Can you make anything like a restaurant-quality pizza at home when a domestic oven reaches only about 220 degrees Celsius, much lower than at a typical pizza outlet? At An-Tico Enoteca & Pizzeria, which produces Neapolitan-style pizzas, the oven's a searing 325 degrees. 'It's the high heat that gives the base, especially the crust, that pillowy texture and char,' says Cale Jackson, consultant chef of the restaurant and its parent group, Windy City International. But few venues can beat the terracotta-floored brick oven of 208 Duecento Otto (commonly referred to as just 208), with a scorching 480 to 490 degrees, which explains why its crusts, by strict Neapolitan standards, take 60 to 90 seconds to cook and result in a char-freckled base with a beautifully blistered cornicione (outer rim). So even before we begin, let's get realistic about the expectations of a do-it-yourself pizza. It won't have the same char and texture as those prepared at restaurants armed with the Ferrari of all ovens. But there's still hope: you can produce deliciously close results thanks to the aid of modern tools, dough-making techniques and other tips shared by experts from Hong Kong's pizza-serving establishments of the moment. With dizzying variations available, we've narrowed the focus to the Neapolitan style (Naples is the birthplace of the tomato-and-cheese construction), and the popular - although heftier - New York interpretations cropping up around town. Home chefs aren't the only ones who have had to figure out how to get around oven restrictions. Even professional chefs - with their industrial ovens - have encountered challenges owing to Hong Kong's regulations. Unlike the United States, Italy and several other countries, for environmental and safety reasons Hong Kong prohibits the coal or wood-fired ovens that deliver a dimension of flavour and char. In Naples, according to the rules of the Vera Pizza Napoletana Association - the body that determines what a real pizza is - it's fundamental to bake pizzas in wood-fired domes at about 485 degrees. Most Hong Kong venues are equipped with the gas-fired kind. But some establishments have installed great machines, such as the Naples-imported gas oven at 208, with technological advancements to emulate the wood-oven effect. On a simpler scale, home chefs can invest in modern aids, too. 'Get yourself a pizza stone, which retains a lot more heat and simulates a wood-oven effect. It's not perfect, but it gets close results,' Jackson advises. It's a safer option than that taken by some Neapolitan-pizza extremists who, according to Jackson, rewired their home ovens' self-cleaning setting (it flashes the interior with 500-degree heat to kill bacteria) to cook pizza. Instead, try the ceramic or terracotta pizza stones that absorb and distribute heat evenly on the platform, available from kitchenware shops such as Pantry Magic. Dough is also paramount to producing an admirable pizza. Its elasticity, texture and flavour vary according to the type of dry ingredients, proofing and fermentation used. Neapolitan pizza purists such as 208 executive chef Enzo Carbone use the holy grail of Italian flours: he considers the Type 00 grade (which indicates finely milled) of the Caputo brand (available at gourmet supermarkets) better than regular flour. In fact, to replicate the Neapolitan originals, all his ingredients are sourced from Naples (down to the water). 'With good dough, there's also the timing to get the right fermentation, which is usually eight to 12 hours,' he says. Atmospheric conditions can affect the dough's character. 'In [a climate like] Hong Kong's, it is very unique; the dough, to get the right consistency, takes about 10 to 12 hours. It's a slow process, but real pizza is actually not fast food,' says Carbone, a native of Naples. By contrast, American-style pizzas are more varied in the kind of dry ingredients used (Italian or plain flour, or a blend) and the fermentation process, which can last a few hours or a few days. At NYPD, which produces East Coast-style pizzas in Quarry Bay, founder Thompson Ly revealed at a recent pizza competition at the Restaurant & Bar 2011 fair that all its doughs are fermented for 48 hours. The judges appreciated the dough's springy texture and well 'married' bread flavour, awarding the pizza first prize. Meanwhile, An-Tico's secret weapon is natural yeast, a sourdough starter known as 'poolish' that not only lets the dough rise, but also accents its wheat flavour. 