The second best home made pizza method on the net?
I've been cooking pizza at home regularly for a good few years, and have eaten many, many pizzas in restaurants. I can honestly say that this method makes the best pizza I've eaten anywhere, including authentic traditional pizzerias with wood fired brick ovens in the USA and Italy. (Though I am yet to sample the true Naples pizza in its original surroundings. One day.) In fact, I would humbly suggest that this might just be the second best home-made pizza method on the whole world-wide interweb. The award for the absolute best pizza page on the net must surely go to Jeff Varasano a true obsessive who has destroyed several ovens in the quest for perfect home made pizza, and has now opened his own pizza restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia. I take my hat off to him. If, however, you want to make great pizza without ruining your kitchen appliances, then this is the place for you. If you're willing to take the risk, Jeff's recipe is here.
This is pizza to make you cry. Twice. The first time when you shed tears of joy as you take your first bite, the second when you take the last bite and realise that there's no more pizza. It is beautiful, but it is fleeting: pizza as metaphor for life.
Enough pretentious musings, how do we achieve this magical pizza? The secret lies in a properly fermented dough, and really high heat to cook the pizza from both above and below.
Hot, hot, hot ...
The traditional wood fired, brick lined pizza oven of the original Naples pizzerias reaches temperatures of over 450°C or 800°F, hot enough to cook a pizza in 2 minutes or less. A domestic oven might get up to 260°C or 500°F if you're really lucky.
Even if you use a pizza stone, your oven is not getting anywhere near hot enough to replicate the real thing. So? Cheat! This method is my adaptation of the one shown on the BBC TV programme "In Search of Perfection" by the great English chef Heston Blumenthal, which allows you to produce the authentic light, crisp, slightly charred base of the original Naples pizza.
You will need some equipment: ideally a purpose made cast iron pizza pan. Mine is made by Lodge, and I bought it from the USA; I've not been able to find this brand in the UK, although this round griddle pan available on amazon.co.uk looks very similar to mine. If you're in North America, you can get the Lodge Pro Logic Pizza Pan from amazon.com.
Lodge cast iron pizza pan, 35cm/14" diameter
There is a similar pan made by Mario Batali which can be found in the UK (I have read reports of the handles breaking off some of the Batali pans, but the pan should still work - you need to wear an oven glove to touch the handles anyway.) If you can't get hold of a pizza pan, a heavy cast iron frying pan will do, the differences being that you have to do a bit of extra manouevring to get the pizza over the rim, and the size of your pizza is more limited.
When you preheat your cast iron pan on a gas or electric ring for 10 minutes it will be much hotter than your oven stone could ever get. Hot enough, in fact, to cook a pizza base in under two minutes. That takes care of the base, but does not provide sufficient heat to cook the top. However, the thing that British people call a grill and Americans call a broiler can provide sufficiently intense direct heat from just above the pizza.
Heston Blumenthal's method was to preheat a cast iron frying pan, turn the pan over and put the dough for the base on the bottom, put the toppings on, and put it under the preheated grill/broiler. I find it more convenient to cook the base first on the pizza pan, take it out of the pan and add the toppings, then cook the top under the grill. The pizza doesn't come to any harm that way, and it allows me to cook a second base while the toppings are cooking on the first pizza.
Just in case you already have a cast iron frying pan that you're thinking of using, please be warned that prolonged high heat may destroy any non-stick surface on your pan, and such abusive treatment is likely to invalidate the manufacturer's warranty, so you might as well buy a cheaper pan without the non-stick coating. The expensive Le Creuset frying pan I used before I had the Lodge pan is now bare cast iron - the non-stick coating started flaking off so I did what any pizza addict would do ... I got out my electric sander, and removed the rest of the coating (my wife wasn't keen on the idea of eating little flakes of teflon every time we had pizza). And of course, the non-stick died for the worthiest of causes.Next page: Making the dough