Good Pizza Oven Discussion

From the Yahoo MHAmembers list:

From: Jon Santiago “jsant27(at)gmail.com”
To: MHAmembers@yahoogroups.com
Sent: Thursday, September 26, 2013
Subject: [MHAmembers] restaurant-class pizza oven

Hello all,
i’ve been inspired by the recent spate of posting to put out a question of my own. a restaurant that wants to cook pizza for 6 hours a night…what characteristics should the oven have?  is low mass and high insulation right?  any rules of thumb or guidelines for sizing the oven?

I recently have seen two ovens that intrigued me because they had a lower “deck” in the middle where a sizeable fire was kept going and on each side a raised deck where the pizzas were baked.  I know in many pizza ovens a fire is kept going to the back or sides but this was a large fire in the middle.  anyone have experience with that style or have comments about it?

by the way, one was at a beautiful pizzeria that I recommend visiting..flatbread company in conway, NH…a spectacular and complex timber frame shelters two earthen ovens that I was told were built using the willow basket technique.
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From: John Fisher <fishermasonry(at)yahoo.com>
Subject: Re: [MHAmembers] restaurant-class pizza oven

hi jon,

the last time i looked at the flatbread oven (in burlington) i hadn’t yet built any restaurant ovens. if i remember right that fire trough was pretty deep and the pizza hearths were soapstone ? i think that works really well with their concept; a lot of cheerful young people tending a very visible fire and baking a lot of big pies that are on the thick side in pizza terms. i don’t remember how long each pizza took to bake, but that is the grail; how fast do they bake. it isn’t just for costeffectiveness, but also for taste and mouthfeel.

a lot of restaurants want to imitate, depart from, or otherwise measure themselves against naples where real pizza is baked with thin crust and a few gourmet tastes as topping. they’re baked in ovens like the ones at pompeii, ovoid dome or “forno bravo”. they’re baked fast, like maybe five minutes. the dome is , i think around 45 cm high in the middle.

i recently talked with markus hansson about an oven in new york. he wants an even lower dome (25-30cm) and a two-minute bake. it then becomes a balancing act between getting those bricks closer to the parmesan, and getting the most heat from the fire. because , as you lower the dome, you have to lower the outlet to bell the flames.

size has to do with capacity. so find out how many pizzas they need to produce in six hours.

my forno bravos have soapstone hearths and a little lower (3cm) side areas for twin fires. (usually only one is used) these sweep up to the soapstone level at the front for easy cleaning. they have a little too much mass (14cm) but  a lot of insulation so start-up is pretty quick in daily/weekly use, and the baking is steady and strong. if i were to build a restaurant oven now i’d try to keep the mass closer to 10cm. i really like marty’s geodesic dome panels from the wildacres workshop. that has restaurant potential

the real challenge is the door. making something that is never in the way or irritating is a challenge. i like in-and-up but then you have to have a little deeper throat so you don’t block the chimney. a single  side-hung door is simple but has a wide sweep and can get in the way of flow. two small side-hung doors are cheap and easy to use and maintain and you can easily make them with glass. anything opening outward (whether up, down , or sideways) can burn your skin. a forno bravo without a door loses heat.

if you are still in new england, take a swing to new haven, connecticut. a formidable pizza town. somewhere (i think on the east side) there is a very large old pizza oven built by old world masons. that would be worth studying. some yaley will be able to tell you where it is…

best,
john
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From: Norbert Senf<norbert.senf(at)gmail.com>
Subject: [MHAmembers] RE: restaurant-class pizza oven

Hi John:

Some additional observations from a pizza making newbie:

We’ve had a small 24″ Forno Bravo Primavera oven for a few years now. It is a 1 piece prefab, and just about ideal as a backyard oven – low mass, good insulation, although a bit small. I have gotten it up to 1100F on the dome within 45 minutes of a cold start, using 15 lbs of wood.

It actually has a high dome, and I don’t subscribe to the “lower dome to get the heat closer” theory.  Given the same surface temperature, the surface area of the dome increases as you raise it, which compensates for the distance. It is like an “infinite flat plate” from physics textbooks examples, as opposed to a “point source” where the inverse square law applies.

I’ve been practicing Neopolitan pizzas, from the excellent instructions on the FornoBravo website. According to them, 2 minutes is the maximum cooking time, which should be between 90 seconds and 2 minutes – there is actually an E.U. standard for this. It also has to be a wood fired oven, because you cannot get high enough temperatures with gas. You have to be careful on the sauce, and should still be able to see the dough through it.

