Making your grill (or broiler) shine this summer

BY W. WAYT GIBBS
Associated Press

Compared to other basic cooking techniques, grilling is hard: the temperatures are high, timing is crucial and slight differences in the thickness or wetness of the food can dramatically affect how quickly it cooks.

Bad design choices by equipment makers—kettle-shaped grills with black interiors, for example—make it harder still. But if you’re willing to do some simple arithmetic or break out a roll of foil, you can reduce the guesswork and get better performance from your grill. Similar tricks work for broiling; after all, a broiler is basically just an inverted grill.

Every grill has a sweet spot where the heat is even. You know you’re cooking in the sweet spot when all of the food browns at about the same pace. In most situations, the bigger the sweet spot, the better. One notable exception is when you need to reserve part of the grill for cooking some ingredients more slowly or keeping previously cooked food warm.

If you find yourself continually swapping food from the center of your grill with pieces at the periphery, that’s a sure sign that your sweet spot is too small.

You can get an intuitive feel for where the edge of the sweet spot lies by looking at the heat from the food’s point of view. I mean that literally: imagine you are a hotdog lying facedown on the grill. If the coals or the gas flames don’t fill your entire field of view, then you aren’t receiving as much radiant heat as your fellow wiener who is dead-center over the heat source. If the falloff in the intensity of the heat is greater than about 10 percent, you’re outside the sweet spot.

You can use the table below to estimate the size of the sweet spot on your own grill. The 26-inch-wide gas grill on my deck has four burners with heat-dispersing caps that span about 23 inches. The food sits only three inches above the burner caps, so when all four burners are going, the sweet spot includes the middle 16 inches of the grill. But if I use only the two central burners, which are 10 inches from edge to edge, the sweet spot shrinks to a measly 5.4 inches, too small to cook two chicken breasts side by side. I can use this to my advantage, however, if I have a big piece of food that is thick in the middle and thinner at the ends, such as a long salmon fillet. By laying the fish crosswise over the two burners, I can cook the fat belly until it is done without terribly overcooking the slimmer head and tail of the fillet.

Sweet spots are narrowest on small grills, such as little braziers, kettles, hibachis, and the fixed grilling boxes at a public parks. If the sweet spot on your grill is too confining for all the food you have to cook, you can enlarge it in several ways.

If the grill height is adjustable, lower it. Bringing the food a couple inches closer to the heat can easily expand the sweet spot by 2 to 3 inches. The effect on the intensity of the heat is less than you might expect: typically no more than about a 15 percent increase.

If your grill is boxy in shape, line the sides with foil, shiny side out. Your goal is to create a hall of mirrors in which the heat rays bounce off the foil until they hit the food. A hotdog at the edge of the grill then sees not only those coals that are in its line of sight, but also reflections of the coals in the foil-lined side of the grill.

The foil trick unfortunately doesn’t work well on kettle grills because their rounded shape tends to bounce the radiant heat back toward the center instead of out to the edges. But if you can find a piece of shiny sheet metal about 4 inches wide and 56 inches long, you can bend the metal into a reflective circular ring and build the coal bed inside of it. All food within the circumference of the ring should then cook pretty evenly.

Jury-rigging a grill in this way wouldn’t be necessary if grills came shiny on the inside and we could keep them that way. But, presumably because nobody likes to clean the guts of a grill, the interiors of most grills are painted black, the worst possible color for a large sweet spot. A black metal surface doesn’t reflect many infrared heat rays; instead it soaks them up, gets really hot, then re-emits the heat in random directions.

Someday, some clever inventor will come up with a self-cleaning grill that has a mirror finish inside, and the sweet-spot problem will simply vanish.

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HOW BIG IS YOUR SWEET SPOT?

For grills, measure the width of the coals or gas burners (including any burner caps that disperse the heat). Then measure the distance from the top of the coals or burners to the upper surface of the grill grate. Find the appropriate row in the table to estimate the size of the sweet spot, centered over the heat source. This table assumes a nonreflective grill.

To calculate the sweet spot of an electric broiler — which is the ideal vertical distance between the top of the food and the broiler element — measure the distance between the rods of the heating element. Multiply that measurement by 0.44, then add 0.2 inches to the product. For example, if the rods are 2.4 inches apart, the sweet spot is 1.25 inches from the element to the top of the food.

