Neapolitan Pizza Experiment: 00 Flour vs Bread Flour vs All-Purpose Flour


Neapolitan pizza is a truly unique dish that demands (and deserves) its own cookware. Authentic recipe requires wood-fire for the smokey flavor, and 00 flour for the one-of-a-kind crust. Baked in a high temperature oven (~500C/900F), a 12 inch pizza cooks in under 2minutes. The result is a light, airy, bubbly crust that is unlike any US-style pizza.

Though increasingly popular in the US, 00 flour isn't exactly commonplace in grocery stores yet, especially outside big cities and yuppie suburbs. You can find them in Wegman's or Whole Foods, but probably not every budget grocery. They are also quite a bit pricier than regular all-purpose or bread flour, which I'm sure begs the question among newbie pizza makers: are they worth it? Will I be able to tell the difference? And also, what is the best substitute in lieu of the real deal? 

I tested out the 00 flour alongside all-purpose and bread flour to find out. The obvious difference in the results prompted me to do more research about the different flours and underlying wheat that contributed to the different characteristics. 

In a nutshell: I strongly disagree with common advice on the internet to just use bread flour as a substitute for 00 flour.

This advice is commonly dished out because bread flour has a high protein percent, which is similar to 00 flour. What it completely overlooks, is the different underlying wheat that each flour is made out of, which directly impacts its water absorption rate. 

In the US alone there are a few major types of wheat grown. Most notably the wheats are classified by hardness, color, and growing season. Generally speaking, hard wheat have higher protein content (compare to their soft counter part), and winter wheat tend to be harder than spring wheat. The byproduct of hard wheat though, is that they tend to have high water absorption, which is a result of the milling process. The harder the wheat, the more "damaged starch" (tiny fractured starch granules) the milling process creates. Hard red wheat, the standard flour for US bread flour, has the signature characteristic of high protein content and high water absorption. 00 flour is made from Italian soft wheat that is high in protein and low in water absorption. US soft white wheat, which produces pastry and cake flours, have much lower water absorption rate compared to bread flour, and much lower gluten content compared to 00 flour. All-purpose flour tend to use a mix of hard and soft US wheat, and have medium protein content and moderate water absorption (leaning on the lower side from my experiment).

This means bread flour yields a significantly drier dough compared to the other two flours - which is a good thing when it comes to bread making, as it allows for high hydration dough that's less sticky and easier to knead; but not great when it comes to delicate Neapolitan pizza, as it produces a much tighter dough that is a lot harder to stretch thin, and yields a much more dense, chewy crust that is, for lack of a better description, more bread-like (duh), and immediately discernible from the delicate Neapolitan style crust. In fact it tastes a lot more like the American Pizzeria crust. Not that there's anything wrong with it, but it was so obviously different that, in lieu of a side-by-side comparison, the all purpose flour dough actually has a better chance of fooling a known palate than a bread flour dough.  

For my controlled experiment, I tested all three flours with the same classic Margherita recipe, which highlights simple ingredients in their purest form: extra virgin olive oil, pureed tomato, fresh mozzarella, and basil leaves just plucked off the plant - which should definitely be added before baking, to infuse the whole pizza with fresh herbal scent, and not simply used as a garnish later like some afterthought, just because it's photogenic. 

The hallmarks of Neopolitan pizza are high salt, low yeast, and no fat. The higher than usual salt content (usually 2.5~3%) helps building the gluten structure. But ample salt also hinders yeast growth. So for my recipe, I'm starting out with a quick poolish before the slow cold fermentation. A poolish is a 100% hydration mixture - that is, equal weight flour and water, with yeast added, but before salt and the rest of flour are introduced. The high water content makes for an optimal environment for yeast growth. The poolish resting time depends on the temperature, about 2~3 hrs at room temperature, or 8hrs/overnight in the fridge. This gives the yeast a jump start before adding the salt, and subtly changes the flavor of the dough. Feel free to skip the poolish and just mix everything together like your ordinary no-knead dough, the difference isn't huge. With the small added effort though, you'll get a crust that taste more flavorful and (again, for lack of a better word) yeasty -  you know, that flavor of artisan bakery bread that is often lacking in homemade ones. 

Although often not seen as a high hydration dough at ~65%, you will discover that in the shaping/stretching process that with 00 flour, 65% yields a quite runny, sticky dough. If you're new to making this style of pizza, I strongly recommend lining the resting surface with saran wraps for easy retrieval and clean up.

For visual comparisons of the three, check out my YouTube video

Following this experiment, my hypothesis is that a potential good substitute for 00 flour is cake or pastry flour mixed with vital wheat gluten, which should boost protein content while retaining the low water absorption rate and the delicate, soft open crumb, that is characteristic of soft wheat. If you're interested in another deep dive kitchen experiment, leave a comment!


Stage 1 (poolish) :

  • 200g water
  • 200g flour
  • 1/4 tsp yeast (~2g)
Stage 2: 
  • 1/2 tbsp fine table salt (~8g)
  • 100g flour 


  1. Add yeast to water, and add in equal weight flour. Let rest for 2hrs at room temperature or 8+hrs/overnight in the fridge.
  2. Stir in the salt, dissolve it in the poolish. Then add in the flour. Mix thoroughly, until there's no more dry bits left. Let rest in the fridge, at least overnight, preferably for 2~3days. 
  3. Divide the dough into 250g portions, roll into a round ball, and let rest for ~1hr. 
  4. Gently press out the dough by hand, from center to the edge. Then stretch the dough along the thicker edge with the back of the hand, until the dough is ~12 inches in diameter. 
  5. Bake in a high temperature oven (800F~900F) for 90 seconds, turn the pizza 180 degrees for even heating, bake for another 30~40 seconds, or until leopard spot (darkening) is to your liking. Serve immediately.


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