Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Broiler-only pizza

I've been working on my pizza technique for at least two years now. I started out the normal way: baking on a stone in the bottom of my oven. My oven doesn't have a cleaning cycle, so I can't crank up the heat. But, I do have a broiler at the bottom of my gas oven, so I started using that. I baked the pizza and then transfered it to the broiler to char the top. It worked fairly well, and my pizza's baked in about 7 minutes or so. That was a nice enough pie, but the crust just wasn't quite right. I wanted it soft and chewy. I could never get the crust soft enough, regardless of the hydration of my dough, or how much cake flour I used.

My road to enlightenment started when I read about the "Nearlypolitan" technique of baking the pizza under the broiler completely. The initial poster there took his pizza stone and heated it up for two hours in the oven, then transfered it to the broiler, turned on the broiler, and baked. I couldn't do that because I have tiles instead of a stone, and the tiles would be too hard to transfer. But I thought that the tiles would get hot enough under the broiler, so I tried it.

The results are pictured above. It cooked in about 4 minutes, and had a puffier and softer crust then I've been able to achieve before. In other words, success! I still have a way to go for the perfect pizza, but now at last I think I have the basics down, and the rest is just twiddling.

I based my recipe off of Varasano's recipe. To follow it, do everything he suggests up to the baking part. If you have an oven with a clean cycle, he has some frankly scary suggestions about how to use it. But, if you have a as oven without a clean cycle, one in which the broiler is located under the oven, then do the following:

First, make sure nothing is in the oven.

Second, put tiles or your stone under the broiler. Anything too thick may not leave you enough room to put your pizza there, so make sure you still have clearance for a pizza.

Turn on your broiler for about half an hour.

At this point, you can test your oven. Just take some of your dough, make a tiny little pizza skin, and put it on the stone. It should puff up into a ball in a minute or two, and after one or two additional minutes, the top and bottom should be brown or even be a bit burnt.

If that works, you are ready to bake. Shape your pizza into a circle about the final size.

Cut parchment paper into a square the size of your pizza peel, and put it on your pizza peel. Then, transfer the pizza skin to the peel. I find parchment paper far easier than flour or cornstarch. It does emit a somewhat unpleasant smell when baking, though.

Finish your pizza: put the sauce down, then your mozzarella, then a bit of sea salt, a splash of oil, and finally the basil.

Cut away the corners of your parchment paper, where the pizza is not, just so there is less paper to potentially burn.

Open the broiler door and carefully slide in your pizza. Do not attempt to do this unless you have some skill at it; even with parchment paper you are liable to make a huge mess if you make one wrong move. If you do make a mistake, shut off the broiler immediately and wait for the oven to cool down before cleaning up. Then order pizza from your favorite delivery place and feel ashamed.

After you slide in your pizza, wait a minute and a half. Rotate the pizza with a spatula and kitchen tongs (or whatever other tools you feel might help). Put it back in for a minute, then keep checking on it. Take it out when it develops black spots on top. You can check the bottom too: it should also be charred in spots.

Remove the parchment paper. Wait a minute for the cheese to congeal a bit, then slice & serve. The crust should taste wonderfully soft, but with a nice chewiness.

This, finally, is real pizza.