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Lovely, tongue tickling Neapolitan style pizza at home. Tips?

I've desperately wanted to make true Neapolitan style pizza (pic from seriouseats) at home. But have not really tried, mostly because I believe I'll fail.
But I intended to shop for kitchen gadgetry soon, and have a hot gas oven that will read 550, but I think runs about 25 degrees higher than that.
Please share failures and success stories here about dough making, stone vs. steel, etc. so I can start on the right foot.

 
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    1. Neapolitan style pizza is characterized by the charring and puffiness that occurs when a pizza bakes in between 60 and 90 seconds. To achieve this fast of a bake, the heat has to be intense- from above and below. Bottom heat has a little flexibility- you can, to an extent, bypass temperature restrictions by using more conductive materials. I've yet to see someone do this, but based on the numbers, I'm certain that at 575, 1/2" aluminum plate will give you flawless Neapolitan undercrust charring (also called leoparding) in 90 seconds or less.

      Top heat is far far less forgiving. Based upon the home ovens that I've seen and the people that I know who've been successful making Neapolitan pizza at home, I guesstimate that less than 1 in 300 home ovens have the necessary broiler power to provide the intense top heat necessary. And those successful home bakers have all owned electric ovens. I've never witnessed Neapolitan in a gas home oven. While I think it's probable that there's a commercial salamander out there that's up to the task, I'm relatively certain that there are no gas home oven broilers that can rise to this challenge.

      If you had an electric oven, I'd have you look at the wattage and/or the number of element passes to see if it might cut, but, since you have gas, I sincerely believe it's not worth the effort. A gas oven simply won't serve your needs in this regard.

      You're going to need to look at other equipment. A real Neapolitan wood fired oven costs around $15K, but there are domestic ovens that can match the thermodynamics for as little as $5K (installed), and, if you're handy, you can build your own wood fired oven for considerably less. No matter how you break it down, though, a wood fired oven is a considerable investment.

      The other option is the Blackstone.

      http://www.blackstoneproducts.com/vid...

      The Blackstone oven is relatively new to the market (it came out last year), but, in that time, it's been extensively tested by the members at Pizzamaking.com

      http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/inde...

      and proven to have the 'goods,' so to speak, when it comes to Neapolitan pizza.

      http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/inde...

      A $400 oven that can match the results of a $15K oven is a pretty revolutionary feat. There are a few downsides to the Blackstone, though. First, the exterior is powder coated steel, and the interior is cordierite and uncoated steel, so durability is a bit unknown. Within the year since people have purchased these ovens, none have rusted out, but it will be some time before we fully understand how durable they are. On the plus side, Blackstone offers replacement parts at very reasonable prices.

      The next downside is packaging. The ovens have a history of being packaged poorly and being damaged during shipping. Blackstone is working on these issues, but, in the mean time, they've been on the ball regarding sending out new parts to replace broken ones. Ovens purchased in stores (such as Lowes) tend to have a much better track record with damage, most likely because they are shipped via pallet and aren't being tossed around by UPS workers.

      One important caveat regarding damage. Some valves have gotten damaged during shipping, and, when connected to the gas supply and turned on, they've shot flames out the front of the unit. At least, this was happening for a time, but hasn't happened since they upgraded the oven. While it's a serious potential flaw, as long as you're aware of the propensity and soap test the valve (as one should with any propane device), you'll be fine.

      The last downside is that, to a point, it's a bit of a hobbyist's oven. You can't press a button, launch a pizza and expect perfect results every time, although in all fairness, a wood fired oven has a longer learning curve in comparison. It helps to be a bit of a tinkerer. Some people have pulled flawless Neapolitan pies out of it without modifications, but others have incorporated some small tweaks. The popular tweaks have been very minor- 5 stainless steel washers placed under the bottom stone to create an air gap/slightly better heat balance and a $2ish stainless spatula head bent and placed under the top stone to deflect the flame a bit more evenly. The upgrade they performed a couple months back involved swapping out the regulator for a lower psi version (5 vs. 10) and there's been some conjecture that this might lower the burner intensity when cranked to the max, but that hasn't been tested sufficiently to confirm. If it does impact the intensity, replacing the 5 psi regular with a sub $30 10 psi regulator will resolve the issue.

      Overall, there is a level of complexity to the blackstone, but, as long as you're aware of the shortcomings listed here, it's a pretty amazing oven for the price.

