Pizza baked home at 650 degrees
Pizza baked home at 650 degrees
Ever since reading about Jeff Varasano and his obsession for the perfect pizza I find myself regularly revisiting his sight and learning more every time: http://www.varasanos.com/PizzaRecipe.htm  The sight is highly educational and a fun read and recommended by many other Fresh Loaf posts. There is lots to learn from this sight including dough hydration (very wet), hot oven (how to modify yours at your own risk!), flour types, use of a starter and several days of cold fermentation, dough technique, aspects of creating a superior sauce, homemade mozzarella, toppings, and pizzeria ratings and technique, technique and more technique.
His holy grail is a 2-3 minute pie at 850-950 degrees - obtained in his home oven by rigging the cleaning cycle to stay on such ovens being designed to reach up to 1000 degrees to burn off any spills. I have made very good pizzas at 550 degrees in my oven baking at 7 minutes or so. I easily rigged my oven as Jeff did. As others on this site have said proceed at your own risk and every kitchen should have a fire extinguisher near. I am very happy with a 4 minute pie at 650-700 degrees rather than seeking 850-900 degrees (someday). Preheating to 650-700 can take 80-90 minutes and longer to get to 800 plus temp. Use of an inferred thermometer nails the temp. After all is said and done I find the higher temp pie to be far superior to pies coming out of a standard 550 degree max oven, even though I have made some very good pies in a standard oven with stone.
If you get past the angst of the oven, then the trick is to use dough that is very wet as it can stand up to the heat and still be crisp on the outside and moist on the inside. My experience has been that an 80-85% hydration works well. And following Jeff’s method of storing in portion sized plastic containers in the refrigerator from 3-5 days to give the dough superior flavor.
After trying his technique for dough mixing many times I was not getting the proper dough development. I found this YouTube video “That's Alotta Ciabatta! Start to Finish” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v24OBsYsR-A  which shows how to make 90-95% hydration Ciabatta using the flat beater for most of the mixing and eventually to the dough hook. Having used this technique several times, I can say it is the way to go on high hydration dough and achieving the window pane effect.
My recipe is simple:
Build Starter: 120 grams total consisting of 60 grams of rye and 60 grams of water (note: you can use 100% white flour. I prefer having up to 20% divided evenly among whole wheat and rye which adds a subtle flavor profile. And my starter is 100% rye). After five hours to build to peak activity add the following:
60 grams (10%) whole wheat
472 grams (80%) bread flour
410 grams water
15 grams of salt (2.5%, higher than the typical 1.75% for bread)
3 grams of yeast (.5% given the use of starter)
Total 1,080 grams, enough for three 12”-14” pizza rounds at 360 grams each
See links above for mixing technique (YouTube) and storage on Jeff’s site. The sights are worth a look for any baker using high hydration dough, and pizza lovers. Jeff has opened his own pizza place in Atlanta, Ga which seems to be getting great reviews. His story of a passion that turned into his business calling is very interesting. I found it inspiring to read and learn as we all do when sharing our experiences…