Pizza alla pala (Pizza on a Peel): from the dough to baking, everything you need to know
One of the most widely known and popular recipes in the world of baking is ‘pizza alla pala’, thanks to some characteristics that make this recipe really quite tasty. The dough for ‘pizza alla pala’ is undoubtedly the most influential parameter in the success of a good product; as it is slightly different from that of traditional pizza, with regard to both the recipe and the baking process.
In this article, we will look in detail at the theme of ‘pizza alla pala’, providing a guide with numerous tips for making this iconic version of our favorite dish.
We will start by comparing this preparation with the traditional Neapolitan pizza and with the pizza in a pan, to underline the characteristics of the ‘pizza alla pala’ and to understand why it can be considered a hybrid between the two most famous versions of the pizza we have just mentioned. We will discuss the features of the dough and the method of preparation, kneading and baking that characterize the making of a ‘pizza alla pala’.
Secondly, we will look closely at the actual recipe for a ‘pizza alla pala’ dough, step by step. We will see that the main feature of this dough is a rather high hydration, which makes the product more difficult to work, but capable of giving us an extremely light and tasty pizza.
We will then discuss cooking the ‘pizza alla pala’, describing the method of baking and handling inside the oven. We will see that it is possible to cook ‘pizza alla pala’ in all types of ovens. However, this recipe is best when it is cooked at high temperatures so the dough will not dry too much in the middle and produce a nice and golden-brown crust.
Finally, we will summarize the main factors for the success of an excellent ‘pizza alla pala’, including possibilities offered by the Alfa range of domestic ovens. In addition to being excellent cooking tools, our domestic ovens are extremely user-friendly and very efficient, from a thermal point of view, reaching very high temperatures with low fuel consumption.
The characteristics of a ‘pizza alla pala’
The ‘pizza alla pala’ is a version of the typically Roman pizza with widespread popularity throughout central Italy, where it can have various names and differences in preparation depending on the local variations.
The characteristics that most differentiate a ‘pizza alla pala’ from other types of pizza are:
- The type of dough
- The kneading and baking method
Let’s explore the two points further:
1 . The type of dough
The main feature of the ‘pizza alla pala’ dough is its high hydration, which is at least 70%, but can also exceed 80%.
It is worth noting that hydration is the weight ratio between water and flour and is one of the most important parameters of dough. This relationship has a decisive influence on the success of a good pizza. The creation of a strong gluten knead or the time required for the dough to mature are two examples of this.
The main difference between the ‘pizza alla pala’ dough and that of plate pizza lies precisely in the high hydration; traditional Neapolitan pizza is usually around 60-65%. In fact, a plate pizza provides a faster leavening than ‘pizza alla pala’, made possible by the use of weaker flour types (type 0 or 00), that is, flour that is capable of absorbing less water.
A more hydrated dough is also more difficult to handle and this is probably one of the reasons that gave birth to the pizza in a pan (or by the slice). This version of pizza is also extremely popular and appreciated and there are high quality pies baked in this style.
The most important feature that the pizza in a pan shares with the ‘pizza alla pala’ is a higher hydration of the dough than the plate pizza. However, the main difference lies in the use of a pan as a support for cooking the pizza, since it eliminates the process of baking with a peel and helps the movement of the pizzas.
Another aspect that unites pizza in a pan and ‘pizza alla pala’ is the fact that much larger pieces of dough are made than plate pizza which allows us to feed more than one person per pizza.
In some ways, therefore, the ‘pizza alla pala’ can be defined as a cross between the plate pizza and a pan pizza, since it is baked with a peel directly on the oven floor, like the plate pizza, yet is has a higher hydration and larger sizes, like the pan pizza.
In the next section, we will explore the characteristics of the ‘pizza alla pala’ dough and go over some tips in making it. But first, let’s have a look at the methods of kneading and baking the ‘pizza alla pala’ and the differences in these aspects with the plate pizza.
2 . The kneading and baking method
The second group of factors that characterize the preparation of a ‘pizza alla pala’ concerns everything that happens after the dough ball is ready for the kneading, seasoning, placing in oven and cooking phases.
The dough is very hydrated and more delicate and challenging to knead. Here are a few tips for success:
The first step may seem trivial, but it should not be neglected: the need to flour both the work surface on which we spread the dough and our hands abundantly before we start kneading the leavened dough. A very hydrated dough is often stickier and will absorb a little more flour from the outside in the kneading process than less hydrated dough (since the latter already contains more flour in percentage).
