Author Topic: My Steel Plate Experience (and other matters)  (Read 4670 times)

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Offline breadman_nz

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My Steel Plate Experience (and other matters)
« on: December 22, 2011, 05:57:24 PM »
As per this other recent steel plate thread (and to gain Scott123's valued insight into flour):

Since it seems that - for pizza cooking in a home oven - steel plate is "the new black", I recently picked up a 12mm x 400mm x 400mm (that's 1/2" x 16 x 16 for you imperial types) chunk of steel from a local engineering shop.

I used it to bake pizzas for the first time the other day using a straight, simple dough - strong white flour, 58% hydration, 2.6% salt, 0.7% yeast with overnight cold ferment.

Oven heated to 550-560 degrees (Fahrenheit) for one hour. It's a fan forced electric oven, with a single element only located on the rear wall (behind a shield where the fan is). I don't have an infrared thermometer, so couldn't measure the steel plate temperature.

I did three pies (one of which was a garlic bread) - all turned out similarly. I'll get some pictures online soon once I'm reunited with my home PC, but in essence, they turned out nicely - and a definite improvement over my thin ceramic stone. Crispier crust on the outer edge (with a bit less oven spring - although I think I only used 0.5% yeast in this mix), and a crispier base crust - not soggy like previously. My bake times were around 5 minutes.

Overall pretty happy, and will definitely continue to work with it. That steel is one heavy mutha!

1) Some pies do seem to need a turn to be fully evened out. The fan forced bake does a reasonable job of evening out the oven temps from front (the door) to back (where the heating element is).

2) I use Champion 'Beta Strong' flour, which is readily obtainable from wholesale food warehouses here. Here's the guff: http://www.championflour.com/products/flour/bakers-flour/85/champion-beta-(strong)-flour.aspx
It does well for all my pizza, pasta and bread-making kneads.

[EDIT: corrected plate thickness to 12mm]
« Last Edit: December 23, 2011, 02:43:26 AM by breadman_nz »


Offline Hdale85

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Re: My Steel Plate Experience (and other matters)
« Reply #1 on: December 22, 2011, 06:27:11 PM »
I think you meant 12mm thick.

scott123

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Re: My Steel Plate Experience (and other matters)
« Reply #2 on: December 24, 2011, 08:39:42 AM »
Breadman, according to the specs for the flour, it's 12% protein.  For NY style, 12% isn't horrible, but it's not ideal either. Ideally, you want to be in the 12.5-12.7 realm and even a bit higher if you want something with a little more chew.

You might be able to work around the lack of protein in the flour with a little more kneading, maybe, but I think if you really want to do justice to the style, I'd keep your eye out for stronger flours. 

Is the dough doubled by the time you used it the next day? If it is, it's enough yeast.  If it isn't, add some more. If it went beyond double and began to deflate, than use less.

58% hydration might be about the absorption value for your flour. In my experience, as you go above the absorption value, the tendency is to gain oven spring but develop more gluten/lose a little tenderness. In your particular instance, because of the protein deficiency of your flour, you could stand to develop more gluten with some more water.  The only question is manageability.  As you add more water, the dough could get too slack and a bit too sticky to work with. I would still give more water a shot, though- maybe 62%, and see how it feels.

2.6% salt is more of a Neapolitan quantity.  I might be wrong about this, but I think, with your particular rear element oven, you most likely will never be able to produce Neapolitan bake times with it, so, until you get a WFO, I'd stick to NY style ratios.  For NY style, 1.5% to 2% salt is more in line.

Some photos would be especially helpful. Your unique oven element placement could require a specialized approach, but I won't know what that might be I until I get a better sense of what you're getting out of it now. I'm a little concerned that the vertical element might not give you enough top browning- if that's the case, then we're going to need to take a different approach than steel.

Offline breadman_nz

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Re: My Steel Plate Experience (and other matters)
« Reply #3 on: December 24, 2011, 02:45:25 PM »
Thanks for the tips - good stuff to work on!

I can cut the 12% with some gluten flour (calculated) to up the protein content a few points, since I haven't come across a stronger flour here in NZ. I thought you were going to suggest tipo "00" for a minute, which is available here (yes, it's a milling process rather than a composition). I'm sure I've seen the Beta listed previously with a higher protein content - and it certainly provides more than ample chew at it's current rate (not that I've compared it, mind).

I'm a fan of neopolitan-style pies - but yes, the home oven is a LONG way from the 1000F ceiling of a good wood-fire. The WFO is in the 5-year pipeline, definitely (it partly depends on the WAF). I love the Tony Gimignano demonstration of his award-winning pie: hhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=InDwfZmSikI. It's the reason for the dough formula I'm using (higher salt), along with the fact the 60-62% is a bit sticky and saggy to work with (I find). I could go to 60% and harden up, I suppose  :D.

When I'm back home after Christmas break I'll get some photos of the pies and the oven up for further analysis. In the meantime, I can';t resist sharing this excellent site about WFO's and especially the tools they do - I'm saving up for one of their mezzalunas: http://slowfoodandhandforgedtools.com.au/knives.html (no commercial interest to declare  :) )

Offline breadman_nz

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Re: My Steel Plate Experience (and other matters)
« Reply #4 on: December 30, 2011, 10:19:49 PM »
Photos as promised. The more I look at these, the more undercooked these pies seem (were nice enough to eat though!). Outer crust not quite charred enough and toppings a bit underdone. The nicely charred base of the first pie was from the slightly better done one (the first I cooked - with about a minute recovery time for the steel plate).

Without the top element (=broiler), I'm guessing I can't get a 4-5 minute pie.

« Last Edit: December 31, 2011, 03:07:01 AM by breadman_nz »

scott123

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Re: My Steel Plate Experience (and other matters)
« Reply #5 on: January 01, 2012, 01:49:42 AM »
Breadman, please don't add gluten flour. Gluten flour is damaged gluten, and doesn't benefit bread other than some additional chewiness, which I'm not sure you want.  Either stick with the beta or track down a higher protein flour.

Gemignani is a champion thrower, but, I'd never take Neapolitan pizza advice from him, at least not around the time of that video (he has since acquired a lot of knowledge). Regardless of where you get your advice from, now that I've seen photos, I can promise you that there's no chance you will ever get a Neapolitan bake time out of your oven. