Baking time and temperature: key ingredients of any great pizza
To make a great pizza crust, baking time and baking temperature are as important as technique and ingredients – so much so that many professional chefs consider time and temperature to be ingredients themselves.
Whether you’re making pizza in a restaurant kitchen, in a conventional oven or with an outdoor wood-burning oven, to ensure a delicious outcome, you’ll need an oven whose power you know and can depend on.
The trick of creating the pizza you desire is to ensure that the dough’s hydration matches the oven’s heat. Understanding this dynamic will allow you to gauge how fast the crust will lose moisture once it starts baking.
While more experienced cooks gain an intuitive sense of ovens they use often, Italian regulators offer home cooks interesting insight by outlining the exact requirements for making Neapolitan-style pizza. The Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN) has codified every detail, right down to baking temperature and time. They dictate that for a pizza to be called Neapolitan it must be made with specific ingredients, in precise amounts and baked at an exact temperature for an exact duration of time.
Not every cook will be able to reproduce Neapolitan pizza at home, but AVPN’s specifications give a helpful reference and underline how important understanding the temperature of your oven is for the pizzas you want to make.
When you know how much hydration is required for the pizza you’re making and what temperature a pizza oven should be to achieve your desired outcome, your success is almost guaranteed.
You may be surprised how hot a pizza oven does have to get for Neopolitan pizza. For example, for any pizza to be considered a genuine Neapolitan, dough must have hydration of 52-58% and be baked at 905F for 60 seconds. A dough with the same hydration but baked at a different temperature and time will turn out completely different than a Neapolitan pizza: Rather than have a crust with a delicate softness, it will likely be very crisp and dry.
Work with what you’ve got and adjust accordingly. If a Neapolitan-style pizza is your goal, but your oven doesn’t heat up beyond 500F, your dough should be closer to 70% hydration.
Ovens used in restaurants
A large part of how your favorite pizza restaurant consistently produces great-tasting pizza has to do with the oven being used to bake it.
While some restaurants have commercial grade ovens capable of reaching extreme heat, you’re as likely to see pizzaiolos sliding discs of dough in and out of an equally competent dome-shaped oven using a pizza paddle. If you see embers burning within it, there’s a good chance that it’s wood-burning or coal-fired. It may not be obvious to an onlooker, but these ovens get so hot that chefs carefully choose where each pie goes, visually tracking cool and hot spots for the ideal place to put the next pie.
Cook time is brief. Often a crust baked in a wood-burning or coal-fired oven will be lightly singed on the bottom which imparts a delicate smoky taste. The quick exposure to intense heat causes the hydration in the dough to expand and creates bubbles while also melting the cheese instantly.
Regardless of what type of oven you’re using, you’ll know you’re close to mastering the art of pizza making when the dough, cheese and toppings each reach their peak baking point at the same time.
Home sweet home ovens
As nice as it might be to have access to a restaurant-grade oven, you can still get great results with a home oven. The trick is in understanding how hot it gets and how evenly it distributes heat. This information will determine a lot about your pizza crust, including how you can achieve various crust styles.
Any recipe you’re following will recommend a cooking temperature, but may stop short of suggesting that you take steps to maintain the dough at a certain temperature throughout.
For example, the temperature of the water you add to flour can impact fermentation. Similarly, once combined, the temperature of the dough before it goes in the oven is important. It’s wise to let the dough come to room temperature before it’s placed in the oven. For these reasons, it’s helpful to use a thermometer throughout the dough-making process.
It also helps to understand how your oven centralizes heat. If it’s an oven that doesn’t get particularly hot, consider using a pizza stone or steel so that the greatest amount of heat possible is concentrated underneath the pizza.
If you’re without either, consider placing a cast iron pan underneath the rack where the pizza is baking to focus heat underneath the dough.
As you build confidence in your pizza making skills, you may be inspired to update the tools you’re working with. The benefits of a pizza stone, a pizza steel, a pizza paddle and a thermometer will be obvious.
You might also experiment with different types of ovens:
- The Ooni is a first-of-its kind countertop pizza oven that’s capable of reaching temperatures as high as a wood-burning oven. If you have an Ooni, you’ll have the tools required to make a Neapolitan pie. It can reach 905F within 20 minutes of being turned on and stay hot enough to bake pizzas in the AVPN-required 60 seconds.
- More and more portable outdoor ovens are coming onto the market as interest in home-cooking continues to increase following restrictions on indoor dining due to the Covid-19 pandemic. When considering a new purchase make sure you understand how hot each oven can get so that you can easily adjust the hydration of your dough recipes to match it.
- Using grills and smokers to cook pizza is best approached in stages. After preheating the grill, brush one side of the dough disc with oil. Next, pop it on the grill rack until it’s lightly toasted and remove. Finally, place your toppings and cheese on the side that has been grilled and return it to the grill rack for a few more minutes.
- Use an air fryer to make smaller, individual-sized pizzas. Pre-cook the crust, leave it within the fryer and layer with cheese and toppings. In minutes you’ll have a delicious pie. Some experimentation with cook time may be required, depending on the air fryer model and size.
As you experiment with different types of ovens, you’ll gain a clearer sense of how much hydration the dough requires for each.
Pizza is well-loved because of the many delicious ways it can be made. Get started with simple ingredients and the tools you have in your home. If you can make a great pie with the basics, you may want to continue to hone your skills and purchase specialized a pizza oven and tools. We wish you the best of luck no matter where your pizza making efforts lead you in the future.