It is worth noting that our goal is to have a homogeneous pizza base or the same thickness in all areas. It is crucial to avoid thin areas, which could cause the dough to stick to the work surface or to the peel. Thin areas can also create a hole in the pizza inside the oven.
Well-rolled kneading also improves dough consistency during cooking and allows even cooking throughout.
Depending on one’s tastes, you can produce a pronounced crust, recalling the Neapolitan style, or a more contained one resembling a pan pizza.
The best way to knead a ‘pizza alla pala’ dough ball is to try to move the air that has been created inside it without letting it escape. To do this, we need to gently massage the dough without crushing it too much, using plenty of flour under it and repeating the process on both sides of the dough ball.
The big difference between kneading a ‘pizza alla pala’ and a plate pizza lies in the movement of the hands, both in the way in which the dough is touched and in the directions in which they move. The ‘pizza alla pala’ is in fact characterized by a more or less rectangular form, given by the shape of the peel itself. In order to obtain a pizza of this shape, the hands work side by side moving the dough in a vertical direction, while when kneading a round pizza they carry out a rotary movement moving away from each other.
Once we have shaped our dough to the base of our ‘pizza alla pala’ (i.e. a slightly rounded rectangle, slightly larger than a plate pizza), we lift it to shake off the excess flour and place it on the clean and freshly sprinkled surface with a pinch of flour.
We are now ready for the topping, which we will not focus on since it is exactly the same as for the other types of pizza. The only fundamental rule that we’d like to highlight is to prepare the various ingredients of the right size based on the cooking time and temperature, so as to have each ingredient cooked to perfection, when the dough is well cooked.
Placing a ‘pizza alla pala’ in the oven is a process that plays a fundamental role in the success of the pizza; since it determines its final form, thanks to the shape of the instrument.
Like a round pizza, we slide the peel under our pizza with snappy movements. When all of the pizza is on the peel we can proceed with a further light spread, until all the lateral edges of the peel are covered.
The final lengthening of the pizza occurs when it is put in the oven by letting it descend from the peel gradually while pulling the peel towards the mouth of the oven, resulting in the shape of a rounded rectangle.
A ‘pizza alla pala’ is considered the size of two small round pizzas (or eight slices). A 550-600 grams dough ball can provide a ‘pizza alla pala’ for two people which is 35-40 cm wide and 60-70 cm long.
We will examine the topic of cooking in the third section, but for now we can state that the success of “pizza all apala” is influenced by the correctly managing the above steps and by type of oven used. Generally, the both styles of pizza usually need to be rotated 180° to obtain uniform cooking.
After having seen the main characteristics of a ‘pizza alla pala’ and the differences in its preparation compared to other types of pizza, let’s now have a look at some tips to obtain excellent ‘pizza alla pala’ dough.
How to make the dough for ‘pizza alla pala’
We already mentioned some useful tips in creating and handling highly hydrated dough, which needs a slightly more developed manual skill (nothing that cannot be learned with a little practice).
In order to create a very hydrated, yet tenacious, dough that is not too difficult to knead, we need to take some precautions regarding both the actual recipe and the method of handling the dough once its preparation has been completed.
If this is your first time making this type of dough, we suggest you keep the hydration around 70%, and then gradually increase it as you practice.
For two ‘pizza alla pala’ (four people), use 500 grams of flour and 350-360 of water. To complete the list of our ingredients, add roughly 13 grams of salt (40 per litre of water), the same amount of extra virgin olive oil and 2-3 grams of dry brewer’s yeast (or double if it’s fresh).
Flour mix is also crucial. A mix of strong flours to be able to incorporate plenty of water into the dough, while still obtaining good tenacity and a strong gluten knead is crucial.
You can try mixing various types of soft wheat flour (0, 00, type 1, type 2 and wholemeal) with other types of flour such as soy or rice, or with durum wheat semolina.
We must also consider the fact that stronger flours and high hydration involve extending the maturation times, or rather the process of transforming complex molecules into simpler structures, which is an important factor for obtaining a light and easily digestible pizza.
The dough for a ‘pizza alla pala’ is usually made a day or two before cooking and is kept in the refrigerator to slow down the leavening to align the maturation times with those of leavening.
Other very useful tips for preparing an easy-to-work ‘pizza alla pala’ dough involve the actual dough process, i.e. when we begin to combine the ingredients.
