Brick ovens are of course the preferred device for making Neapolitan-style pizzas. I happen to have one, however I recognize that there may be a few of you oddballs out there who for some strange reason don’t. But then I made Neapolitan-style pizzas for years using my simple Whirlpool. You can too. The trick is getting enough heat on the pie where you can achieve a reasonable facsimile of the real thing.
It isn’t easy, since not only do brick ovens deliver an awful lot of heat, they deliver it from multiple directions. D.O.C. rules dictate that Neapolitan pizzas must be baked in an oven that’s at least 900 degrees hot. What they don’t say is that in a real brick oven, 900 degrees is only the temperature of the floor of the oven. Since authentic pizza making requires a small wood fire to be burning in the oven as the pizza is being baked, the ceiling is far hotter. About 1500. Thus a pizza inserted into a brick oven is assaulted by big heat from all directions.
It’s not an easy effect to re-create in a kitchen, since most home ovens only go up to 500 or 550 at the most. So what to do? There are some Neapolitan pizza freaks out there that solve the problem by tricking their home ovens into baking on the cleaning cycle (which can be anything up to 800 or so). I don’t recommend that for a lot of reasons. And anyway, I think perfectly fine results can be had within the constraints of my Whirlpool’s engineering.
I start with a baking stone, really a must for any pizza baker. Since the heat from nearly all conventional home ovens is generated from below, I put the stone directly on the floor of the oven. Next I insert a plain rack up at the highest position in the oven, up where my broiler element is. Then I turn the beast up as high as it will go. I do this at least half an hour before I plan on baking, since I want the entire oven heated to as great an extent possible before the pie goes in.
The method is simple really. Because my oven can’t deliver big top and bottom heat simultaneously, I bake both sides separately, as it were. First I slide the plain pizza (and when I say plain I mean tomatoes only) onto the stone and let the bottom bake for five minutes. Once that’s done I remove the pizza to a cookie sheet with tongs, close the oven door and turn the broiler on high. In the time it takes me to apply my toppings (a little cheese, some fresh basil and a drizzle of good olive oil) the broiler is ready, so I insert the cookie sheet under the broiler and finished the pizza for maybe 30 seconds to brown the top.
What results is, I think, a pie as close to a Neapolitan pizza as an unadulterated home oven can deliver. Thin, fragrant and with a “char” reminiscent of the real thing. I’ll show you what this all looks like a little later on today.