When we left this pizza making story, I had caved in and bought a cheap pizza stone, frustrated by several attempts to turn hardware store products into a suitable baking surface. The problem seemed to be chemical treatments on the tiles, or ingredients in the composite ceramic materials that ended up producing smoke and/or a foul odor in the house. With this total sellout seasoned and sitting in my oven, I was ready to start making pizza for real. Operation, breakfast pizzas. Game on.
Before going to bed, I whipped up some dough using this revelatory recipe that's oh so simple (and guess who wrote it? - my pizza book guy, Peter Reinhardt). Wait, you're not making your own dough? Why not? Do you prefer to pick yours up from the local pizzeria like I did from Mary Angela's last week? That's fine too. For the rest of you, let's talk for a minute. You get a pizza stone, because you want good pizza crust. The snap, the char, the contrast between the chewy inside and the crusty outside. It's all gotta be there and the only way to bring that about is a hot rock and some fresh yeasty dough. No holes in the aluminum baking pan will suffice. That only keeps the pie from stewing in its own sweat - no scalding occurs. The stone even makes your store bought DiGiorno taste not like delivery, but closer to a real pizzeria. Oh yeah. Dough. If you have a stand mixer, it only takes a minute and there's no mess. Make that recipe linked above and consider buying this book (wait! complete text here)
Back to baking. I divided my dough into six balls, bagged them up, and left them in the fridge overnight. The next morning, I baked two pies with whole eggs on top (one red and one white). That's them baking away. Now, before dropping the pies on the stone, I had to preheat the oven with the stone in it. Most people just let their pizza stones live in the oven, by the way. And ideally, preheating should go as high as 800 degrees. My Hotpoint oven only goes to 500 and I don't think I even went that high. Anyhow, before you know it, I've got the exhaust fan going on high and both front and back doors open with Karen complaining that it's too cold for that sh*t. Why? Because smoke and that familiar awful smell starts filling the house.
The pizzas, again, came out great. I over cooked the eggs. The red sauced pizza was so much better than the white (probably the cheddar that snuck onto the white one to please Karen's cheese cravings - still out of pizza cheese). But I couldn't enjoy the results. Another pizza stone experiment literally up in smoke. Grrrr. That crust should be transporting me to Naples right now! (it really was good) Why would this be happening again? Do you know what a confounding variable is? In this case, it's a common factor among experiments that prevents the outcome that I want. What's common among my experiments? The oven. I refuse to accept that something is wrong with my oven, because this never happens unless I put a piece of tile in there. What else? The oil. I read that you're supposed to season the tile with grease or oil. Doh! That's it. I used olive oil, which has a low smoke point. No need to take the pizza stone to the supercan this time. The oil will cook off through repeated use. (wheels still turning, right? hold that thought)
In the next day or two I used up three more dough balls and gave one to a neighbor. There was an lentil and kale dish inspired by my visit to Ruchee Express (and the fact that we're introducing both ingredients to Jasper - he does NOT like them... yet). So, I made a poor excuse for naan bread that was really just garlic schmeared flat bread (still tasty). And then I rolled out the remaining dough ball really thin - while worrying that I'd let the dough hang out in the fridge too long. Whatever, let's make another white pizza.
I dunno, yall. Does this look edible? By this point in the pizza stone charade, the house stopped stinkin up. The smell was faint, if detectable at all. Still lacking any pizza cheese and now out of red sauce, I took some cottage cheese (strange substitution for ricotta) and whipped it with crushed garlic and olive oil using an immersion blender. On top of that, I put some paper thin zucchini slices (using this) that were sauteed in olive oil. When it came out of the oven, I covered it in a light snowstorm of parmigiano reggiano and a drizzling of olive oil. Damn, that sounds pretentious. Sauteed zucchini is a pretty good vegetarian pepperoni, in my opinion. My favorite squash by a mile, cuz it caramelizes so well.
Look, I really needed to end on a high note. Ya know, hit one out of the park, just for my own sense of self-worth. Cracker crust is a favorite in my house. I've even got fond memories of Pizza Hut's thin and crispy pies from my childhood. To paraphrase Peter Reinhardt, your paradigm of pizza perfection is contextual; it's based on what you grew up loving. So, I'm a sucker for a little snap in each bite, and a pizza stone is my ticket to my personal pizza heaven and eating-activated memories.
So, that brings me to the elephant in the room. What about those other tiles that didn't make the cut? Was it the chemical composition of the tile or the olive oil? Ah, the confounding variable. But wait, what's this? Jes, in the Fan, left a comment saying that saltillo tiles are the way to go according to Alton Brown of the Food Network. That links takes you to a place where the minimum order is 900 sq feet (for an over bigger than the first floor of my house). Looks like the hunt is back on. Where in Richmond can one get "raw" (unsealed) saltillo tiles? And are they safe?
I guess this is to be continued after all. In the meantime, I'm going to keep experimenting with crusts and toppings and gadgets when I make pizza. I am starting to think I need one of these to scoop up my pizza, instead of using my flat cookie sheet. The Epicurean model is great and their stuff is so overpriced and unpopular that I often find their cutting boards at Marshalls. Maybe their pizza peel will show up soon. Before that happens, I'll bet we'll see these pizza scissors in the clearance bin any day now. Ah, so many useless things to collect.
Back to Reinhart one last time. In his pizza hunting travels, he found several of what he would call "perfect pizzas." Among all of them, and even those that fell short of perfection, there is a pizzaiolo tending to every detail and taking pride in his or her work, even when the results are unpredictable. Few restaurants have this going for them. But, your kitchen does! That's you. Making good pizza seems so simple, but the devil is in the details. From my experience thus far, it's a painful frustrating process (ask Karen about my kitchen nervous breakdowns), but the satisfaction of producing even a mediocre homemade pie is pretty terrific. At this point, I'm wondering how many times per week Karen will let me make pizzas. I can always use the "Jasper needs more pizza crust teething biscuits" excuse.