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The Physics of baking good Pizza [pdf] (arxiv.org)
143 points by Tomte 18 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 61 comments

If you need just a thorough recipie, there is always that EU regulation: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A...

Here a more accessible procedure https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n4BtK6OM7cU

Wow I never knew such documents existed, really interesting! Thanks for the share!

Well, there is a ton of them, basically one for every food that has a protected tradition or origin designation. Not all of them are useful as a recipie though.

It's always preferable to link to the abstract (from which you can easily get to the PDF), rather than to the PDF (from which it is harder to get back to the abstract): https://arxiv.org/abs/1806.08790

(I think it is not entirely inaccurate to think of a direct-to-PDF link as like hotlinking an image from someone's site instead of linking to the site.)

I helped build a Forno Bravo pizza oven last summer. It makes spectacular pizza and stays hot enough to cook non-pizza dishes for several days at ever decreasing temperatures. The parts needed to be carried by boat for part of their journey, along with countless bags of cement for the base and stucco for the dome. I _earned_ that pizza.

“Days”? That’s incredible. How many days and what’s the temperature after one, two, etc?

My FLIR camera maxes out at 700 degrees, so the starting temperature is above that. After 14 hours the interior temp was still over 400, and the next day it was still over 200. I baked eggs in it 36 hours after it was last fired.

The oven has a refractory cement interior and floor, with a layer of insulation top, bottom and sides. The whole thing is coated in stucco. The door is around 6 inches thick and also insulated. This gives it a tremendous thermal mass.

The only significant area of heat loss is around the door. It is a remarkable piece of engineering.

How long does it take to go from room temp to proper pizza operating temperature?

It heats up fast and is well insulated. You build a fire with kindling and 4-6 pieces of split hardwood. When the pile has collapsed into glowing embers you are good to go, maybe 1-1.5 hours.

This is the physics of making good Neapolitan pizza, which is a really great basic pizza, but is just one of scores of pizza styles and is not better or worse than most of these styles:


Blasphemy! Neapolitan pizza is the one true pizza but it doesn't really scale... so all these other inferior styles were invented to try to make pizza that's faster, cheaper, serves more people and/or travels better

Sure, those are worthy trade-offs in some instances, but as far as quintessential pizza goes, Neapolitan is as close to the real deal as you can get

I'm upvoting you out of the grays and I hope you're joking, but there is no real deal and inferior is all a matter of taste and mostly snobbery.

Sicilian pizza is less authenticate than Neapolitan? Happy Joe's taco pizza is inferior to either? All a matter of taste.

There is room for more objective criticism within a given style of pizza (or any dish really) but there’s nothing doing trying to rank the styles themselves.

Having tried a lot of pizza the napolitean style really has the best dough, sure it doesn’t come with all these crazy toppings but the dough... then you have deep dish pizza and I’m wondering how people can eat that (or call it pizza)

If you’re in SF go for doppio zero! If you’re in London go for made in italy, donna margherita, franco manca

There’s a less extreme version of the Chicago style deep dish which is about 1-1.5” tall that you might want to try.

It’s all the same goodness of a deep dish: creamy cheese on the bottom, sauce on top, crispy crust all the caramelization you could ask for. Just (I think) a better ratio of crust to stuff, and lighter.

Yes! We recently discovered the joy of this thin style of Chicago pizza thanks to Lou Malnati's. Chicago area residents may be familiar with them.

Previously I'd only had the thick doughy crust they make at places like Patxi's here in Palo Alto. Not really my thing.

Lou's is exactly like you describe: a thinner crust made with barley so it is crisp and crunchy. My favorite is their spinach.

Here is the weird part. We order six frozen pizzas from their website and they overnight them in an insulated box with dry ice and detailed instructions. You take the frozen pizza out of the foil pan, wipe any condensation off the pan, oil the pan with good olive oil and put the pizza back in it to bake. I recommend baking a little longer than they say so the crust gets nice and crisp. As long as the sauce on the top isn't burning, you're good.

