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Brian's Photo Blog — Article 580
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Homemade Artisan Pizza Woes
Wednesday 20 July 2016   —   Category: Cooking & Food
It was back in November 2015 that I started making my first homemade artisan pizzas, as inspired and instructed by the book Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza by Portland master baker Ken Forkish.

Then the holiday season intervened, so it wasn’t until this year that I was able to experiment some more. After further attempts in January, February, April and June, this gourmet chef wannabe has been experiencing quite a few difficulties and disappointments. Obviously I am not ready for pizza prime time!
 
For reasons you can read about in his book, Ken likes doughs that are very wet. I don’t know how he manages in his pizza shop, but I find them im­pos­si­ble to work with.

Even after adding a lot of extra flour to make the dough less sticky, it is still hard to work with. And if I add too much flour, then the final crust is too dry and hard.
 
When I put plenty of flour or cornmeal on the peel so the uncooked pizza won’t stick as I put it into the oven, the re­sult­ing crust tastes like mouthfuls of raw flour or cornmeal ... yuk!

This pizza may look like it turned out OK, but when trying to transfer it to the pizza stone for cooking it was almost impossible to get off the peel.

Because the dough was so wet, and be­cause I didn’t bake it properly, the crust was not completely cooked when we tried to eat it. Sheesh!
 
Here’s the part of the pizza that ended up falling off the pizza stone and car­bon­iz­ing on the oven floor.

After these November and January ex­er­cis­es in frustration and futility, I vowed to not use the peel and stone any more. It just wasn’t worth the hassle. It would be much better, easier and tastier to simply get a pizza at Papa Murphey’s!
 
For the second pizza that day in January, I added more flour to the sticky dough before rolling it out. It was a lot easier to work with. Then I rubbed the top of the dough with a thin layer of flour. I sprin­kled a modest amount of corn meal on the peel, and then put the floured side of the dough down on the peel. After I put the toppings on, the dough slid off the peel quite easily!

This pizza went into the freezer, and then we heated it up a couple of weeks later during Super Bowl 50. Unfortunately, the pizza did not turn out so good ... the crust was too floury, and the cheese did not melt into the rest of the pizza very well. By this time I was really fed up trying to make artisan pizzas at home!
 
In his book Ken talks briefly about focaccia. He points out that there is a fine line separating focaccia and pizza, and that focaccia is often served with toppings — sometimes even traditional pizza toppings like cheese and/or meat.

After the success of my first home­made focaccia earlier in January, it struck me that I could use a focaccia for my pizza crust instead of the more traditional pizza dough that I had been having so many problems with.
 
Because I’m in love with cast-​iron cook­ware, I picked up a 14-inch cast-​iron piz­za pan for my next round of culinary ex­per­i­ments in February.

I made a half-batch of Ken’s 80% White Biga dough, replacing some of the water with extra virgin olive oil. Once it was ready to be used, I spread it out in the pizza pan. Then I baked the focaccia as normal before putting any toppings on, to make sure the crust would be com­plete­ly cooked. Nobody likes half-baked pizza crust!
 
After the focaccia had been baked thor­ough­ly, but not so much that the top was getting hard and crunchy, I added the top­pings and popped the pizza back into the oven.

In order to simulate cooking a pizza on a stone, I had put the stone in the oven when preheating the oven, so it would get nice and hot. Then I set the pizza pan on top of the stone, so that the pizza would have intense heat coming from the bottom as well as from the top.
 
The February focaccia pizza turned out so good that I did a repeat performance at the end of April.

When baking a pizza at high 450°F to 500°F temperatures, it doesn’t take very long for the cheese to melt and for all the toppings to get hot.
 
This pizza would have been good, but the not-very-good pepperoni I got from Otto’s Sausage Kitchen, in Portland’s Wood­stock Neighborhood, pretty much ruined the experience. Oh well, live and learn!

Furthermore, I still had a lot of variables to figure out, all of which affect the final quality of the pizza: the strength of the sauce and how much to use, the type and amount of the other toppings, how much oil to put in the dough, the cooking tem­per­a­ture and duration, whether to use the oven’s broil or bake setting, and more.
 
While I had the camera in hand, I could not resist a close-up beauty shot.

I’m still wondering which of Ken’s pre-​ferment recipies makes the best focaccia: Poolish or Biga. Further experimentation is required!
 
For my next focaccia pizza at the end of June, I picked up some Hormel Natural Choice Uncured Pepperoni at the local Fred Meyer’s. I chose it mostly because it was the smallest package of pepperoni they had. Turns out the 3.15 ounces was just right.

Since my last pizza in April, it had sud­den­ly dawned on me that commercially-​made pizzas often have the cheese on top of the sauce, and then the toppings on top of the cheese. I had always put the cheese on last, on top of everything else. So for the very first time I tried the cheese-​under-​the-​toppings method.
 
This pizza turned out pretty good, but the crust was too thick. I think a half-​batch of dough is too much; next time I will try a one-third batch. But spreading a half-batch of dough over the 14-inch pizza pan is already a challenge. I’m not sure I will be able to spread the dough from a one-third batch thin enough to cover the entire pan.
 
Larger versions of all of the pizza photos on this page can be found in the Bread, Pizza & Pretzels 2016 album.

Tune in again for the next exciting episode of Brian’s Homemade Artisan Pizza adventure. Will he succeed in spreading a one-​third batch of dough over the entire 14-inch pizza pan? Will it be his best pizza ever? Or will something else go wrong, as it often does? Only time and further culinary experimentation will tell!
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 580
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Brian's Photo Blog — Article 580
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