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How do I get Leopard Spots on my pizzas?

If you’re a Neapolitan pizza aficionado, you’re likely familiar with the term “leopard spotting.” These distinctive charred spots on the pizza crust are more than just visual flair; they are a sign of (1) a high-hydration, well-fermented dough resulting from (2) prolonged, cold fermentation, (3) baked in a pizza oven with intense heat of at least 800°F and a live flame. A Biscotto stone in your pizza oven will help, as these stones have the right material and shape to quickly extra moisture from your pizza dough and convert it to steam, which help your dough develop leopard spots.

Leopard spotting relies on a delicate balance of factors. A high water percentage in the dough is crucial, creating steam during high-temperature baking, forming air pockets that result in charred spots. Long, slow fermentation allows enzymes to break down starches, promoting air pocket formation. Uniformly distributed high heat is possible in a conventional oven set to its highest temperature (with both top and bottom heat) with a pizza steel. Baking cold dough in a hot oven can work magic, slowing heat absorption and enhancing bubble formation. Unevenly shaping the crust also aids leopard spotting, creating a rustic appearance.

Leopard spotting is really both an art and a science. It indicates a well-handled, high-hydration, and well-proofed dough baked for the right duration at high temperatures. While visually stunning, it doesn’t guarantee a superb pizza. And the absence of leopard spots doesn’t necessarily indicate a flaw, especially in a conventional oven. Plus, large leopard spots may indicate over proofed dough. Focus on quality ingredients, ratios, fermentation, and baking time, not just achieving leopard spotting.

While achieving leopard spotting is a worthwhile pursuit, it’s essential to remember that it doesn’t impact taste or texture. A perfectly browned, crispy Neapolitan pizza with a light, fluffy texture is the ultimate goal. This article equips pizza enthusiasts with insights and practical tips to master the art of leopard spotting, blending science and craftsmanship for a delightful pizza experience.