Leila and I have checked out the Neapolitan pizza (pizza margarita) at a lot of wood fired pizzarias (tough job, but somebody has to do it), including some of the famous ones in NYC, etc. I find that in general, they don’t have the oven hot enough – I guess it requires a good oven and good management, and that is hard to do in a restaurant situation with perhaps semi-trained staff and high volumes.

The dome temperature is supposed to be 900 – 1100 F, and the hearth 700 – 800 F, plus you need a bright flame for the extra radiation. Crust is very thin, the thickness of a credit card. The pizza should be somewhat burned and crispy on the bottom, but still foldable. To me, the tell is in the broiling (browning) of the mozzarella cheese, which usually restaurants are not able to do sufficiently, in other word the dome is too cool or there is  not enough flame.

I’ve done simulated Neopolitan pizza in the white oven of our heater, which you can only get up to about 650F or so – enough to get a half decent bottom, but not a broiled top. I take a propane torch and flambee the top when I take it out, which does a convincing imitation.

Best Regards ………… Norbert
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First fire
From: chuck larson <larsober@att.net>
Subject: Re: [MHAmembers] RE: restaurant-class pizza oven

Interesting subject. I have been building these portable ovens on carts for restaurants and homeowners in Lake Tahoe for daily and seasonal use. Due to their fire restrictions on ‘open flame fires’, coupled with our new laws on wood burning appliances, these portables have been a hit. This my test oven, which I have had up to 1000 F. My pizzas cook in about 90 seconds, with a floor temp of 750-800 and dome about 950f. With the door secured, the temp reading at 10:00am the next morning was 250. This is a traditional oven built ‘arch’ style with standard FB. and lots of insulation. Being portable, I experimented with different mortor formulas to find one that would withstand abuse and being ‘pushed’ around.

Chuck Larson
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From: John Fisher <fishermasonry(at)yahoo.com>
Date: Thu, 26 Sep 2013
Subject: Re: [MHAmembers] RE: restaurant-class pizza oven

thanks norbert,

i just remembered it was you who i with when i last had pizza at american flatbread in burlington : )

wow, oneandahalf to two minutes ! that is fast. i’m going to go and time my customers.

here in sweden the pizza is generally mediocre. there was a golden age, according to markus, when it was all italians, but then the turks took over and whittled it down to a good business model without the high artisan standards.

regarding the high versus low dome, have you ever baked pizza with a low dome ? maybe the surface area is higher and compensates somewhat for the distance, but the volume is also greater and flames are hot gases that take up space. it stands to reason that  the same flames in a smaller chamber have more effect. or am i missing something ? if low vaults are just superstition, it is at least a ubiquitous superstition among the bakers i know, for both bread and pizza. but as i say, before i started making pizza ovens, i ate pizza without thinking too much about it, even in naples. it could be that a low dome is less elegant (more wasteful) but easier to achieve high temperatures, so the pizza master doesn’t have to be as masterful. that i could easily buy.

anyway i’m glad you have focussed your lense on good pizza. it’s interesting. what kind of baking times did you guys get at wildacres with that geodesic dome ? anyone remember ?

best,
john
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From: bob ciciora <bciciora(at)comcast.net>
Date: Fri, 27 Sep 2013
Subject: Re: [MHAmembers] restaurant-class pizza oven

My son Alex has been trying to further my pizza cooking and turning skills while helping him with our mobile oven catering. He does Neapolitan style and we aim for a 80-90 second cook. The 800F hearth and 1000F vault temps seem to do this with the hearth temp being more important of the two. When it is 725-775, it gets closer to a 1:45-2:15 cook time. His skill is getting the “leoparding” char on the bottom to match the edge char from the flame radiation. The top cook, even with raw sausage topping never seems to be a problem. Alternating spots when loading a new pizza and giving the hearth a :30sec-minute to reheat before a cold dough goes on also helps. We use only fresh mozzarella with its higher moisture content to avoid burning the cheese. When using low moisture shredded, we cook longer at lower.

The mobile oven is much more insulated than my backyard oven and its only advantage, I think, is that it stays above 500 for 2 1/2 days and if our events are spaced out then less wood is used to refire. A restaurant firing every day shouldn’t be too much of a concern. Both ovens are barrel vault at 16″ peak height. We are in the process of buying a food truck with installed Mario Ferraro oven from Italy that has a much lower dome height. Although another variable will be the hearth tiles vs. medium duty firebrick hearth, I’ll let you know what Alex thinks about it and the differences when we get cooking. BTW here’s some media we got over the summer, (some print, some blog) A couple were nice enough to print my comments about MHA.
http://www.thepizzavia.com/Media.html

Bob
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From: “Alex Chernov” <alex_stovemaster(at)yahoo.ca>
Date: Sat, 28 Sep 2013
Subject: Re: [MHAmembers] RE: restaurant-class pizza oven

Writing bits through three days…

A lot of valuable information about true commercial pizza ovens was presented by Frank Giammaria at his seminar at the WA a few years back. Explanation of why dome, why round, explanation of dynamics of a busy pizzeria and how oven should fit to its demands. Excellent info based on 20 year experience.