Yes, shipping frozen pizzas across the country may not be the most environmentally sound thing to do. But for an occasional guilty pleasure, I suppose we could do worse.

Does anyone know of a place on the SF Peninsula that makes Malnati's style pizza? I would love to be able to get it locally.



Best pizzas I had in London were from Pizza pilgrim and Luna rossa (in Notting Hill)

Mozzaria is also great in SF

Personally, I'm a big fan of Chicago style pizza. I haven't heard of Neoapolitan but assume it probably has some elements borrowed from the Chicago style.

"probably has some elements borrowed from the Chicago style."

LOL - the exact opposite, actually.

Neopolitan is thin instead of deep-dish. The idea is to blast it at like 900 degrees, but only for 1-2 minutes, so they keep it thin so it can actually cook in that time.

That said, Chicago style 'deep dish' is a personal favorite too. In fact, it's been a while since I made some - maybe I should go find my spring-form pan again :)

I don't get the hate Chicago-style pizza gets. It's a different thing than neopolitan-style and New York-style. That's ok, they're just different, and I like all of them.

At some point it stops being pizza and is just... I don't know, a savory pie

FYI: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jCgYMFtxUUw

Warning: funny and rude. But IMHO makes good points.

It's a casserole, not a pizza. That's what's wrong with it.

It's cultural change.

You fell for it ;)

It is interesting that people find cultural change so offensive. Is the term food protectionism?

Why is this downvoted? Lol this is clearly satire.

personally, I’ve had some great experiences with my Ooni/Uuni ovens over the past 6 years or so. It’s a great small business story too.

Currently on a Koda-16 which gets up to 900f in about 20 mins, yet is so well insulated - 45 minutes later there’s still snow sitting on top of it. A pizza usually takes about 90-120 seconds for me.

The thermal mass is important - the pizza stone at the bottom on this model is thicker than my last one, and while I could cook several pizzas, the ones in the middle took longer because I didn’t let the stone heat up again after the last pizza. Noticeable difference if there was no “rest time” between pizzas. Some friends have tried “metal pizza stones” which also retain heat really well (like 1/4” steel plate type of thing) apparently works well in hone ovens.

I use mine also to sear sous vide steaks. Works out fantastic.

I hope to get an Ooni oven one day (once my wife finishes postdoc and have a more permanent living condition with more storage space... so it often feels like never).

In the mean time I use a 1/2" steel plate in my home oven. Our oven goes up to 550F and the plate can hit ~650F under the broiler. Still a long ways from 900F but it can bake a very decent pizza in 3-4 minutes, with minimal heat loss (heat loss would be more of an issue with a thinner plate, I assume).

Also no worries about cracking if a launch goes badly and I end up with sauce leaking off the pizza--I broke quite a few pizza stones that way.

Yeah! I live in a condo, with no outdoor space. I as able to convince my partner that the Ooni was a good investment to take camping, to friend's yards, and airbnb's while we travel. It doesn't get as much usage as I'd otherwise like it, but both me and my previously skeptical partner are just so pleased by it! Worth both the price and the storage we have to maintain for it and it's accessories.

Having said that, it does take a significant amount of the trunk, so.. meh.

I'm super excited to see papers talking about these topics in detail, food journals are amazing.

It was a bit dense for me in parts, but isn't it a very standard bread cooking trick to stick a cast iron pan in the oven to give it more thermal mass?

I'm also quite curious about these cooking temperatures, I know I'm never going to hit those in my electric stove, and I do cook deep dish pizzas longer at a lower temperature so they aren't goopy dough on the bottom. I wish I could try cooking them hotter, they still come out like crackers at 475F sometimes.

I'm curious, regarding your note about pizza stone temperature, do you make the pizza dough stretched and topped and then... put it on the already hot stone? How do you get the dough from the place you topped it to the stone without it falling to pieces?

What kind of stone could it be that a cast iron pan wouldn't be both higher thermal conductivity and also higher heat capacity? Are you using temperatures too high for cast iron?

> put it on the already hot stone? How do you get the dough from the place you topped it to the stone without it falling to pieces?

