours) – this is one of the reasons why it produces a very open and airy crumb structure with large “air bubbles”.

How to Figure Out the Enzymatic Activity of Specific Flour?

If you want to determine the enzymatic activity of a specific flour, there are several things you can try:

  1. Look for the technical specification sheet of the flour online. Searching for the name of the flour followed by ‘filetype:pdf’ (for example: ‘king arthur bread flour filetype:pdf’), will yield results with PDF files containing the technical data of the flour. On the technical information page, locate the “Falling Number” or “Enzymatic Activity” – the FN value will be displayed as a single number or a range (see picture below).
    *Do note that not all mills publish the technical data of their flours.
  2. If you are unable to find the data sheet online, you can try contacting the flour mill directly via email (although not all mills will cooperate).
  3. Look at the list of ingredients on the flour packaging. If the ingredients include “enzymes”, “malt”, “sprouted barley”, or anything similar, it indicates that the flour has been treated with amylase enzymes, which suggests that the flour likely has a high(er) level of enzymatic activity. In the United States, such flour is often referred to as “malted flour”, while flours with no amylase treatment are called “unmalted flour”.
    *Note that this guideline only works in one direction. If none of the mentioned ingredients appear, it does not necessarily mean that the flour has low enzymatic activity. It is possible for flour to have high enzymatic activity without the addition of amylase.
  4. Through trial and error. experiment with different flours to determine which one browns more or less – just make sure to prepare all the doughs in the same way, except for the flour used.
technical data of King Arthur Sir Galahad flour
Technical data of an American flour (King Arthur Sir Galahad)

Conclusion – Which Flour to Choose for Optimal Browning?

When baking at high temperatures, it is best to use flour with LOW enzymatic activity (Falling Number greater than 300). Most Italian flours fall into this category.

When baking in a home oven, it is best to use flour with HIGH enzymatic activity (Falling Number less than 300). The majority of bread flours fall into this category (and quite a few non-Italian pizza flours as well).

The above is obviously not set in stone, and the best advice is to experiment with different flours. However, it is important to consider everything that was described in this section, as it can have a significant impact on the final product.

“Special” Flours

Manitoba Flour

Let’s start with the main point – “Manitoba flour” is primarily a marketing term, commonly used in Europe and specifically in Italy, for a strong flour typically produced from American/Canadian strong wheat.

Manitoba flour is named after the Canadian province of Manitoba, where the original Manitoba flour wheat variety (Canada Western Red Spring) is grown. This wheat variety has a high protein content of 12-15%.

Nowadays, “Manitoba flour” is mainly used as a marketing term for any flour milled from high-protein wheat, primarily sourced from North America. However, it is also possible to find equivalent wheat from Russia/Ukraine or elsewhere in Europe labeled as Manitoba flour. If you are in the US or Canada, you will not find “Manitoba” flour, unless it is imported from Europe; Instead, you will find flour labeled as “high-gluten flour” or “bread flour” with a high protein content and no specific classification.

As we have learned, in many parts of Europe, especially Italy and France, the local wheat typically has low protein content. Therefore, it is common in Europe to use the term “Manitoba” flour to refer to strong flours made from American/Canadian wheat or wheat with similar characteristics. This term is used to distinguish them from the lower-protein European flours. In other words, ‘Manitoba’ flour is essentially a high-gluten flour.

The two primary reasons for using Manitoba flour in pizza dough are:
(1) To strengthen weaker flours.
(2) For making preferments that ferment at ROOM TEMPERATURE.

It is important to note that if Manitoba flour is used as the only flour in the dough, it may lead to a dough that is excessively elastic and resistant, making it difficult to work with and resulting in a tough and chewy crust.

Durum Wheat

What is Durum Wheat

In the context of pizza making, the most common use of durum wheat products, specifically semolina, is as bench flour (fine semolina). However, durum wheat products can also be added to the dough as part of the flour mixture.

Durum wheat (triticum durum) is a variety of wheat that is high in protein and gluten. It is typically yellow in color, although there are durum varieties that are whiter, similar to “regular” wheat.
Additionally, there is red durum, primarily used as animal feed (fodder).

