Follow Me Foodie to Perfect Pizza at Home!
Calling all pizza fans! Have I got news to share with you! Pizza at home will no longer be the same. I introduce the Baking Steel! You may have heard about it already and I listed it in my Top 10 Gift Ideas & “Must Haves” for Cooks and Chefs, but here is a closer look! I can’t stop with the exclamation marks because I’m so excited! If I was Oprah I’d put one under all your seats! I’ve product tested it at home and I’ve rediscovered my love for home made pizza. The Baking Steel is freaking pizza making magic!
The Baking Steel started on Kickstarter and was inspired by Nathan Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine. I was given one to review and loved it so much I bought another one. I was convinced just by looking at photos of the results and I trusted the voices who had reviewed it before me.
“According to Modernist Cuisine, steel is a more conductive cooking surface than a brick oven’s stone. Because of that conductivity, it cooks faster and more evenly at a lower temperature, resulting in a beautiful, thin, crispy crust.” – Andris (inventor of Baking Steel)
You can read about the Baking Steel story here, but this is basically what you need to know.
Baking Steel Product Description:
- Standard size: 16 inches X 14 inches, ¼ inch thick
- Recycled steel
- Virtually indestructible
- Pre-seasoned with proprietary oil
- Flat and easy storage
- For home ovens or home grills
- Also great for rustic breads
- Made in the USA
- Price: $72
- FREE SHIPPING on orders over $50 (Continental USA)
- +$15 shipping to Canada
It doesn’t say it’s 15 lbs, but it is and it’s freaking heavy. It is not a bad thing , but it is what it is and you don’t want to drop it.
New York Style Pizza on Aluminium Pizza Pan
Forgive the shape of my pizza, it gets better! For comparisons sake I made a New York style pizza baked on a regular aluminium pizza pan. It didn’t taste bad, but I wouldn’t go back especially when there is better. I didn’t test it on a pizza stone, but if you want to see the various types of pizza surfaces and their results than take a look at this article – The Best Surface For Baking Pizza: Finale.
New York Style Pizza & Neapolitan Style Pizza on Baking Steel
I tested the Baking Steel using New York style pizza dough and the second time using Neapolitan style pizza dough. Comparing them would be apples and oranges so don’t. If you want a basic yet good read I recommend – What to Expect at a Neapolitan Pizzeria and A Slice of Heaven: Naples, Pizza at Its Source.
Basically the type of pizza varies according to region as well as the philosophy of the pizza maker, so all this “authentic” pizza stuff is quite arguable just like any food history. Even people in Naples argue what authentic Neapolitan pizza is.
I can be a purist and I wanted to test the Baking Steel with careful attention to the crust, so I stuck to a basic Margherita pizza – minimal tomato sauce, cheese and toppings. I also tried American style pizzas with more sauce and toppings and both versions worked (although timing differed) and provided excellent results.
New York Style Pizza
Kenji’s New York Style Pizza Recipe
22.5 ounces (about 4 1/2 cups) bread flour, plus more for dusting
.5 ounces (about 1 1/2 tablespoons) sugar
.35 ounces kosher salt (about 1 tablespoon)
.35 ounces (about 2 teaspoons) instant yeast
1.125 ounces Extra Virgin olive oil (about 3 tablespoons)
15 ounces lukewarm water
My friend Brenda made the dough and she didn’t have bread flour so she mixed all purpose flour with high gluten flour. Andris advised me a long cold ferment minimum of three days seems to work best. This allows for better browning and flavors in the crust.
Just look at that! That charring and crust is from a HOME oven. I was getting goosebumps watching it happen right before my eyes. It was just a regular home oven too. I tested it on two basic home ovens and it worked the same.
The pizza was baked on the highest heat (575°F or broil) and I placed the Baking Steel closest to the heating element of an electric oven. If you don’t have a wood fired oven at home then gas would be the next best choice, but a regular electric oven still worked really well. This took around 8-10 minutes to bake, but if the oven is hot enough and the dough thin enough than it can take a reported 4 minutes. Fast! Professional Il Forno or wood burning ovens at pizzerias can take just 1.5-4 minutes at 800°F or higher, but for a home oven this is more than good results, it is outstanding results.
The crust was puffy, airy and almost nutty from the charring and it had a tender chew. The edges were crispy and crunchy which is a characteristic of a New York style pizza, but not Neapolitan. If you want then entire crust crunchy it can give you crunchy, but you just have to let it bake for longer and this is personal preference. The oven spring was incredible with excellent hole structure and this just does not happen with other types of pizza pans and stones. It wasn’t quite foldable, but perhaps I could have taken it out earlier. The pies baked evenly and consistently and although I couldn’t get leoparding (black leopard spotting/charring) on the underside of the crust, it is possible and I’ve seen others achieve it.
Neapolitan Style Pizza Dough
Pizza dough from one of Vancouver’s top Neapolitan style pizzerias – Nicli Antica Pizzeria
Pizza making round 2! I decided to try again with a Neapolitan style pizza dough which is very different from a New York style pizza dough. It is usually made with 100% premium Caputo Tipo 00 pizza flour from Italy, more water and no sugar or oil. I decided to go straight to the professionals for sourcing my pizza dough.