      Lastly, if money is less of a concern, there's the 2stone.

      http://www.2stonepg.com/

      The 2stone is similarly technology to the blackstone (some believe blackstone's design infringed on 2stone's patent, but that's another discussion). The biggest differences are that the 2stone runs around $2K and it's made from stainless steel. The stainless should make it more durable than the blackstone. Until we see a blackstone actually rust out, though, it's very difficult to determine how much more durable the 2stone will be. At 5 times the price, personally, if I had to bet money on it, I don't think the 2stone will last 5 times longer than a blackstone, so when people are shopping for Neapolitan pizza capable ovens, I tend to steer them towards blackstones. For some folks, though, an extra $1600 is not that big of a deal. For them, sure, the 2stone's a great oven.

      Summing things up, I strongly believe Neapolitan in a home gas oven is a lost cause. If you're willing to make the investment, wood fired ovens are the tools of choice for Neapolitan pizza, but a far cheaper blackstone oven, with a conscientious approach, will perform the same task- with flying colors.

      1 Reply
      1. re: scott123

        I can definitely vouch for the Blackstone Pizza oven, and agree with your assessment of it. There is a bit of learning curve to fine tuning the regulator valve, which I open up about 3/4, and then fine tune the front heat control knob to get to my desired temp. It's taken our pizza to a whole new level that simply wasn't possible with our convection oven that maxed out at 550 degrees. I shoot for a stone temp of about 675 degrees using a handheld infrared thermometer, which usually translates to about a 3 minute cook time. There's something magical that happens to pizza when cooking at 600+ temps. Launching the pies while the stone is turning seems like a risky proposition, so I turn off the motor while I launch the pie, then turn it back on. We've been making pizza every week for the last six months since I got the Blackstone, and couldn't be happier. Here's a some pictures - please note that I use the pizza screens as a resting place for the pizza to cool slightly after they come out of the oven and helps preserve the integrity of the crust before serving. I have a large bag of 00 flour I plan to open and give a try at Neapolitan pies using temps of 750+ soon.

         
         
         
         
      2. You definitely need a pizza stone or steel (whichever is more hip these days). The stone makes all the difference, as it gets preheated in the oven and makes for a better crust.

        Saveur had a recipe for Neapolitan pizza dough -- including one that needed to be prepped 48 hours in advance: http://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes...

        In fact, that whole special pizza issue was really helpful, and most of it should be online.

        Buon appetito, allie, and make sure to post some pics :-)

        21 Replies
        1. re: linguafood

          There is no oil or sugar in Neapolitan pizza dough.

          1. re: scott123

            You are the authority on Neapolitan pizza dough how, exactly? 2 tbsps & 1 tbsp respectively don't strike me as insane amounts for 48 oz. of dough, but I'm no baker.

            Do you use oil in pasta dough?

            1. re: linguafood

              You don't use oil in most pasta doughs, no, though some flour-and-water pastas do contain a little oil.

              The official pizza napoletana DOP standards (disciplinare) calls for water, flour, yeast, and salt in the dough, nothing else. Naturally those who don't care about adhering to the standards can use whatever they like.

              1. re: mbfant

                I use a tbsp of olive oil in my pasta dough, but I obviously don't care enough about standards.

                I shall leave the rest of this discussion to the professional pizza bakers here. Ciao, amici, é buona fortuna, allie!

                1. re: linguafood

                  The DOP standards didn't just manifest out of thin air. They were created to document and protect a treasured regional cultural legacy going back more than a hundred years. To a Neapolitan, their pizza is a cultural treasure. Just like the French don't want people messing with their champagne and the Emilia-Romagnian's go to great lengths to preserve the beauty of their parmigiano reggiano, the Neapolitans, by crafting their standards, are attempting to preserve their cultural identity as it crosses the globe.

                  By stating that you don't care about standards, you're basically telling the Neapolitan people that you don't care about their culture or their history.

                  Making Neapolitan style pizza with oil and sugar would be like making champagne with apples instead of grapes. To an extent, you do find slight variations in toppings in the Naples region (more so now than in years past), but the dough ingredients are extremely well established in the region- as is the fast bake time.

                  Can you imagine a world where the French didn't protect their heritage and the champagne recipe ended up being tweaked and modified so much that champagne no longer existed? How sad would that be? Can you imagine a world without parmigiano reggiano- a world with only Kraft parmesan? I wouldn't want to go on living. Neapolitan style pizza is just as valuable.

                  American chefs and authors have a long history of adulterating food from other cultures. It's a cultural bias that I find extremely offensive. The world is WAY too small and WAY too connected for this kind of cultural insensitivity. Americans don't have the right to redefine Neapolitan heritage.