There are plenty of demos and tips on "how to launch a pizza"





> Are you using temperatures too high for cast iron?

No, not at all. So why not use cast iron?

IDK, when cooking pizza inside a kitchen oven some people do use cast iron plates. They're a fair amount more expensive than the ceramic "pizza stone", and heavier, apparently they work very well. google "pizza steel".

In a custom-made pizza oven, ceramic floors are the only type I've seen. I guess iron just isn't necessary in this case? The whole interior gets heated up to 450-500C. If you're building a dome outdoors out of concrete and brick, then thermal mass is there because of regular mass?

Oven bricks actually have higher thermal capacity than steel/iron, but much lower conductivity.

Steel or iron in a 450C oven would burn the bottom of the pizza before the top was anywhere close to done. It works well in home ovens at much lower temperatures (say 250C).

Yes that makes sense, thanks.

Awesome, thank you. I just got a steel stone because I am pretty sure it makes more sense given how many pizzas I make at a time and one of those wooden paddles (I expect I can make do with a cookie sheet for removing the pizza at the end and the "stone" is already expensive).

I've been making pizza often since I was five, for many years weekly for dozens of people, and the center of the bottom is always the hardest to get cooked nicely without burning the top.

If this fixes that I can maybe avoid prebaking the crusts, that was my workaround previously. This sounds way better!

If you are working in a pizzeria, have a backyard brick oven, or have a hobbyist oven such as a Roccbox or Ooni (I have an Ooni) they you should master the art of launching a pizza off a peel. So watch some how-to videos, get some Semolina flour and resign yourself to the fact that you aren't going to have a 100% success rate at first. You will lose some pies as you practice.

If you are cooking in your kitchen oven, you also have a second option: a sheet of baking parchment.

I have only done it in a home oven or a regular commercial kitchen without a fancy super hot oven.

I like the idea of learning to launch it though, I'm already sad that I can't toss the dough without dropping it so that seems like a just slightly easier skill that depends more on getting the dough to the right consistency. Seems like it will be fun to do anyway.

Throwing pizza dough up in the air is very much optional, and IMHO mostly done for show.

If you are making pizza "weekly for dozens of people" then equipment such as pizza peels and/or a pizza oven might be ideal for you?

Oven is overkill for my level of skill, a peel seems about the right next step. It's just a favorite when we can't eat out and is nice and easy.

> I'm curious, regarding your note about pizza stone temperature, do you make the pizza dough stretched and topped and then... put it on the already hot stone? How do you get the dough from the place you topped it to the stone without it falling to pieces?

You use a pizza peel [1]. Put the pizza on the peel (some people put the stretched dough on and top it while it's on the peel, some people top it first and then transfer it to the peel), put it in the oven, and then slide the peel out from underneath.

Flour/semolina or corn meal helps keep the pizza dough from sticking to the peel.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peel_(tool)

I looked at getting a pizza peel and decided that there wasn’t a single best style. I recently discovered that I can easily transfer a pizza to the hot stone in the oven by building it on a piece of parchment paper (trimmed to the size of the pizza after adding the toppings) and sliding it from a tilted cookie sheet with the help of a large spatula.

It’s much cleaner than the way I used to do it, which required cornmeal and often resulted in crooked transfers, misshapen dough, and lopsided toppings.

> I looked at getting a pizza peel and decided that there wasn’t a single best style.

There isn't. There are 3 operations: launch, turning and extracting, and different styles of peel are "best" for each.

A smooth wooden peel (or perforated metal) is good for launch.

A "turning peel" is a thing, smaller and rounder.

A metal peel is best for extracting - don't use your launch peel, you don't want it to get hot, or the next pizza will stick.

This guy covers some of it: https://youtu.be/n8F8YdxA5jA

I just switched the parchment paper approach myself. Unexpected bonus: I can wrap up the leftover pizza in the parchment.

