Bread flour has more protein than traditional all-purpose flour, which will make the crust chewier. The supposed gold standard is Caputo double-zero flour, which splits the difference between all-purpose and bread flour in terms of protein, and is finely milled. (Savour has a good primer on Caputo 00 flour.)
I also wanted to have a simple, go-to dough recipe. I’ve tried a few different ones, and haven’t been happy with the results. I turned to Cook’s Illustrated, and used the recipe published in their Jan/Feb 2011 issue. You can find that recipe and the step-by-step instructions republished at Serious Eats.
Here was my experimental set-up: All the ingredients would remain the same, except for the flour used. I used King Arthur Flour’s bread flour as my control flour, and Caputo 00 flour as my experimental flour. I also wanted to test the ideal fermentation time. The recipe calls for fermenting the flour in the fridge for at least 24 hours and up to 72 hours. I baked two pizzas after 24 hours, and then two more another 48 hours later.
While I generally like to knead my dough in a stand mixer, so there is less danger of the dough overheating, this recipe calls for a food processor. The main advantage was I had my bread kneaded in just 45 seconds. Then I transferred each dough to lightly oiled bowls and immediately stuck them in the fridge to sit for a day.
This was going to be a blind test. Only I would know which crust was which, while my three tasters would have no idea. I noticed one difference between the two doughs right when I took them out the fridge. The dough with the bread flour rose noticeably more than the Italian flour.
After letting the dough rest and return to room temperature for an hour, the next step was shaping the pizza. Here, the difference between the two doughs was striking. The bread flour dough was firm and very springy, and difficult to shape. The Caputo flour dough, on the other hand, took half as long to shape into a 13-inch-wide pizza.
The final, and most important test was to actually taste the crust. The differences were subtle but present. In the baked crust, the Caputo 00 flour dough actually had a little more chewiness than the bread flour dough. There was also an extra depth of flavor, with a little hint of sweetness. There was a difference in oven spring, too, with the Caputo flour dough rising higher when it was baked.
I returned the remaining dough to storage bags and let them ferment in the fridge for two more days. Then I did another bake-off. While I didn’t have a 24-hour fermentation crust and a 72-hour fermentation crust to compare back-to-back, I didn’t sense a huge flavor increase. The main difference was in how the crusts rose and baked in the oven – they clearly didn’t rise as high.
So, what is the final verdict? First, the recipe I used is definitely going to be my go-to pizza dough recipe from here on out. It is easy to make and the 24-hour fermentation time makes the time calculation easy. Just make the dough the evening before you want pizza.
Caputo 00 flour is harder to find and more expensive than bread flour. I bought a 3-pound bag at my local specialty foods store for $10, while a 5-pound bag of King Arthur Flour bread flour costs less than $5. But, without question, there is a difference. The dough is easier to work with and tastes better when baked. You might save Italian pizza flour for special occasions, but it’s absolutely worth it.