You probably don’t think of the math that goes into everything you eat, but that’s really what a recipe is: math with a bit of chemistry that ideally produces something delicious. A group of hungry researchers (two physicists and a food anthropologist) spent some time in Italy talking to and watching professional pizza makers at work as a part of a study to come up with the mathematical equation for a perfect pie. The research has been published online, but before you run out to Trader Joe’s for ingredients and fire up your oven, we have to warn you that it’s really not easy.
“I like to understand the physical essence standing behind this or that everyday phenomenon: why rivers meander, why violins sing,” study author Andrey Varlamov said. To find that essence, he and his colleagues naturally had to go to the birthplace of the perfect food and talk to those eat and make it. One of the things they learned is that the apparatus for cooking the pies is just as important as what goes on them. Timing also plays a factor. “Always come for a pizza either before 8 p.m. or after 10 p.m., when the pizzeria is half empty,” one local told them, explaining that the optimal temperature and setup for baking a pizza is between 325-330 Celsius (617-626 Fahrenheit) in a wood-burning oven with a stone bottom. During busier hours, pizza makers (called pizzaiolos) have to bake more than one pie in the same oven and often raise the temperature of the oven so that he/she can cut down on the cooking time (from 2 minutes down to around 50 seconds), but as a result the final product is less than perfect.
Starting by taking into consideration the differences between traditional Italian pizzeria ovens and the ovens found in residential kitchens, Varlamov and his team also considered things like the heat capacity, mass density, thermal conductivity, and temperature conductivity of dough, water, steel, and fire bricks, because that’s how serious they took this whole endeavor. In the end, the final equation looks like something we can’t really replicate, but you can see it here.
So what have we learned? Basically, just leave perfect pizza making to the pros who have been doing it for decades and who have learned from the generations of pizza makers who preceded them. Or, live with the fact that your pizza, while probably tasty and edible, is not and will never be perfect.