A small wooden pizza paddle is a great tool to build the pizza on and transfer to a hot surface. I use semolina underneath the dough so it can slide off more easily. Lifting a little to get some air underneath helps if it doesn't slide off at first. I haven't invested in a pizza stone, I just make them personal size on an inverted cast iron pan.

Edit: As other similar response mentioned peel seems to be the more specific word for paddle.

> What kind of stone could it be that a cast iron pan wouldn't be both higher thermal conductivity and also higher heat capacity?

cast iron pans are great, but a pizza stone can be much thicker than a skillet, so you can get a lot more heat capacity. not sure about the conductivity, but some "stones" are made of steel anyway.

I’ve got an uuni 3, which is great. I find the greatest difficulty is getting the temperature high to bake properly but not burn. It look me a while to realize that just because the oven can hit 924f doesn’t mean that’s the best temperature to bake pizza at. YMMV based on how you construct your pizzas, but I’ve found ~800 to be the right working temperature for me.

I have the Koda 12 and have been making amazing sour dough pizzas, sometimes doing 60 our ferments. The oven was a great investment until i build a proper outdoor pizza oven.

No love for iron skillets? I've had some pretty good results cooking pizzas in a home settings with it. It sounds weird but it gets decently close the the quality of a stone oven, something to do with the heat conductivity of cast iron: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HXAW2GseICs

You cook it on the hob for a few minutes to cook the bottom, constantly shuffling the skillet round to get that random charring, then a few more minutes in a pre-heated oven as close to the broiler as possible.

Great for deep dish pizza as well, if you're into that.

> the expert first bakes the pizza in the regular way on the oven surface, but when the pizza’s bottom is ready he lifts it with the wooden/aluminum spade and holds it elevated from the baking surface for another half minute or more in order to expose the pizza to just heat irradiation. In this way they avoid burning the dough and get well cooked toppings

Has anyone tried this technique? Won't you still get further leopard-spotting or outright burning of dough around the cornicione during this, from heat irradiation?

Interestingly, the History Channel just aired an episode of "The Food that Built America" that featured pizza recently, how Pizza got "reinvented" in America


Jeff Varasano's pizza page: http://www.varasanos.com/PizzaRecipe.htm

Sumptuous results once I acquired a wood burning oven capable of 850F.

Did I get it right: to bake a margarita at home oven with a steel plate, you need 240g of dough, 90g of toppings, bake at 230 degrees Celcius for 170 s. But in the end you will get a bad unbalanced product. Correct?

I don't know about steel plate, but on ceramic, baking at 230c is just not hot enough for good Neapolitan pizza. You want closer to 450c

Sadly a typical domestic oven won't do this.

450C is very hot, home ovens can't heat that high ... sure you meant degrees Celsius?

> 450C is very hot


> sure you mean

Yes I mean it. For a good Neapolitan pizza, yes you want 450C, C for degrees Celsius. Or around 850F

Or even a bit higher: "Ultra-High Heat 500˚C (900F) - the temperature you need for crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside perfect crusts." https://uk.ooni.com/ FYI, it only really reaches 500C at the back corner, the stone is closer to 450C at the centre.

Yes, a regular home kitchen oven can't reach that: mine tops our at 300C, as long as you don't open the door and put something in. Then it's more like 250C

That's why it's good to have a specialised oven, either a brick and cement dome, or a "portable" Rocbox or Ooni. A home oven just can't make a good Neapolitan pizza because it doesn't go hot enough.

Thanks ... I'll think about "portable" after moving to a bigger house)

It's "portable" like an Osborne 1 - i.e Ooni Koda 16 weights 20Kg, without the gas cylinder. You're not going to walk around with oven and gas like it's a briefcase.

But the legs fold up. A strong adult could put it (and the gas) in the boot of a car and drive over to a friends' house and set it up there.


Unfortunately I live in an apartment, but using baking steel increased the quality of pizza significantly!

Baking steel is amazing. For normal electric home ovens, roman-style pizza cooks really well (usually has high water content and the dough matures in the fridge for 1-3 days).

This is fantastic. Is there a paper on the construction or dimensions of a brick oven that is this thorough?

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