Grab a cup of coffee or your favorite summer refresher as this will likely take a while.
Naples is calling me. I can’t help it no matter how hard I try to resist.
I really mean it. Over the past several years I have endeavored to produce the finest pizza, irrespective of cost or complexity, which I was capable of. After hundreds if not thousands of pizzas I finally have found what I was looking for. A pizza worthy of being called Raquel, Sophia, pftaylor’s or whatever anyone would like to label my perfect pizza as. I’m finally there due to the synergy of knowledge, humility, passion, intense curiosity, stubbornness, and frankly having the proper tools. I now understand I couldn’t get there without all the above. All these facets needed to ferment together slowly before the truth was revealed. So how did it happen?
Well not so fast my friend. First, some history to provide proper context for my comments. My intention for sharing is simple; hopefully my journey will serve as guidepost of sorts to others for what it takes. We’ll get to the end and see how we did.
I started out making pizza at home by following my Italian Grandmother Quagliariello’s recipe. It was all I knew about making pizza in the home. She was from the Province of Avellino which is in the Campania region. As such, no one and I mean no one, questioned why she did what she did. She just did it. We were all grateful because the pizza was delicious. I was lucky to get her to share her recipe with me before she died because it wasn’t written down. The recipe is still on this forum somewhere.
The next big breakthrough occurred after buying the TEC grill and then joining this forum to affiliate with others regarding our passion for pizza. As I began collaborating with the membership here, Pete-zza primarily, I quickly learned while Grandmothers may know best, mine didn’t with respect to pizza. I learned the family recipe had all sorts of defects and workarounds like adding Carnation malt to the mix to add flavor. All was not a failure as the real take home lesson was simply this; I learned how to make pizza from the ground up.
Grandma Quagliariello would never buy supermarket pizza. Heck, she hated buying pizzeria pizza. So she chose to make pizza from scratch because she believed in her pizza. I use to sit with her in amazement as she hand mixed the flour in the shape of Mt. Vesuvius carefully pouring the ingredients in the middle one after the other. I’m certain that’s where my desire to hand-craft pizza came from. I’m also certain that’s where my stubborn streak came from as well. In my case, being stubborn can be as much a blessing as it is a curse.
I was born in NY and both sets of my Grandparents lived in NY which meant I was exposed to coal-fired pizza regularly during my childhood. So it was natural that I migrated to a coal-fired standard as my primary reference point as I grew older and moved further and further away from ground zero. I even bought the ridiculously expensive TEC grill ($2K) for the express purpose of making coal-fired oven pizza. I didn’t have much success before joining this forum making authentic coal-fired pie. My goal for joining then was to first figure out what was wrong and then faithfully reverse engineer the elite coal-fired pizza of NYC.
My favorite was Patsy’s Pizza. So I started the Patsy’s Pizza Reverse Engineering thread which is still on this forum. Fellow member varasano chimed in proclaiming his love for Patsy’s and we went about the task of producing a Patsy’s pizza. But then something tragic happened for me. Maybe not for varasano because the Patsy’s standard, on a good day, is still his target according to newspaper accounts. I quickly found out I could make a better pizza than what Patsy’s was capable of. How did this happen? What was I to do? What would be my goal if I had exceeded what I thought was the finest example of pizza on the planet? Thinking back, it was a painful time for me pizza wise.
I then decided to set my eyes on my own personal standard which I named Pizza Raquel in its American guise and Pizza Sophia in its Italian guise. I decided to no longer take as gospel what others had to say about pizza. It was time for me to go it alone. To take what I knew and come up with a new standard. So I stopped all my participation in various reverse engineering efforts and focused on making my best pizza. Not a clone of someone else’s style. That’s why I steadfastly refuse to allow Pizza Raquel to be called a NY Style pizza, or Pizza Sophia to be called Neapolitan. Because they weren’t and aren’t either of those styles. I just can’t see myself wanting to perfectly reproduce let’s say a Naples based Margherita with bufala. It just couldn’t be as good as they make it in Naples. Why? Well, I’m sure the cheese is delivered fresh daily whereas I would have to wait days to get it. That’s just one dimension of my reasoning as to why I wouldn’t want to produce a Neapolitan pizza or any other style. I just want to produce the best I’m capable of with what’s available to me and maximum freshness has to be part of it.
See, the only standard I adhere to is what I can personally see, hear, feel, and observe as being better. Not what someone else says is better but better as defined in being producible my kitchen in Tampa. Frankly, I have borrowed a lot from other styles but none more so than the Neapolitan one which is where most folks think modern pizza came from to begin with. But even so, I still initially found fault with trying to reproduce a Neapolitan pizza – after all it was just another man’s pizza in my eyes.
