Top­ping the pizza charts

Want to mas­ter the art of pizza mak­ing? Anooska Tucker-Evans asks pizza world cham­pion Johnny Di Francesco for tips and tricks.

The Sunday Times - - TASTE -


IT’S all about the dough for owner of Mel­bourne’s 400 Gradi restau­rant and 2014 win­ner of Italy’s World Pizza Cham­pi­onships, Johnny Di Francesco.

“The per­fect pizza is some­thing where the dough is soft, pli­able, very easy to fold,” he says. “It should have a beau­ti­ful crust around the rim, which is full of air — nice and puffed. What I’m de­scrib­ing is the Neapoli­tan pizza.”


Flours have a W strength guide re­fer­ring to how much wa­ter they ab­sorb. Flours with a rat­ing of W280-370 are clas­si­fied as strong flours, ideal for pizza, as they can hold up to about 75 per cent of their weight in wa­ter. The higher the W rat­ing, the longer your dough will take to rise.

Di Francesco has cre­ated his own flour blend, but rec­om­mends home cooks use Le 5 Sta­gioni flour, avail­able at spe­cialty gro­cers.


Di Francesco is a fan of fresh yeast, but says dried can be used. It’s a mat­ter of al­ter­ing the pro­por­tion.

“We only use one gram (of fresh yeast) per kilo of flour — very, very lit­tle yeast,” he says. “If you’re go­ing to use dried yeast, you cut the amount by a third be­cause it’s three times the strength of fresh yeast.”


This is one of the most im­por­tant but also most over­looked in­gre­di­ents in a great pizza dough.

Di Francesco finds wa­ter with a pH of 7 to be ideal and im­ports his from Naples, but says fil­tered wa­ter is great and bot­tled wa­ter is fine. It’s im­por­tant the wa­ter doesn’t have chlo­rine or too many min­eral salts as it will in­hibit leav­en­ing. Wa­ter test­ing kits are avail­able at hard­ware stores.


Di Francesco says there is no such thing as a quick-rise pizza dough.

Dough should be left to fer­ment for at least 24 hours and if it’s not, it can lead to the diner feel­ing bloated or sick.

“If you al­low your dough to only rest for two hours or 10 hours, the yeast ac­ti­vates and it makes the dough rise, but what hap­pens is you’re missing out on one of the most im­por­tant parts of the dough-ris­ing process, which is called the ma­tur­ing of the dough,” he says. “If you don’t al­low your dough to ma­ture and only rise, what hap­pens when you eat the pizza is the dough then be­gins to ma­ture in your stom­ach, and that is when you start get­ting all that bloat­ing.”

He rec­om­mends let­ting dough fer­ment at 18C or below for 24-30 hours.


No mat­ter what top­pings you add, it’s im­por­tant to get the best qual­ity you can buy.

Cow’s milk fior di latte cheese is most pop­u­lar for piz­zas, but buf­falo moz­zarella, ta­leg­gio, gor­gonzola and scamorza can also be used.

And what­ever you use, keep it sim­ple.


This is where per­sonal pref­er­ences come in.

For those who like the tra­di­tional Neapoli­tan soft base, pizza is gen­er­ally cooked in a 400C-470C wood-fired oven, while cook­ing at a lower tem­per­a­ture for slightly longer de­vel­ops a crispier base. But home cooks don’t need a wood-fired oven for great re­sults.

“If you’re go­ing to use a do­mes­tic, elec­tric oven, I would rec­om­mend just buy­ing a re­ally cheap pizza stone,” Di Francesco says.

“You put the stone in the oven, pre­heat it and make it as hot as pos­si­ble. Then you trans­fer the pizza from a chop­ping board or small pad­dle on to the stone with­out a tray or any­thing so you’re cook­ing di­rectly on the stone. It’s the same tech­nique as if you were cook­ing in a wood-fired oven. The only dif­fer­ence you’ll get is the tem­per­a­ture (which will be about 230-250C), but you’re still go­ing to get a re­ally good pizza.”

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