I’ve blogged before about Modernist Cuisine, the amazing set of books by Nathan Myhrvold et al. On pages 2-26 and 2-27 they explain how to “make your electric broiler perform like a wood-fired oven” to make pizza. I was intrigued by this, as I’ve been trying to bake proper pizza in my domestic oven for years and have had only moderate success. The problem is that, even though my oven can be heated to a pretty high temperature of 300C/575F, the pizza takes 10 minutes or more to bake and the crust will then be chewy rather than crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Everyone who has eaten real pizza from a real wood-fired pizza oven, knows that is how real pizza should taste. Wood-fired pizza ovens can reach a temperature of 425C/800F, and can cook a pizza in less than 2 minutes!
To make this work, you need an aluminum plate of at least 6 mm (1/4 inch) thick (the thicker the better) that is large enough to just fit in the oven and not too heavy to lift, and those are not for sale just anywhere (at least not in this country). So before going to the trouble of buying such a plate, I tried googling to see if anyone has tried this besides the Modernist Cuisine guys. To my surprise, I mostly found people talking about it, but hardly anyone who had actually tried this. The few that did posted results were positive, so when I found out that a friend could help me find an aluminum plate, I jumped at the chance. I ended up with an aluminum plate of 25 mm (1 inch) thick, and about 31 by 36 cm (12 by 14 inches) so it fits exactly on one of my oven sheets. And guess what… it really works!!! You will also need a pizza shovel (also known as pizza peel) to be able to put the pizza onto the plate and get it out again.
Before I continue, let me tell you a little bit more about pizza. Like most Italian dishes, pizza is a simple dish made from simple ingredients that is heavenly if you use good-quality ingredients and don’t mess it up with too many frills. Pizza as we know it originated in Napels in Italy (before that something similar was made without tomato), and the original pizza is Margherita, named after the queen. For this you only need pizza dough, tomatoes, olive oil, salt, buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil. Real pizza is always “thin & crispy” with a moderate amount of toppings. “Deep pan” pizzas with ridiculous amounts of cheese and toppings are an American invention.
Apart from using an aluminum plate, the following rules apply for making a good pizza:
- Use sieved tomatoes (passata) rather than tomato sauce, and only use a little (3 Tbsp for a 25 cm/10 inch pizza)
- Drain the liquid from the shredded mozzarella
- Sauté wet ingredients like mushrooms first before using as a topping
- Use fresh dough only (made on the same day, not refrigerated)
- Make sure the oven (and the aluminum plate or pizza stone) are as hot as possible
Note added on 3 August 2012: your home-made pizza will be even better when you use cold fermented dough!
For 2 medium pizzas
For the dough
250 grams (1 1/2 cup) flour, preferably Italian 00 pizza flour
5 grams (2%, 1 tsp) salt
5 grams (2%, 1 tsp) sugar
10 grams (4%, 1/3 oz) fresh yeast
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
For the toppings
6 Tbsp tomato passata
pinch of salt
pinch of sugar
1/2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp dried oregano
125 grams buffalo mozzarella
other toppings of your choice, e.g. sliced peperoni
Start by making the dough. I use my bread maker to start the dough, but you could also do this with a mixer or by hand.
Crumble the fresh yeast and sprinkle with the sugar.
Add the flour and the olive oil.
Add the salt and the water.
Let the bread maker make a (pizza) dough.
As soon as it’s finished, take it out of the bread maker.
Sprinkle a large bowl with flour so it won’t stick and add the dough.
Cover with a wet dish cloth.
Let it rise in a warm place until doubled in volume (this takes 1 to 1 1/2 hours).
Meanwhile, put the aluminum plate in the highest shelf position of your oven and preheat the oven to the highest setting (275-300C/550-575F). The oven should be preheated at least half an hour.
Season the passata with a pinch of salt, pinch of sugar, dried oregano and extra virgin olive oil.
Shred the mozzarella and pat it dry with paper towels.
Turn on the broiler. It will take a few minutes to get up to temperature, and will shut off again after a while. The trick is to insert the pizza while the broiler is on!
Flour the peel/pizza shovel. Stretch out half the pizza dough as thin as you can without tearing and put it on the peel/shovel.
Spread out 3 Tbsp of tomato on the dough with a tablespoon.
Add any other toppings, in this case peperoni
Finish with the mozzarella.
Slide the pizza onto the aluminum plate. This should be easy if you had put enough flour on the peel/shovel.
Bake until the top of the pizza crust turns brown. In my oven this takes 3 minutes, but according to Modernist Cuisine it can take between 2 and 7 minutes. If it takes much longer than 3 minutes in your oven you have bad luck, because then it won’t be as good as wood-fired oven. It goes quite fast, so watch it closely.
This is what the pizza looked like after only 3 minutes on the aluminum plate. It was amazing! Very crispy and not chewy at all. The cheese had also melted perfectly. By far the best pizza I’ve ever made in my own oven. I will be making pizza much more often now!
To bake the other pizza, set the oven back to preheating at 300C/575F and wait for the aluminum plate to heat back up. If the second pizza takes longer than the first, you were too fast! If your aluminum plate is big enough, you can also bake two pizzas at the same time.