                  If you enjoy dough with oil and sugar, that's great, call your pizza 'Linguafood style' or anything else you like, just not Neapolitan. The people of Naples, past and present, deserve better.

                  1. re: scott123

                    Aw, dang. You've seen right through me and my cray-zay link to Saveur: it is but the beginning of my single-handedly taking down millennia of food traditions and cultures, one at a time.

                    Champagne, I'm coming for you next! I'll make it with bananas. Taking the california roll to Jiro's lame old, same old! He doesn't know dick from sushi.

                    But seriously -- this is clearly a Very Important Issue to you.

                    I had *fantastic* Neapolitan pizza at a local place last night. Really hit the spot and made me so happy.

                    Sounds like you could use a little bit of happiness amid all your hand-wringing over Kraft 'parm' and the end of the culinary world as we know it :-D

                    1. re: linguafood

                      :-D Yes, I am very passionate about this subject. And, for what it's worth, a little angry. Not with you, of course, but with the influential authors that should know better than to convey these adulterated perspectives of other cultures.

                      Peter Reinhart, a man who I respect a great deal, went to Naples, spent time in Naples, knew exactly how Neapolitan pizza was made, and then came back, wrote a book and put a recipe in it for something entirely different. And then you've got Nathan Myhrvold, who ended up correcting a great deal of the pizza section of Modernist Cuisine, but, imo, didn't go far enough in regards to the Neapolitan related material. For a man of his brilliance to be so blissfully unaware of Neapolitan culture, it boggles the mind.

                      Banana hootch, huh? I'm in for a glass :)

                    2. re: scott123

                      You overlook the fact that one cannot make a Vera Pizza Napoletana without a pizza oven that reaches 450 degrees C. Those of us who make pizza in home ovens are forced, willy nilly, to tweak the recipe.

                      1. re: bcc

                        I'm not overlooking that in the slightest. That's the core of my beliefs. Either you're staying true to the culture, to the history, and making Neapolitan style pizza, or you're making something else. If you don't have the equipment, you can't make that style of pizza- but you can make many other wonderful styles.

                        If someone doesn't own a waffle iron, and they just pour the waffle batter on a flat griddle, are they still making waffles? A 450 C oven is as integral to Neapolitan style pizza as a waffle iron is to waffles.

                        1. re: scott123

                          I agree. We're making something else. But we want to get as close to the Neapolitan style as possible. Different folks will use different tweaks. Even if we don't go as far as Peter Reinhart.

                          1. re: bcc

                            Neapolitan pizza is neither horseshoes nor hand grenades. There's no such thing as "not quite the real thing, but still pretty good." I wish there was. I've witnessed hundreds of home bakers follow Reinhart's heinous quasi Neapolitan advice and end up with barely edible results, scratching their heads as to what they did wrong.

                            Every aspect of Neapolitan style pizza has been meticulously engineered for the oven environment. The ingredient ratios, the flour choice, the hydration, the gluten development, the fermentation regime. All these roads don't lead to Rome, they lead to Naples :) Unmalted Neapolitan flour will not brown properly with longer bake times. It will not puff up without the intense heat. Without the enzymes in the malt, long baked (typical home oven baked) Neapolitan dough is lifeless, tasteless and has the texture of cardboard. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.

                            NY style, on the other hand, IS engineered for slightly longer bake times- bake times that can be achieved, with the right equipment, in most home ovens. But it's an entirely different approach, an entirely different animal. Different ingredients, malt vs. unmlated flour, cold fermented, varied stretching techniques. If one possesses an oven that can do a 4 minute bake (most home ovens), a NY dough MURDERS a Neapolitan dough in that setting.

                            These style definitions exist for a reason. They didn't just manifest out of thin air. The Neapolitan people have honed and fine tuned their masterpiece for many decades, just as New Yorkers, with their deck ovens, have honed and fined tuned their contribution to culinary greatness over a long period of time. By subscribing to a "close enough" mentality, you're being oblivious to the accumulated wisdom of thousands of masters, and, in the process, paying the price of having to endure far far less than ideal pizza.

                            There is no 'close enough' when it comes to Neapolitan pizza. If you don't have the oven, if you don't have the right tool for the job, you choose the job that you have precisely the right tool for-NY style- and that's an entirely different ball game.

                            1. re: scott123

                              I suspect that what most home cooks are aiming for and what most home cooks mean by 'quazi-Neapolitan' is really just NY style (higher hydration, a little oil, etc) that's cooked very quickly, perhaps with fresh/buffalo mozzarella or other typical Neapolitan toppings. I do agree that using a genuine Neapolitan dough recipe without the requisite heat is just disappointing.

