Author Topic: Pizza Raquel  (Read 197214 times)

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Offline pftaylor

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Pizza Raquel
« Reply #480 on: March 02, 2008, 12:05:28 PM »
It’s Time

We’ll see.

This reminds me of the movie Charlie Wilson’s War, in which a story was told about a village boy who was given a horse as a gift. The village people said oh, how nice. The Zen master in the village said we’ll see.

One day the boy was thrown from the horse and broke his leg. The villagers all said oh, how terrible. The Zen master said, we’ll see.

Then war broke out and the boy wasn’t able to fight due to his broken leg. The villagers all said oh, how wonderful. The Zen master said we’ll see…

The time has come to finally take the last major step I can think of in order to create the best pizza I'm capable of. After this I will have no more excuses, other than my limited knowledge of pizza, for not producing my best. The challenge before me is finally within my grasp. It is the last leg of the climb up the most difficult part of the mountain. The sheerest of cliffs lay before me on my way to ascending the apex of my mythical pizza mountain. Only now I will finally have the right tools to make it to the top.

We’ll see.

From where I stand I can barely make out the profiles of the legends who have managed to climb to the top before me; pizzanapoletana, Bill/SFNM, Bianco, Shango, Sumeri, Molinaro, and Jonny Goldsmith to name a few. While there are no doubt others, I do not know them well enough to make judgments about their dedication to pizza. I understand nearly the entire city of Naples is as obsessive about pizza as I. One day soon I will experience the natal epicenter of pizza. What I do know about the esteemed group mentioned above is they have all committed to optimizing their interpretation of what pizza is to them. For some, it is recreating Neapolitan pizza. For others, such as me, it is to create a new standard which combines the best elements of several styles. I refuse to make another man’s pizza because they say it’s the best. My path is based solely on seeing better results achieved in my setting.   

No more compromises. No more excuses. This is it. The final leg of the journey. No longer will I have to convince myself that my efforts are just as good as the real thing. With the Raquel Oven nearly complete, and inadequacies of the TEC grill long behind me, I stand ready for the last piece of the puzzle to come together. It has been one hell of a ride.

Upon reflection, I don’t know why “good enough” wasn’t when it came to Pizza Raquel. As an example, I tried just as hard to break 80 in golf but I never had to have the best equipment when I finally accomplished that goal. I never really had the burning sensation that I was missing something when a manufacturer introduced the latest and greatest technology. I just figured I needed to practice a little more. For me, pizza is different somehow. With Pizza Raquel, I have to remove all doubt. I have to know what is possible.

It is true the Raquel Oven still needs its permanent vent and cosmetics to be finished. But that fact is hardly holding me back at this point. Fact is the Raquel Oven produces perfectly uniform bakes at any reasonable temperature. Raquel is after all, one lady who requires and deserves the best of the best. For when she gets dressed up, there is no better feeling than having a pure American beauty on your arm. I have found this hobby costs real money to do it right. I just can’t go cheap at any juncture unless I happen to find some super premium ingredient on sale. Even then I tend to load up and spend more money than planned. It is the difference between glitz and glamour. Paris Hilton vs. Raquel. For me, Raquel is all glamour. 

From the beginning I have humbly stated I would invest whatever money was necessary to produce the finest pizza I was capable of. In order to do that, I found I needed to have the finest equipment available. Cost-no-object was my mantra. Combined with the formidable knowledge I have gleamed from pizzamaking.com’s gargantuan knowledge base, I should now be able to fully reach my goal. Life is too short to compromise.

We’ll see.

Along the way I made certain investment choices based upon a sequencing of perceived necessity which I thought was correct. In the beginning I knew I had to solve the riddle of high heat first and thought I did so with the TEC infra-red grill. I joined pizzamaking.com knowing the elite coal-fired pizzerias of NY baked pies at 800 degrees and I was intent on hitting that plateau. The TEC indeed did a fine job of producing prodigious amounts of heat. In the end though, it turned out to be the ideal way to grill meats but not pizza. For grilling pizza I had to make compromises and that bothered me for some reason. Truth be told, I haven’t been quite able to put my finger on why it bothers me so. I can’t seem to do anything about it but I can recognize it. I learned the hard way my grill can only approximate a coal-fired oven. For some, it is good enough. For me, it was pure torture.