The products obtained from milling durum wheat can be categorized into three groups based on their granular size (this classification also applies to the milling products of “regular” wheat):

  1. Coarse semolina, which is primarily used for making pasta
  2. Fine semolina, also known as “Rimacinta,” which is commonly used as bench flour
  3. Durum flour, which resembles regular white flour in both granular size and texture (essentially flour made from durum wheat)

It’s important to note that technically, there is no such thing as “semolina flour”; “flour” and “semolina” are two distinct products obtained from the milling of the wheat kernel – they differ in granular size, with ‘flour’ having a smaller granular size and ‘semolina’ having a larger one.

It is also interesting to note that although fine semolina is called “rimacinata” in Italy (meaning “ground twice”), it is not actually ground twice; In fact, it is ground to a specific granular size as part of the standard wheat milling process, using specific rollers, similar to how flour and coarser semolina are ground to their respective granular sizes.

The main difference between durum wheat (whether in the form of flour or semolina) and “regular” wheat lies in the gluten-forming proteins. Compared to regular wheat, the gluten produced from durum wheat is shorter; This results in a very tough and elastic gluten structure, which consequently yields a chewier and tougher crust. This is one of the reasons why durum wheat is the preferred choice for pasta production, as it provides the desired firm and chewy texture of pasta (“al dente”).

The protein content of durum wheat typically ranges from 12% to 16%.

The Effects of Durum Wheat on Texture and Flavor

In terms of texture, using durum wheat in the dough, either as flour or semolina, will have several effects:

  • The dough will become more elastic and resistant
  • The crust will become tougher and chewier
  • The crumb structure will be denser and more compact (less airy)
  • When making very thin pizzas (cracker style), the use of coarse semolina can enhance “roughness” and provide added crispiness
  • However, for regular pizzas (non-cracker style), using semolina will NOT contribute to crispiness
  • In the context of pasta, using coarse semolina will give the pasta a “coarse” texture; This texture enables the sauce to adhere to the pasta more effectively, making coarse semolina excellent for making pasta

If you want to use durum flour/semolina in the dough, it is recommended to limit its amount to no more than 25% of the total flour used. Using more than 25% can result in a crust that is excessively tough and leathery (especially after cooling down – a great workout for the jaw muscles).

In terms of flavor, adding durum flour/semolina to the dough will result in a change in the aroma and flavor profile of the crust, giving it a distinct “nutty” flavor.

For pizza dough, it is recommended to use durum flour or fine semolina, and NOT coarse semolina. Coarse semolina requires an autolyse to fully absorb all the water, and can potentially make the dough (and crust) coarse and “grainy”.

Wholemeal Flour and Flour Made from Other Types of Wheat/Grains (Rye, Spelt, Emmer, Etc.)

If you want to give your pizza crust a unique flavor, using a combination of wholemeal flours (or “semi-wholemeal” flours) and/or flours made from other types of wheat/grains, whether they are wholemeal or not, is a great option.

In general, these flours will add a nutty/earthy flavor to the crust and will also change its texture because of their different gluten composition (see details below). The effect on flavor and texture will naturally vary depending on the type and amount of flour used in the dough.

When making pizza dough, it is recommended to limit the use of these flours to no more than 20% of the total flour in the dough formula, especially when using whole wheat flour that is not made from bread wheat. Going beyond this 20% “threshold” will negatively affect the texture of the crust, resulting in a denser and flatter crust. Based on my own experience, most people find that these flours contribute enough flavor when used in the range of 5-20%; if used in larger quantities, the flavor can become overpowering and overwhelming.

Feel free to experiment with different combinations of flours in your dough – you may really like the result.

Wholemeal (Whole Wheat) Flour

As mentioned above, using whole wheat flour, regardless of the type of wheat or grain, will change the flavor profile of the crust; Whether the end result will be better or worse (in terms of flavor) is subjective and depends on your personal taste. The crust will take on a more nutty and earthy flavor, similar to that of wholemeal bread.
Within the wholemeal flour category, there are also flours containing different percentages of whole wheat (20/40/60% etc., like the Italian Tipo 1). Each of these flours will have a distinct impact on both the flavor profile and texture of the crust.

