Food & Drink

In Search Of Perfection: 2-minute Pizza!

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Dec 13, 2002
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In Search Of Perfection: 2-minute Pizza!

Back around Christmas, nothing good seemed to be on tv so I switched to Food Network Canada as I'd noticed in the Guide that there was a show on that I'd never heard. It was called "In Search of Perfection" [link to FoodTV's site], and the episode's title was: "PIZZA". :razz:

The host, Heston Blumenthal knows a thing or 2 about food - he's a "culinary alchemist" to the extreme (kinda like Alton Brown, but perhaps a little bit less fun) and a practitioner of "molecular gastronomy". He also runs "The Fat Duck" restaurant in Bray, England, which on top of its status as a 3-star Michelin winner was, in 2005, named "Best Restaurant in the World" by Restaurant magazine.

In this particular episode he decided to go to Napoli, Italy where he says they make the world's best pizza. He then went back to his test kitchen in Bray and tried to re-create the tastes he experienced there. Let's just say the guy takes everything to the full-"extreme" and doesn't mind spending oodles of time in his search for perfection (FYI: he has a recipe for a "24-hour steak"). However, I must say - the results certainly looked good.

Anyway, the point of this post: I didn't bother with his whole pizza dough & sauce recipe - the thing that really caught my interest was his "2-minute" cooking method. He says pizzas need to be cooked quickly, with heat coming from above AND below, and if you aren't lucky enough to have a traditional pizza oven installed in your home kitchen, then here's the next best thing:
  • 1. Turn your oven on to the hottest temperature it will go (550F?)
  • 2. Put a large cast-iron frying-pan on your stove-top burner at the hottest setting (for "at least" 20 minutes, he says)
  • 3. Prepare your pizza (which can be no larger than the underside of your pan) on a semolina or cornmeal-dusted pizza peel.*
  • 4. Turn your oven to BROIL setting and let the element get nice 'n red.
  • 5. Take your hot pan and put it in your oven, upside-down, and close to the broiler (ensure there's enough room for the dough to rise without the toppings coming into contact with it).
  • 6. Slide your pizza from the peel onto the overturned pan.**
  • 7. Close the door up part-way, and wait about 2 minutes (+/- depending on your oven and pan)
  • 8. Remove the pizza from the oven.. let it cool a bit***.. and enjoy!

    * Note: I don't have a pizza peel so I used the flat disc (bottom) from a springform pan, sprayed with PAM then dusted liberally with cornmeal, as cornmeal alone didn't provide enough slippage to transfer the dough to the pan once it was laden with toppings).
    ** Furthermore: Be warned: there is no room for error - things are scorchingly hot, and as soon as the dough touches the hot pan it will stick and start to cook. What I found was easier was to take my pan off the stovetop upside-down onto a wooden trivet sitting on my counter-top, transfer the pizza there, then place the pan under the broiler. DON'T FORGET TO WEAR AN OVEN-GLOVE!
    *** A word of warning: because of the extreme heat involved, the sauce gets VERY hot. My 2nd pizza was still almost-"ouch" after 20 minutes out of the oven!

    One other suggestion: I placed a cookie sheet on a lower rack beneath the pan in case any toppings dripped or dropped.
There's a short (edited) video on YouTube of him doing this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5E0GP1rkFRM - though in this clip, the entire process is not explained, which is why I took the time to outline it in detail here.

MY RESULTS:
  • 1st attempt: Well, my oven's digital control is on the fritz and my broiler unfortunately & inexplicably switched off about 30-seconds after the pizza went in, and though I watched in amazement as the dough immediately literally rose & puffed up before my eyes, as the broiler switched off, the top did not brown. After about a minute off, I realized it was not coming back on so reset it, and instantly saw results. By the 4-minute mark, my pizza was well-done! (gotta keep your eye on it).

