While many spent the pandemic working on their sourdough bread, I was trying to perfect another beloved carb: pizza. I talked to professional pizzaiolos to improve my technique and got great results using a dedicated pizza oven. But I didn’t always want to lug that piece of equipment out, so I dedicated myself to making better pizza in my conventional oven. That’s where my Baking Steel has completely changed the game.
Truth is, I was working on the sourdough bread as well parallel to my pizza R&D. And that’s where I stumbled upon an idea in Chad Robertson’s seminal cookbook Tartine Bread. In it, he wrote that at home he used the broil setting on his oven to blast direct heat onto his pizza. It was an a-ha moment for me: I could get that rise and little charred spots (leoparding, in pizza parlance) that I wanted if I did the same.
When making the kind of Neapolitan-style pies I love, it requires the intense heat of a pizza oven or a broiler because it generates steam that expands little air pockets in the dough, thus creating a beautifully aerated and light crust.
I tried Robertson’s method, placing a pizza stone on the top rack of my oven and then blasting it with direct heat. I’d load a pie onto the stone and while I’d get a great rise in the crust, the top was cooking faster than the bottom. That would lead to soggy pies or crust that was cooked on top with raw dough inside.
The problem was that the pizza stone was not transferring heat efficiently enough to cook the bottom in the time the broiler would finish the top. I could lower the rack, moving it further from the heat, but that caused the rise to not be as impressive.
Eventually, I found out that the scientifically minded chef Wylie Dufresne was on a pandemic pizza journey as well. And on his Instagram he mentioned using a Baking Steel and finding luck with it. I was intrigued. It took a while to make the leap myself, but I’m glad I have. The steel solves the problem of the bottom not cooking in time by being vastly superior at transferring heat energy to the pizza compared to my stone.
The result has been getting high-quality pizza out of my home that have amazing flavor and texture. So, for those trying to cook pizza in their home oven, ditch the stone and get a steel.
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