Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Getting Stoned

Pizza baking temperature will vary. Ask each pizza expert and you will get a different answer as to the best temperature. What they do agree on is HOT.
I've had a pizza stone below the oven in the drawer for 3 decades at least. It was the same stone I used when I baked bad pizza on and it was well seasoned from a lot of poorly made pizzas. One of my favorite stories is when I had baked a pizza one evening and left the remaining half uneaten pizza on the breadboard with a serving spatula on it. I figured on doing the dishes after I had loosened my belt and watched an episode of Cheers. I got up to go do the dishes half an hour later and saw the spatula on the living room carpet. I called out to Sheri to see if she had left the spatula in the middle of the carpet. Of course she answered in a sarcastic tone implying she hadn't. I knew what she meant because I too, speak sarcasm as a second language. Then I noticed the pizza wasn't on the breadboard anymore nor was it anywhere else. That's when we had realized our Golden Retriever, Salem had captured his prey, dragged it into the living room and devoured it! But he didn't cover his tracks. He had left the spatula in the middle of the floor. Busted, bad doggie, case closed.
That stone was still around when I first started to rediscover pizza. I began to use it again and this time with more knowledge and practice. The temperature I settled on for baking pizzas in our oven was 550 F as that as high as my oven will go. Not too many months into the pizza journey I heard a pop from across the family room. That didn't sound good and sure enough under the Calzones I was baking was a tectonic split in my 30 year old ceramic pizza stone.
Time to replace it. I tried to problem solve it. I was not washing the stones so there wasn't moisture present I figured it was just old or too hot. Since clay doesn't age it must've been too hot. The next stone was the same thickness, size and structure. Within a 6 week period a second one shattered.
Now for my third, I couldn't find any different type stones so I changed shapes to rectangle. After about 4 weeks it shattered as well. So, I must be one mean pizza maker or I'm buying inferior stones. Along the way I needed a substitute and started using 6 x 6" unglazed marble tiles leftover from the construction of our home. Put 9 together and you get a nice 18 x 18" stone on the rack of your oven. The stone must be unglazed so as to draw some of the moisture out of the dough when it bakes. This actually works despite the seams between all the tiles.
I have since ordered a professional pizza stone from Ebay called Fibrament D. It is of the same material that the pizzerias use in their ovens and best of all 3/4" thick! I will report and up-to-date on it's success or failure.
I feel kind of like soldier racking up the score with three confirmed kills. I want to spread my feet, adjust my waistband, pucker my face and hold my chest out like Barney Fife and go "yep, I've got three kills now." But that's not the point of pizza making. The number of stones you shatter doesn't matter. The number of good quality pizzas you made on them does.

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