    Thoughts: the bottom of the pizza base was crisp, and definitely had the "pizza-oven"/pizza-store taste & texture (though honestly a little too-"cardboard-y", as after 4 minutes on the pan, it was over-cooked). The cheese had melted well and coloured nicely. The dough (supermarket bakery dept's pizza dough, same as I often use) had risen more than usual, and even though I rolled it aiming for a thin-crust, it had puffed to about 1-1/2" in height. Possibly the most noticeable difference to my usual bake 15mins @ 450F cookie-sheet pizza was that the toppings this time seemed "gooier"(messier) - reminiscent perhaps of a big sloppy pan pizza. I suspect my normal longer cooking time dries a bit of the moisture out of the sauce. So though it was "different", it was still a pretty good result, considering.
    .
  • 2nd attempt: I used a slightly-smaller ball of dough this time and stretched the dough more thinly. I also spread the sauce a bit more thinly and (as mentioned previously) sprayed my makeshift "peel" with PAM so it'd transfer more easily, and all seemed to work to good effect. No problems with the broiler either, @ 2-mins pizza was puffed up but not quite browned enough for my liking, but another 30 seconds and it looked good! YEAH! 2m30seconds success!! Pizza was awesome! :D
I still had 1/2 of the purchased ball of dough left but had had enough at this point of messing with hot equipment (and cornmeal everywhere!), so I tossed me a 10" round and cooked it my traditional way - on the cookie sheet, intending it to be a good direct comparison. But because my oven's digital readout wasn't working and the fan was still whirring, I hadn't realized the oven was actually off.. and after 15 minutes it had cooked a bit but was still kinda soft... I eventually got it going, but it wasn't up to my usual high standard.

This time around the 2-minute(30) pizza was the winner!!

Was it worth the effort? Hmmm... certainly worth the experiment. I might make it like this every now and again for a change from the ordinary, but truthfully - this time out, it was a bit of a hassle. Having better equipment would certainly help - not having a pizza peel made things difficult and messy. I think a bigger pan would also improve things - I was working with a skimpy 6" base. Good enough for a single "regular" portion perhaps, but then I usually eat an entire cookie-sheet sized pizza by myself! :lol:

Sorry, I didn't take any pics, though they did look good.

So.. who's feeling adventurous? I want to see and hear how it turns out for others!
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I had some more pizza-making fun this weekend, and thought I'd take some pics. Unfortunately the quality of my camera phone is complete shite, but hopefully you'll get the idea. This time, I used a cast-iron grill pan, larger than what I used last time. And improving on my last improvised "pizza peel", this time I used 2, not 1, cake pan removable bases - 1 to make the pizza on and the other to use as an aide in sliding the uncooked pizza off and onto the scorchingly-hot overturned cast-iron pan. It actually worked quite well and the whole thing really wasn't much of an effort whatsoever. Only boo-boo came when I didn't realize the wooden trivet I'd put the pan on while I was making the pizza had wedged itself inside the pan and it went right into the oven. A few seconds later I turned around and realized that something was missing from my counter-top.... fortunately I rescued it from the oven just in the nick of time! :lol:

Cooking time this week was 3 minutes 'cos I had the door open quite a bit so I could take pics! :D
Nonetheless, it was cooked nicely and damn, did it ever taste good!

[IMG]http://img255.imageshack.us/img255/1182 ... za1uv6.jpg[/IMG]
[IMG]http://img255.imageshack.us/img255/6734 ... za2af8.jpg[/IMG]
[IMG]http://img255.imageshack.us/img255/4610 ... za3dy4.jpg[/IMG]
[IMG]http://img255.imageshack.us/img255/3715 ... za4wv4.jpg[/IMG]
[IMG]http://img255.imageshack.us/img255/7291 ... za5rg6.jpg[/IMG]
[IMG]http://img255.imageshack.us/img255/3817 ... za6kf4.jpg[/IMG]
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Mar 8, 2006
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Richmond
Wow, that looks great.... thanks for taking the time to show us how it's done!

Now I just have to somehow get my hands on some pizza dough and good pizza sauce, and cheese....
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Elmira
An interesting read, thanks for the pics.

I have seen the show before... He tried to deep fry a turkey I think and it totally caught on fire in his yard and was totally ruined hehe

Do you have a recipe for this 24-hour steak? I'm curious about that for when BBQ season comes around again

Nice work :)
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^ Here you go, Heston's 24-Hour Steak article in the UK Sunday Times, Nov 2006, extracted and adapted from his book:
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0, ... 35572.html (2-pages)
Some guy tried it and posted his vids on YouTube, but apparently he didn't do it right. His wife's reaction when she first takes a bite is kinda funny though!
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Elmira
RenegadeX wrote: ^ Here you go, Heston's 24-Hour Steak article in the UK Sunday Times, Nov 2006, extracted and adapted from his book:
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0, ... 35572.html (2-pages)
Some guy tried it and posted his vids on YouTube, but apparently he didn't do it right. His wife's reaction when she first takes a bite is kinda funny though!