The pizza dough I used was sponsored by Nicli Antica Pizzeria which is Vancouver’s first VPN (Vera Pizza Napoletana) certified Neapolitan pizzeria in Vancouver, BC. This is the one that started it all and it was named “Best Pizzeria of 2012” by Vancouver Magazine. Despite the sudden pizza craze over the last couple years which resulted in many “Neapolitan pizza” places in Metro Vancouver opening, Nicli remains one of the top in the city and a local favourite. I have to give a shout out to PazzaRella Pizzeria too though.
The pizza dough was very good and easy to handle and I’m not just saying that because it was sponsored. I wish you could touch it. It was super soft and squishy and I wanted to sleep on it. It was so forgiving and stretchy and incredibly easy to work with. It had less water content than expected for Neapolitan pizza dough so it baked a bit denser and drier. Climate and many other factors (including me being an amateur) affects the pizza dough and results, so it won’t taste exactly like how it does in the restaurant although it is nothing to complain about. It is just different, but both excellent.
I prefer hand tossing the dough and I replicated the basic techniques I observed at Pizzeria Mozza in Follow Me Foodie to LA. I’m in no position to “teach” since pizza making is an art, but I worked inside out. I have no idea how to do the “slapping technique” so I did the stretching and finger tip pressing technique on the dough. There are many dough stretching techniques, but this is what I did and I am not a professional.
1) Use your finger tips to press down the centre and then pressed in random places to form a basic circle. Flip the dough over. The finger prints help create air in the dough for leoparding on the underside.
2) Stretch the dough in a circular motion and press the dough with your fingertips towards the edges to naturally create air bubbles around the rim. I popped the air bubbles before going into the oven and I got the crust to about 12 inches in diameter.
3) To further stretch the dough, drape the edge of the dough over your knuckles and stretch it while rotating in a circular motion.
This technique helped with the rise and I tried to make it as even as possible. For some reason with this dough it was extremely easy to get near perfect circles without tearing. No surprise. Pros do it best!
**Note: Nicli does not sell the dough and I do not know the recipe for it, but I wanted the dough to be near flawless so I could limit my variables and really test the Baking Steel.
Neapolitan Style Pizza
Kenji’s Neapolitan Style Pizza Recipe
20 ounces (about 4 cups) bread flour (preferably Italian Tipo “00” pizza flour)
.4 ounces kosher salt (about 4 teaspoons)
.3 ounces (about 2 teaspoons) instant yeast
13 ounces water
For best results allow for a long cold ferment minimum of three days. This allows for better browning and flavors in the crust.
I should start by saying most “Neapolitan pizza” places are Neapolitan style pizzas. Purists tend to argue authentic Neapolitan pizza can only come from Naples which is fair enough. It is the same with the Kobe beef and Champagne argument. So although this will not get you “authentic Neapolitan” pizza results, it’s cheaper than a plane ticket to Naples and it is close enough. For a home made pizza I was more than satisfied.
Just like the New York style pizza, the Neapolitan style pizza was baked on the highest heat (575°F or broil) and I placed the Baking Steel closest to the heating element of an electric oven. Again, if you don’t have a wood fired oven at home then gas would be the next best choice, but a regular electric oven still worked really well. This took around 7-8 minutes to cook (faster than New York style pizza), but if the oven is hot enough and the dough thin enough than it can take a reported 4 minutes. Professional Il Forno or wood burning ovens at pizzerias can take just 1.5-4 minutes at 800°F or higher, but for a home oven the results were incredible.
The crust was puffy, airy, crisp and beautifully charred with nice blisters, hole structure and impressive oven spring. The pizza should not be crunchy if you used a Neapolitan style dough recipe and do not over bake it. It was much chewier than the New York version, but that doesn’t say much because I don’t know the recipe for Nicli’s pizza dough. The texture of your Neapolitan pizza will vary according to dough recipe, humidity, and many other factors.
Authentically, Neapolitan pizzas will have soft soupy centres (not soggy, but soupy) that may require a knife and fork, but I couldn’t get that to happen here. This could be due to dough recipe, tossing of the dough, oven characteristics, baking surface or baking time. Apparently it is possible, but I need practice. Same thing with the leoparding (black leopard spotting/charring) on the underside. I need more practice, but I’ve seen photos from others and that is also possible. Pizza after pizza they all baked evenly and consistently.
If you still are not convinced. Here are Neapolitan style pizzas baked on the Baking Steel trial 1-4… in total I’ve made 8 various pizzas all a bit different. I had barely any toppings for some and then others were more American and loaded with sauce and toppings. All of them were consistently awesome. The ones with less leoparding I took out a few minutes earlier to see if the dough was cooked and it was, it just did not char yet.
With an authentic Neapolitan pizza I should not be able to do this (pick it up and have the whole thing not flop or fold on me). Neapolitan pizzas should fold, so perhaps I over baked it, but I wanted the char… I’ll have to work on this. This was still delicious though and in the end it is personal preference and style.
Again, the leoparding (black leopard spotting/charring) on the underside will vary depending on type of oven, temperature, dough, pizza maker and many other variables. I need to experiment more, but it is possible to achieve leoparding on the underside.
Regardless, I am confident the Baking Steel provides an excellent baking surface and it is the closest to perfection I have gotten in a home oven thus far. If you have a professional grade wood burning forno I would love to borrow it. Pizza party round 3 anyone? My pizza experimenting with the Baking Steel has just started and I need to perfect my pizza making skills!