Hola, homeslices. When I last rapped at ya, I extolled the virtues of Totino's/Jeno's frozen pizzas. Some of you agreed. Some of you were like, "Ew, nasty" (even though I TOLD you not to argue with me). And some comments stuck with me weeks later. Like when Kdroste mentioned the "pepperoni nubbins."
I had never really thought about it, but, yeah, what's up with pepperoni nubbins? The only place you seem to find diced "pizza topping with pepperoni seasoning" (thanks, LizzyBH) is on frozen pizza. What's more, on a pizza like Totino's, all of the toppings are diced.
I had a hunch as to why, so I emailed Totino's, where R&D scientist Nate Morris responded. "Adam's hunch is correct," he said. "We use diced toppings (and carefully design the size of the dices) in order to get toppings into every bite."
I knew it!
But then it hit me: Could this actually be the reason I like to party down with Totino's once every year or so? I thought it was the crust I liked, not the party in every bite.
So, since I wasn't quite over my frozen-pizza craving—and because I didn't want to go over my yearly quota on Totino's—I thought I'd try to re-create this sensation at home.
It's simple enough. If you have even semi-literate knife skills (like yours truly), you can dice up all the ingredients in a jiffy. I didn't go too fine on the dicing—I like some chunkiness, some texture.
The most difficult part was the pepperoni. Not the actual work, mind you. Just the psychological leap you have to make as you realize you're dooming your pepperoni to non-crispness. But, for the sake of this column, I put that realization on the back burner. Anyway, who's to say the nubbins might not crisp up in a whole new way?
Not going to hold you in suspense. They didn't. In fact, I think my dicing could have been a bit finer on the pepperoni. The nubbins were a little too meaty, a little too greasy, a little too salty. I felt like I had snapped into a Slim Jim about 50 times too many. (On that note, I was sad to see at a gas station the other day that Edge had replaced Randy "Macho Man" Savage as Slim Jim's spokesman. Is nothing sacred?) Anyway, you really start to see the value of thin-sliced pepperoni when you go and do something like this.
On a more-important level, I'm not sure I enjoyed having ALL THE TOPPINGS in EACH BITE. Yeah, you choose toppings that play well with each other—and I think the classic "supreme" profile of green pepper, onion, and pepperoni do—but there's something about the anticipation and gratification of taking a bite with a little of this, then a little of that, then everything at once. ALL OF THE TOPPINGS ALL OF THE TIME is a little bit too much of a good thing. And it gets kind of boring. Somehow it works—for me, anyway—on a frozen pizza, but on my homemade Frozen Pizza–Style Pizza, it was an overload. (Which I could probably fix by reducing the amount of each topping.)
That said, I do think diced toppings have some potential. Remember Kenji's trip to Monte's in Lynn, Massachusetts?
Anyway, ladies and gents, there you have it: Frozen Pizza–Style Pizza.
Getting a Little Bit Geekier
Some of you out there grouse that Home Slice is sort of gimmicky. To which I say, DUH. That's (mostly) the point. If you want well-researched pizza recipes, you can click over to The Pizza Lab or to Pizzamaking.com. But lately, I figured I'd share some of what's going on with the actual pizza below the toppings. The canvas, if you will.
Like many of you out there, I recently converted to baking pizza on steel. And there's been a learning curve. I'm getting some great crusts, but now that the bottom of the pizza is cooking much faster, I'm finding the top doesn't always get as done as I'd like. Just above is a recent Plain Ol' Lehmann Dough (POLD) pizza I shared in last week's My Pie Monday. The crust was just how I like it on the bottom:
But the top didn't brown as much as I'd wanted. That's grocery-store low-moisture mozzarella on there. Not fresh. I like a little bit of browning to my regular mozzarella, and I just didn't get there before I had to pull the pizza out.
So for the Frozen Pizza–Style Pizza session, I tried something different. Instead of putting my quarter-inch-thick steel on the top rack, I shifted it to the lowest oven rack, as other folks are doing (and as the Baking Steel recipe recommends). But then ... I arranged my half-inch-thick steel above it, along with my old pizza stone—side by side, so that they created an artificial ceiling. I was hoping to approximate the squat, compact space of a commercial deck oven.
Can you guess what happened? Here:
This is the top of the Brussels sprout and bacon pizza I made for my wife. (She loves BS pizza.) Woefully undercooked. Granted, the dough is actually cooked through. There was no raw dough in this pie, no gum line. But the outer crust didn't brown for nothin'. And the Brussels sprouts were near raw. (I had parcooked the bacon, so it was OK.)
This is the bottom of that same pie:
It doesn't look that burned, but trust me, the other half you can't see is scorched. It was bad enough that my wife accused me of turning our apartment into a "hellhole"—hot as the dickens and smokey. (Hey, I brought the Di Fara experience to her!)
What happened was that the artificially low ceiling blocked the hot air from rising to the thermostat at the top of the oven chamber. This meant the heating element didn't cycle off. That's why my crust had KILLER oven spring (it puffed at the edges in about 45 seconds) but why I also had to pull it out around the 2:30 mark.
I'm already thinking of ways to arrange the baking surfaces I have available. If worse comes to worst, I can still get great crusts with the steel at the top of the oven, as I have before:
As for my dough used on this one, I went once again with a Lehmann-style New York–ish dough (I used a 3-day cold ferment). But unlike my previous two go-to recipes (Kenji's NYC-style and the Andrew Janjigian/Cook's Illustrated Thin Crust), I backed down the amounts of yeast, sugar, and oil in the dough. From what I understand, those previous two recipes have higher amounts to compensate for home oven realities. With the steel, I wanted to try something a little leaner.
I'll be using my Lehmann formulation from here on out (so that it remains constant) as I adjust the baking surfaces and try some tricks. So that will likely be the foundation of any New York–ish type pizzas you'll see in future Home Slices.
Anyway. Blah blah blah. Hasta la pizza, folks!