Make no mistake, I really wanted to embrace authentic Neapolitan pizza because of the teaching of pizzanapoletana and the sense that Neapolitans do it right. However, its not as easy as it sounds. Neapolitan pizza is the hardest style to get right. I ran into significant difficulty making a great Neapolitan pie relative to the success I was enjoying with my NY based reverse engineering efforts. So naturally I migrated towards success and shied away from bad results. It confounded me that others at the time claimed how easy Caputo was to work with while I struggled mightily. I now realize my pizza palette and attention to detail is perhaps not as forgiving as some others. What others may have defined as great would not be for me.
Further, I learned the hard way Caputo based pies really weren’t meant for my grill, low, medium or even high heat. Yet I knew from the teachings of pizzanapoletana that it “should” be the best flour for high heat baking. So was the problem with me or with everyone else? That is where humility came into play. As advanced as I thought my pizza making skills were, they weren’t enough to make a killer Caputo pie on a grill. Caputo based pies may work okay in high heat gas or electric environments to a degree but not well enough for me. But Lord knows I tried with the TEC. The defects were too overwhelming in my book. This led me to building the venerable Raquel Oven. I felt an ultra-low domed wood-fired oven could produce a better pizza regardless of style. Since I didn’t have a roadmap to guide where I was going I needed the Raquel Oven producing perfectly uniform heat whether it’s humming along at 600F or blazing away at a thousand. So I can really produce any style I want without fear. But in the back of my mind I knew I wanted another crack at Caputo.
What I learned about wood-fired baking other flours like high gluten or bread is they simply don’t hold up quite as well as they did on the TEC. 800F on the TEC produces a crisp crust. 800F in the Raquel Oven produces a crunchy crust. I would call that a defect. Others may prefer it, which is why every type of pizza is valid if you enjoy it and why I don’t force my personal preferences on anyone else. But for me, crunch is best left for crackers.
Then I began experimenting with blended flour combinations of Italian 00 and harder bread or high gluten flours. What I determined here is that once again the Neapolitans have it right more than they have it wrong. My last few batches of blended flours have been good bordering on great. But the 100% Italian 00 flour based crusts have been stupendous. Both Caputo and San Felice I might add. They have proven to be the superior flours for my style of pizza. Which is decidedly un-Neapolitan but which borrows more concepts from Neapolitan pizza than any other.
What’s going on here? For years I tried to make crusts with 00 flour and struggled to even make a competent crust and now I think I’ve mastered it? Yeah that’s right. It’s that simple. No really I mean it. How can I say that with a straight face you ask?
Pizzanapoletana that’s how.
He has laid out in painstakingly precise detail how to make an authentic Neapolitan pizza. It is only now with enough understanding of his teachings and the right tools that I can use his recommendations. It took a high temperature wood fired oven and the Santos fork kneader before Caputo submitted. It was a battle of wills for years and I finally got there with heaping helpings of passion and curiosity.
So my curiosity led to years of experimentation with every possible mixing regimen down countless rabbit holes. What did I learn? All paths led me right back to the feet of pizzanapoletana. He was right all along. I’m glad I finally decided to submit to pizzanapoletana’s teaching around dough management because if you think about it, who else makes better crusts? The truth is the ancient way of making dough, coupled with a fork kneader is the proven approach. I tried to improve upon it and couldn’t. So with total humility, I can honestly state the best pizza crust I’m capable of making requires:
- Low dome oven wood-fired at a certain temperature range
- Fork kneader mixing certain ingredients in a specific sequence
- Natural starter to produce an avalanche of flavor in the crust
- Long fermentation at certain temperatures
Now if I could just get pizzanapoletana to consider a 15” form factor. There I go again…
So without further ado, here is the revised Pizza Raquel Formulary taking all my experiences and chunking it down into what should be a familiar guideline:
Pizza RaquelBaker's Weight Ingredients &
Simply Everything You’d Want
Percentage (oz/g) Descriptive Comment(s)
100.0% 58.21/1650 Sifted Flour – Caputo/San Felice Pizzeria
060.6% 35.27/1000 Water – Purified, Bottled, Anything but Tap
003.0% 1.76/50 Ischia Starter – Fully Activated
02.73% 1.59/45 Sicilian Sea Salt – Finely Cut Suggested Preparation Steps
1 - Dissolve salt in water. Dissolve starter in brine. Add one half of flour
2 - Turn kneader on continuously during the double stage kneading process
3 - 1st Stage Knead: Slowly sprinkle remaining flour for 10 minutes incorporating wet & dry ingredients completely
4 - 2nd Stage Knead: 15 minutes to build gluten structure
5 - Turn kneader off, cover bowl. Give Raquel a 15 minute beauty rest
6 - Turn kneader on for one full revolution. Dough texture should appear finished
7 - Remove dough from bowl. Punch & fold on bench until very springy. Shape into bulk ball & place in covered bowl to begin double stage rise process
8 - 1st Stage Rise: 15 hours at 66F
9 - Divide & shape into balls & cover
10 - 2nd Stage Rise: 3 hours at 66F