Width of heat source (inches) Height of the food above the heat source (inches) Width of grill sweet spot (inches)
14 3 8.1
14 4 7.7
14 5 7
16 3 9.9
16 4 9
16 5 8.3
20 3 13.2
20 4 12
20 5 11.20
23 3 16.1
23 4 15
23 5 13.3
29 3 21.8
29 4 19.7
29 5 18.9

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Photo credit: Ryan Matthew Smith / Modernist Cuisine, LLC

Announcing Our New Book: The Photography of Modernist Cuisine

When I began writing Modernist Cuisine, I had several goals in mind: to explore the scientific principles behind cooking, to explain the latest Modernist techniques from the top restaurants around the world, and to punctuate the collection with stunning visuals. Nearly every review that came in cited our photography; even commenters who took issue with the Modernist approach or found the book too long or daunting praised the photos and illustrations.

I think we owed that enthusiastic reception, in part, to the fact that our photography stood out as distinctive in a world crowded with food imagery. We created cutaway photos that offer dramatic views inside previously hidden realms of cooking. We stepped away from recent trends in food photography, which have long seemed to me to focus more on the ambiance than the actual food, and shot our dishes on black and white backgrounds that highlight the beauty inherent in the subjects. We also deployed a wide range of photographic techniques, such as compositing, microscopy, macro photography, and diffuse lighting, to create photos that are informative as well as visually interesting.

canning cutaway

This approach required extra time, effort, and money, but it was worth it. I love photography as much as I love food and cooking. It’s been a passion of mine for as long as cooking has (since grade school)!

Soon after the publication of our second cookbook, Modernist Cuisine at Home, I started thinking more seriously about the hundreds of thousands of photos that my team and I have made and collected over the years’ those that made it into the volumes of our books and the many more that didn’t. I decided to showcase them in a new way by creating a book dedicated to the images themselves.

The Photography of Modernist Cuisine Collage

We pored over our vast photo library and ultimately selected 405 photos for our book, The Photography of Modernist Cuisine. Of those images, 145 are presented full-bleed across one or two full pages. As we look at these images, it’s hard to resist the temptation to comment on their backstories, to share some of the scientific, culinary, or photographic context to the image. We didn’t want to add captions on the images that would distract from their impact, so we have instead included a chapter in the back of the book that presents some short but interesting backstory for each photo. Readers who dip into that section will learn, for example, how I coaxed crystals of vitamin C to produce a kaleidoscopic explosion of colors, how we use enzymes to remove the peel from the tender juice sacs of a grapefruit, or how you can quickly turn fresh herbs into a crispy snack or garnish in your microwave oven.

Grapefruit_close up

We also included a chapter that reveals, in a very visual way, all of the major methods that we used to make these images. From cut-in-half kettle grills to levitating hamburgers, we explain how it was done. We even have a few pages on how to get the best food shots in restaurants if all you have handy is a point-and-shoot camera or a camera phone. While we were at it, we cut a camera lens in half to illustrate how it works.

One thing you won’t find in our new book is a single recipe. When I first told friends about our new project, they thought it was a nice idea, but asked, “Of course, you’re going to have a few recipes, right?”

No. This is a photo book. If you’d like to try our recipes, and we hope you will, please check out our other books, or click here.

In 2011 Modernist Cuisine tested the then dubious proposition that people would buy a six-volume cookbook. The Photography of Modernist Cuisine is a similar experiment: Will others share our desire for an art-quality book that immerses readers in vistas of food that are familiar, yet profoundly new? I hope that readers will be drawn to our photos and will share with us the child-like wonder and curiosity that we feel when we look at them.

 

The Photography of Modernist Cuisine Straight On

The Photography of Modernist Cuisine will be released October 22, 2013.

 

Why food goes from almost done to overdone so quickly on the grill

BY W. WAYT GIBBS
Associated Press

Ever tried toasting hamburger buns on a grill? It takes uncanny timing to achieve an even medium brown across the buns. Typically, they remain white for what seems like far too long. Then it’s as if time accelerates, and they blow past toasted to burnt in the time it takes to flip the burgers.