When the facts were revealed that a coal-fired pie was substandard on so many levels for my purposes, I literally shed a tear. How could I have been so wrong? I spent the better part of my life believing a coal-fired oven was the way to go. It was all I knew since I was a boy. Up to that point I never had a wood-fired pie which was worth a plug nickel. Imagine my utter surprise when I met Chris Bianco. I thought he might have been a charlatan like others in the pizza business who profess ultimate quality and attention to detail but in reality, leverage the wood-fired oven as a marketing gimmick.

The one universal truth I think I know about this hobby is once you think you know something; you don’t. Plain and simple. There is always an exception and in this case it is fellow member November. When he knows something, take it to the bank. It is perhaps the reason why Pete-zza’s tag line “always learning” resonates so well for me. It is the reason why I have to be open minded on so many facets of this hobby. For if I was close minded, I wouldn’t be making the best pizza I’m capable of right now and adhering to the concept of “we’ll see.”

I’ve gotten Raquel to where she is by taking a method and trying it. If it failed, I’ve admitted it frankly, and tried another. But by all available means, I’ve tried something. My pizza making has only gotten better once I understood the de facto principles involved.  It takes time. It takes patience. It takes practice. Repetition is the mother of learning when it comes to artisanal pizza making. That’s why I make only one type of crust; the best I’m capable of.

This brings me to the reason for this post. What is the one box, in my estimation, which still needs to be checked? For me since pizza is crust, perfect crust is not an option it is a requirement. Bubble-Burst crust is perfect for me, maybe not you, but I’ll take all I can get my greedy hands on. So the time is finally here to place an order for the Santos fork mixer.

The time is finally right to determine the impact of a fork mixer. It supposedly barely and imperceptibly raises the temperature of the dough. Nearly frictionless is my understanding. I could have bought the mixer months if not years ago, but the Gantt chart illustrating my chosen sequencing model determined it had to come after the wood-fired Raquel Oven and not before. A fork mixer before the right heat source made no sense. It would have tortured me in ways I couldn’t endure. Now however with the Raquel Oven, it does. I was sorely tempted when I was making pies in the TEC but I’ve stayed the course. Time to cash in and enjoy the spoils.

We’ll see.

Is the Santos “the” tool to produce the ultimate oxygenated dough? I’m hopeful but I’m also concerned like, scott r, about its reported speed of 70 rpm. My understanding is slower is better so I will have to incorporate it into the Raquel formulary and see. It should produce Raquel’s Bubble-Burst crust with aplomb even though it’s not at the magical 45 rpm. Meanwhile, I can’t bring myself to make another dough ball with the Kitchen Aid Professional 600. It has served me well enough when I was an infant pizza maker. It was a tremendous upgrade over the Artisan which came before it. But I’m now tortured by the technology of it. I have to know if the Santos is better.

We’ll see.

But is there a way to slow the Santos down? A bigger gear perhaps? Time will tell. That’s what I love about Raquel and this crazy hobby. Good enough just isn’t. We’ll have to see.
To quote Franklin D. Roosevelt “One thing is sure. We have to do something. We have to do the best we know how at the moment... If it doesn't turn out right, we can modify it as we go along.”

We’ll see.
« Last Edit: March 02, 2008, 03:05:13 PM by pftaylor »
Pizza Raquel is Simply Everything You’d Want.
www.wood-firedpizza.com


Offline widespreadpizza

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Re: Pizza Raquel
« Reply #481 on: March 02, 2008, 03:04:24 PM »
PFT,  glad to see you are making the leap,  you can let me know if it is worth it then :-D  I have used one of these on my bosch universal , and you can make it crawl if you want to,  what it does to the machine, is what I dont know.  good luck -marc


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Offline ray

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Re: Pizza Raquel
« Reply #482 on: March 09, 2008, 11:11:07 PM »
pft,

I see in your most recent instructions that you do not separate the dough into individual balls before placing in the fridge. Is this correct?

... I was thinking that since you are aiming for ever-increased consistency, you could determine the moisture content of your flour prior to use. Just run your home oven up to about 200F, weigh 10g or so flour on an accurate scale and put it in the oven for 90 minutes and weigh back.

Cheers,

Ray

Offline pftaylor

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Re: Pizza Raquel
« Reply #483 on: March 14, 2008, 11:34:04 PM »
ray,
Nice mark. The initial bulk rise, rather than dividing then rising, was a subtle change which actually benefited the Raquel Formulary. My thinking, and observed results, are that the ingredients are dispersed more uniformly in one ball than two or more. The net result is a more consistent level of robustness.

