Sunday, April 7, 2013

Review: The Baking Steel Yields Five Sigma Tomato Pie

Once again I have to give recognition to the good folks at Slice-SeriousEats for calling to my attention the "Baking Steel" which permits home pizza makers to craft pizzas (Trenton style, Neapolitan, or Tomato Pie) with superb crust results (see their assessment HERE).  I bought the $72 Steel about a month back and thus far had used it only to bake a generic frozen rising crust pizza; on Super Bowl Sunday, I gave it the full test drive for a Trenton-style tomato pie with thin crust, tomato chunks, and modest amounts of cheese.
A preview of Five Sigma tomato pie; click any pic to enlarge

Recently, I reported on a home pizza baking gathering where we tried to determine if we achieve Six Sigma pizza (story HERE) by virtue of continuous improvement in technique or via superior ingredients. Spoiler alert - it was both!  We baked awesome pies then, using absolute top shelf ingredients, but with the compromise of home equipment. The Baking Steel would be one tool to close the gap between commercial and home ovens.
A slice of our Six Sigma Pie from a few weeks ago

A good scientist would have replicated all the ingredients; the only change would have been the Baking Steel and the higher oven temp.  But I'm a lazy scientist, and I used the ingredients I had on hand.

In place of the homemade dough of 1/3 Italian 00 flour, 1/3 whole wheat flour and 1/3 conventional flour, I used very good pizza dough that I had purchased frozen from Franca (a Trenton bakery) in the summer.

For my Six Sigma pie experiment, a friend had supplied canned San Marzano tomatoes. This time, the tomatoes were Kirkland brand (Costco) organic stewed California Roma tomatoes. I added fresh garlic, dried basil and oregano. I applied the tomatoes first, and purposely left the middle almost empty to avoid a wet center.
Amoeba-shaped crust with the tomatoes applied, on  the peel

Last time, the cheese was fresh mozzarella straight from Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, and a little goat cheese; we finished the pies with grated grana padano post-bake. The cheese mix this time was shredded "Italian blend" from the Bottom Dollar discount grocery, the same grana padano (except it went on pre-bake), and the same Chavrie goat cheese.

For Six Sigma, we used Arthur Ave soppressata and prosciutto (does it get any better?) and one pie had anchovies.  This time, we used Hormel sandwich pepperoni and chunks of canned ham. Surely a drop-off but the meat bits crisped up nicely.

Last time, we baked our pies at 400 or 450 on perforated pizza pans, and it worked out well; the crusts were crisp, sturdy yet chewy. This time, we pre-heated the oven and the Baking Steel to 550 (I was delighted that my cheap builders-grade GE oven went beyond 500 degrees).  I used my new pizza peel to slide the pie in. I expected it to cook in about 7 minutes, but it probably spent 10 minutes in there.
Right out of the oven, before slicing

How was it?  The Franca dough delivered a superb crisp base but it didn't get the internal-bubble hole structure that I hoped to achieve. Surely, 4-5 months in the freezer will remove some of the desirable elastic properties of pizza dough. Next time, it will be fresh-made dough. Even with that defect, the crust was better than 95% of the commercial pizza you can find.  Look at the underside, it's really quite lovely even without leopard spots.

The San Marzano tomatoes last time were a 10; the Kirkland California tomatoes were excellent stuff - perhaps a 9 -- and I'm glad I bought a case. A drop-off, but not by much. The cheese was quite good, but it probably would have been better with more mozzarella, less grana padano, and less goat cheese. I love goat cheese but it was a tad dominating here and the pie was pretty salty.

You can't do that at 400 degrees on a pan

The biggest shortcoming was the meats. Hormel pepperoni and canned ham tastes good when it gets the 550 degree treatment; but better cured meats taste fantastic. Surely worth the extra cost if you're already spending $72 for the baking surface.
One beautiful bubble!

For my ingredients, the crust gets an 8, the tomatoes a 9, the cheese a 7, the meats a 6. Overall, this tomato pies grades out to be an 8. I'm at Five Sigma. (Is there such a thing?) 
No tip sag!

The Baking Steel gets a tentative "A" grade because this is the best crust I've ever made from that frozen dough (it's been my go-to crust source). I really need to give it the full test soon, because these results are encouraging. I don't have to hesitate to endorse the Baking Steel to anyone attempting to craft Six Sigma tomato pie or pizza.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Marty,
    The 5 Sigma Pie. Beautiful. Thanks for taking the Baking Steel for a test drive. Your pie looks beautiful. Looking forward to seeing a round of fresh dough!
    I like your scientific views!