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March 1, 2009

Romancing the (Pizza) Stone

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I didn’t plan to do a fourth installment of my adventures in pizza baking until I’d found some saltillo tiles, but it’s become such a hot topic whenever I see Matt, I thought I’d use my blog to update him (and you). The problem that Matt confessed to me is getting the decorated pizza dough to slide off the pizza peel and onto the pizza stone. When it doesn’t slide off, the dough bunches up, toppings go everywhere, and the frustration is enough to drive the cook to drink. So, what’s the answer? I’ll start with a couple of my good/bad techniques and my next pizza gadget purchase (help me decide, please).

dsc01140If I don’t learn how to get more food in focus, I’ll never make it onto Tastespotting.com

On Saturday, I baked two pizzas, per Karen’s request. The first one (pictured) slid off of my rimless cookie sheet without any problem. For months, I’ve been having nightmarish problems when I’d flour my makeshift peel only to have the thin pizza dough soaking up the flour and clinging to the pan. More flour is not an acceptable answer. It cakes up on the bottom of the pizza and ruins the snap of the crust and you get flour on your tongue with each bite. I’m guessing the same thing is happening to Matt. I suggested that he switch to corn meal, as I’d read somewhere. Of course, when I did this, I grabbed polenta corn-grits, and they proved just that: gritty. The little pebbles turned to rocks on the bottom of my crust and I couldn’t really eat them. This weekend, I went with the masa harina cornmeal that I use to make tortillas. It worked well, but you could kinda taste the mexican-ness. Besides that, the unorthodox pie was awesome, decadent, satisfying.

dsc01138Brie and asparagus pizza (the brie IS the sauce).

On the second pizza, I went with a red sauce, instead of triple-cream brie and sauteed the asparagus a little to make sure it cooked through while the pizza baked. The results were not suitable to be photographed. It was carnage. A five car pile-up. It seems that the effectiveness of the corn meal made me a little cocky and I didn’t use enough. When I stuck the peel into the oven and gave it a few jerks to get the pizza to release and slide onto the scalding hot pizza stone… well, things went wrong. It’s hard to talk bout it, actually. My mind may have blocked out some of the details due to the trauma. I’ll have psychic scars where that pizza memory should have been. It wasn’t the first time it’s happened though. Common to these minor catastrophes are; cursing and clattering of pans, the sizzle of wet ingredients (instead of dough) hitting a 500 degree rock, steam escaping from the oven (and my ears), grunts and guffaws of frustration, and a miserable pizza-mess eating experience. What do you expect when your food-baby is torn apart before your very eyes?

dsc01142When I make six pizza dough balls, every meal somehow must become a pizza (the little pools are olive oil drizzled at the end).

One of my difficulties comes from the olive oil. I paint the outer ridge of the dough with oil to get it to bubble and crunch and turn golden brown. Sometimes the oil gets under the dough and ruins the dry sliding surface of the peel. Another problem is time. The longer the pizza sits on the peel, the more flour/cornmeal it soaks up and then the dough and peel become one. Being a perfectionist stress-case in the kitchen, I’m painfully slow about piling on my ingredients, and rushing just raises my blood pressure. Which brings me to another point. The more ingredients I put on, the heavier the pizza is, and then it’s sure to stick. Luckily, I usually make thin and simple pizzas, so they’re light. But, thin pizzas mean that the dough is stretched, exposing more of the wetter interior of the dough and thus needing more flour.

Does this sound like a cluster-f*ck? I mean, especially when you consider my tireless pursuit of pizza perfection? It’s no wonder my muse is committing sapuku on the way to the alter. Well, there is no beast that can’t be tamed. Since I’ve already caved in and resolved to cook on a Bed Bath and Beyond pizza stone, now it’s time to go ahead and buy a real pizza peel. Amazon has led me to one by Epicurean that is about as sexy as a peel can be. It’s made from recycled wood products, dishwasher safe, virtually non-stick (or so they say), and impervious to knives and pizza cutters. I covet this item, but rue it’s price. The other contender is the Super Peel. How it works is kinda mysterious (see the videos on the site), but they sure know how to talk shop. Among other attributes, the Super Peel promises, “Less Physical Effort and Emotional Stress.” Finally, a pizza peel that understands me. Here’s a site that takes on the debate between the two products. Between ebay and Amazon, the two are identically priced (including shipping).

Do any of you want to weigh in on this? If you’ve got something other than one of these two (in other words, an inferior product) your suggestions may be greeted with skepticism. Otherwise, all suggestions are welcome.

3 Responses to “Romancing the (Pizza) Stone”

  1. sadlermr says:

    As for the pizza peel, I am leaning towards going to a restaurant supply store and buying the metal ones they use at the Mary Angelas. I am also tempted to try Sketchy’s technique of using parchment paper.

  2. jasonguard says:

    I forgot to mention the parchment paper method. Sketchy knows how to bake and probably goes with the most consistent results. But see, I’m feeling more like Icarus in this pizza baking endeavor, doomed to fly too close to the sun (or pizza stone, at it were). Since I’m using a meta cookie sheet now, I’m feeling like something about it wants to get stuck to my dough. The Super Peel’s conveyor belt method sounds ingenious and I kinda wanna see one for myself.

  3. MAK says:

    I hope you bought the Epicurean because I’ve heard awesome reviews of it.
    I, too, am obsessed with making pizza at home. It is not as good as Peter Reinhart’s, as I went to his restaurant (Charlotte’s only 5 hours!) but it’s delicious. I have found that our method works well: making the dough on our butcher block counter, moving it to a baking sheet that’s covered in corn meal, putting on the sauce and toppings (no cheese, that goes on after 5 minutes), then scooting it on to the stone (sometimes using random kitchen tools we grab off the counter) that is coated in corn meal. This takes two people because I am clutzy. I don’t use parchment because the temp is so high (and once the dough stuck to it). I don’t have a peel besides the crap one that came with my stone because I have no where to put it.
    I love the dough and have used it to make steccas with garlic cloves and calzones. As long as I preheat for 45 minutes and use lots of corn meal, I haven’t had a lot of issues.

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