We may be talking about reaching the point of diminishing returns here but I can feel a slight improvement when stretching skins as thinly as I do.
Pizza Raquel is Simply Everything You’d Want.
www.wood-firedpizza.com

Offline ray

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Re: Pizza Raquel
« Reply #484 on: March 16, 2008, 09:48:13 AM »
pft,

Thanks for that clarification. I find I have a bit of trouble separating the dough into individual balls if I do the bulk rise. Specifically I am hesitant to re-form a single ball at that stage. Is handling the dough back into a ball before the 3 hour counter rest not unkind to the dough?

... while I'm here :-) I'd be interested to see how thing you are stretching your dough. Can u post a video or pics of that stage?

Thanks for your continued guidance! Today's effort went very nicely and I am getting more satisfied with the crust texture and flavor. My preferment is behaving well, and I think I will continue to use 25% bread flour and 75% high gluten.

Cheers,

Ray

ray,
Nice mark. The initial bulk rise, rather than dividing then rising, was a subtle change which actually benefited the Raquel Formulary. My thinking, and observed results, are that the ingredients are dispersed more uniformly in one ball than two or more. The net result is a more consistent level of robustness.

We may be talking about reaching the point of diminishing returns here but I can feel a slight improvement when stretching skins as thinly as I do.

Offline pftaylor

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Pizza Raquel
« Reply #485 on: March 16, 2008, 06:48:01 PM »
ray,
I posted a couple of short videos on the proper technique for shaping and stretching Pizza Raquel.
Here are the YouTube Links:

Shaping -
Stretching -

Also, I took a few photos of my pizza making process and a few of the ingredients. I have finally found my favorite tomatoes and cheese. The key to a good sauce from canned tomatoes, for me, is found in the ingredient list which I took a close-up of. No tomato juice. While not trying to speak in absolutes, I have never found a brand of canned tomatoes worth their salt when the tomatoes swim in tomato juice.

The cheese is a new brand which holds up to the high heat of the Raquel Oven and doesn't require the addition of any salt to taste good. It comes pre-sliced to boot.

Finally, the key to a stupendous pie is the skill of the pizzaiola. Check out the help I have to make the best pies in the world...
« Last Edit: March 16, 2008, 09:38:46 PM by pftaylor »
Pizza Raquel is Simply Everything You’d Want.
www.wood-firedpizza.com

Offline pftaylor

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Pizza Raquel
« Reply #486 on: March 16, 2008, 06:54:06 PM »
Final photographs.

Killer Chorizo sausage, carmelized onions, mushrooms & garlic.

The Nutella pie was a knock-off of the Campania dessert pie with even more goodness - it was cranked up a few notches with the addition of chocolate covered cherries.

Oh yeah, the women went crazy. Guys too.
« Last Edit: March 16, 2008, 09:40:45 PM by pftaylor »
Pizza Raquel is Simply Everything You’d Want.
www.wood-firedpizza.com

Offline Pete-zza

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Re: Pizza Raquel
« Reply #487 on: March 16, 2008, 07:37:19 PM »
pft,

That was a great sequence of videos and photos. You have just about perfected every aspect of the Raquel experience.

Peter

Offline DWChun

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Re: Pizza Raquel
« Reply #488 on: March 16, 2008, 08:09:35 PM »
Wonderful pictures and video clips, pftaylor. Thanks so much for sharing them. I actually use the Pastene brand of tomatoes as well, though I can't get the "Italian Peeled Tomatoes" in my area. I have access only to the "Italian Tomatoes" variety and unfortunately it does use tomato juice. However, I have found Pastene to be superior(for my tastes) to the other canned tomatoes I can buy locally.

Great looking pizzas as usual. :)


DW

Offline ray

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Re: Pizza Raquel
« Reply #489 on: March 17, 2008, 03:39:53 AM »
pft,

That was awesome! The videos answered a lot of questions for me (after I got around the block that was apparently imposed on youtube here a few days ago).

I see now that I still have considerable experience to acquire before I can begin to think I have properly mastered the techniques and instruction you have supplied via this thread! Thanks very much again for your careful and specific guidance! And your helper is quite alluring (and I'm choosing words carefully in order to stay out of trouble!  ;) )!

Still a dearth of canned tomato choices here, but I am a bit fortunate to now have some fresh mozz choices, including bufala. I'm thinking of making a sauce with fresh golden yellow tomatoes that I am seeing now at the farmer's market, I threw some atop a pizza a few weeks ago and they roasted nicely, imparting a memorable flavor.

One more current question: what is your fridge temp?

Cheers,

Ray

p.s. I think I need a higher ceiling!



