Thursday, October 13, 2011
CAST IRON SKILLET PIZZA-- PERFECT!
My cast iron-baked pizza with Yves veggie pepperoni, Daiya vegan mozzarella, mushrooms and peppers (I could have let it get a bit more charred, but we were starving!)
If you've read this blog for a few years, you'll know that I am always trying to improve on my pizza. One of the major challenges for the home cook when making pizza is that the highest temperature of a home oven (unless you have a wood-fired brick oven or a special pizza oven) is 200-300 degrees (F) lower than a commercial pizza oven. This makes it difficult to get a really excellent crust. As you can see in the photos below, I can do a very good crust in my little Cuisinart Brick Oven (that's what I bought it for, though it's proven to be a great energy-saver when doing small-batch baking or roasting).
This was my Cuisinart Brick Oven when it was just out of the box!
Breaking in the Cuisinart Brick Oven
Another pizza from the Cuisinart Brick Oven
But the interior of the Cuisinart Brick Oven is only 12-inches square, so it's only good, really, for personal-sized pizzas. When making 14" pizzas I've tried all kinds of things, including placing the pizza pan on the very bottom of the oven (until I discovered that the oven heating coils in my stove are actually in the back wall of the oven!), with mixed results.
Recently I read an article or an entry in a book (I can't remember, darn it!) describing how to use an ordinary cast iron skillet to bake pizza (thin-crust pizza, not deep-dish), It involved heating the skillet on top of the stove until very hot, slipping in the prepared pizza and cooking it on the stove-top for about 3 minutes, hen baking in a hot oven for a few more minutes and finishing it under the broiler. It looked good, but I didn't get around to trying it, and it sounded a bit involved.
Then, in the current issue of Cook's Illustrated magazine, I read a review of Lodge Pro Logic Cast-Iron 14-Inch Pizza Pan:
The review read:"Since it absorbs and maintains heat so well, cast iron would seem like the ideal material for creating good pizza crust, which requires searingly hot temperatures." and...
"After preheating the pan to 500 degrees, we used it to bake multiple batches of pizza, looking for crisp, golden crusts on par with those made with our winning pizza baking stone. The first surprise: While the stone takes an hour to reach 500 degrees, this pan was ready after a mere 30 minutes...Best of all, the pan produced perfect crust. The 14-inch circle does limit the size and shape of your pizza, providing slightly less usable space than the 14½ by 16½-inch rectangular stone (especially if you’re baking something other than pizza), but this pan offers identical results in less time."
I thought back to that item I had read before and thought about my ancient, well-seasoned 14" cast iron skillet, and thought "Why not?"
You could, of course, easily do a deep-dish pizza in this type of skillet, but it worked just fine for a thin-crust.
We were in a rush for dinner, but my DH was making his not-quite-white bread for a client and could spare me a loaf of the dough for our pizza, and I had a bit of my pizza sauce (recipe for the sauce and my pizza dough in my new book World Vegan Feast) in the freezer, which, mixed with some leftover spaghetti sauce which DH had made, would make a fine topping and speed up our dinner considerably. (NOTE: If you must use a canned sauce, Lucini is the only one I've ever tasted that I would recommend!) The Daiya vegan cheese in the freezer was already grated and I quickly sauteed some mushroom and bell pepper slices to compliment the Yves veggie pepperoni.
I heated the skillet at my oven's highest heat (550 degrees F) while I got everything ready. (I did not grease the pan, by the way, as the skillet is 40 years old and well-maintained.) After 30 minutes of heating, I popped the prepared pizza disc (drizzled with a bit of olive oil and still on the parchment I stretched it out on) into the hot skillet and let it bake for about 10 minutes. It emerged puffed and brown on the edges, a bit charred on the bottom and bubbling on top! I think I now have my solution!
Later, I checked online for other versions of baking pizza in cast iron and found many hits (was I asleep before or something??) with various methods, like this one in Sunset magazine, and this one from The Atlantic, but I think the method described in Cook's Illustrated is the most straight-forward and involves less moving around from stove-top to oven to broiler, etc., and so, less chance of burning yourself! I found it very simple.
I was also thinking that, if you have a cast iron round pancake griddle, that would work, too! (I'm not sure if 14" ones are available, but a smaller one would work, too.)
A word of warning: the pan stays VERY hot, so use good oven mitts and cover any handles while it rests on the stove so that you don't accidentally grab hot metal!