Real Pizza in a domestic oven using an Aluminum plate

I’ve blogged before about Modernist Cuisine, the amazing set of books by Nathan Myhrvold et al. On pages 2-26 and 2-27 they explain how to “make your electric broiler perform like a wood-fired oven” to make pizza. I was intrigued by this, as I’ve been trying to bake proper pizza in my domestic oven for years and have had only moderate success. The problem is that, even though my oven can be heated to a pretty high temperature of 300C/575F, the pizza takes 10 minutes or more to bake and the crust will then be chewy rather than crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Everyone who has eaten real pizza from a real wood-fired pizza oven, knows that is how real pizza should taste. Wood-fired pizza ovens can reach a temperature of 425C/800F, and can cook a pizza in less than 2 minutes!

To make this work, you need an aluminum plate of at least 6 mm (1/4 inch) thick (the thicker the better) that is large enough to just fit in the oven and not too heavy to lift, and those are not for sale just anywhere (at least not in this country). So before going to the trouble of buying such a plate, I tried googling to see if anyone has tried this besides the Modernist Cuisine guys. To my surprise, I mostly found people talking about it, but hardly anyone who had actually tried this. The few that did posted results were positive, so when I found out that a friend could help me find an aluminum plate, I jumped at the chance. I ended up with an aluminum plate of 25 mm (1 inch) thick, and about 31 by 36 cm (12 by 14 inches) so it fits exactly on one of my oven sheets. And guess what… it really works!!! You will also need a pizza shovel (also known as pizza peel) to be able to put the pizza onto the plate and get it out again.

Before I continue, let me tell you a little bit more about pizza. Like most Italian dishes, pizza is a simple dish made from simple ingredients that is heavenly if you use  good-quality ingredients and don’t mess it up with too many frills. Pizza as we know it originated in Napels in Italy (before that something similar was made without tomato), and the original pizza is Margherita, named after the queen. For this you only need pizza dough, tomatoes, olive oil, salt, buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil. Real pizza is always “thin & crispy” with a moderate amount of toppings. “Deep pan” pizzas with ridiculous amounts of cheese and toppings are an American invention.

Apart from using an aluminum plate, the following rules apply for making a good pizza:

  1. Use sieved tomatoes (passata) rather than tomato sauce, and only use a little (3 Tbsp for a 25 cm/10 inch pizza)
  2. Drain the liquid from the shredded mozzarella
  3. Sauté wet ingredients like mushrooms first before using as a topping
  4. Use fresh dough only (made on the same day, not refrigerated)
  5. Make sure the oven (and the aluminum plate or pizza stone) are as hot as possible

Note added on 3 August 2012: your home-made pizza will be even better when you use cold fermented dough!

Ingredients

For 2 medium pizzas

For the dough

250 grams (1 1/2 cup) flour, preferably Italian 00 pizza flour

5 grams (2%, 1 tsp) salt

5 grams (2%, 1 tsp) sugar

10 grams (4%, 1/3 oz) fresh yeast

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

For the toppings

6 Tbsp tomato passata

pinch of salt

pinch of sugar

1/2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp dried oregano

125 grams buffalo mozzarella

other toppings of your choice, e.g. sliced peperoni

Preparation

Start by making the dough. I use my bread maker to start the dough, but you could also do this with a mixer or by hand.

Crumble the fresh yeast and sprinkle with the sugar.

Add the flour and the olive oil.

Add the salt and the water.

Let the bread maker make a (pizza) dough.

As soon as it’s finished, take it out of the bread maker.

Sprinkle a large bowl with flour so it won’t stick and add the dough.

Cover with a wet dish cloth.

Let it rise in a warm place until doubled in volume (this takes 1 to 1 1/2 hours).

Meanwhile, put the aluminum plate in the highest shelf position of your oven and preheat the oven to the highest setting (275-300C/550-575F). The oven should be preheated at least half an hour.

Season the passata with a pinch of salt, pinch of sugar, dried oregano and extra virgin olive oil.

Shred the mozzarella and pat it dry with paper towels.

Turn on the broiler. It will take a few minutes to get up to temperature, and will shut off again after a while. The trick is to insert the pizza while the broiler is on!