Offline pftaylor

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Re: Pizza Raquel
« Reply #490 on: March 23, 2008, 08:04:45 AM »
ray,
Glad I could help.

I primarily use a cold rise for Pizza Raquel as indicated by the latest Raquel formulary. A secondary refrigerator is used for this purpose and it is maintained at the warmest setting possible.

The recorded temperatures ranged anywhere from 37.5 degrees to 40.5 depending on shelf chosen. The lower shelf naturally had the cooler temperature.

From time to time I do modify the Raquel formulary for a 24 - 28 hour controlled temperature rise. I typically utilize a small wine cooler which is maintained at approximately 64 - 66 degrees for this purpose. Truth be told I'm torn between the two methods because they each result in very different doughs - as would be expected.

That said, I consider Pizza Raquel to be my culmination of the best available thinking on artisanal pizza making. Pizza Raquel really doesn't fit easily into anyone category. It's roots are clearly seated in New York but she also contains elements of:
- Neapolitan style
- California style
- pftaylor style

Pizza Sophia, which I do not write about enough, is really my interpretation of authentic Neapolitan pizza fine-tuned to my artisanal tastes (i.e., Sophia is 14" - 16" instead of the traditional 10" -12" size). Sophia differs from Raquel in the following ways:
- A 24 - 28 hour controlled/room temperature rise instead of a 2+ day cold rise,
- 100% use of Italian 00 flour instead of various blends of high gluten, bread & 00,
- 100% natural starter instead of supplementation with IDY,
- Higher hydration
- Limited topping combinations

Some of the most flavorful crusts I have ever made were done so with the Sophia formulary but they were also the most problematic. Pizza Sophia is just like her namesake; beautiful but somewhat more tempermental and difficult to handle. Also, I just don't like the Super Soft crust of Sophia as much as I do the Bubble Burst crust of Raquel.
Pizza Raquel is Simply Everything You’d Want.
www.wood-firedpizza.com

Offline ray

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Re: Pizza Raquel
« Reply #491 on: March 29, 2008, 07:34:50 AM »
pft,

Thanks again for your continuing guidance.

I ran around a bit last weekend in search of a flour sifter. And finally found one, of Japanese manufacture!

Made a batch of dough last Sunday evening, and the first pizza attempt Thursday seemed to show improved handling results which I attribute to the sifting.

I'll make 2 more pizzas tomorrow, that'll hopefully show further proof that my siftng has made a positive difference.

... I know my fridge is quite cold -- I'll think about how to more closely simulate your temps.

Although I know my lukewarm gas oven cannot directly compare with your lovely equipment, I am at least producing something fairly palatable!

Cheers,

Ray

Offline pftaylor

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Pizza Raquel
« Reply #492 on: March 30, 2008, 09:05:36 PM »
I enjoy this hobby immensely despite its many challenges. Some of those challenges are uncontrollable in nature and are therefore the most frustrating for me. Experience tells me making the best pie I'm capable of on a consistent basis requires a blend of the right knowledge and the proper tools.

I believe in having the right tools because I've personally seen the favorable impact of what they can do. I know my pizza making has exponentially improved with the tools I now have and I'm making an all-out pursuit for the final missing pieces.

Truth be told, I've made some pretty good pies along the way without having the finest tools available. But for me, it's always been about achieving the last few percent of what's attainable. I will not stop until I get there. A reasonable metaphor for my reasoning is; I don't want to be like the carpenter whose only tool was a hammer. Everything looked like a nail as a result.

The right skill and the right tools are essential to get to the level that I know I'm capable of. I know, or at least I think I do, that stupendous pizza really is consistently achievable and I plan on getting there as often as I can. To do that requires the right tools. This brings me to the reason for this post.

I need to vent a little frustration. While I've never been accused of having the patience of Job, I'm running into a streak of bad luck sourcing the remaining tools. Let's see, where should I begin?

Ahh, how about with the Princess International ThermoKool MR-138 unit which has the capability to optimize the preparedness of the array of starters I've been nursing for the past few years. But it appears I'll have to use my less than optimal current protocol for a while longer. The MR-138 is on backorder until late April at the earliest. Of course, I could buy a unit almost as good. The MR-128 has slightly smaller capacity and not quite as accurate temperature controls but it is readily available.

But those who know me know “good enough” isn’t when it comes to Pizza Raquel. No, I refuse to reduce my expectations at this juncture and prefer to wait until stock is replenished. As the Zen Master once said, we’ll see.

