Brian's Photo Blog — Article 493
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My First Homemade Artisan Pizzas
Wednesday 18 November 2015   —   Category: Cooking & Food
In my last article I wrote about the beginning of an artisan bread adventure with the book Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza by Portland-based master baker Ken Forkish.

My first few attempts focused on bread recipes. Then I ea­gerly turned my attention to homemade artisan pizza recipes, but before I could continue I needed to get a couple of spe­cial pieces of kitchen equipment.

After much deliberating over the pros and cons of the var­i­ous types of pizza stones, I finally settled on a metal “stone” — the NerdChef Steel Stone high-performance baking sur­face for pizza (.375-​inch thick Pro).

In order to get the pizza on and off the “stone,” I also bought a 14” x 16” aluminum pizza peel with wood handle. And while I was at it, I picked up a 14" heavy duty pizza chopper as well.

Once all of the proper tools arrived, it was time to work on my artisan-pizza-making technique. As always, I had my camera in the kitchen to document my latest culinary adventure.
After making a half-batch of Ken’s White Bread With 80% Biga dough, I prepared the toppings for my first artisan pizza: mozzarella cheese, mushrooms, black olives, and onion. The tomato sauce was made according to Ken’s Smooth Red Sauce recipe, also in the book.

I’m still not used to the high moisture content of Ken’s doughs, so I added quite a bit more flour to make the dough less sticky. I ended up with exactly a kilo (2.2 lbs) of raw pizza dough.
I took a third of a kilo of dough (nearly 12 ounces) and stretched it out to about 12 inches. Then, layer by layer, I started adding the toppings, as you can see in this sequence of five photos.

In the last image, I had shaken the pizza on the peel, added a bit of flour under the pizza, and then shaken again, to make sure the pizza was going to slide off the peel onto the “stone” in the oven.
I had turned on the oven to its maximum temperature of 550°F about 45 minutes ahead of time, so that the steel pizza “stone” would be nice and toasty. Fol­low­ing the instructions in Ken’s book, I positioned the oven rack 8 inches below the top heating element. Once I had pre­vent­ed the uncooked pizza from sticking to the peel, it was simple to slide it off the peel and onto the “stone”.
Following Ken’s guidelines, I cooked the pizza on “bake” for 5 minutes, and then finished on “broil” for 2 minutes. I had been afraid that the steel pizza “stone” would be too hot, which might have re­sult­ed in a burnt crust. Despite my fears, my first artisan pizza did not burn, either on the bottom or the top. Hurray!

You’ll have to admit that it is a beau­ti­ful-​looking pizza!
The inaugural try of my new pizza cutter proved that it is a very useful tool.

Unfortunately, I was quite disappointed with the pizza’s crust, which turned out thin and hard. Hmmm ... this problem was going to require some pondering in order to identify its cause and to find a solution.

In addition, I was also disappointed with the tomato sauce — it seemed kind of bland. Ah well, it was only my first try!
My wife and daughter put together the second pizza. As you can see, for some reason the dough seems more puffy. Was it because their dough had sat longer on the peel while putting the toppings on? Or was it because the steel pizza “stone” had had more time to get fully heat-​sat­u­rat­ed? Who knows?
My feeling was that I had overcooked the first pizza, so for this second one I didn’t let the crust get as dark. It def­i­nite­ly turned out better, as the crust was not so hard. And it was another pho­to­gen­ic pizza!
For the third pizza, I made a half-half — one side had the mushrooms and onions which I prefer, while the other side had the shrimp and pineapple my daughter prefers. My wife likes it all!

Once black olives and mozzarella cheese were distributed over both halves, the pizza was ready for the oven. As you can see, I made sure there was plenty of flour on the pizza peel.
This time, rather than baking the pizza for 5 minutes and then broiling it for 2 minutes, I decided to skip the baking and to broil it the entire time, which ended up being about 5 minutes. I think that this technique resulted in a better bal­ance between the heat on the bottom of the pizza from the steel “stone” and the heat on the top of the pizza from the broiler heating element. I plan on cook­ing all future pizzas in this way.
Although my first artisan pizzas were fairly successful, still, there were a few areas which needed to be improved. Here is what I learned:
  • My crust was way too thin! Rather than using one-third of a kilo of dough (about 12 ounces), I should have used 500g (about 18 ounces) — or more. Or else I should have made the pizzas smaller.
  • Cooking the pizza on “broil” the entire time seems to work better than using the “bake” setting part of the time. This way, the top and the bottom of the pizza receive a better balance of heat.
  • Ken says the quality of the canned tomatoes has a big impact on the taste of the sauce. I had used what I had on hand ... the cheap Great Value brand from Walmart. Ken recommends canned San Marzano tomatoes. I just picked up a can at Market of Choice for the next round of pizza making.
  • Because the sauce has to spice the entire pizza, I think it should be pretty strong. More salt, more pepper, more garlic, more Italian herbs.
  • I was afraid that the thin layer of dough would not support the weight of all the toppings, so I held back on the cheese. Next time, with a thicker crust, I will put on more cheese.
After this halfway-decent start, I think artisan pizza-making will be a regular event in our household from now on ... sorry Papa Murphy’s!
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 493
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