Pizza Stone (long)
I hate to admit it, but I was one of those people who rushed out to Bed, Bath and Beyond to buy an overpriced pizza stone when I finally learned about them. I didn't really take the time to figure out how to use it, I just kind of threw it in my oven and hoped for the best.
When I moved into my new place, I realized I had left my precious stone in my old oven! And to be honest, my pizzas were never really that great with the stone. So I decided to live without one, until I read an excerpt from Alton Brown's "I'm Just Here for More Food" baking book. I love how he tackles topics in an easy to comprehend manner, and the pizza stone was no exception. I followed his advice, and went to Home Depot to purchase unglazed quarry (or ceramic) tiles. The ones I purchased were not as thick as I would have liked them to be, but they still worked quite well, and I managed to fit 4 small ones in my tiny metal box of an oven (seriously, the door won't even close when I put my sheet pans in it!). They cost me a grand total of $1.38, and at that price, I can stand to lose them a few more times.I put them on the second rack, and preheated the oven as high as it would go, as per Alton's instructions.
When it was hot enough, I slid my homemade pizza from the peel(that was dusted with cornmeal, of course) onto my new stone, and on the very bottom rack, I put a pan of hot water. This created steam that helped my pizza get a nice crust in the first few minutes of baking (*if you've ever made french or italian bread, I'm sure you've used this method as well). The result was a great pizza, perfectly crisp and crunchy on the bottom and nice and doughy like a good pan pizza on the top, and with such a high temp., it only took around 6 minutes to bake. I used ready made pizza dough from Trader Joe's (a steal at $1), Spicy Italian Sausage, mozzarella, and I made a sauce by blending sundried tomatoes, garlic and olives that were packed in olive oil. This was probably one of the best pizzas I have ever made/had, and it only cost around $5 to make.
Now I am obsessed with pizza making! The whole process took only 30 minutes, and using ready-made ingredients helped speed up the process. I am a fan of making everything from scratch, but after a long day of work, this was perfect and better than eating a frozen pizza.
I just wanted to share this with my fellow food lovers in case some of you have not had the pleasure of using a stone. It also helps to keep your stone in the oven all the time, especially if you have a small oven, because the extra weight helps keep your oven properly heated. My only question now is how the heck do you roll or toss the pizza dough into a nice, thin even pizza? I used Alton's method of tossing, which worked pretty well, but I ended up with dough that was really thin in the middle, and a little too thick on the edges. I may just need more practice. Any suggestions? What kind of unique toppings do you like to top your pizzas with?
The center of the crust will always have a tendency to be thinner than the rest of the pie. As long as you are aware of this tendency, you can take steps to mitigate the problem.
1. With the dough on the board, push your fingers into the edges to flatten, not the middle.
2. When you take the dough off the board, drap the edges over knuckled fists. The weight of the dough will natural pull/stretch the dough. The goal is to stretch the dough on the edges NOT the center. The center will have a tendency to take care of itself.
3. Repeat pushing your fingers into the edges of the dough and then picking up/draping with your knuckles.
Try not to show off by tossing the dough into the air. The natural tendency is to catch the spinning dough in the center which exacerbates the thin center problem.
You can't make good pizza with a rolling pin. The outside of the crust is supposed to be thicker than the middle. A thick outer crust:
1. Gives you that chewy puffy bread at the end of the slice.
2. Prevents the toppings from bubbling off.
Trader Joes dough is certainly convenient. Being a refrigerated, potentially older dough, though, makes it trickier to manage than a homemade version. Homemade dough, prepared correctly with good flour, should be easier to pull evenly.
I could never get the crust both thin and even either (and I never liked the texture of the crust when I used a rolling pin), until I tried the stretching method used by Chris Bianco and detailed in the new Gourmet cookbook. To paraphrase:
Hold the dough as you would a steering wheel, letting the bottom of the dough touch the work surface. Move your hands around the edge of the dough allowing the weight of the dough to stretch itself out. Once it's an inch or two short of the diameter you want, lay the circle on the peel and continue to stretch it with your fingers until it reaches the desired diameter.
This is the technique that worked for me.
Thanks for the water tip, I'll try that the next time I make pizza. You're right about the TJ's dough - what a deal. My oven goes up to 550. The stone works by helping to hold the heat when you open the door. With that in mind I went ahead and got 3 of the large round stones (got a deal at $5 each) - one for each rack, and pre-heat the oven to the highest heat and also keep the door open the shortest possible time. My thought is that the 3 stones are going to help get that temp back up as fast as possible after opening the door.
As far as toppings go, I also strategize with the thought in mind that the difference between my oven and a pizzeria oven is my temp is going to be lower and more difficult to bring back up after lowering it. Raw toppings keep the temp lower longer than less toppings and cooked toppings. My fave toppings are quartered artichoke hearts canned in water (TJ) - squeezed dry, fresh mozzarella (TJ), garlic and shallots that I pre-saute' in olive oil, chopped marinated sun dried tomatoes, capers, olives.
The sauce I make by frying minced onion, red pepper flakes, and chopped garlic in evoo, add chopped plum tomatoes packed in puree, sugar. Simmer 1/2 hour - add basil at the end.
About the crust - how about using a rolling pin?
Perhaps it's a no-no to roll out pizza, but i do that and either use my rolling pin or some funny two-sided mini roller that a friend bought. i do hand stretch toward the end, however and i find that works well w/o getting the too thin middle.
I love to use goat cheese or fontina, along with chicken sausage, sweet onions, and some crushed tomatoes instead of sauce. That is my current fave.
Otherwise, i like grape tomatoes, again the goat cheese, asparagus/spinach and the crushed tomatoes. Creative and original? Perhaps not...but I do love it and it makes an easy and tasty meal!