'We use a nearly one-year-old poolish, a natural organism we feed with flour and water daily to let it grow. There's natural yeast in flour so the poolish's culture brings that out,' Jackson says. It is, however, a time-consuming effort (cultivated from a flour-and-water mix fed and fermented over a prolonged period). In fast and frenetic Hong Kong, commercial yeast is more convenient. At Paisano's, the dough is just three hours old, incorporated with a little sugar, salt, herbs and extra virgin olive oil; a family recipe. Founder Al Morales, after suffering 'awful' pizza options in the city, opened his first branch in Sai Kung two years ago, reviving his family's pizzeria in New York. The former golf professional explains, in a New York accent as thick as the crusts of Paisano's pizzas: 'The technique is in the proofing but also adjusting the yeast depending on the weather. On a hot day, we use less yeast, whereas on a cold day, we use more, as it takes longer for the yeast to ferment. It's a science that's taken a while to perfect.' Once rolled out into discs, it's ready for the tomato base. There are two dominant schools of thought over the red sauce's preparation. There's the no-cooking stance. At 208, oval San Marzano-grown tomatoes (which are then canned in Parma) are used, which are skinned then seeded. 'The seeds can be quite bitter, so we take them out as much as we can to make sure the tomato sauce is as sweet as possible. But definitely no oil, no garlic, not even salt; we use these tomatoes as natural as they are,' Carbone says. The attitude to sauce is a little more relaxed at New York-style pizza venues, as recipes inspired by grandmother often come into play with marinaras herbed and seasoned by experience. Posto Pubblico also uses a generations-old recipe passed down through one of its Italian-American owners to make its thick and angular Brooklyn pizzas. Executive chef Josh Chu says they use home-grown tomatoes (organic, too, part of the restaurant's sustainable-dining spirit). 'We blanch them to take their skins off, then hand-crush them. You don't want to bite down on a hard chunk of tomato, so we soften it up by [gently] cooking it.' After you've ladled on the sauce, add cheese. Mozzarella (from cow's milk) is sprinkled on at most venues. Posto Pubblico goes a step further as Chu hand-pulls fresh mozzarella in-house before topping it on pies. A final flourish of parmesan cheese can pack an extra punch. By contrast, 208 goes to great lengths to follow the Neapolitan tradition of using Italian water buffalo mozzarella. To avoid soggy pizza centres from utilising the moist buffalo dairy, Carbone squeezes the cheese for two days to lessen its water content (about 15 to 20 per cent is drained). Some parmesan and lashings of extra virgin olive oil grace the pizzas before they're slid into the oven. Topping-wise, Neapolitan pizza puritans cherish classic Italian-style combinations emphasising simplicity and top-notch ingredients, from a fresh basil-scattered margherita to a staple laced with meat (such as prosciutto ham), among others. Italians shudder at the thought of using pineapple and ham, pepperoni or other favourites beloved around the world - signs of the pizza evolution. From purists to populist tastes (and those with non-partisan palates), what you shower on the dough mirrors your personal preferences and moods. Obviously, top-quality produce trumps ingredients bought with loose change. Another golden rule is to respect the topping-and-dough ratio: don't pile on too much of the former or else it'll drag down the latter. As Jackson says, the dough's flavour is striving to join the compilation above, so don't drown that out with too much sauce, cheese or other topping. 'People here tend to put all their favourite toppings piled onto one pizza to make a huge meal out of it,' he says. 'Instead, make one margherita, another pizza with meat, and others to choose from rather than an all-in-one pizza. Just spread the love.' Easy as pie Preheat the oven to its maximum temperature; if your oven has a built-in fan, turn it on - anything to get it as hot as possible. Consider using a pizza stone, which absorbs heat and distributes it evenly across the platform. If you have the time, try to ferment the dough for up to 12 hours after it's been kneaded. If you're making Neapolitan pizzas, use San Marzano tomatoes and don't cook them. If you don't have any, whole tinned tomatoes will do, but they need to be sweet. If you're making marinara for American-style pizzas, cooking is utterly acceptable, especially if you use fresh tomatoes. Blanch them to loosen the skin so that your sauce has that uniform smoothness. Use good mozzarella, not the synthetic kind pre-shredded in plastic bags. If you're using buffalo mozzarella, drain as much water as possible and dry with a paper towel. Go easy on the toppings. The chains in Hong Kong have a bad habit of overloading pizzas, even tunnelling cheese through the crust. You want a balance of flavours, and a well-anchored tomato, cheese and bread construction.