The first trick that is usually used to help the formation of gluten, not only in the dough for ‘pizza alla pala’ but generally in all highly hydrated or very heavy doughs (for example panettone), is the downtime, or technically speaking: flour autolysis.
Autolysis is a technique of making a pre-dough with an abundant half of the total water which we knead with roughly the same amount of flour and then pause for at least an hour. At this stage, we do not have to form the actual dough; there is no dry flour and just one minute stirring is enough.
Leaving unfinished dough to rest helps the flour absorb more water and develop gluten better, which is strengthened every time we knead and then let the dough rest.
After the resting time, we can proceed with the ‘pizza alla pala’ dough by adding the remaining part of flour and another large part of water with the dissolved yeast.
The speed of the kneading machine must always be kept to a minimum, to avoid overheating the dough during processing. In the summer, it is also advisable to use cold water for this purpose. This problem does not arise if we knead by hand, but some practice is required to create a very hydrated but tenacious dough without the aid of a kneading machine.
The speed should be increased slightly only when the dough is almost finished, after taking a second break so as not to put too much stress on the gluten knead we are forming and after adding the remaining ingredients, i.e. salt, oil and the remaining part of water. (very gradually).
Once you have finished adding all the ingredients and when you see that the dough is “strung” (smooth and homogeneous, not sticky and very elastic, and does not tear easily), gently place it in a container that can hold at least three times its size, to leave enough air for the dough to rise, often doubling in volume.
After letting it rest for at least half an hour at room temperature to start leavening, the dough should be put in the fridge for at least 12-16 hours, in order to obtain a first doubling in volume very slowly, thus aligning the leavening and maturation.
About three or four hours before the preparation of the pizza (depending on the amount of yeast and the room temperature), remove the dough from the fridge. We recommend waiting a few dozen minutes to allow it to get to room temperature before starting to work it.
Let’s now proceed with the formation of the dough balls for the ‘pizza alla pala’. We mentioned that portions are usually made corresponding to two round pizzas, but with a larger oven and peel, you can increase the size of the pizza.
The composition of the dough balls is quite similar to that of bread, formed by closing the dough inwards to form a sort of external skin, which contains all the dough well sealed. At this point we can let the ‘pizza al pala’ dough rise to room temperature until the volume is doubled again; after which, we will be ready for the stretching, seasoning and baking, which has been previously described.
How to cook to perfection a ‘pizza alla pala’ with an Alfa oven in your home
Let’s now explore how to obtain optimal results for cooking ‘pizza alla pala’ based on the type of oven.
The Alfa range of domestic ovens includes models that are spacious enough to bake two ‘pizza alla pala’ simultaneously, such as the Allegro, or the 4 Pizze wood-fired steel ovens.
As for fuelling the oven, ‘pizza alla pala’ can be made in all fairly large ovens, but it needs strong heat to swell as best as possible during the final leavening of the dough (during cooking).
It is also true, however, that a very hydrated dough can better withstand a longer stay in the oven without drying out too much, thus achieving good cooking consistency even around 575° F. Cooking at a temperature above 840° F, as with pizzas cooked in a wood oven, could leave the central part of the dough still not cooked enough when the outside is already nice and crunchy. The ideal cooking temperature for ‘pizza alla pala’ dough is therefore between 600 and 650° F.
As for fuelling the oven, it is obviously possible to choose both gas and wood-burning tools; domestic electric ovens are not recommended as they do not reach very high temperatures (due to high consumption).
In a nutshell, the advantages of a wood oven are the natural aroma that the fuel gives to the dishes and the ability to reach very high temperatures. With gas ovens there is an ease of handling and more homogeneous cooking in the various areas of the oven.
Alfa domestic ovens are cooking tools with performances comparable to professional ovens, perfect for an outdoor kitchen.
Thanks to their well-finished design and the ability to be moved when used, our mobile steel ovens allow you to furnish the house’s outdoor areas and to use them to create extraordinary cooked dishes.
One of our solutions will no doubt enable you to make excellent pizzas, both on a plate and on a peel, as well as many other oven recipes such as firsts, seconds, side dishes or desserts. All you need to do is choose the right oven for your space and try your hand at making ‘pizza alla pala’ at home. By following our advice, and with a little practice, you will certainly be able to obtain excellent results with the pizza dough and its perfect cooking.