A standard wholemeal flour typically contains a relatively high amount of protein (11-14% or more); However, it’s important to note that using wholemeal flour does not necessarily lead to the creation of more gluten. There are several reasons for this:

  1. The additional protein in whole wheat flour comes from the bran and germ; These parts of the wheat grain do not contain the proteins necessary for gluten formation (glutenin and gliadin).
  2. The (sharp) particles of bran literally cut the strands of gluten, effectively weakening the dough.
  3. The germ of the wheat kernel contains components that interfere with the development of gluten.

In practice, this means that using wholemeal flour will result in a final product that is significantly different compared to using white flour. Doughs that include wholemeal flour will have a less uniform and elastic gluten structure compared to dough made with 100% white flour;. On the other hand, doughs made with 100% wholemeal flour will be very dense with a coarser texture, a dark color, and a strong, dominant nutty flavor.

In terms of health benefits, wholemeal flours will indeed contribute essential vitamins and minerals to the dough; However, this does not necessarily mean that the dough is “healthier” (more like “less unhealthy”). It is important to remember that wholemeal flour consists of 100% white flour (endosperm), plus the bran and germ which are rich in beneficial nutrients.

It is worth noting that enriched flours, which may be suitable for making pizza (most bread flours are enriched), have a nutritional composition that is very similar (yet not identical) to that of whole wheat flour – this is because they are “fortified” with the vitamins and minerals that are lost during the milling process of white flour.

As mentioned, when making pizza dough, it is recommended to use up to 20% whole wheat flour (based on the total weight of flour in the dough formula). In my experience, using 5-10% will do the trick for added flavor.

Flour from Alternative Wheat Varieties and Grains

Flour from Alternative Wheat Varieties and Grains, including “ancient” wheat varieties, can also be combined in the dough (as an anecdote, the most “ancient” wheat variety commonly used today is bread wheat, from which regular white flour is milled; The term “ancient wheat” is mainly – you guess it – a marketing label).

Some of these alternative flours include:

  • Rye
  • Spelt
  • Emmer (known as “Farro” in Italy)
  • Khorasan
  • Einkorn
  • Barley
  • Teff
  • And more

All of these flours can be found as wholemeal flour or as “white” flour.

In terms of flavor, these flours will add a nutty/earthy flavor to the crust, depending on the amount and type of flour used. Using any of these flours as wholemeal flour will result in a stronger taste compared to using them as white flour, although they will still contribute to the flavor of the crust even in their white flour form.

In terms of texture, the gluten in these flours – more precisely, the composition of the gluten-forming proteins in them – is significantly different from that of flour milled from bread wheat:
(1) They contain fewer gluten-forming proteins, resulting in less gluten formation in the dough overall.
(2) The composition of the gluten-forming proteins is different, resulting in gluten that is less elastic and “weaker”.

This difference in the amount and quality of gluten results in a dough that will be less elastic (weaker), trapping fewer gasses, and consequently gaining less volume; As a result, the baked product (pizza crust in our case) will be denser and flatter.

The only two exceptions regarding the impact on texture are emmer (“farro”) and spelt. The content of gluten-forming proteins in emmer and spelt is higher than in other types of (non-bread) wheat, which results in a stronger dough. Additionally, the protein composition of emmer and spelt will produce a very extensible and “stretchy” dough (due to more gliadin and less glutenin), but still “strong” enough for baking – this makes both of these flours a good choice to combine in pizza dough.

Flour from other types of wheat/grains may also offer different health benefits. I will not discuss these benefits here as they are not particularly relevant to pizza making, as these flours are typically used in small amounts in pizza dough, and more importantly – the health benefits can vary depending on the individual – what may be considered “good” for one person may not necessarily be good for another.

In this case as well, the recommended “limit” is 20% of the total flour weight.