Barbeque_Hamburger Cutaway_VQ6B8473 With LAYERS

The same phenomenon is at work when you toast a marshmallow over a campfire: wait and turn, wait and turn… then brown, black and — poof! — it’s aflame. The problem is perhaps most acute when cooking shiny-skinned fish on a grill or under a broiler. Once the skin turns from silver to brown, the heat pours into the fillet, and the window of opportunity for perfect doneness slams shut with amazing speed.

Anytime you cook light-colored food with high heat, inattention is a recipe for disaster. But the physics here is pretty simple, and once you understand it you can use several methods to improve your odds of making that perfectly toasted bun, golden half-melted marshmallow, or juicy grilled fillet.

At high temperatures — about 400 F (200 C) and up — a substantial part of the heat that reaches the food arrives in the form of infrared light waves rather than via hot air or steam. The higher the temperature, the bigger the part that radiant heat plays in cooking. But this form of heat interacts with color in a profound way.

The bottom of a hamburger bun looks white because it reflects most of the visible light that hits it, and the same is true for infrared heat rays. There is a reason that white cars are popular in Phoenix — they stay cooler in the sunshine, which is full of infrared radiation.

A silvery, mirror-like fish skin is even more reflective than a white car. About 90 percent of the radiant heat striking it simply bounces away. Because only around 10 percent of the energy sinks in and warms the fish, cooking initially creeps along slowly but steadily.

That changes rapidly, however, as soon as the food gets hot enough to brown. It’s like changing from a white shirt to a black shirt on a sunny summer day. As the food darkens, that 10 percent of energy absorbed rises by leaps and bounds, and the temperature at the surface of the food soars.

So browning accelerates, which increases heat absorption, which boosts the temperature; it’s a vicious circle. By the time you can get a spatula under the fillet to flip it over, it may be almost black, reflecting just 10 percent of the heat and sucking in 90 percent.

There are at least three ways around this problem. The simplest is to stare, hawk-like, at the food and lower or remove the heat as soon as browning starts. That works fine for marshmallows but is not always practical in the kitchen or backyard barbecue.

In some cases, you can darken the color of the food at the start, for example by slathering it with a dark sauce or searing it in a very hot skillet before putting it on the grill. This is a way to make a fish steak cook more like a beef steak, which is fairly dark even when raw and so doesn’t experience such a dramatic shift in heat absorption. This method generally shortens the cooking time.

Finally, try piling other ingredients, such as sliced onions or zucchini, between the food and the coals or the broiler element to moderate the intensity of the radiant heat. Cooking times will lengthen — and you may end up having to toss out the sacrificial buffer ingredients if they get charred — but that window of opportunity will stay open longer.

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Photo credit: Ryan Matthew Smith / Modernist Cuisine, LLC

Modernist Mother’s Day

Mothers are important. Mothers are many people’s gateway to food and cooking. On the Modernist Cuisine team, this is no exception. Nathan’s mother famously let him prepare Thanksgiving dinner when he was only nine years old, kicking off a lifelong love of cooking. Sam Fahey-Burke first began making buckeye cookies with his mother as a child. Johnny Zhu’s mother provided the inspiration for our recipe for Microwaved Tilapia. So, it is perhaps fitting that Mother’s Day has traditionally been a day of cooking and eating. In this light, we assembled a brunch menu with a few favorites from our library.

Because it’s not brunch without eggs:

Striped Omelet
Liquid Center Egg
Scrambled Egg Foam

More than mere toast:

Chorizo French Toast
Garlic Confit on Toast
Barley Salad with Spinach Pesto
Bagels with Sous Vide Salmon
Pressure-Cooked Shrimp and Grits

Remember to eat your vegetables:

Asparagus with hollandaise
Deep-Fried Brussels Sprouts

As sweet as she is:

Frozen Fruit Rolls
Lemon Curd
Popping Buckeyes
Coffee Crème Brûlée

Science helps craft the perfect mac and cheese

BY SCOTT HEIMENDINGER
Associated Press

Imagine your favorite cheese: perhaps an aged, sharp cheddar, or maybe a blue Gorgonzola or a gentle Monterey Jack. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to use those really good cheeses you love on nachos or as a sauce on macaroni or steamed vegetables?

