In Search Of Perfection: 2-minute Pizza!
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.
- 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!
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!
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!