Thursday, February 7, 2013

Maybe Not So Foolproof Pan Pizza?

The Inspiration
As a person who suffers from Yeast Killing Syndrome that makes me struggle to produce any kind of bread product, I was thrilled to read this blog post about Foolproof Pan Pizza. All that would be required of me is to mix the dough, let it sit, put it in a pan, top it as desired, and let heat do all of the work.

While I'm not a fan of deep dish pizza, I do like the thick crusted, oily-crunchy pizza of Victory Pig Pizza native to the northeastern corner of Pennsylvania. I thought the foolproof pizza recipe would be a good starting point for trying to mimic the Victory Pig taste.

Everything Went According to Plan Until...

Perfect Dough! My yeast killing days may be over!

I was able to produce a nice batch of dough. I let it sit for about 12 hrs. I was easily able to shape it into a ball. I then let it sit in a well-greased, brand-new cast iron skillet as directed to allow the dough to rise and spread across the pan. While I was waiting for the dough to do its magic I concocted some pizza sauce and got the oven pre-heating to 550F.

Lovely dough

Just add sauce, cheese, and toppings!
It Came Out of the Oven

I was anxious about how this would all turn out: I sat in front of the oven window for the cook time of 12-15 minutes. I was concerned about how dark the cheese was getting so I took out the pizza right at 12 minutes.

Looks perfect! Now to free it from the pan
I expected there to be some sticking to the pan, as it was brand-new and not well seasoned. However, once I broke through I was disheartened by the very pale, soggy crust. I had built myself up to expect the perfectly browned crispy crust pictured on the Pizza Lab blog. What had I done wrong? Did anyone else experience the same pale, soggy dough failure?

Something went very wrong
CSI: Unexpected Failures Even Though You Followed the Recipe to the Letter
(Culinary Science Investigation)

My first step in figuring out what caused my crust failure was to read the comments on the blog. I was not the only one to end up with pale, soggy crust. Others had also used a brand-new cast iron pan like I did. I began to wonder if the layers of seasoning found on a mature pan had something to do with the crust failure? I have a 10" flat skillet that is 15 years old. Though it doesn't have sides, I reasoned it would help me determine if the seasoning had anything to do with the pan. (I found out it does, but not as much of an impact.)

I thought back to the failures I experienced with experimenting with making pizza using a stone. The issue with that turned out to be that I had to place the stone-rack on the lowest rung. Once I put the source of heat as close as possible to the stone I improved my crust results.

I also was concerned that the 550F temperature was cooking the cheese and toppings too fast resulting in a black-topped pizza. I decided to lower the oven to 450F and let it cook to as close to 15 minutes as possible. These changes greatly improved the crust outcome, however, still not what I had hoped for. I made one last attempt before calling it a night. I used a lot less dough, kept the oven at 450F, used the well seasoned pan, lowest rack setting. This combination had the best results with the crust darkened and starting to get crunchy. It was a lot closer to what the recipe promised. I'm going to have to explore why my cheese is burning up too quickly and what I might do to slow down that process. I'm certain that with a few more trials I will hit the sweet spot.

What I Did Get Right

The sauce I rapidly concocted was one of the best I ever put together. It was a combination of lightly sauteed minced garlic cooked in butter-olive oil, tomato sauce, petite diced tomatoes, Italian seasoning, crushed red pepper flakes, and a hearty dash of sugar. I let it simmer until it got thick and slightly caramelized. I used a blend of mozzarella and provolone cheeses.

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