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A Pizza Find

For years, I have been trying to make a good thin crust pizza.  When my wife and I were in Italy several years ago, we really enjoyed a pizza we had in Rome, near the Trevi Fountain.  The crust was so thin and crisp that it was almost cracker like.

I tried everything I could think of to make a crust like that -- varying the water/flour ratios, making the dough with or without olive oil, rolling the crust thinner, using different oven temperatures, placing my pizza stone on a rack as high as possible in the oven, super-heating the pizza stone for a few minutes using the boiler before putting the pizza into the oven, even changing the order of ingredients on the pizza.  These all made some difference.  None of them gave the crust I was looking for.

Then, this past weekend, I pulled "Brother Juniper's Bread Book" by Peter Reinhart off the bookshelf and turned to his section on pizza.  In the inset on Memorable Pizza there was a suggestion I hadn't even thought of trying -- that the pizza stone should be put on the bottom shelf or even right on the floor of the oven and pre-heated for at least 20 minutes at 500°F (260°C) or higher.

Since I use parchment paper to keep the crust from sticking to my peel (actually an old piece of 1/8 inch plywood) I have to keep the temperature at or below 450°F (232°C), but I could certainly try putting my pizza stone on the floor of my oven.  My oven is electric, but the heating element is under the floor so that isn't a problem.  Other than that, I made a plain lean pizza dough with just water, flour, yeast and salt.  No fat, no sugar and no flavorings.  I rolled a thin crust and assembled the pizza in the traditional North American order of sauce, ingredients and finally the cheese on top, and baked it for 13 minutes.

I knew as soon as I sliced the pizza that this was the missing link.  I could hear the knife crunching through the crust.  The result was the cracker thin, crunchy crust I had been trying for.  Because the stone had been heated directly by the element, the crust cooked quickly, before the other ingredients could make it soggy, as sometimes happens.

I know there is still some room for improvement.  Next time, I need to let the dough relax a bit more as I roll it out, and I think I'll try adding a little oil.  Both of those should help the overall texture, but I'm pleased with the result so far.

So, if you have been trying for that thin crunchy crust too, try lowering your pizza stone.    It may just be the secret you are looking for.

If there is nothing to get in the way, try putting the stone right on the floor of the oven. If you have an electric oven with the element above the floor then you will need to use a rack in the lowest position and put the stone on that.   If you are worried about safety, or the warranty on your oven, you may prefer to use a rack at the lowest position.

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