The home cook that wants to create a great homemade pizza should take a cue from professional pizza chefs. Half of the battle is in the crust. Whether thick or thin, the crust can make or break a pizza. No matter what the toppings are, if the crust is not done all the way through, or done too much to the point of being burnt, the pizza is ruined.
The home cook can come real close to the quality of cooked pizza crust of professional pizza chefs by using a pizza stone. With a pizza stone, a home oven can approximate the heat and cooking method of a commercial oven. A pizza stone increases the temperature and amount of heat that is directly applied to the pizza, so that it not only cooks on the top, but from the bottom also. As a good pizza stone is unglazed, it also wicks the moisture from the crust, which helps to ensure the crust is completely done.
To cook pizza on a stone, you of course need a stone and a paddle, or peel. The peel is usually made of wood, and transfers the raw pizza directly onto the hot stone, and also removes it when done. But first, the stone.
There are many pizza stones available commercially. Make sure that the stone you get is not glazed. These stones can be rather expensive, but with care a pizza stone can last for a long time. Some have said that you can use regular unglazed terracotta tiles, which are not only cheaper but you can make the cooking are bigger or small by adding or subtracting tiles. I would advise using caution when using unglazed terracotta tiles that were manufactured for other uses besides cooking on. If you are positive that the tiles have no additives that could affect the food being cooked, then give them a try if you want. Otherwise, the money spent on a commercial pizza stone is money well spent.
Always place your stone in the oven before you turn it on. Placing a cold stone in a hot oven is inviting disaster, for the stone could break. Heat the stone for at least 30 minutes; an hour would be even better. For pizza, most times the temperature to set your oven at is 500-550. This allows the pizza to cook rapidly, another secret of professional pizza chefs.
Of course, after being in a 500-degree oven for an hour, the stone will be HOT! That's where the peel comes in. Liberally sprinkle the peel with corn meal, place your dough onto it and build your pizza. When ready to cook, CAREFULLY slide your pizza from the peel to the stone. The corn meal helps the pizza slide onto the stone.
After use and the stone has cooled, anything stuck to the stone can be scraped off with a plastic spatula or other utensil. There's really no need to ever wash the stone, but if you must, rinse it off with warm water only. Don't use detergents because the stone is porous and can absorb it and transfer tastes to the pizza. The stone will turn a dark brown color with use, but this is just the sign of a well-used, seasoned stone and will make it cook even better.
With a little experience, a pizza stone will not only bake a great pizza, but also bread, calzone, focaccia, stromboli, practically anything. With a little care and proper use, your pizza stone will last a long time, develop a patina and get better with age!Pizza Stones and How to Use Them
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