Do you want to know what leopard spotting is and why the term is used for pizzas? Leopard spotting on pizza is the hallmark of one of the best Neapolitan pizzas!
Leopard pizza crust references the leopard-like pattern you find on pizzas baked in wood fire ovens when they have the perfect hydration. It usually happens when the reflected heat from the ceiling of the pizza hits the raised parts of the crust called the “cornicione.” Thus, the bubbles and uneven parts lead to some areas being baked quicker than the rest, resulting in dark spots in the leopard pattern.
What is Leopard Spotting on Authentic Neapolitan Pizza?
The best Neapolitan pizza has a thin layer of crispy crust with char spots, and inside lies the moist, light, and airy interior. The taste of the dough reflects the different flavors of a properly fermented dough. The fermentation releases flavorful gasses into the air pockets of the crust.
These air pockets appear as elevated areas on the crust, which are lightly charred thanks to the heat of the pizza oven.
In making a Neapolitan pizza, you don’t look for the browning of the crust; instead, you want a crust with many of these lightly charred spots surrounded by pale dough. This light charing won’t make your pizza inedible; it’ll add a new layer of flavor!
They give the pizza a nice and smoky flavor, and the absence of such spots means that the temperatures in the oven hasn’t been high enough or the hydration isn’t perfect for the Neapolitan pizza.
How can you Achieve the Best Leopard Spotting on a Pizza?
Let’s first look at a few factors you need to keep in mind to achieve the perfect charring.
Use the right pizza dough hydration.
Let’s talk about hydration first; for the perfect Neapolitan pizza, the dough needs about 70% hydration for a light, air, and puffy dough with a nice and crispy thin layer of leopard spots.
It’s pretty high hydration, and you can instead work with a 65% hydration dough if you’re new to making pizza, as the 70% hydration dough is a little harder to work with as it’s soft. We will use the poolish method with so many ways to make pizza dough.
Use the best suitable pizza dough recipe.
When your dough has a highly developed gluten structure, the perfect level of leopard spotting or blistering is achieved; using 00 high protein flour will help! The gentle handling of the crust so that there is as much air trapped inside as possible.
The perfect Neapolitan crust is one with many small micro blisters around the crust with occasional large bubbles. Please also note that if your pizza dough is cold when you make the pizza, it won’t cook properly.
The crust will be too pale with the dark leopard spots, which will be kind of burnt; therefore, when your dough is ready, always let it rest so that it returns to room temperature before using it.
Use the highest temperature possible.
To create the leopard spotting pattern, the cornicione of your pizza needs to be uneven, and this is because of the bubbles that are formed due to proper fermentation, so that’s key, but what about the heat?
The key is high heat. Therefore, whether you’re baking your pizza at home in a regular domestic oven or a pizza oven, you have to turn up the heat! This is hard at home in a domestic oven as they aren’t hot enough, but we can combat this issue!
If you’re using a domestic oven, they can’t reach more than 500-550 degrees Fahrenheit; and for a Neopolitan pizza, you need more than 600 degrees Fahrenheit! The first step you need to follow for a domestic oven is to turn the temperature to the highest and preheat the pizza stone.
How to get maximum heat for your pizza in an indoor oven?
The convection option in your regular oven might not be enough to create that much-needed leopard pattern on your pizza. You need a lot more heat from the above. For this purpose, you can use your oven’s broiler or grill function to get the best leopard pizza.
In addition, you need your pizza to be as close as possible to the broiler, as close as only a two-inch distance! Thus, you should place your pizza stone on the top rack. In some ovens, the top rack isn’t close enough.
In that case, you can place your pizza stone on top of an upside-down deep baking sheet. There is a challenge to using a broiler; when you preheat the oven, it’s already hot, and it causes the boiler to turn off by itself periodically.
This happens when the oven is at the desired temperature and turns back on itself when it falls by a few degrees. You can use a neat trick to outsmart the broiler, though! When you place your pizza in the oven, this will cool it down.
Then, turn it back to the highest setting and turn on the broiler. As a result, it’ll stay on for longer during the baking process.
How to Get leopard pizza in a pizza oven: wood-fired or gas?
You can make leopard crust pizza in a pizza oven much easier than the typical home oven as it gets much hotter. You bake the pizza at a super high temperature, around 800-900 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat reflected from the top of the oven will be enough to create the spotting.
At the end of baking, if the leopard pattern doesn’t form and you see that the underside of the dough is baked, you can lift the pizza toward the ceiling to make the spotting. This technique will help if the baking surface is too hot and the underside is done quicker than the rest.
So what’s the key to leopard spots?
Any dough that has been appropriately fermented, either by cold fermentation or poolish, will be good for achieving leopard spotting. The key to achieving the perfect spotting is the irregular textured surface of the dough.
How exactly you achieve the results depends on the recipe. You should follow a recipe from Italian Maestros.
Using a preferment (poolish) is the best way as it gives the yeast more time to develop and makes the dough rise to form more prominent and more irregular bubbles instead of small ones. Handle your dough carefully around the edges.
You can also cheat! Though this isn’t the best way, it’s the easy way.
You can pinch up some knobs, slice some flaps or even inject into the air bubbles using a syringe! This artificial texturing will allow for more leopard spotting without the effort of reworking your dough.
Recipe for the Best Leopard Spotted Pizza
Ingredients for authentic leopard spotting pizza dough
- 1kg of 00 flour.
- 700ml or 2.8 cups of water.
- 25g of refined salt.
- 3g of yeast (double the amount of fresh yeast).
- 3g of honey (helps with the leopard spotting).
- Olive oil.
Ingredients for the toppings
- A tin of San Marzano Tomatoes (300g).