Flour the peel/pizza shovel. Stretch out half the pizza dough as thin as you can without tearing and put it on the peel/shovel.

Spread out 3 Tbsp of tomato on the dough with a tablespoon.

Add any other toppings, in this case peperoni

Finish with the mozzarella.

Slide the pizza onto the aluminum plate. This should be easy if you had put enough flour on the peel/shovel.

Bake until the top of the pizza crust turns brown. In my oven this takes 3 minutes, but according to Modernist Cuisine it can take between 2 and 7 minutes. If it takes much longer than 3 minutes in your oven you have bad luck, because then it won’t be as good as wood-fired oven. It goes quite fast, so watch it closely.

This is what the pizza looked like after only 3 minutes on the aluminum plate. It was amazing! Very crispy and not chewy at all. The cheese had also melted perfectly. By far the best pizza I’ve ever made in my own oven. I will be making pizza much more often now!

To bake the other pizza, set the oven back to preheating at 300C/575F and wait for the aluminum plate to heat back up. If the second pizza takes longer than the first, you were too fast! If your aluminum plate is big enough, you can also bake two pizzas at the same time.

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29 thoughts on “Real Pizza in a domestic oven using an Aluminum plate

  1. Do tell—what’s the advantage of aluminum over a ceramic stone? I use the stone with an almost identical technique, with very similar-looking results, but I’m not one to doubt the Modernist Cuisine books (I’ve only read excerpts; do you actually own them?), so I’m curious.

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    • The advantage of aluminum is that it has a higher thermal conductivity than a ceramic stone. This means that it gives off the heat to the pizza more quickly and thus the pizza cooks faster. How long does it take on your ceramic stone?

      I do actually own the Modernist Cuisine books. There is a wealth of information in them that I’m trying out and blogging about piece by piece. In the section about the aluminum plate for pizza they do not actually mention to what extent a ceramic stone would also work.

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      • Our library has the MC books, but they’re only in the downtown location and you can’t take them out of the building. I keep meaning to go down and check them out.

        The ceramic stone does probably take a bit longer than the aluminum, but it’s hard to tell because my oven only goes up to 550, so things would be slower no matter what.

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        • There is an amazing wealth of information in them. I don’t think I’m going to do much with the recipes for plated dishes, though, as they are too ‘restauranty’ for me. You know, the type of recipes where you have to spend hours to make a sauce and then need 1 teaspoon for each serving. The descriptions of how an oven works etc. are very interesting with some eye-openers!

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  2. I have had great success using a Mario Batali’s trick. Par-bake the crust, top it and finish it under the broiler for a few minutes for a wood burning oven effect. It works great (or as great as it can without a wood burning oven).Interesting about the aluminum – will check it out

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    • I too am interested in the difference between a stone and the aluminum plate. It usually takes about 4- 5 min to achieve something like that with my stone. I have a viking professional, so it will get up into the 550-575 range.

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      • The advantage of aluminum is that it has a higher thermal conductivity than a ceramic stone. This means that it gives off the heat to the pizza more quickly and thus the pizza cooks faster. The difference in the crust between a cooking time of 2-3 minutes and a cooking time of 4-5 minutes is substantial.

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    • The point of the aluminum trick is that, if your oven is good enough, it will work as good as wood burning oven according to Modernist Cuisine. In my oven, I would say it comes pretty close.

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      • I happen to have access to a machine shop and scrap. I will find a suitable aluminum plate and grind it down and clean it. At least 1/4″ Mhyrvold says? I think I will shoot for at least 1/2″. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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  3. Interesting! I preheat to my highest setting and use my pizza stone on the lowest rack (mostly because it’s out of the way there and I don’t take it in and out of the oven). I’ll have to try the top rack/broiler trick!

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  4. I love the detailed way you approach this. We have a big 3cm slate in the bottom of our oven. We slip the pizzas in there at 290 degrees C. The pizza is the Wife’s department. She complains about making them but turns out a great selection including chilli sausage, goat’s cheese and fennel and ham and mixed mushrooms. All I have to do is open a bottle of Amarone and wait for them to cook.
    Good work,
    Conor

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    • Hi Rob, a friend who works at a place that does a lot with aluminum found me a piece. I also had a pretty hard time finding one. A pizza stone should also work, but I can’t confirm that from personal experience.