Then there’s the sob story behind the Santos fork kneader which is supposed to put bigger bubbles in Raquel’s Bubble Burst crust. Where do I begin with this one? The Santos fork kneader is as good as it gets for us residential pizza makers. There is not a suitable substitute as far as I can tell from months of Goggling the subject. I suppose I could order a table-top Pietro Berto. But then I’d have to invite the entire neighborhood over each time I wanted to eat a few pies. The 25 liter capacity makes the unit completely incompatible for home pizza makers.

Here are the series of events since placing my order:
- I fully paid for a Santos unit on March 2nd from a reputable internet dealer.
- The internet dealer finally acknowledged the order after eight business days in their system. Kind of strange that a credit card payment just hangs around for so long but little did I realize what I was in store for.
- A total of four phone calls were necessary to get projected shipping status. Frustrated I attempted to take control by moving up the food chain to the distributor with some timely help from a moderator on this board.
- So I reached out to the North American distributor (located in Canada) and verified stock. The owner’s son promised he had two units in stock and he would set aside the one unit which looked in better shape just for me. I was told my unit would ship to their NY based warehouse first and then on to me. Should take five to six business days he said.
- With fingers crossed, I called the dealer back. They appreciated the help but were being told a different story. They were told eight to twelve weeks by the same distributor though at a different level in the organization. Additionally they were told the Santos might be discontinued by the end of Q2.
- Frustrated, I called for the owner’s son and my call went unanswered for a couple of days so I decided to climb higher on the food chain and speak with the owner. Much to my surprise I was able to secure his cell phone. An even greater surprise occurred when he answered my call. I had to explain my situation and he promised to call me back the next day.
- He thought another dealer had a unit available in Chicago and he would try to secure it for me. Multiple followup calls later, that didn’t work out.
- Then he thought there was a unit available in Toronto. Multiple followup calls later, that didn’t work out either.
- Meanwhile the dealer tried not once but twice to substitute an Anvil 10 quart spiral mixer. Multiple calls and emails were required to finally kill this idea.
- Now I’m told the unit will be shipped by air. I’m told I should have it by next Friday.

The Zen Master in me thinks “we’ll see.”
Pizza Raquel is Simply Everything You’d Want.
www.wood-firedpizza.com

Offline David

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Re: Pizza Raquel
« Reply #493 on: March 30, 2008, 09:58:17 PM »
Ebay - 10 Quart Dough Mixer, Kneader by Santos Item number: 7543533110

Buy it now price $1160 @ Hartford Restaurant Supply
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Offline scott r

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Re: Pizza Raquel
« Reply #494 on: March 30, 2008, 10:43:33 PM »
Believe it or not there are not any in stock in the US right now.  Everyone advertising them (including the guy in the ebay link) is just going to order it from france when they get the money.  I talked to him a few weeks ago.  It was really funny when I had two different dealers ask me if I knew a Pete from florida who was also calling about a santos.  We were both barking up the same trees on the same day!

Offline pftaylor

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Pizza Raquel
« Reply #495 on: April 03, 2008, 08:23:53 PM »
David,
The guy on ebay has to indicate he has stock otherwise ebay will not accept the ad. He knows he is bending the rules but then again, no one else has the Santos either.

Anyway, I have eight guests coming over Sunday so I needed some practice. The Raquel Pizza Specific Oven was really a joy to use tonight. Ultra fast heat up times with a minimum of wood is something I'll never get tired of. No doubt the four inches of high tech insulation all the way around has something to do with it. Not to mention the computer aided design which optimizes air circulation for a perfectly uniform bake at whatever temperature I want. When the entire dome gets engulfed with flames it is something to see.

My son calls it a spectacle.

My wife calls it outright dangerous.

I call it the Raquel Oven at it's finest...

The last shot is of Raquel's Bubble Burst skin.
 
The flour was King Arthur Special.
Pizza Raquel is Simply Everything You’d Want.
www.wood-firedpizza.com

Offline ray

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Re: Pizza Raquel
« Reply #496 on: April 05, 2008, 10:38:48 AM »
What time shall I arrive Sunday?  ;)

Lovely pictures, as usual!

Cheers,

Ray

Offline pftaylor

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Pizza Raquel
« Reply #497 on: April 05, 2008, 07:10:39 PM »
Hey ray, we have plenty of room at Chez Taylor. Just one rule you may want to be aware of; come hungry. I mean ravenously so. We do not tolerate guests who claim “we didn’t think there would be enough so we stopped by McDonalds on the way.” That will get the offender thrown into the pool – which might not be a bad thing since the weather is so nice this time of year.