But if you have ever tried melting high-quality cheeses, you’ve experienced the problem: the cheese separates into a greasy oil slick that no amount of stirring will restore.

One traditional workaround is to make a Mornay sauce, which combines the cheese with a cooked mixture of flour, butter and milk. But a Mornay sauce can end up tasting as much of cooked flour as it does of cheese. The starch in the flour actually masks some of the flavors in the cheese, so the sauce loses its vibrancy.

A clever Canadian-born cheesemaker in Chicago discovered a much better solution around 1912. His name may ring a bell — James L. Kraft.

Kraft found that adding a small amount of sodium phosphate to the cheese as it melted kept it from turning into a clumpy mess of cheese solids swimming in a pool of oil. Kraft patented his invention and used it to make canned, shelf-stable cheese. He sold millions of pounds of the stuff to the American military during World War I. The technique ultimately led to the creation of Velveeta and a whole universe of processed cheese products.

You can apply the very same chemistry, however, to achieve much higher culinary purposes. The chefs in our research kitchen have made mac and cheese with an intense goat gouda and cheddar sauce, for example, and build gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches using cheese slices that melt like the processed stuff, but are made from feta or Stilton.

In place of sodium phosphate, we use sodium citrate, which is easier to find in grocery stores or online. Like sodium phosphate, sodium citrate is an emulsifying salt that helps tie together the two immiscible components of cheese: oil and water.

In solid form, cheese is a stable emulsion. The tiny droplets of dairy fat are suspended in water and held in place by a net of interlinked proteins. When cheese melts, however, that net breaks apart, and the oil and water tend to go their separate ways. Sodium citrate can form attachments to both fat and water molecules, so it holds everything together. The end result is a perfectly smooth, homogeneous sauce. The sauce even can be cut into processed cheese-like slices once it cools.

When making cheese sauce, we add 4 grams of sodium citrate for every 100 grams of finely grated cheese and 93 grams of water or milk. To make cheese slices, we reduce the amount of water to about 30 grams (cold wheat beer works very well, too), pour the melted mixture into a sheet pan, and let it solidify in the refrigerator for about two hours before cutting it into pieces, which then can be wrapped in plastic and frozen.

Because this method of stabilizing melted cheese bypasses all of the flour, butter and milk used in Mornay sauce, the resulting cheese sauce is much richer; a little goes a long way. But the sauce keeps well in the refrigerator and reheats nicely in the microwave, so save any extra and use it to top vegetables, nachos or pasta.

For our Mac and Cheese recipe, click here.

Photo credit: Melissa Lehuta / Modernist Cuisine, LLC

Mastering creamy pureed potatoes, no fat required

When made just right, mashed potatoes are the ultimate comfort food: smooth, creamy, warm and filling — not to mention a perfect vehicle for gravy.

But how to get them perfectly smooth and creamy? Too often ridding mashed potatoes of those pesky lumps forces you to overwork the spuds into a gummy, grainy mess. Or you end up adding so much cream and butter that the dairy drowns out the flavor of the potatoes.

If you like your mashed potatoes fluffy, the answer is fairly straightforward. Choose a floury variety of potato, such as Maris Piper or russet, pass the peeled, boiled potatoes through a ricer, then mix in just enough butter and milk or cream to moisten.

But if you’re after a silkier texture — more like what the French call pommes puree — stick with waxy potatoes, such as Yukon gold or fingerlings. You also should try a modernist technique pioneered by food writer Jeffrey Steingarten and refined by the British chef Heston Blumenthal. It adds a step, but it is well worth it.

Steingarten discovered that gently heating the potatoes for a half hour or so in warm water before they are boiled profoundly improves the result. This is because as the potatoes soak in water at about 160 F (70 C), the starch in them gelatinizes, producing a smoother puree on the tongue. The granules that contain the starch also firm up, making it harder to rupture them during mashing.

Recently our research chefs perfected yet another modernist method that yields an amazingly smooth and slightly sweet potato puree, and all without adding any butter, milk or cream. The secret is to deploy a little trick of biochemistry that converts the starch in the potatoes into sugar.