- Salt and pepper according to your taste.
- 250g of fresh mozzarella balls.
- 30g of parmesan.
- Olive oil.
- A handful of basil leaves.
Make the poolish
- Pour about 300g of cold water out of the rest into a bowl and mix 3g of yeast and 3g of honey. Honey not only acts as fuel for the yeast, but it’ll also help with the leopard spotting as heat causes the caramelization of the sugars.
- Let this mixture sit for around 3 minutes at room temperature, then add 300g of flour into it as you mix it with a spoon. 00 flour is pretty strong, and it’s suitable for long fermentation.
- Mix everything well and make sure that there aren’t any lumps of flour in your mixture.
- Let it rest. First, let it rest at room temperature for about an hour. After you’ve let it rest, throw it in the fridge for 16-24 hours.
Please note that up to 24 hours is fine, but don’t leave it longer than that as the acid will start to develop in the dough, and it’s not good for pizza anymore.
When you remove the poolish from the refrigerator later, remember to let it rest for at least 30 minutes, so the temperature normalizes. You can use it cold, but that’s not recommended.
Make the best leopard spotting dough from the poolish.
- Now that we have the preference, we can work on making the best leopard spotting dough you’ve ever had! Take the rest of the flour and the rest of the water and mix them inside a bowl. Mix them well until it’s relatively smooth and holds well.
- Dump this dough on your countertop and start kneading it. You must keep kneading it for at least 5 minutes or until the dough is adequately mixed. Now cover a container with a lid and let it rest for about an hour. This will allow the gluten to develop.
- Now you’ll have a high gluten dough perfect for making the leopard spotting pizza. Take the prepared poolish and pour it all on top of your dough. Mix it all up gently. It might be a little complicated as the poolish will be sticking everywhere but hold on!
- Keep mixing it for about 10 minutes; everything will be integrated well by then. Add the salt right on top and resume mixing. Ensure the salt is properly mixed, and you’ll notice that your dough is airy and poofy! Perfect for leopard spotting. Add the olive oil once the salt is mixed.
- Knead the dough inwards like you’re closing it. That’ll make it smooth, and you’ll need to be quick, though, as it’s sticky. If it’s too sticky, leave it covered for 10 minutes, and then it’ll be easier to work on.
Let it rest to make your leopard-spotting pizza.
- Glaze a bowl with some olive oil and place the dough inside it. Cover it up and refrigerate it for about 6 hours.
- After that, once you take it out, it’ll be perfect and airy, make 250g dough balls from the dough and place them in another container.
- Sprinkle some flour on top and let them rest for another 2-3 hours, but this time at room temperature.
Shape and stretch out the dough and add toppings.
- Take out a dough ball after you’ve let it rest and lay it on a surface, sprinkle some flour first so it doesn’t stick. Give it a circular shape as you move your hands from the bottom up. Slap the dough and spread it out. Don’t touch the middle when you are shaping it; it’ll spread out later. Also, make sure not to touch the rim of the dough as it’ll become the crust. It’ll be light, airy, and uneven, perfect for leopard spotting.
- Pour your tomato sauce on top with a spoon, only enough so you can see the surface.
- Cut the mozzarella balls into slices and place them on top. Sprinkle the parmesan cheese and salt and pepper too.
- Sprinkle some flour onto a peel and slide it under your pizza; place it in the oven.
Always use a pizza stone if you’re using a domestic oven and follow the steps I explained. Cook the pizza inside the oven for a minute to 90 seconds if it’s a pizza oven. If it’s a domestic oven, preheat the pizza stone in the oven by turning it to the maximum high temperature, and bake the pizza in it for 6-8 minutes. Keep checking pizza every 2-3 minutes. Use the top rack for leopard spotting, as advised earlier.
Note: No matter if you’re aiming for leopard spots on pizza, be careful not to burn the pizza bottom.
Why is 70% hydration important for leoparding pizza?
The more water in the dough means more steam will be generated, giving the crust the desired puffiness for the leopard spots.
Dryer dough won’t have the same result. 80% hydration dough is good, but unless you have a lot of experience, you won’t be able to work it properly. Thus 70% hydration is a sweet spot for the perfect dough hydration.
What should I do if my dough is over-fermented?
First of all, don’t throw it away! We can fix this problem pretty quickly, so don’t waste any pizza dough. Take a dough ball and dust it in some flour, stretch it out, and it’ll be ready to use, but this is for professionals as you can rip it pretty quickly.
The easy way to do this is to take the dough ball and see the underside, which will be sticky; close it inside and make another dough ball. Don’t rip the surface, and be gentle with it. Put the dough balls in another container, cover it up and let it rest for 3-4 hours at room temperature.
It’ll be ready to use!
Is it safe to eat leopard-spotting pizza?
The answer is yes! Of course, it’s safe to eat; as long as it isn’t burned, it’s a sign of high-quality Neapolitan pizza. The smoky, tasty flavor is what distinguishes Neapolitan pizzas from the rest!
Plus, this type of pizza is very healthy. Wood-fired Neapolitan pizza has gluten inside it, but that’s about it! It has around 900 calories, which can be reduced by choosing the toppings wisely.
How do I know my pizza has the perfect Leopard spotting?
If the rest of your dough is slightly brown and not charred, and there are many small leopard spots and occasionally large ones, then your pizza crust is perfect. If the crust is too pale, but there are still leopard spots, your dough was too cold.
You can also burn your pizza crust instead of the leopard spot. If your hydration percentage is too low, it’ll be dry and crusty too.
ENJOY YOUR WELL-DONE NEAPOLITAN PIZZA WITH LEOPARD SPOTTING!
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