Disclaimer: To bake great pizza in a home oven requires a bit of experimentation for best results for your oven. Every home oven is different. This is what I have worked out for my home oven and my style of pizza. Your oven will be different. What works best for my oven may not work best for your oven or for your style of pizza.
My go to setup for baking pizzas in my home oven - an old, hacked together Fisher & Paykel electric with the broiler in the main compartment, which came with our rented house - consists of two stacked Middle Earth Natural Clay Pavers: Plain Paver - 330X330X42MM(PDF). The stack of tiles is set up in the oven so that the top surface of the tiles is about 12 cm from the broiler element.
When I am ready to bake pizzas, I turn the oven on to bake and set it to the highest heat setting and let the oven pre-heat for about 1 hour before baking. Then, just before I start to stretch my dough, I switch the oven to broil (my oven will not allow both bake and broil to be on at the same time) and wait for the broiler element to turn red. Then, I stretch the dough, place on a wooden peel, add toppings, and launch the pizza directly onto the stone.
My current go to pizza dough recipe is the Basic Country Bread recipe from Chad Robertson's Tartine Bread: just flour, water, salt, and leaven (from wild sourdough culture) at around 78% hydration (I suppose that would be about 80% total hydration if you account for the leaven which is at 100% hydration). I typically fold the dough once after 30 minutes, then bulk ferment in the fridge for 24 hours. After 24 hours, I divide the dough into 280g portions and place each portion in a separate container and place back in the fridge to ferment. I bake with the dough anywhere from a 2-4 day fermentation.
Tartine Bread: simplified recipe notes (I add an additional 80g of water with the salt.)
With the terracotta stones, bake times are typically between 7-8 minutes. There is enough heat in the oven that I can get decent puff on the cornicione, but there is very little to no char on the crust.
This is a problem. Char means flavour and crispness. We want a bit of char.
Enter the Lodge Pro-Logic P14P3 Cast Iron Pizza Pan.
I added the Lodge cast iron pizza pan to the stack of terracotta tiles in my oven. The terracotta tiles will add thermal mass, as the Lodge cast iron is only about 3mm thick. Cast iron has a higher heat transfer rate than stone, so it should provide better oven spring on the cornicione and better char on the crust.
Warning: The oven racks in my home oven are stout enough to handle the weight of the terracotta and cast iron. Not all home oven racks are as stout, but should be able to support the weight of, say, a 10kg turkey?
I turned the oven to bake and set to the highest temperature for one hour. Home oven temperatures are notoriously inaccurate. I always use an oven thermometer. My oven thermometer typically indicates a max of about 300C. This time, I used a thermocouple to test the accuracy of my oven thermometer. The thermocouple registered a maximum air temperature of 310C near the surface of the cast iron. That means my in oven thermometer is reasonably accurate.
I do not have a non-contact infrared thermometer (anyone have one I could borrow?), so I was not able to measure the surface temperature of the cast iron. In the meantime, I will have to go with air temps. Hmm... I may have a k-type surface probe somewhere. I'll have to look for it.
These pizzas were made with Tartine Basic Country Bread recipe at 78% hydration with a two day cold ferment. I took the 280g portions out of the fridge one hour before baking and shaped the dough balls about 30 minutes before stretching. The oven was pre-heated for one hour at the maximum bake setting and maxed out at around 310C. I switched the oven to broil and waited about 3 minutes for the broiler element to glow before I started stretching the dough.
The first pizza was a pizza Margherita with crushed tomatoes (drained), fresh mozzarella (squeezed to remove excess moisture), and fresh basil and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
The pizza was pulled from the oven when the first bits of the crust just turned black. The cook time for this pizza was 4 minutes 42 seconds. The pizza was placed on a cooling rack for two minutes before plating and cutting to preserve crispness of the crust.
An upskirt photo of the first pizza. Look at that char. There is better char with the cast iron than just the pizza stone. I was not able to get any colour on my pizza stones.
Oven spring was not too bad (could be better!) and I did not get much leopard spotting at all. It will be interesting to see if I can get leopard spotting as the dough continues to ferment. The crust was just slightly crisp and the crumb was open and moist. Delicious!
I turned the oven back to bake and let the oven warm up for about 15 minutes or so to get back up to 300C.
Onto the second pizza of the night: Pizza Margherita. What can I say? I like pizza Margherita. :-)
The pizza was pulled from the oven when the first bits of the crust just turned black. The cook time for this pizza was 5 minutes 20 seconds. The pizza was placed on a cooling rack for two minutes before plating and cutting to preserve crispness of the crust.
An upskirt photo of the second pizza. Again, char was better with the cast iron than with just the terracotta stone.
I did not take a picture of the cornicione on the second pizza - too busy eating!
The pizza turned out pretty good. More testing tonight with 3 day ferment dough...
Disclaimer: I am not sponsored by anyone or any company for this post. All equipment and food product was purchased by me at full retail cost.