                              While I can appreciate your distinction, it might be largely semantic as long as it's understood that low hydration Neapolitan style dough only really works well when cooked at Neapolitan temperatures.

                              1. re: cowboyardee

                                Most home cooks, thanks to people like Reinhart and publications like Saveur, might be seeking something quazi-Neapolitan (sadly), but not the original poster of this thread. Alliegator specifically asked for assistance in recreating 'true' Neapolitan pizza and posted a photo of the real thing. All of the ensuing 'close enough' related advice (not by you, but by others), is incredibly counterproductive towards her goals.

                              2. re: scott123

                                I was in Naples two weeks ago and had great pizza, among others at Di Matteo. They told me that they use half/half "00" flour and Manitoba (hard winter wheat). When I got home, I refreshed my sourdough starter and made a dough with King Arthur bread flour. I baked it on a baking steel in the middle of my convection oven with the broiler going full blast. European ovens are smaller than American ovens, so that may have helped with the heat distribution. My pizza was damn close to the one I had in Naples. Equally good? Not a chance. But very good.

                                1. re: bcc

                                  BCC, malted flour (KABF) is not a 'tweak' to the Neapolitan recipe. Malted flour, baked for 3 minutes or longer (which, I'm guessing is about what your setup can achieve), is no longer Neapolitan pizza in any way, it's NY. NY style is my favorite style. I love it. But, because of the malted flour and longer bake, it browns differently and has entirely different texture than Neapolitan pizza.

                                  If it walks like a duck... ;)

                                  As far as Di Matteo goes, their blend is really not that far outside of the canon (and kind of silly when you understand wheat varieties). Italy doesn't have the climate to grow strong enough wheat for pizza, so they have to import it. Manitoba (Canada) wheat is a predominant component of a typically multi-national 00 Pizzeria flour blend. Spring wheat is stronger than winter. Winter usually falls in the 13% protein range, as does Neapolitan 00 pizzeria flour (12.7%). Long story short, Di Matteo, by blending the 00 with Manitoba, is basically combining the same flour. They may be increase the final protein content ever so slightly, but, the impact will be negligible and nowhere near the vast disparity of swapping out unmalted flour with malted.

                                  1. re: scott123

                                    You are correct about the baking time; it was about 3 minutes. But the browning and texture were very similar to what I had eaten in Naples. Not identical, but very close. If that's New York pizza, I'm ok with that.

                                    1. re: rudeboy

                                      Yes, Naples imports a great deal of Canadian wheat. Canada and America have climates that are able to produce a quality and a strength of wheat that very few other countries in the world can match.

                          2. re: scott123

                            I have spent years working on and learning about home pizza making, and the Naples-style is my Holy Grail. But I don't share your emphasis on tradition as authority. Instead, I feel that technical considerations are the warrant for any given dough recipe and cooking approach.

                            Pizza is all about balance, as I'm sure you know. Dough, ingredients and heat have to play together so that top and bottom are done at the same time. It's another expression of that more general truth about most Italian cooking: it really isn't exactly "complex," but you need to do it just right.

                            If you have an oven that can hit 850 or more degrees Fahrenheit, then the required dough is different from what you would use in an oven that only goes to 550. I will speculate that a bit of olive oil is probably helpful at 550 in protecting the dough for the 5-7 minutes that a 550 bake involves.

                            1. re: Bada Bing

                              I don't use oil in my dough, but I did buy a baking steel last year, and the combination of baking steel and broiler in a convection oven (572 F) gets me pretty close to Neapolitan pizza.

                  2. I recommend a baking steel which gives much better results than any of the pizza stones I own. http://bakingsteel.com/shop/baking-st...

                    I also recommend that you consult Jeff Varasano's website.
                    http://www.varasanos.com/PizzaRecipe.htm

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: bcc

                      I hear good things about the baking steels. Still using my ceramic stone for now.

                        1. re: alliegator

                          Steel will NOT produce the pizza in the photo you've posted above in an unmodded home oven.

                          In most ovens (not all), steel is the ideal material for NY style pizza, but if you buy it expecting Neapolitan bliss, you will only find sorrow, as there's nothing worse than Neapolitan dough baked in the wrong oven setup- no softness, no puffiness, no ethereal quality- just dense, stale, flavorless cardboard.

                      1. You are a lucky person to have an oven that will reach over 500. The high temp will ensure a good crisp crust. First and most important, work on your dough techniques. The rest will come very easy. I've been making dough for a loooong time. In my dough, I use high protein bread flour, kosher salt, yeast and water.