Pizza while we wait

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Until this past Thursday, we hadn’t made pizza in a very long time.

Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you just how long, but because I’ve been documenting our food life in excruciating detail for two years now, I can tell you precisely how long: eleven months and nine days.

It was eleven months and nine days ago that both – both! – our pizza stones cracked as they cooled. Kevin had perfected a two-stone system, with one near the oven bottom to cook the pie, and one just under the broiler to finish off the topping, and we’d been using it without mishap for several years. This time, though, we woke the next morning to find that both of the stones in pieces in the oven.

I don’t know what we did wrong, or even differently. If it was cold in the house, perhaps the stones cooled too quickly. Maybe they had simply come to the end of their natural life. Or maybe we’d somehow offended Pan, the god of pizza. In any case, we were stoneless.

But it didn’t matter, because we were this close to finishing our outdoor wood-burning oven, which would make far better pizza than our indoor propane-burning version.

Because I’ve been documenting our food life in excruciating detail for two years now, I can tell you precisely when we broke ground for the wood-fired oven: November 18, 2009. I’d gotten a good start on the foundation that fall, and anticipated finishing the oven in the spring.

So, a year and five days ago, given that I was expecting wood-fired pizza as soon as the ground unfroze, I didn’t replace the pizza stones.

Some of you may know that our wood-fired oven construction didn’t go as planned. When the ground unfroze, I decided that I didn’t like the way I’d built the base, so I tore the whole thing down. I did finally manage to rebuild it in a way that seemed acceptable, but it took me until the middle of the summer. Then it took another few months – and a couple of serious mistakes – for us to get around to building the firebrick deck.

That’s as far as we got last season, and the base and the deck are covered with a tarp as we wait for spring and oven-building season.

Had I known it was going to be that long, I would have replaced the damn pizza stones. But now I feel like wood-fired pizza is truly within our grasp, and I can’t bring myself to shell out the forty bucks to get stones that we’ll only use for a couple of months. But my stepson Eamon was visiting, and we really wanted to make pizza.

Then Kevin had an idea. “Honey,” he said, with that gleam in his eye, “I have an idea.”

I know something about the kind of ideas that Kevin has, so I prepared myself by checking the fire extinguisher and making sure our homeowner’s insurance was up to date.

“So, when the wood-fired oven is done …” he began.

“Or hell freezes over, whichever comes first,” I interrupted.

He rolled his eyes, and started again.

“So, when the wood-fired oven is done, we’ll be cooking the pizzas right on the deck, right?”

“Right …” I wasn’t sure I liked where this was going.

““And the deck is made of firebrick, right?”

“Right.”

“And we have extra firebrick, right?”

“Uh … right.”

So let’s just arrange the firebrick in the oven and use it like a pizza stone.” He smiled triumphantly.

Astonishingly, I didn’t see a damn thing wrong with that plan.

In fact, we had enough confidence in it to invite our friends Todd and Beth Marcus and their two enthusiastic pizza-eating sons to join us. (We did not – I repeat, not – invite them because they are the owners of Cape Cod Beer and we anticipated that they would show up with a cooler full of their product, plus some ice cream.)

And Kevin pulled it off. The day before, he made pizza dough (we use the recipe from Franny’s, in Brooklyn, and swear by Sir Lancelot high-gluten flour from King Arthur), and he spent most of Thursday prepping toppings – caramelized onions, Italian-style turkey sausage, tomato sauce, and the white sauce for his signature clam pie.

The day of, he found ten of our cleanest bricks and arranged them in the oven. They were too heavy for the oven shelf, so we had to prop it up from underneath, and we probably covered too much of the surface of the shelf so the air didn’t circulate as well as it might have, but he turned the oven on several hours in advance and the bricks got nice and hot.

The Marcus family arrived (with their cooler!), and Kevin started making pizza. When he put each pie in, he turned the broiler on so the bricks would cook it from underneath and broiler from above. And he turned out perfectly cooked pizza after perfectly cooked pizza, with nothing but an el-cheapo Maytag stove and a few firebricks. I can’t wait to see what he can do with a real wood-fired oven. Let’s hope hell waits at least one more season before it freezes over.

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Comments

  1. Love this. Also, you can use a ceramic tile or other similar thing from the hardware store!

  2. Kim Graves says:

    Tamar, Did you see that article in the NYTimes about the cob oven? So exciting. I got the book and am going to do it to!

  3. The pizzas look yummy! I looked in the Old Farmers Almanac and there’s no chance of hell freezing over this season. Whew! My fingers are crossed that you get your oven finished in the coming months.