The key to this culinary alchemy is an enzyme known as diastase. Don’t let the fancy name put you off; this ingredient is quite natural (it is derived from malted grain), and you can buy it online or at stores that sell brewing and baking ingredients. The enzyme typically is sold in in a ready-to-use form called diastatic malt powder.

Like other enzymes, diastase is a protein whose complex molecular shape allows it to accelerate chemical transformations with amazing speed and specificity. When you eat a starchy food like bread or potatoes, enzymes in your gut help break down the starch into simpler carbohydrates (such as sugars) that your body can burn or store for energy. By adding diastase to our mashed potatoes, we’re simply getting a jump on the process.

The trickiest part about using diastatic malt powder is measuring the right amount. It’s potent stuff, so you really should measure ingredients by weight. After you have peeled and cubed the potatoes, weigh them. For every 100 grams of potatoes, measure out 1 gram of diastatic malt powder. So 1,100 grams of peeled, cubed potatoes calls for 11 grams of malt powder.

Now fill a pot with water and add 2 grams of sugar and 3 grams of salt for every 100 milliliters of water. Simmer the potato cubes until they are tender, 30 to 40 minutes, then drain. Stir the diastatic malt powder into the potatoes, then pass the mixture through a ricer.

The riced potatoes next get sealed in a zip-close plastic bag, which is set in a pot of hot tap water (about 125 F) for a half hour. The warmth activates the enzyme and starts it gobbling up the potato starch. When the 30 minutes is up, empty the bag into a pot, then heat the puree to at least 167 F (75 C) to halt the enzymatic activity.

That’s it. Even with no butter or cream, the result is sweet and amazingly smooth. If you are avoiding dairy or limiting your intake of fats, this technique may just renew your love affair with the potato.

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Click here for our Dairy-Free Potato Puree recipe made with diastatic malt powder.

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Photo credit: Nathan Myhrvold / Modernist Cuisine, LLC.

A shocking (and hot!) tip for preserving produce

By W. WAYT GIBBS
Associated Press

Nothing is more frustrating than finding the perfect cucumber or head of lettuce at the farmers market, paying top-dollar for it, and then… tossing it out a week later when it has gone moldy or slimy in the refrigerator.

No doubt one reason so many of us eat too many convenience foods and too few fruits and vegetables is that it can be hard to get our busy schedules in sync with the produce we bring home with the best of intentions.

Food scientists, however, have discovered a remarkably effective way to extend the life of fresh-cut fruits and vegetables by days or even a week. It doesn’t involve the chlorine solutions, irradiation or peroxide baths sometimes used by produce packagers. And it’s easily done in any home by anyone.

This method, called heat-shocking, is 100 percent organic and uses just one ingredient that every cook has handy – hot water.

You may already be familiar with a related technique called blanching, a cooking method in which food is briefly dunked in boiling or very hot water. Blanching can extend the shelf life of broccoli and other plant foods, and it effectively reduces contamination by germs on the surface of the food. But blanching usually ruptures the cell walls of plants, causing color and nutrients to leach out. It also robs delicate produce of its raw taste.

Heat-shocking works differently. When the water is warm but not scalding – temperatures ranging from 105 ˚F to 140 ˚F (about 40 C to 60 C) work well for most fruits and vegetables – a brief plunge won’t rupture the cells. Rather, the right amount of heat alters the biochemistry of the tissue in ways that, for many kinds of produce, firm the flesh, delay browning and fading, slow wilting, and increase mold resistance.

A long list of scientific studies published during the past 15 years report success using heat-shocking to firm potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, and strawberries; to preserve the color of asparagus, broccoli, green beans, kiwi fruits, celery, and lettuce; to fend off overripe flavors in cantaloupe and other melons; and to generally add to the longevity of grapes, plums, bean sprouts and peaches, among others.

The optimum time and temperature combination for the quick dip seems to depend on many factors, but the procedure is quite simple. Just let the water run from your tap until it gets hot, then fill a large pot of water about two-thirds full, and use a thermometer to measure the temperature. It will probably be between 105 ˚F and 140 ˚F; if not, a few minutes on the stove should do the trick. Submerge the produce and hold it there for several minutes (the hotter the water, the less time is needed), then drain, dry and refrigerate as you normally would.