Only round shape allows fast, efficient and quality baking of many pizzas at the same time, where one of the reasons is ease of manipulation in a circle, and another big one that the baker can see the side of pizza, facing fire ( that bakes faster and can burn) all the time without need to turn pizza.

As to temperatures, Norbert did a good run down on numbers. It is true that a “true” Neapolitan pizza should not bake longer than 2 minutes or the thin crust loses its moisture and becomes cracker-like. Having an oven at home and baking helps to understand ovens much better and also helps to reveal lots of myths about pizza ovens and pizza baking that are very common around. (Bob, thanks for a real experience information!)

Despite the fact that many tout they bake their pizza at 900F it is not true in 98% of all cases. Try to bake at 900F yourself and you will understand why. It is extremely fast and difficult to bake pizza properly unless you bake very similar size and toppings pizza all the time. Baking time for a Margarita at 900F would be just over a minute. Just time anyone who makes 900F claim. My observation is 2-3.5 minutes is more like reality for most places that claim they do Neapolitan-style pizza. Longer for others.

Bob and Alex’s experience that shredded ” mutz” simply burns and one needs high moisture fior di latte (fresh mozzarella) for 900F is very interesting and very valuable information. It explains the choice of cheese for true Neapolitan pizza and gives yet another checkpoint for exposing false claims.

Once you bake quite a bit you will be able to tell about oven temps just by tasting the pizza crust, by its state. I personally like temps at about 700-750F for baking thin crust pizza with various combinations of toppings using full fat mozzarella in home party environment.

As to flatbread ovens with fire at the middle, I do not see how convenient it is to reach over fire all the time and how beneficial it is to have fire at the middle. I think it is opposite. If you look at the pattern smoke and flame moves in the dome ovens, it goes is spiral extending flame and gas residency time inside the oven and thus efficiency, and providing evenly heated mass. I personally think flatbread company’s version is for looks for highly visible fire and for marketing point of being different, and potentially a right for patents to protect the idea.

Overall, I do not support idea of troughs for fire. With flat floor one can switch fire sides/spots in the oven through baking when fast baking cools the oven. Also, it is more efficient use of space in demanding environment, where one needs all free space inside of the oven. Any trough limits potential usable space.

Alex
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From: John Fisher <fishermasonry(at)yahoo.com>
Date: Sun, 29 Sep 2013
Subject: Re: Re: [MHAmembers] restaurant-class pizza oven

great alex,

this one had me smiling. when i answered jon’s first post i had no idea how far you all had already gone with the pizza culture. i thought the napoli fixation was mostly a new york thing. but maybe new york is onto something else, saddened that it couldn’t achieve napoli pizza without the polluted water from the bay of naples, while the obsession itself continues to ripple outward. i miss that vibe, that moralistic hunt for authenticity. here in sweden we have a word “lågom” which is sort of like the greek golden mean but with a little less gold… a little more brass maybe. everything should be lågom; not too much , not too little. and when it is lågom, you stop struggling.

i think it is interesting when someone knows that their local tomatoes are awesome and make something that brings that out. my best pizza experiences were not in italy but france. again i made no note of the dome height because i was young and dumb, but i’ll never forget the lion’s mouth in white plaster that was the opening, or how a few black olives could flavor the whole pie. as a builder of ovens the best i can hope for is to help some restaurant owner provide experiences like that for their customers.

i think dome height should be played around with. but i can see that a golden proportion might balance combustion chamber with baking box. the flames might need a certain volume to achieve their full flowering. the bell needs a certain height to accumulate heat. a lower vault might be an easier grind for less experienced pizzaiolos, but waste wood. i’m sure we’ll find out because you guys are on the case…

for building low-mass domes i think the best system will be either geodesic plates or tongue-and-groove bricks (maybe vaulted in both directions) and then a mortar/castable that can handle thicker joints to scoop up the little variations that arise a one gets higher up. real small ovens can be built just about any old which way. but a big, low, low-mass dome has to be built with some care , some technique, and maybe a metal strap.

best,
john
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Last modified: September 29, 2013, by norbert
Created: September 28, 2013, by norbert