Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Pizza Stone

A couple of weeks ago I read Andy The New Cook's account of sliding his pizzas onto his preheated pizza stone waiting in the oven. I had to admit it. I never make pizza that way.

In fact, I rarely make pizza at home at all--and then it has to be something really unusual.

The thing is, there's fantastic pizza to be had all over my town. The kind of pizza I grew up with. The stuff that I daydreamed about in Korea, in Florida and in Georgia. Nothing was quite as good. And the few visits home that I made were eating tours to make sure I got my fill of perfect pizza and other hometown treats.

And when perfect pizza (two slices for under $5, too--with a beverage) is easy to find in your hometown, why reinvent the wheel?

But this week I decided it doesn't have to be about reinventing the wheel per se. Rather, it can be about learning the art at home, mastering a technique, and knowing that you, too, are capable of--if not the perfect pizza itself, an edible proximity that's pretty darned good.

Still, I couldn't bring myself to attempt a traditional pie. Instead, it was Hawaiian night!

What I told Andy was that I never slide--instead, building my pizza right onto my un-preheated pizza stone and putting the whole thing into my preheated oven. And that's always yielded good results. But this time I tried it his way, not without some level of trepidation. What if the whole pie flipped over and landed all over the inside of my oven?

Fortunately that didn't happen. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Here's what I did:

(1) Preheat. Before you do anything, place your pizza stone on a rack in the lower third of your oven and preheat to 350*F. Leave it in there a good fifteen minutes or longer to get sizzling hot.

(2) Stretching the dough. I don't bother with making my own dough--there are several italian bakeries in town that supply our grocery stores with fresh dough. At around a dollar, it's the right price.

But I digress.

You don't have to be a master pie flipper to properly stretch a piece of dough. After patting it gently on a generously floured board, you just pick it up and, using both hands balled into fists, work the dough in a circular motion with your fists. (That way fingers & fingernails don't poke through.) You want to gently work the dough larger and larger, with the very center being the thinnest. Take your time--patience is worth it here.

(3) Choose your peel. If you don't have a proper pizza peel, you can use a rimless baking sheet like I did, or an overturned pan, or a large cutting board--whatever works.

(4) Use a generous amount of flour and/or cornmeal. The dough needs to slide easily from your peel onto your preheated stone, so use more than you think you need. If there's flour left at the bottom of your pizza, just brush it off before you eat it.

(5) Build your pie. Topping the pizza is an individual affair. I like very little sauce. There's nothing worse than the cheese sliding off because of too much sauce! Then seasonings (salt, pepper, crushed red pepper flakes and a smattering of dried parsley) went on before some pineapple.

Then I added a blend of shredded mozzarella (handful), provolone (handful) and grated parmesan cheese (half handful). We like it cheesy, and cheesy it was. I finished with a generous sprinkle of cut up baked ham luncheon meat--about 1/4 pound--and a few more pieces of pineapple to fill in any missing spaces. I used an entire 8 ounce can of pineapple chunks.

(6) Slide. Gently. Before I opened the oven door, I gently ran a large spatula under my pie to make sure it would slide easily. Once assured that it would, indeed, move, I opened the pizza door and carefully--slowly--coaxed the dough (again, with my spatula) onto the preheated stone. The sizzle was a great reward.

(7) Bake. Let your pizza cook until the cheese is melted and crust edges are golden. Mine was still a little wet in the center, but I didn't want the crust to get too dark so I took it out right on time--about 20 minutes.

And Andy was right after all--sliding the pre-topped pizza is the way to go. The crust had that satisfying crunch on the bottom that was oh-so-delicious.


Mary said...

Your pizza looks delicious! I personally love the Super Peel for transfering my pizza to the hot pizza stone. My husband got it for me for Christmas and it really makes the whole transferring dough thing super easy.

Amanda said...

Thank you, Mary!

I wonder why the peel makes it so easy. Is it very slippery? Or do you think it's the shape?

Michele said...

I love ham & pineapple. I feel like this is the most polarizing topping combo--people either love or despise it...and despise you for loving it.

Sara said...

I love my pizza stone. I don't have a peel, so I build my pizza on a sheet of parchment, then slide the whole thing onto a stone using a cookie sheet.

Amanda said...

Michele--Great minds think alike! And I know what you mean. So often people are vocally disgusted when they hear you order ham & pineapple. But I've always enjoyed it--to heck with the infidels who don't!

Sara--I imagine the parchment works pretty well. It's so simple it's brilliant! Does the crust crisp up just like it would without it?

(I never use parchment... can't seem to work it into my budget. Someday!)

Sam said...

I would love to be able to cook pizzas like this but unfortunately I don't have a pizza stone.

Your pizza looks really good though, I love ham and pineapple too!

Amanda said...

Thanks, Sam!

I'm pretty sure you could use a cast iron skillet in the same way as a pizza stone--only since it's not flat it would be more difficult to slide on. Maybe overturned?

I believe Alton Brown uses unglazed terra cotta tiles. I've also occasionally seen a flower pot saucer used in the oven (on tv).

Cora @ Cora Cooks said...

Homemade pizza is my favorite thing to cook, especially when we have friends over for dinner! You will master that pizza peel in no time. We have great success with pre-baking the crust slightly and then building the pizza right on the peel to slide into the 500+ degree oven. Pre-baking makes crust nice and crisp and it is easier to slide, because it won't stick to the peel from the weight of the ingredients. The pre-baked crusts also freeze well, so it's fast and easy to make pizza anytime you need one! We also bake ours in an outdoor brick oven when we want to really get serious. Did I mention I love pizza? Great post!

Amanda said...

Cora, thanks so much! Wow--an outdoor brick oven? You are a blessed woman.

I have very occasionally used pre-baked pizza shells. The same italian bakeries that sell pizza dough also sell shells (fresh or frozen) which are also good. It's been YEARS since I've used them, though. I'll definitely give your pre-baking recommendation a try!

Helen said...

Pizza stones rock and really make a difference. I love mine, its also great for baking pitta breads.

Amanda said...

That's such a great point, Helen--pizza stones are great for more than just pizza. I'm sure several varieties of bread would be great on the stone, cookies... I even know someone who bakes french fries on hers and they taste just like they were fried!

Sophie said...

I agree, too much sauce puts a damper on any pizza. But I must say, I love ham and pineapple on my pizzas, great for summer. I'm ready to make one of these now :). I have a ham in the fridge...gonna make this with the leftovers!

Amanda said...

I'm glad you're inspired, Sophie! I find myself thinking more and more about this pizza myself--the ham & pineapple combo is definitely addictive!

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