Iíve been thinking for a while now if a thoroughly heated oven (such as one in a restaurant that gets used every day) bakes better than one that is just heated for a few hours. I had noticed that many of the places Iíve visited lately had a smaller fire than what I typically use. I figured that if there was more heat in the oven, you could get away with a smaller fire to keep the temp up. I think this mattes because it should give you a more even heat with a smaller percentage coming directly from the fire and a larger percentage coming from all directions. I have been discussing this with Omid, and we agreed it made sense to look at it closer.
To this end, I ran the oven for about 10 hours yesterday. When I got up this morning, it was about 450F. I usually open a bottle of wine in celebration of the oven lighting. This morning it was Cuban espresso (a little unrefined brown sugar stirred in as the espresso flows into the cup). I fired it up and let it heat for 9 hours before baking. It stayed a pretty steady 850F on the stone around the fire most of the day. About an hour before I used it, I pushed the fire to the back to let the floor heat even up. It evened out just a little over 900F in the center and 860F at the sides. This was the firs time I got the oven hot enough that there were a few places on the outside that were hot enough to be uncomfortable to touch.
Omid and I also discussed hydration. We hypothesized that with a deeper heat in the oven, better performance would come from higher hydration. There was concern that the 60% might not be able to handle the increased heat. Iíve been running 60% as you know. Yesterday, I upped it to 62%, and today 64%. I didnít change anything else. Salt was 2.9% and starter was 1.7%. 36 hours bulk at 60F. I had some interesting and rather unexpected observations.
1) My 60% dough is more workable than my 62% dough which is more workable than my 64% dough. The perceived wetness was followed the same order with 60% feeling the wettest. It was just the opposite when kneading the dough. The 64% was way wetter than Iím used to, and the 62% was also noticeably wetter than my 60%
2) The 64% dough rose A LOT faster than the 60% or 62%. And the 62% rose faster than my 60%. I generally see few, if any bubbles, at the end of bulk fermentation with the 60%. You can just see little ďpinpricksĒ were they are starting to form. With the 62%, they were a little more distinct. The 64% however had really risen. Lots of decent sized bubbles. It looked almost like you could have baked it. It makes sense that the wetter dough would ferment faster, but I was surprised how much. I worked this dough a lot more than the 60% or 62% to get it to where I could handle it easily. Perhaps that put enough heat into it to kick start fermentation?
3) The 62% tasted the sourest. The 64% had a little more flavor than my 60% but not a lot. Iím thinking that I must have had some perception problems coming from toppings or the wine and diet coke I was drinking (not together) or something. The resistance I was getting from the 64%, and to a smaller extent, the 62% as compared to my very relaxed 60% must have been due to the increased acid from the accelerated fermentation of the sourdough culture.
I was kind of hoping that I would not get good results out of the deep heat oven as Iím not going to heat it for two days every time I make pizza. That was not the case however. The oven baked some very nice pies. There is no doubt that they baked more evenly than my pies have in the past. I could see it right before my eyes as they baked. The heat coming directly off the fire was much less of a factor. I almost always get some area of intense charring on some of my pies where I let a side face the coals too long. None today, and I let them sit without turning longer than I normally do.
When Kelly first posted a picture of my oven several months ago at Slice, someone made the comment that Ďovens that get used every day bake better pies.í I didnít believe it at the time, but that person was right. They do, or at least they can.
As for 64%, like 62% I didnít like it as much as 60%. The pies Iíve baked at 60% are among the most tender Iíve ever eaten. These were really really good, but not quite as tender. Iím willing to give up a tiny bit of flavor for the texture of the 60% pies. Youíll see from the bench flour on the upskirts that I was a little afraid of the 64% hydration. In hindsight, I donít think I needed to be. The dough was not tacky at all. I think I was stuck on just how wet it was coming out of the mixer Ė you could just about pour it out Ė maybe you could have. Iím excited to try a 60% pie in the 2-day hot oven, but I donít know when that will be.
I did a couple new (to me anyway) things with toppings today that were pretty good:
On the prosciutto and salad pie, I put fresh mozzarella on the crust and then dotted tomato sauce around it Ė not a lot. I baked it, then topped with prosciutto, spring mix, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Texas Olive Ranch Meyer lemon oil, and sea salt. The slight sweetness of the tomatoes was exactly what this pie needed.
The onion pie had three types of onions. The yellow and red onions were tossed with EVOO and kosher salt I smoked. After they were roasted in the oven, I tossed them with a little bit of Texas Olive Ranch Mesquite smoked olive oil. I topped the pie with dry whole milk mozzarella, the roasted onions, thyme, and fresh ground black pepper. After the bake, I added thinly sliced green onions.
The clam pie was the best Iíve ever made and right up there with any Iíve ever tasted. It was topped with fresh clams, EVOO, red pepper flakes, garlic, and fresh cream. After the bake, it was finished with flat leaf parsley. I put a more detailed description up in a separate post.