Punching Up the Pizza with Cast Iron
My wife and I enjoy having a homemade pizza on Saturday nights. This pizza ends up being at least two dinners, sometimes a lunch as well. So it’s worth the effort we put into doing it up right.
Earlier this month my wife and I celebrated our birthdays — just 6 days apart. Part of our Birthday Week celebration was a trip to the Lodge Cast Iron factory outlet store in a nearby city where we bought several new pieces of cast iron cookware. One of these is a 16 inch cast iron pizza pan.
Around a hundred years ago (or it seems so) I worked my way through the management training program of a popular pizza chain store. On my way to management I learned a lot about making pizza by making and serving many thousands of them. One of the secrets of why a take-out pizza tastes better than most homemade is the oven. Pizza shops use slate bed ovens and cook the pizza on thin screens laying right on that 450 F slab of rock. This cooks the bottom crust evenly and browns it for a nice crunch. It’s hard to get that on a steel pan in the oven at home. This cast iron pan has us making pizzas that are a lot like what I served up as a pro.
While making the sauce (using home-canned tomatoes and fresh herbs from our garden) I’m slicing and dicing the meats and veggies. These vary from week to week. When assembly time comes I want everything prepared so I can get it all on the pizza as quickly as possible.
About 40 minutes before I want to serve I rub a thin coat of cooking oil onto the pizza pan by making a small wadding pad out of paper towel (in another previous life I was a furniture maker). Then I put the pizza pan in the oven and preheat them to 425 F. While that’s heating I make up the crust and knead it on the floured counter top, but I roll it out on a piece of parchment. NOTE: If you use Fleischmann’s Pizza Yeast you mix the yeast right in with the flour, sugar, oil, and water; and the dough does not need to rise. Just mix it up, knead, roll it out. If the dough must rise allow an extra 30-60 minutes.
Take the pizza pan out of the oven, flip the crust onto the pan, peel off the parchment, and I’m ready to “sauce & cheese the skin”, as we used to say, and add my toppings — quickly, so the pan doesn’t cool.
Back in the oven for 20 minutes (less if you don’t use as many toppings) and when it comes out the pizza will slide right off the pan onto a cutting board. The crust is evenly browned and the cheese is bubbly and a little browned (especially if you add a little cheddar to your cheese blend as I do).
Cut, serve, and enjoy a pizza cooked to pizza-shop perfection thanks to a cast iron pizza pan.
For a variation of this theme, try a breakfast pizza made with pepper gravy as sauce and topped with scrambled egg, cooked sausage, red bell pepper slices, and cheese.
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