Book Club – Oct 1st, 2009 Edition

The following is a guest post by Andrew Shalit.

October 1st was Superheated Cast Iron Pizza night at the Cooking for Geeks Book Club. If you’ve ever wondered how you could make a great pizza without the benefit of an oven, tonight was your night.

First, though, we had an impromptu lecture on the microbiology of cheese from guest geek Rachel. When most people think “ecosystem” they think Costa Rica, the African Savanna, or a tropical reef. When Rachel thinks “ecosystem” she thinks brie, gruyere, and camembert
With the help of Jeff’s trusty microscope, we got close up and personal with the little critters that give our favorite cheeses their wonderful flavors. Thanks, Rachel! Cheese will never be the same for me.
Then it was on to the main event. Food geeking is, above all, about experimentation, persistence, and trial-and-error. If you never want to fail, you should eat PB&J for the rest of your life. But if you’re willing to go out on a limb, you might ultimately be rewarded with a wonderful new food discovery.
That’s a long way of saying that our first attempts at stove-top pizza didn’t work out terribly well. They were certainly edible, partly because we were so hungry. But the crusts weren’t fully cooked and the toppings tasted flat.
Jeff tried to remedy the situation with a little help from the broiler, but even that didn’t get us a pizza that we’d want to have again.
Jeff kept going though, and ultimately we did find the solution: a second superheated cast-iron pan! By sandwiching the pizza between two slabs of superhot iron, we got a pizza with a thin, crispy, well-cooked crust and beautifully roasted toppings. It is a meal that we all plan on repeating.

0 thoughts on “Book Club – Oct 1st, 2009 Edition”

  1. Wow…as a pizza lover, this sounds fantastic!!

    Can you write up a brief instructional on what to do (listed preferably) to recreate this ?!

    I’d love to give it a go.

    1. Hi Nik – it’s relatively straight-forward to do. Make your favorite pizza dough, heat up a cast iron pan for 5 to 10 minutes on full throttle until the thing is smoking hot, flip the pan over (i.e. upside down), drop the pizza (with your toppings) onto the pan, and finish under a broiler (6″ away or so, at least).

      As for pizza dough, I’ve been playing with a bunch of versions; for something like this, Jeff Varasano’s recipe works well: 110 g water; 168 g flour; 6 g salt; 15 g sourdough yeast; 0.5 g instant dry yeast. See his page for directions. Two notes: if you don’t have sourdough yeast, use ~5 g instant yeast. And secondly, I’ve had good results just tossing the ingredients in a container, stirring to combine, and letting sit for ~4 hours at room temp. The gluten will elasticize on its own; with a bit of kneading afterward it’s good to go. This won’t make the “perfect” pizza, but it is exceedingly easy.

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