As I patiently await delivery of the elusive Santos fork mixer, I wanted to share my personal perspective on wood-fired ovens. Now this post is not intended to be a treatise on wood-fired ovens though it is quite long. Nor is it an attack on or in support of, any wood-fired oven builder, company, buy vs. build decisioning, design, style, domestic or international type, etc. I just want to share some of what I think I’ve learned from my recent journey over the past couple of years of information gathering tempered with real life observations. Here goes nothing.

The wood-fired oven business is chocked full of purveyors who claim to offer the best of the best, no matter what your application, and with little objective information to back up any of their claims. Therefore, it pays to be an educated buyer if that’s the way you choose to go. Even then you run the risk of making a poor decision because you don’t know what you don’t know. There are so many dimensions one needs to consider in order to make a quality decision. Becoming a wood burning oven owner is a complex decision. 

Along the way I’ve spoken with perhaps a dozen or so manufacturers and nearly as many pizzeria owners who own wood-fired ovens, not to mention home oven owners. As a group they are some of the nicest people I have ever encountered. Pizza people are special whether they are enthusiasts or professionals. That doesn’t mean they aren’t biased but most everyone was helpful and willingly shared their knowledge. Oven choices are almost endless though; assembled, unassembled, built on site, cast, build your own from plans, palletized kits, dual fuel gas-assisted, infra-red, commercial, residential, to name a few. So it pays to be as informed as possible. The goal is to make a wise enough decision so that you don’t need to replace it under normal circumstances. Ideally it is a once in a lifetime decision.

Most oven companies seem to be quite sure they produce the best oven and are even surer that the “other” guy doesn’t. Doesn’t mean they are correct, just means they are typically not shy about sharing their opinion. Yet how do they really know? How does anyone know? The factual answer is they likely don’t. They’re guessing based on their experience. Maybe that’s why most manufacturers are secretive about what they do and how they do it.

But the important question is; what is the best oven for your specific requirements.

Most manufacturers aren’t large conglomerates rather they seem to be dominated by family run small businesses. As such they don’t need to conquer the world, they just want to produce what they produce and live a reasonable life. They offer honest products at honest prices. They don’t necessarily want to do anything else for it is their way of life. That is where the pride angle comes into play which leads to sometimes questionable claims which can’t be verified easily if at all.

What I do know is that the traditional wood-fired oven as we know it is ripe to be dramatically improved by the application of new technology. It’s happening sporadically right now. My guess is newer technology is trickling down today and in the near future, the flood gates will be opened by entrepreneurs who recognize an honest-to-goodness opportunity when they see one.

There is no doubt that the latest refractory materials, when used correctly, can produce superior results in most, if not all, settings. But most oven builders are not exactly risk takers. It takes an open mind to want to incorporate something new when the old way of doing things isn’t exactly broken. Lots of ovens bake pizza well. Some do it better than others. But I’m convinced that if most of the manufacturers started out with a fresh, clean sheet of paper today, they wouldn’t build what they are currently offering.

The pace of innovation in the refractory space, outside the oven building business, is so rapid that even an oven manufacturer whose designs are only a few years or so old would be obsolete compared to what is available today. The convergence of knowledge is intruding into wood-fired oven design because it has to. It is inevitable.

It reminds me of the movie Other People’s Money, where Danny DeVito plays a Private Equity raider. He describes to shareholders of a financially ailing company that companies must continuously innovate or be run over and go out of business. The example he used was the last company to produce a buggy whip. They must have produced the best buggy whip ever made because they outlasted every other competitor he said. Nonetheless, they went out of business too because they didn’t innovate and catch the winds of change. Not much need for a buggy whip when someone owns a car he said.

I can’t help but draw the comparison of buggy whips to wood-fired ovens, especially in a residential setting. This in part explains my particular journey. Rather than try and force a commercial oven to work for my intended use, or accept the current crop of residential ovens, I built my own. Mind you, commercial ovens are fundamentally not that much different than residential ovens but they are generally built better. But they may not be suitable for residential use. From my experience however, they may not be any more innovative or up to date though.

The Raquel Oven was designed with innovation woven into its genetic core. Granted, I had the luxury of starting with a clean sheet of paper. Clearly Raquel benefitted greatly from the inexorable pace of technological improvement. My goal was to push the envelope of what was possible in residential oven construction and design. Not what was the norm. Not to see if we could imitate. But the mandate was to break new ground.

