Alas! Our long-awaited Baking Steel arrived midweek! We’d been waiting for this for a long time. Ok, well, we had been waiting for months for the “V2” to be released, but couldn’t wait any longer, so we buckled and ordered one from the existing line. What can we say? You can take the New Yorkers away from pizza, but you can’t take pizza away from New Yorkers. Or Naples. Or something like that.
Anyway, one thing we dearly miss about our previous home city is easy-to-find good pizza when the urge hits. We’re sure there’s good pizza to be found in London, but it doesn’t seem to exist anywhere near our flat. So, we bit the bullet – and the shipping/VAT bills – to have this 22lb slab of steel shipped to our door from the US.
Once we got the shipping notice, we started to prepare our Neapolitan dough, found in the recipes provided by US national foodie treasure, J. Kenji López-Alt of Serious Eats. Kenji has helped us through some dark times, and we salute him!
The dough is easy to prepare, but it must rest for a few days. We gave it 3 overnights, and then prepared a basic sauce: we wanted our first pizzas to be simple and straightforward: dough, sauce, cheese, and some basil and pepper. For the cheese, we used provola (scamorza) – which is like mozzerella, but a bit firmer and drier (we don’t want too much moisture in our pizza cheese).
We put the Baking Steel in the oven at its highest heat setting, which is about 260c/500f, and let it sit for about 2 hours, to make sure the steel and the oven had reached their maximum temperatures.
In the meantime, we took the dough from the fridge and let it reach room temperature, and let the sauce simmer.
Then it was finally time to try our first homemade pizza! We floured up a large cutting board and rolled out one of the dough balls. The dough was quite sticky and moist, and we had a hard time keeping it from sticking to the cutting board, so we put a heap of flour on a large cake lifter – our closest proxy to a pizza peel – and added our sauce, cheese, basil and some fresh black pepper.
Then we carefully made our way to the oven. We’ll be honest: this is where things got a little messy. Flouring the cake lifter seemed like a good idea, but it seems that the dough was so moist that it just absorbed the flour, so when we tried to ‘slide’ the dough onto the Baking Steel it got… stuck. Stuck gave way to mangled. There was a mild wave of panic in the Londinium Project kitchen. We needed to act fast to save our pie!
We quickly removed the pie from the oven, as it was still rather firmly attached to the cake lifter. Or, the part that hadn’t drooped off one edge was still firmly attached to the cake lifter. The other part was hanging perilously in the air.
We grabbed a sheet of aluminium foil and carefully moved our nascent pie onto it. This took some coaxing to prevent the whole thing from tearing. We then put the foil onto the cake lifter, and used it to transfer the pie onto the Baking Steel, unsure of how a layer of foil between the dough and the steel would affect cooking. We let this cook for about 4 minutes (the dough had started to look nicely browned by then).
We’re happy to report that this initial effort tasted pretty damn good. The crust was nice and crisp, with the outer edge a bit puffier (but not doughy or airy). The bottom wasn’t as crisp as it could be though, and there were remnants of uncooked flour caught in the nooks. But as far as first attempts go, we were mightily impressed. We agreed that the Baking Steel was a good purchase, and then set about making a second pie.
We decided to experiment a bit for pie number two. Since the first came out pretty crisp (except the underside), we didn’t flatten the dough ball as much. And instead of flouring up the cake lifter, we coated it with olive oil, hoping that would help the raw pie slide onto the Baking Steel (no aluminium foil this time, hopefully).
This almost worked out as planned. A small section of the cake lifter wasn’t covered with oil, and when we slid the pie onto the Baking Steel with a friendly nudge, two chunks of cheese slid off the dough and landed on the back of the Baking Steel (and, of course, starting sizzling right away). We knew the stray cheese couldn’t be salvaged, but the rest of the pie was sitting on the Baking Steel as intended, so we closed the oven and let it all be.
This one puffed up right away, with the outer edge of crust bubbling up noticeably. Given the thickness of the dough, we let it cook for 5 minutes. This was just enough time to get the dough cooked without the remaining cheese burning.
The second pie was quite a bit different from the first. The crust was denser – more like a pan pizza – and not as crispy as the first. But the underside was much crisper than the first (aided by the olive oil making direct contact with the Baking Steel).
The verdict was that this one was a bit too thick, though at least we now have an idea of how to prepare our next round of pies: we’ll aim for a thickness about in between these two, and use a liberal amount of olive oil on the cake lifter to allow us to transfer the pie to the Baking Steel (and get that nice crisp underside).
We are well on our way to having regular pizza nights in Londinium!