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  8. Hey Stefan, this is my first time posting, so I first just want to say that I love your blog. Oh and secondly, I should apologize for resurrecting this thread, but it’s already been resurrected, so I’ll operate under the assumption that you and/or your readers (such as Rob) are still interested in optimizing the pizza-in-a-regular-oven process!

    Anyway, I don’t know if they ship to the Netherlands, but a reader of Modernist Cuisine has recently developed a baking steel that purports to cook Neapolitan pizza perfectly [1], and Myhrvold has since endorsed it. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt of the Food Lab and Pizza Lab columns at Serious Eats tested it against several other methods and found it to be the best way of making a New York pizza and an excellent way of approximating a Neapolitan pizza [2].

    Okay but you already have the aluminum sheet, so who cares right? Wrong! It turns out there’s an even better way of making Neapolitan style at home. No matter how good the thermal conductivity of aluminum or steel is, a properly configured wood-fired oven will still take less time to cook the pizza, meaning with an otherwise identical cooking method, it will still produce a slightly better crust than metal will in a conventional oven, even if that difference is almost imperceptible.

    But what if there existed an alternative method of producing a Neapolitan-style pizza that tastes marginally different from but no worse than pizza cooked using the traditional method? And what if this method is doable in home ovens? Well it turns out such method exists! Apparently, many home cooks in Naples do this, but I had never heard of this in the US. The trick is to deep-fry the dough before baking the pizza [3]. That way, a few minutes’ difference in cooking time doesn’t matter at all, and the result is supposed to taste delicious.

    Enjoy!

    Disclaimer: I haven’t tried any of this–yet.

    [1] http://bakingsteel.com/shop/baking-steel/
    [2] http://slice.seriouseats.com/archives/2012/09/the-pizza-lab-the-baking-steel-delivers.html
    [3] http://slice.seriouseats.com/archives/2012/04/the-pizza-lab-how-to-make-fried-pizza-at-home.html

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    • Hi David, thanks for commenting. I do not mind at all that you respond to an older post. Thanks for sharing your comments. It is great that a baking steel is now commercially available, as it was very difficult for me to get mine. I had never heard of the deep frying trick. It sounds greasy, but I’ll check it out.
      In the meantime I’ve acquired an oven that is electric but does get as hot as a wood-fired oven. I can’t use it in the house, but it will be on our boat so I’m expecting pizza parties this summer 🙂

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      • Woah that sounds amazing. If your boat happens to go missing for a few days this summer, I’m *not* the one who borrowed it!

        Judging by Kenji’s article and the comments, frying the dough doesn’t seem to result in a greasy result at all, but it lets you get tons of oven spring and a perfect cornicione, really just as if you made a normal Neapolitan pizza in an 800-1000 F oven.

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  10. Resurrecting this thread, yet again. 🙂
    It seems that with the new commercial availability of pizza steels, there’s still some debate (or maybe it’s just me doing my research – http://www.chowhound.com/post/dough-joe-pizza-steels-stones-993424 (the comments section)) as to whether the thermal conductivity of an aluminum plate will outperform that of a steel plate.
    Stephan, by chance have you had any experience comparing the spring of the aluminum vs steel? My guess is “no” since you now have a searing hot oven.

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    • Hi Max,
      You are correct that I haven’t been using my aluminum steel since owning the oven that goes up to such high temperatures that I don’t need it anymore.
      As any scientist can tell you (or google for thermal conductivity), the thermal conductivity of aluminum is a LOT higher than that of steel. Aluminum is also a lot more expensive than steel, which may be the reason why steel is more popular.

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  11. Thanks, for the response, Stefan (and Sorry for misspelling your name.. I have a friend named Stephane and wrote it, absentmindedly). Quantitatively, aluminum has superior thermal conductivity but I was hoping for real-world comparisons from someone who’s used both cooking mediums and could vouch, anecdotally, that the numbers support actual cook results.
    I think I’m going to take a chance on the aluminum plate. I’ve been able to find a 1/2 inch thick plate on Amazon.com for about $40USD.
    This is a great site, btw.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Pingback: Sheet Pan Pizza (Pizza in Teglia) | Stefan's Gourmet Blog

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