  4. Kevin preheated the oven for several *hours*?? Oh, my sainted aunt! Is that really how it’s meant to be done? I squeak by with the thinner stones and just ten minutes or so at the desired temp (admittedly about as high as the oven will go) before starting the pies. The ‘zzas do look fabulous, I must say. And I love the problem solving too. I saw a clip once where they did something similar with quarry tiles, cheap from the big box hardware store. They laid some out flat to cook on, but then they also did some weird angled thing with a few extra tiles leaning over and balanced/braced against the wires of the oven rack. Can’t remember what the point of that was supposed to be.

  5. What’s the old saying about “you can’t argue with results”? Because really, you can’t! Looks delicious. But I’m not going to let my pizza stones see this entry, lest they get notions — I DON’T have any firebrick lying around!

  6. I admit, it’s not an optimal solution. The bricks take a LONG time to heat properly, which means our pizza night burned through a LOT of propane. But I figure I stockpiled a bunch by using the pressure cooker, so I was OK with it.

    The suggestions of various other kinds of tiles are all good — as Kate and her sainted Aunt point out, they take a lot less time to heat.

    Kim, I did see the piece on the cob oven. It was a cob oven we had originally planned, but Kevin saw a beautiful brick version and decided we just had to have it. So brick, it is. We hope to be eating pizza by June!

    • Tamar, I didn’t mean to criticize. I know baking surfaces are supposed to be thoroughly well heated. I just never realized it took so long. I guess if I’d thought about how long it takes a wood fired oven to get to temperature, it would have occurred to me that it’s an hours-long process. I definitely don’t do that with our baking stones. I’ve preheated the oven on the convection setting and assumed that the increased air flow accomplished the pre-heat. Don’t know if that would be possible with a propane oven.

      • Don’t worry, you didn’t sound critical (although I’m not averse to a little criticism now and then). One of the reasons it took so long is that air wasn’t circulating because we covered so much of the shelf with bricks!

  7. Just to make sure that everyone understands… the PIZZAS..regardless of the stones, the preheating..the outdoor oven that has yet to the built..or helll freezing over..WERE INCREDIBLE!
    The crust yummy..perfectly stretched..the toppings…exquisite…some were certainly new for the boys.. but they loved them all!

    We felt lucky to be there..and share in what I now know was a momentus occasion! Heck we have pizza at our house twice a week..and once a week at the brewery…who knew!

    Thanks to our gracious host and hostess! As always the company was also fabulous!

  8. Tamar, love the lateral thinking. Problem I had when making pizza, is that I never plan in advance so when we decide that we fancy pizza for dinner (here in Spain that could be at 9pm) it was already too late to make it and have dinner at a decent time. Also, I am a bit of a miser in terms of heating so, instead of the 20min most recipes say the rising step should take, mine always took far longer. This is why I am so glad I discovered the way of making homemade pizza that needs no rising (it uses beer). So now I can decide to have pizza and eat it without having to plan in advance, which has made pizza a common dinner around here.
    Javier
    P.S. I’m assuming you already know the pizza with beer recipe, if not (and you want to) please let me know.

    • Javier — It’s never safe to assume I know anything, and I definitely don’t know about that recipe. Anything that combines pizza and beer is something I want to know about, though — could you post a link?

      • Hi, the recipe for what I call instant beer pizza dough (I still think it needs a better name) can be found in my blog here (http://lastresrs.blogspot.com/2010/12/pizza-el-secreto-esta-en-la-cerveza.html).
        It is in spanish and, as you’ve told me never to assume anything, the main points are as follows:

        For two pizzas: to half pint of beer (any beer, I’ve used shop bought and homebrew, both with good results) add a drizzle of olive oil, and enough flour (at least 300gr) to make a dough. Best results are when the dough isn’t very sticky and is more on the floury side. Knead it for a bit and then without any rising time or any waiting, roll the base out, top it with whatever you want and cook.

        Results are very good and really surprised me first time I tried it as I wasn’t convinced that by just mixing beer and flour you could get a pizza dough that tastes so good and is nice and crispy.

        • That is a crazy idea. I gotta try it! Thanks for providing the translation — had you assumed I understood Spanish, you would have assumed wrong.

  9. I think too much is made of pizza stones. It’s just bread. I make first rate crusts on a simple metal pan either indoors or on my grill. I have two stones and I doe it both ways and the pan crusts are just as good. I shudder to think about how much the energy costs are in heating bricks.

    I’ve written extensively on pizza making here (my focus is on the grill, but the I developed my methods and recipes indoors before I took them out):
    http://amazingribs.com/recipes/pizza_and_flatbreads_on_the_grill/index.html

    P.S. – Loved meeting you today and I’m impressed with the site!