Thanks to Tropical Storm Lee, nearly fourteen inches of rain fell at my house over the Labor Day weekend, which started off with a bang on Friday when a falling oak limb punctured my roof. The only benefit of a lingering tropical system in late August: it relieved late summer’s awful heat. Four solid days of rain and overcast kept things relatively cool, then Tuesday morning arrived, along with 60 degree lows.
I took advantage of cooler weekend temperatures to experiment with oven-cooked pizza (as opposed to grilled or Big Green Egg pizza). After reading way-way-way too much about Italian flours, wild yeasts, protein percentages, and VPN certification, I decided to give Jeff Varasano’s pizza crust recipe a try, except that I only used his ingredient ratios, not his kneading technique. Instead, I applied the Tartine bread technique: sourdough starter, bread flour, an autolyse, a long bulk fermentation with stretch-and-folds instead of kneading, and a few hours’ rest after the dough is divided. The dough ended up as a silky, highly extensible mass–the easiest pizza dough I ever stretched, by far. It worked so easily I was able to make (gasp!) round pizzas.
Now, on to the experimental cooking method…
For quite some time, I’ve been reading about the sheet steel method, which substitutes a 3/8″ sheet of plate steel for a more typical pizza stone. Unfortunately, all of my sheet steel was piled up behind the garage, in Lee’s torrential downpour, and my better half wasn’t in the mood to fire up his oxy-acetylene torch during the severe weather.
Thus, I decided to try a two-stone method. Stone #1 goes on the oven’s floor for a long preheat at 550 degrees (my oven’s maximum temperature), while stone #2 is placed on the uppermost rack, directly beneath the broiler. I placed the pizza on the lower stone for about a minute and a half–just until the edge puffed and the bottom began to char. Then, I transferred the pizza to the top stone and turned the broiler to high, which created a nice charring on the edges and toppings.
While it is a little fiddly to peel a screaming hot pizza off of one stone onto another, the two-step process yielded an excellent crust, with gorgeous charred leopard spots and a crisp snap. Toppings were nicely browned (but not overcooked). Overall, it was the best pizza ever to emerge from my home oven, and it was easily as good as any pizza I ever cooked on the Big Green Egg.
I will definitely be repeating both the crust and the cooking method…and now I’m motivated to get a piece of (clean, nicely finished) sheet steel. Apparently, using steel will allow me to skip the transfer step: steel heats quickly and transfers its heat very quickly to the dough. I should be able to put it on the top shelf and combine the bottom-cooking and top-browning steps into one.