When you go to the store to buy flour, you’re likely to find more choices now than ever. You’ll see wheat flour, rye flour, various different types of gluten-free flours, wholemeal flour, white flour, pastry flour, bread flour and many, many more. But what about 00 flour?
Most people outside of Italy haven’t heard of 00 flour, and it can still be a little difficult to find in your local store, but if you enjoy making your own pizzas and pasta, a bag of this magical powder could just take them to the next level.
What is 00 flour?
00 flour, also known as doppio zero (‘double zero’) is a super fine white flour from Italy, and considered the gold standard for making pasta and pizza bases. In Italy and some other European countries, flour is graded according to how finely it is milled, beginning at 00, the finest grade of all, through 0, 1 and finally 2, the coarsest grade available.
To achieve the finest texture possible, 00 flour can only be made from refined grains which have had their nutritious but rough-textured bran and germ removed. It is then passed through the mill several times until it achieves an extra fine consistency similar to baby powder.
There are different types of 00 flour, depending on whether you want to use it for making pasta or pizza dough. The main difference between these flours is gluten content, as pasta-making requires a slightly lower gluten flour than pizza. They will usually be clearly labelled as ‘00 pasta flour’ or ‘00 pizza flour’.
Why use 00 flour?
Because 00 flour is so fine, it makes a finer, more responsive dough that won’t tear when you roll it into thin, delicate pasta strips or shape it into a crispy pizza base. If you’ve tried either of these techniques with all-purpose flour and given up in frustration because the dough kept tearing instead of stretching, it’s worth trying again with some 00 - you might find yourself surprised by how much easier it is.
00 flour is also preferred by Italian pizzerias because of the quality of the gluten. In fact, 00 and bread flour, which is often used to make pizza in the US, contain similar amounts of gluten, but because they tend to be made from different types of wheat, the gluten in each behaves slightly differently.
Bread flour is usually made from red wheat, which creates gluten that is strong and elastic, and this makes for a chewy, bread-like base. 00 flour is made from durum wheat, which creates gluten that is strong but not very elastic, and this makes the traditional thin and crispy Neapolitan crust.
To get the best out of your 00 pizza crust, it should be cooked quickly, at extremely high temperatures for that perfect, crispy, flaky texture. If you’re lucky enough to have a wood-fired pizza oven in your backyard, this is ideal, otherwise try cooking your pizza in a hot cast iron skillet.
Protein and gluten
In the USA, flour is usually graded according to its gluten content, so many people make the mistake of assuming that 00 must be gluten-free. Sadly this is not the case, so if you’re baking for coeliac sufferers or people with gluten allergies you should absolutely not use 00.
The proteins present in flour are directly related to how much gluten it can produce, as these proteins form gluten strands when mixed with water. Obviously this is not the case with gluten-free flours, which contain non-gluten-forming proteins.
Most 00 flours tend to have between 12 to 13% protein, which is quite high. This gives pasta and pizza their typically dense texture, as opposed to something light and airy like a sponge cake, which is made with a 7 to 9% protein cake flour.
If you are looking for a gluten free flour, why not try anti grain flour, a gluten-free, nut-free, allergen-free, non-GMO, Paleo friendly, certified kosher flour, made from fruits and vegetables in the U.S.A.
Differences between 00 flour and all-purpose flour
All purpose flour, or plain flour in the UK, is designed to work for all kinds of baking, and because different baked goods require different properties it inevitably involves an element of compromise. For example, to make a flour suitable for light, low-gluten bakes like cakes and denser, high-gluten bakes like bread and pizza, you need something that’s somewhere in the middle in terms of protein content.
Because of this, all-purpose flours tend to be between 10 to 12% protein, which is a little lower than 00 flour, at 12 to 13%. So while you can use an all purpose flour to make your pizza dough, and it will be perfectly edible, it is likely to be a bit softer and spongier than pizza made from 00 flour.
Another difference is that 00 flour is made from durum wheat, while all-purpose flour is not. This means that all-purpose flour creates stretchier gluten strands and will tend towards producing a chewy pizza base, rather than a crispy one.
Perhaps the most obvious difference is that all purpose flour lacks the super-fine texture from which 00 flour gets its name. This will make rolling or stretching your dough more difficult, so you’ll need to be extra careful to avoid tearing.
The final difference is that the fineness of 00 flour means that it absorbs water much more readily than other flours, so you’ll likely need less water to get your dough to the required consistency. If you have a pizza or pasta recipe that specifies all-purpose flour and you want to upgrade to 00 flour, add the water very slowly and stop when the dough reaches the desired consistency - you’ll probably find you need less than you thought.
Alternatives to 00 flour
There is no flour that can entirely replicate the qualities of 00 flour, and as we’ve already mentioned, a pizza base made with a different flour will be more prone to tearing and is likely to be a little more chewy and a little less crispy. That said, you can still make a pretty decent pizza base using a white flour with a similar protein content.
Bread flour is a good match here, with a typical protein content of around 11 to 13%, or even a stronger all-purpose flour. Avoid low protein flours like cake or pastry flour. If you do decide to use an alternative, you need to remember that 00 flour absorbs more water than other flours, so you may need a little more water than the recipe calls for.