January 14, 2003
Pizza Disaster
posted by Carl

From the top, the pizza looks pretty good: a simple tomato sauce and shredded cheese. The bottom, however, is another story. It is a black, charred mess, half of which is still stuck to the pizza stone. "Am I going to get cancer from this?" Nadia asks. She declines to eat the pizza as is, instead scraping off the most charred bits from the bottom as you would with burned toast. As she is turning a slice on its side to get at the blackened underbelly, I notice the entire mass of cheese slip off onto the plate; another fatal flaw.

Even my new pizza peel was unable to save this pizza. I think the problem arose from the pizza chapter in the new Jeffrey Steingarten book (which, for some reason, didn't foul me up last time). I was trying to get the pizza stone, and the oven around it, up to the magical pizza cooking temperature in the area of 750°F. To achieve this, I put the pizza stone on the floor of the oven where it was flanked by the vents from the gas heating element below. After preheating the oven at its highest setting (500°) for about 30 minutes, I decided it would be even better to turn the oven onto "broil" so that the heating element wouldn't turn off.

The first sign of trouble was the immediate blackening of the stray bits of cornmeal that fell onto the stone as I maneuvered the pizza into the oven. "No problem." I thought, "It's probably just because they're a much coarser grind than normal cornmeal." As I looked into the oven to check the pizza five minutes later, I noticed a distinct blackening around the bottom edge and slight wisps of smoke emanating from the underside of the pizza. By the time the top of the pizza had cooked, it was painfully apparent that there was a serious problem. I had trouble using the peel to extract the pizza from the oven since it had essentially been fused to the stone. So it turns out that, at least in our oven, it is indeed possible to reach and exceed the temperature to cook a good pizza. Next time I won't put the pizza stone on the superhot floor of the oven and keep a closer eye on the temperature.