Researchers still are working out the details of how heat-shocking works, but it appears to change the food in several ways at once. Many of the fruits and vegetables you bring home from the store are still alive and respiring; the quick heat treatment tends to slow the rate at which they respire and produce ethylene, a gas that plays a crucial role in the ripening of many kinds of produce. In leafy greens, the shock of the hot water also seems to turn down production of enzymes that cause browning around wounded leaves, and to turn up the production of heat-shock proteins, which can have preservative effects.

For the home cook, the inner workings don’t really matter. The bottom line is that soaking your produce in hot water for a few minutes after you unpack it makes it cheaper and more nutritious because more fruits and veggies will end up in your family rather than in the trash.

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HEAT-SHOCKING GUIDELINES

The optimal time and temperature for heat-shocking fruits and vegetables varies in response to many factors – in particular, whether they were already treated before purchase. Use these as general guidelines.

– Asparagus: 2 to 3 minutes at 131 ˚F (55 ˚C)

– Broccoli: 7 to 8 minutes at 117 ˚F (47 ˚C)

– Cantaloupe (whole): 60 minutes at 122 ˚F (50 ˚C)

– Celery: 90 seconds at 122 ˚F (50 ˚C)

– Grapes: 8 minutes at 113 ˚F (45 ˚C)

– Kiwi fruit: 15 to 20 minutes at 104 ˚F (40 ˚C)

– Lettuce: 1 to 2 minutes at 122 ˚F (50 ˚C)

– Oranges (whole): 40 to 45 minutes at 113 ˚F (45 ˚C)

– Peaches (whole): 40 minutes at 104 ˚F (40 ˚C)

– Strawberries: 15 seconds at 140 ˚F (60 ˚C)

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Photo credit: AP Photo/Modernist Cuisine, LLC, Chris Hoover

Five Additional Uses for Your Baking Steel

In our quest to create the perfect baking steel for mimicking the results obtained by a traditional wood-fired oven, ultimately achieving pizza bliss, we also tested other uses for such a device. We examined several possibilities, including hot and cold preparations. Because the baking steel is 22 lb of highly conductive thermal mass, it can stably hold both high and low temperatures. Below, you will find a few of our favorite options. If you have a new idea for its use, let us know in the comments section.

1. Antigriddle: Steel has high heat capacity and great conductivity, which is why it works so well for pizza. But it also works in opposite extremes, efficiently freezing foods through conduction. We experimented with a PolyScience antigriddle while writing Modernist Cuisine and found that by freezing the baking steel, we could achieve similar results. After watching street vendors in Thailand make “ice-cream pad” (rolled-up ice cream) on YouTube, we were hooked and didn’t stop until we were able to replicate this charming treat by chilling our steel to ?15 to ?9.5 °C / 5 to 15 °F. Check back next week when we share how to make “ice-cream pad” using the baking steel.

2. Griddle: Naturally, the baking steel also makes a great griddle. Place your baking steel on your stove or induction cooktop to fashion a griddle. Because it is larger than your typical skillet (the baking steel is 41 cm by 36 cm by 1 cm / 16 in by 14 in by ? in), you have more room for your eggs and pancakes.

on induction burner with fried eggs

3. Flat Tandoor Oven: A pizza without sauce or toppings looks an awful lot like naan, which inspired us to use the steel as a makeshift, open tandoor oven. Heat the baking steel on a stovetop or induction burner on high and slap on your naan dough. In moments, your naan will have a blistered surface not normally obtainable in a home oven.

4. Cold Plate: Your baking steel will also keep food cool without freezing it—a perfect solution for a platter of sushi. Chill the baking steel in the freezer for a few hours. Depending on how cold you want your food to be, the time will vary. This is a great way to keep sensitive food cold without dealing with piles of ice and the inevitable clean up. Keeping your food cool will also extend the amount of time it can sit outside of the refrigerator before entering the danger zone.

5. Teppan: Teppanyaki, the Japanese style of cuisine popularized by restaurants in the U.S., uses an iron plate called a teppan. This metal griddle quickly cooks food to the delight of onlookers. We can’t guarantee that you’ll nail down the flaming onion on your first try, but it’s a good place to start, as well as a fun idea for dinner parties.