Tipo 1 Flour

Tipo 1 is no more than a “part-whole-wheat” flour, with an approximate bran content ranging from 10% to 30% (which means that in practice it is a 10%-30% whole wheat flour).

By definition, tipo 1 flour should have an ash content of 0.65-0.8%. Other than that, there is nothing particularly unique about tipo 1 flour. Its impact on the dough, including texture and taste, will be similar to that of “regular” wholemeal flour, as discussed in the previous sections (though to a lesser extent, since it is not 100% whole wheat).

If you enjoy the flavor that tipo 1 flour adds to the crust, you’ll be glad to know that you can achieve similar results by using any other type of wholemeal flour. The only difference is that you’ll need to use a smaller amount of (whole wheat) flour compared to tipo 1, since “normal”, 100% wholemeal flour is more “concentrated”.

Using Vital Wheat Gluten to Strengthen Flours

Vital Wheat Gluten (VWG) is an excellent option for strengthening weaker flours, especially when strong flour is not available or when you want to further strengthen a specific flour.

In general, adding 1% of VWG to the dough will increase its protein content by 0.6%. For example, if a flour has a protein content of 10%, adding 1% VWG will result in a final protein content of 10.6%.

VWG should always be added to the flour, not directly to the water! VWG absorbs water quickly and clumps easily; Adding VWG directly to the water will create “gluten lumps” that will not be properly incorporated into the dough. Therefore, it is always advisable to add VWG on top of the flour.

Blending Flours – Why Do It, and Is It Necessary?

There are two main reasons for blending flours:

  1. Changing the flavor profile of the crust, as discussed in the previous sections.
  2. Creating a “new” flour with specific characteristics (stronger, weaker etc.).

We have already discussed the first reason (changing the flavor profile) in detail. Now, let’s focus on reason 2 – blending flours with the aim of creating a “new” flour with specific characteristics.

It’s fairly simple – blending two or more flours will result in a flour that “combines” the characteristics of the blended flours, depending on the ratio of each flour in the blend. For example, we can strengthen a weak flour by mixing it with a stronger flour (or vice versa), combine flours with different levels of enzymatic activity, mix flours with different gluten properties, and so on.

The most common reason for mixing flours is to “strengthen” weak flour with stronger flour or to “weaken” strong flour with weaker flour. This, of course, depends on the ratio between the flours; If you add a small amount of weak flour to strong flour, it is considered “weakening”, and if you add a small amount of strong flour to weak flour, it is considered “strengthening”. Any mixing of flours will result in a dough that behaves differently and, consequently, produce a different crumb texture.

Personally, I’m not a fan of blending flours, whether for weakening, strengthening, or texture change, and it’s a practice that I don’t recommend for a few reasons:

  1. It creates a specific process with extra steps and logistics (essentially, we have “created” a new flour that may require a specific dough management process), and also leads to a sort of “dependency” on the availability of several different types of flour (what do we do if one of the flours runs out or is unavailable?)
  2. Different flours come with different characteristics and are suitable for different applications (strong, weak, extensible, elastic, etc.), and most of the time, it is not beneficial (and can even be counterproductive) to mix them. The only exception to this is durum wheat (flour/semolina), which adds significant elasticity to the dough and chewiness to the crust.

In my opinion, a better practice would be to pick one flour, stick with it, and learn how to maximize the results from using it; And this is true not only when it comes to mixing flours, but also when choosing a pizza flour in general.

Beyond strengthening weak flours with stronger ones, it is rare that mixing flours is truly necessary to achieve a specific outcome. This is especially true when using white flour, as opposed to whole wheat or durum flour, which may be used for a specific change in flavor or texture.

If you come across a person, pizzeria, recipe, etc. that claims to use a “mixture of X flours” (especially if X > 2), it is important to understand that, in many cases, this is simply a marketing statement with little substance. It is primarily meant to create an illusion of “professionalism” or needlessly complicate the dough-making process.
As a general rule, if it is not possible to clearly explain the role each flour plays in the mixture and its contribution to the final result – there is no need to blend them.