In the design phase, we challenged every single assumption my master builder had accumulated over his twenty some odd years of practical experience building ovens. Not an easy task nor always a comfortable one since he is mechanical engineer by trade and is a subject matter expert in most all things refractory. To be told by a lay person such as myself, “that’s not good enough, we can do better” had its risks but thankfully he did have an open mind and that’s all I asked for and needed. That is why Raquel’s vent is not yet completed. While we are close, we have so far scrapped two designs and think we’ve nailed the third. If not, we’re going back to the drawing board. Plain and simple.

The fact that we had access to state-of-the-art computer technology didn’t hurt either. The technology I’m referring to is not used for building pizza ovens as far as I can tell. I sincerely doubt any oven manufacturer has access to what we did since it is used to create commercial refractory solutions which costs millions if not tens of millions of dollars.

But that is how innovation sometimes occurs. I can see one day soon where an existing manufacturer or perhaps someone in a related field, who gets smitten by wood-burning oven pizza, applies what they know in new ways with new materials. Eventually they will produce a new design which incorporates the latest and greatest technology which improves the process and produces a demonstrably better result. It will happen sooner rather than later.

Since I’m a residential user, I’ve restricted my focus to that setting but the fact remains that traditional building materials are so far outclassed these days it’s not even a fair comparison anymore. When one considers the breakthroughs with insulation materials the comparison is even more tilted in the favor of newer is better.

As an example, just a couple of nights ago the Raquel Oven was blazing away at ultra high temperatures and the outer surface of the dome was actually cool to the touch. In fact, the laser gun registered ambient temperature and no more. What does that mean? Well, for me it means a few things; dramatically reduced consumption of wood, shorter heat up times, a safer environment for unsuspecting guests who all seem to want to touch the exterior for some reason. In short it means that the new technology performed as intended.

Now I know I need to be careful with my statements about efficiency because there are other technologies and designs out there which recycle the exhaust and reduce fuel consumption by a multiple of my chimney based design. But, I chose to not go in that direction.

In summary, while I’ve only been baking wood-fired pizza for a short time here’s what I’ve observed from my experience. Whether you build your own or buy one off the shelf, you can bake killer pizza. But there are a few key thoughts to keep in mind:

- A low dome oven is unequivocally better suited for pizza applications than a high dome. Raquel’s dome is less than 13”. So far I have uniformly baked pizzas made from 00 flours, bread flours, and high gluten flours with equally impressive results. Most domestic manufacturers don’t make low dome ovens. Only a handful of international ones do.

- The slope and shape of the dome is critical to ensuring a uniform bake and even internal temperatures. Round is better than rectangular.

- What separates a wood-fired oven from all others is the live flame component which bathes a pizza with a third type of heat other ovens either don’t have or don’t have enough of.

- Insulation is like money; you can never have too much. But proper insulation can reduce excessive wood costs. Much like the Fram oil filter commercials of yesteryear, you can either pay me now or later…

- Short start-up times can be vitally important for residential oven users like myself. The other night I fired the Raquel Oven to operating temperatures in just a smidge over an hour and a half. Flat out pegged the laser gun all over the oven dome. The deck was in the mid eight hundred degree range. I was so happy I was giggling at the results. Less firing time equals less wood consumption which equals more efficiency. For a residential pizza maker, this may be the single most important aspect since we typically bring an oven up from a completely cold start. Pizzerias, on the other hand, can keep an oven charged overnight and this aspect is therefore not as important to them.

- If you are considering buying a fully constructed oven, make sure you understand all the costs and the impact associated with locating it in its final position. Pizza ovens are huge and cannot fit through a typical doorway. Double doors maybe, but not a single door. Plan accordingly.

- Bigger isn’t always better but neither is smaller. I may have lucked out with a 43” diameter cooking deck. It is the sweet spot for home pizza baking in my opinion. Much smaller and the fire could interfere. A larger size really doesn’t get you any more of what you really need. Funny thing, most of the manufacturers advertise how many pies can be loaded at one time. For me, that is a totally irrelevant factor since I bake one at a time. Yet, most of them describe their oven that way. Must be commercial issue…

- Building your own oven is not for everybody. It may not save you time or money. Heck, it may not even work correctly. Weigh this decision carefully. Are you handy with tools? Have you ever worked with cement before?

- Seasoned hard wood is an absolute necessity to bake pizza properly. Properly seasoned wood has the right humidity content to produce exquisitely bubbled crust. The harder the wood, the longer it takes to season. Here in Tampa I am fortunate to have an abundance of Live Oak which burns really hot (one of the highest BTU ratings of any wood) if seasoned correctly or really cold if not. Do not skimp here. It can make a real difference. Buy more than what you need, store it properly, and let father time be your friend.