Build the Perfect Pizza in 12 Steps

You can build a great pizza if you master three crucial elements: making the dough, creating the toppings, and baking the pizza. Stretching out pizza dough is a delicate art that rewards patience and practice. Topping a pizza is all about balancing an ideal ratio of dough to toppings that allows the pizza to cook quickly and evenly, producing a combination of crispy, chewy textures. Baking a pizza well requires the right tools: a very hot and stable oven and baking surface, a pizza peel of the right size, and a keen sense of timing. We designed our baking steel to deliver heat quickly and consistently to a pizza.

Follow these steps from start to finish to create pizza perfection.

1. Remove the pizza dough from the refrigerator. Cover it and let it warm up to room temperature for an hour. If the dough was frozen, first defrost it in the refrigerator overnight. Covering the dough keeps the surface from drying out and forming a crust.

2. While the dough is warming, set the oven temperature as high as it will go (260 °C / 500 °F is a minimum), and prepare a baking surface. In dozens of experiments involving more than 100 pizzas, we explored a wide range of materials and methods for cooking pizza at home. Our goal was to find the cooking surface that best transfers heat to raw pizza dough. Every surface will cool to some degree when the pizza goes in, but the dip in temperature should be as shallow and brief as possible. Our conclusion: a dark steel plate just ? in thick is the best option.steel on white

3. Stretch and flatten the dough on a floured work surface by using your fingers to press the middle of the dough flat, and then work the dough outward. Leave a narrow ridge along the perimeter of the dough.

Step 3a Pressing outward

4. Dust a pizza peel or baking sheet with a light, even dusting of flour. Tap the side of the peel on the countertop to knock off any excess flour. If the cooked pizza crust tastes like burnt flour, the peel was overfloured. If the pizza crust sticks, you probably used too little flour.

5. Drape the dough over the back of your hand, and then rotate it slowly. The weight of the dough should gently stretch it to a circular shape and even thickness, 30–35 cm / 12–14 in. in diameter. Small blisters and bubbles should form in the dough. These are good!

Step 3b resting

6. Place the dough onto a pizza peel. Jerk the peel sharply back and forth; this prevents the dough from sticking to the peel.

7. Spread the sauce evenly over the dough, but leave the outermost 2.5 cm / 1 in of the perimeter dry.

8. Sprinkle grated cheese evenly over the sauce.

Step 6 cheese

9. To avoid losing heat from the oven, slide the pizza from the peel onto the baking steel as quickly as possible.

10. Cook the pizza until the crust turns brown and blisters, 2–4 minutes. Some of the larger bubbles should look almost burnt. A well-cooked pizza has scorched blisters on the bottom of the crust—although, pizza can also be delicious without a blistered crust. If you don’t see any blisters, your cooking surface is not hot enough. This is another reason why we recommend using our baking steel.

MCAH_PIZZA_Bake_Step10

11. Remove the pizza from the oven by using the pizza peel or baking sheet, and slide it onto a cooling rack. This keeps the crust crisp.

12. Season the pie with fresh basil, chili flakes, salt, and olive oil. Don’t forget to season the very edge of the crust, and give it a little drizzle of oil, too. Serve the pizza immediately.

–Adapted from Modernist Cuisine at Home

Introducing the Modernist Cuisine Special Edition Baking Steel

We love Neapolitan-style pizza. With its bubbly crust cooked to perfection, it is held to high esteem in the pizza world for good reason. The trouble is that home ovens don’t reach the scorching 800 °F used to create a blistering crust in a wood-fired oven. We researched this problem and in Modernist Cuisine shared how a steel plate can help give home ovens a needed boost to create Neapolitan-style pizza.

We partnered with Baking Steel and are happy to announce that we’ve created the Modernist Cuisine Special Edition Baking Steel to consistently deliver perfect Neapolitan-style pizzas in a home oven. We performed rigorous tests to find the perfect balance between steel thickness, performance, and weight. Retailing for $99, it’s sold exclusively through Bakingsteel.com and is available today with free shipping!

Throughout the week, we’ll be sharing pizza recipes and other great uses of a baking steel. You can learn more about it here. Please let us know what you think.

 

Modernist Cuisine Special Edition Baking Steel with cheese and basil pizza