An excellent example of this is pizzeria L’Industrie in New York, whose dough consists of a mixture of 3-4 flours (and is made through a complicated and unsympathetic process).
Although the pizza at L’Industrie is excellent, its crust, in terms of flavor and texture, is not significantly different from that of the famous Joe’s, also located in New York; However, contrary to L’Industrie, Joe’s dough is the most basic and “simple”, but it is made to perfection, just like at L’Industrie.

What I’m saying is that the dough management process is much more important than the specific mixture of flours used, and the two excellent pizzerias mentioned above serve as examples of this principle.

Important Things to Know about Italian and European Flours

There is a separate, detailed post about Italian flours that I highly recommend every pizza lover/baker (or baker in general) to read. It can be found here: Is Italian Flour Essential for Making Pizza? Everything You Need to Know about Italian Flour.


Here is a summary of this post in the context of choosing a pizza flour:

  • The protein content of European/Italian flour is calculated differently compared to the rest of the world; Instead of using a 14% moisture basis, it is measured based on dry matter. To compare the protein content of Italian flour to American flour (or flour outside of Europe), you have two options: dividing the protein content of the American flour by 0.86, or multiplying the protein content of the Italian flour by 0.86.
    For example, if an Italian flour has a protein content of 13.5%, its protein content using the American (14% moisture base) calculation would be 11.6% (13.5 * 0.86). Therefore, in terms of protein content, a 13.5% protein Italian flour is equivalent to an American flour with 11.6% protein content.
  • The bread wheat grown in Italy (not to be confused with durum wheat) is primarily weak and low in protein, and on its own, not suitable for most modern baking applications, including pizzas and breads. To overcome this, Italians import stronger wheat and use it to grind their flours, blending it with the weak Italian wheat.
  • In general, Italian flours produce a more extensible dough, which leads to a more open, airy, and “delicate” crumb texture.
  • Italian flours are typically characterized by low enzymatic activity, which makes them ideal for baking at high temperatures of a wood-fired oven. However, they are considerably less suitable for baking at lower temperatures of a home oven.
  • For us as consumers or bakers, the term “00 flour” does not provide any useful information about the characteristics or suitability of a flour for making pizza (or any other baking purposes, for that matter). Nowadays, the classification of flour as “00” is primarily a marketing term. It is recommended to completely disregard and ignore this classification when it comes to making pizza.

Additional Important Information about Flour

Moisture Content in Flour and How It Is Affected by Weather

At the end of the milling process, the moisture content in any type of flour is typically around 14%. However, it’s important to note that this moisture content is not constant and can vary depending on how the flour is stored throughout the distribution chain and after it is purchased; By the time the flour arrives at our homes, its moisture content may have already changed.

Any change in the moisture content of the flour, whether it increases or decreases, will inevitably affect its water absorption capacity as well.

When the relative humidity in the air (not to be confused with absolute humidity) exceeds 60%, the flour will lose moisture to the air; Conversely, when the relative humidity is less than 60%, the flour will absorb moisture from the air. This means that flour which has lost moisture will be able to absorb more water, while flour which has gained moisture will be able to absorb less water.

If you weigh a newly purchased package of flour and notice that it contains less or more than what is specified on the package, this is the reason behind it; Flour that has lost moisture to the air will inevitably weigh less, and vice versa, so rest assured – the flour mill is not trying to shortchange or favor you.

Under normal circumstances and storage conditions, the moisture content in flour will not fall below 10.5% or exceed 14%.

So, what should we do with this information?
Well – absolutely nothing.

In theory, a flour that has lost moisture to the air will be able to absorb slightly more water compared to flour that is fresh from the mill; On the other hand, if a flour has absorbed moisture from the air, it will be able to absorb less water.

With that being said, the difference in actual water absorption will be small. Therefore, there is no need to dwell on this or consider the relative humidity in the air when making dough.

I felt the need to address this matter because it is not uncommon to see people suggesting that “hydration should be adjusted depending on the time of year (season/weather)” – so, no, this is neither necessary, nor justified.

Does Flour Need to Be Sifted?