- Proper oven tools are also highly desirable; a shovel, a brush, and a couple of different sized and shaped peels make all the difference.

- Why go through the expense of building or buying a wood-fired oven? Simply put, it is the ultimate method of pizza baking. Remember, I come from the land of coal fired pizza. Nothing else, not even coal fired pizza comes close in my experience. Perhaps I’m biased but I base this on my personal progression of baking pizza in a home oven (though never modifying the cleaning cycle), and then baking pizza on an 800 degree grill. I won’t explain here in succinct details why those approaches are compromised but suffice to say, my pizza just tastes better in a wood-fired oven and I’d bet your will as well. A residential wood-fired oven is therefore an investment. I consider it an investment of a lifetime. For all I know, it might add to the resale value of one’s home whenever that fateful time comes.

- Be a good citizen and invite your neighbors over for pizza. You’d be surprised how pizza can forge friendships.

- If you are thinking about opening a pizzeria, and you have limited or no experience, please consider hiring a consultant. They will pay for themselves many times over.

Finally, wood-fired ovens are like a fine precision tool. They take time to understand and use properly but the payoff is undeniable. Pizza bliss. Though I’m still learning, I can think of nothing else which has brought the amount of pure satisfaction to me that the Raquel Pizza Specific Wood-Fired Oven has.

Thanks for letting me share. I would be interested in comments and feedback from other forum members whether they be professionals or not. My altruistic goal is to help others make better pizza. I trust this post is a step in that direction.
pftaylor
Pizza Raquel is Simply Everything You’d Want.
www.wood-firedpizza.com

Offline November

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  • Come for the food. Stay for the science.
    • Uncle Salmon
Re: Pizza Raquel
« Reply #498 on: April 05, 2008, 08:30:02 PM »
Peter,

You are Walt Disney.

I had a friend nine years ago who worked for one of the contractors responsible for constructing Walt Disney World.  His particular assignments included the Mexico pavilion, and later the Norway pavilion, as well as "The Seas" pavilion all at Epcot.  He relayed to me an anecdote about how demanding and perfectionist Walt Disney was.  It's possible what he told me can be found elsewhere, but I haven't run across it.  The cement had to be trucked from several miles away allowing only a very small window to get the cement mixed at the plant and transported to the sites.  His top engineers and most trusted foremen would actually time the loads with stopwatches.  Although the cement was perfectly usable by everyone else's standards, an untold fortune of cement was rejected because it was "too old", sometimes "too old" only by a few minutes.

We all know how demanding The Walt Disney Company still is.  They're interested in pushing the envelope with new techniques and new technology to enhance the guest experience.  Walt never really cared how impossible the tasked seemed, it was all about moving forward (http://www.quoteworld.org/quotes/3733), and Epcot was the embodiment of that passion.  Because of the passion to innovate, I see Walt Disney's resemblance in your efforts.  You are Walt Disney.

As a pizza related side note, a couple years after that discussion took place and after I had seem him last, my friend ended up delivering a pizza to me to my surprise.  He was trying to earn extra money delivering pizzas while he returned to college to study nursing.

- red.november
« Last Edit: April 05, 2008, 08:36:22 PM by November »

Offline Bill/SFNM

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  • Posts: 4039
  • Location: Santa Fe, NM
Re: Pizza Raquel
« Reply #499 on: April 06, 2008, 09:37:50 AM »
- Seasoned hard wood is an absolute necessity to bake pizza properly. Properly seasoned wood has the right humidity content to produce exquisitely bubbled crust. The harder the wood, the longer it takes to season. Here in Tampa I am fortunate to have an abundance of Live Oak which burns really hot (one of the highest BTU ratings of any wood) if seasoned correctly or really cold if not. Do not skimp here. It can make a real difference. Buy more than what you need, store it properly, and let father time be your friend.

pftaylor,

Your posts are such great fun to read! I wish I were one of your neighbors.

Excellent point on the wood. I started using pecan wood since it was all I used in my BBQ pit. It could take 4-5 hours to fire-up from cold depending on the ambient temps (single digits in the winter). I then moved to a mixture of pecan and oak which was somewhat better. Now I am using all oak and it took 3 hours for the cold oven to start up yesterday morning with an ambient temp of 28F. Curious to see how it goes in the summer, although I'm at a disadvantage since wood burns cooler at high-altitude. One point about cooking with a live fire you forgot to mention: it is just a lot of pure fun!

Bill/SFNM


 

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