Damn.. He's a "Steak purist".. meaning its done on stovetop rather than on BBQ

I'm looking for the ultimate grilled steak :)


Thanks :)
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Apr 23, 2007
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Wow, those are some kinda pics! You obviously went to a fair bit of trouble.
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From another pizza thread:
Xax wrote: Tried the fast, high-temp method, just using my cheapo metal pizza wheel and store-bought pre-formed crust. Unfortunately, it didn't leave enough time for the inside of the crust to bake, so I had to drop down the temperature and leave it in for quite a while longer. Does this not happen with dough?
It shouldn't, but as Heston says in the 'In Search of Perfection' pizza episode, everyone's oven & grill strength is different, and everyone's pan is different so it's expected that you may have to do some experimenting in order to find out what works best for your oven. However, you said:
  • - 1) ..you used a "cheapo metal pizza wheel".
    Um, a 'pizza wheel' is a pizza cutter, did you perhaps mean instead a 'cheapo metal perforated pizza disc'? (image link)The '2-minute pizza' method called for cooking the pizza directly on top of a pre-heated oven-proof cast-iron pan. Heavy(thick) cast-iron is used due to its excellent heat retention and even heat distribution properties and Heston said to pre-heat it for 20 minutes on the stove-top at 'maximum temperature' in order to bring as close as possible to the grill temp. A pizza disc, being made of aluminum, and being thin, and possibly being perforated - simply won't perform as well, so it's inevitable that the top of your pizza cooked faster than the bottom.

    Watch this segment of the 'In Search of Perfection: Pizza' episode that someone uploaded to YouTube -- Heston explains the problem (saying that even a pizza-stone does not provide sufficient heat below the pizza) and goes through extensive trial and error trying to find a cooking method that will give him as close to equal heat from the top and bottom as possible. He eventually determined that cooking directly on a pre-heated over-turned cast-iron pan inside a very hot pre-heated oven is the best solution to the dilemma.
    .
  • -2) ..you said you used a store-bought pre-formed crust
    Fresh dough will have more air in it than a store-bought pre-formed pizza crust like you used, so I would theorize that being less dense, fresh dough will cook more quickly. Generally, the more dense a food, the longer it will take to cook.

    The reason dough rises is because the yeast in it is alive and feeds on the starch in the flour, basically farting out a gas, carbon dioxide (CO2). Fresh dough is therefore full of tiny gas bubbles, and as gases expand when heated, when dough is cooked, the expansion of the CO2 gas causes air pockets to form, and the dough to rise. Your pre-formed crust has been pressed (squeezing out much of the CO2 gas that was originally in it), has been allowed to sit in a pressed-state for an unknown period of time (yeast becomes less active), and may have already been partially baked (oven-type temperatures kills yeast), and may contain preservatives (possibly slowing the yeast's fermentation process) -- all factors that may affect the dough's ability/potential to rise, and therefore the item's density and required cooking time.

    So, while most pre-formed pizza bases are designed to rise to a certain extent during cooking, I would not expect them to have the same excellent rising-properties of a freshly-made pizza dough. In your case, 2-minutes under the grill may have been long enough to cook the toppings, but not enough to cook the base. Some experimentation with pre-formed bases may be in order, it may work, then again, it might not. I never buy 'em, so unfortunately, you're on your own with this one..
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Aug 14, 2007
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Thanks for taking the time to do an explanation and detailed write up. Interesting read, worth trying. :cheesygri
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S14_Raven wrote: Anyone try this method for store bought frozen pizzas?
do you even have to ask? what you can expect in 2 mins, is for it to be 90% undercooked, even at such a high temp
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Richmond Hill
I must say his looked good put your pizza does not look too appetizing.
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Toronto
Has anyone experimented with the tomatoes? Heston recommends canned san marzanno tomatoes from the volcanic soil of Italy. I found them at Highland but after seeing the price, I think they should include a complementary one-time use defibrillator coupon. Did these tomatoes get a first class seat on Alitalia to come here???

I did try marinating the green tomato stem in the sauce (just the hot house variety) and that seemed to make a difference. I do that with my bruschetta before serving and people have commented that it tastes like summer.
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Siefer999 wrote: do you even have to ask? what you can expect in 2 mins, is for it to be 90% undercooked, even at such a high temp
My my.. snippy one aren't we. Maybe poorly worded, but there is a legitimate question there.

Obviously you won't be cooking anything frozen in 2 minutes, but using this method, compared to say a pizza stone, for that extra 'crunch' in the crust.
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This looks really good. I may try it one day.

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