Unless you want to ensure that there are no non-flour materials (such as insects, sand etc.) due to kosher or other considerations, there is no need to sift flour. Sifting will not increase the flour’s water absorption (or speed up the process), and other than removing non-flour materials, it is entirely unnecessary.

*The only exception is when baking cakes – sifting the flour ensures that no large lumps will form in the batter, which would be difficult or even impossible to break down later on and could affect the texture of the cake.

How to Store Flour

Flour should be stored covered and sealed, in a cool and dry environment.

All types of flour have a limited shelf life. In most cases, flour manufacturers recommend not storing flour for more than six months to a year. The primary process that occurs in flour stored for an extended period is the oxidation of its natural fat due to exposure to air, which can result in a rancid taste and unpleasant aftertastes resembling cardboard.

Wholemeal flours typically oxidize faster due to their higher fat content from the bran and germ. However, even the small amount of fat found in white flour (about 1%) will eventually oxidize and turn rancid. This does not necessarily make the flour dangerous or unfit for use and consumption and mostly affects the taste and aroma of the flour, however, it is advisable to avoid this situation by storing the flour properly.

Additionally, flour is hygroscopic and absorbs moisture from the air; Therefore, it is important to store flour in a dry place to prevent it from absorbing moisture. Moisture absorption can lead to the formation of lumps in the flour, a decrease in its ability to absorb water, and potential problems such as attracting insects, pests, and the formation of fungi and mold.

Storing flour in the refrigerator or freezer is a great and advisable practice, especially for flour that won’t be used for a while. However, it’s important to note that cold flour takes longer to absorb water, which will also delay gluten development during kneading. If you store flour in the freezer, keep in mind that it will take a relatively long time for it to thaw completely, so it’s advisable to move it to take it out of the freezer at least a day before using it.

Concluding Remarks

We have reached the end of this post, and hopefully, you now have all the tools you need to understand how to make the most of the flours that are available to you.

I will conclude this post with a straightforward statement – nothing ruins a pizza more than obsessing over flour. The only thing that truly matters is whether the flour you use gives you the desired result. A flour that works well for one person may not work the same way for another, even if they use the same “recipe”; Therefore, someone else’s recommendation about a specific flour may not apply to you, and the only way to know if a flour works for you is to try it for yourself (and fortunately, flour is relatively inexpensive).

It is important to note that there is no such thing as “the best flour” without considering its intended application. There is also no such thing as “magic flour” that will instantly make your pizza better.

Flours come in various characteristics that determine their suitability for different applications, including different types of pizza, shorter/longer fermentations, achieving different textures, etc. The key is to have the knowledge to select the appropriate flour for our specific needs and to maximize its potential. A flour that performs well in one application, may not necessarily produce good results (or may even produce poor results) in other applications.

To truly maximize the potential of our pizza, the key lies in gaining baking experience rather than fixating on flour. There is no such thing as “magic flour,” and it is highly unlikely that switching to a different flour will automatically yield better results. In fact, the opposite is often true, at least initially, as it takes time to become proficient with a new type of flour and may require adjustments to the dough-making process.

While certain flours can contribute to specific crust characteristics, they should never be seen as a substitute for baking experience; or as the Italians say, “Discere Faciendo” (“learning by doing”). An experienced baker will always make a much better pizza using “regular” flour compared to a mediocre baker using “premium” flour.

With that being said, it is still recommended to experiment with the flours that are available to you, and see which one best suits your needs. It may not necessarily be the most expensive or well-known flour. You might discover a flour that offers the same value at a lower cost, works better for your dough-making process, or is more available.

Another important point to note is that wheat is a living organism, and as a result, the flour produced from it is also considered “alive” and can vary in properties from batch to batch; Flour mills, therefore, need to make adjustments to achieve the desired characteristics of the flour.

This fact has a significant impact on flour quality, as high-quality flour mills are able to consistently maintain the quality of their flour throughout the year, whereas flour from lower-quality mills may exhibit variations in quality; These variations can include significant differences in protein content and quality, enzymatic activity, and other essential baking characteristics.

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