Pizza in your home oven

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.

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4 thoughts on “Pizza in your home oven

  1. Funny how weather can influence our cooking. Not that it’s ANYTHING close to your lovely pizza here, but we took advantage of our lack of power post-Irene to cook up a (thawing) frozen pizza on the gas grill.

    And btw, can I send this week of Lee’s rains back over to you?

  2. That’s a definite NO on the rain…today, it’s 61 degrees at daybreak. Early fall was (almost) worth the rained-out long weekend.

  3. Wow, I have a lot to learn about pizza and dough making from you. I am sitting here writing words to Google later, like Tartine method.

    Glad you guys made it through relatively unscathed. I hope you kept some of that oak to season and use in the Egg next year as “revenge”.

    • No, I did not save any of the oak! Was more concerned about getting it hauled away before it could blow around and damage something else.

      Definitely check out the Tartine (and others, but Chad Robertson has popularized it to a wide audience) stretch-and-fold method. Sure makes life easier, if you’re planning to be at home for a few hours. And the combination of wild-yeast leaven and long, slow fermentation did result in my best crust ever.

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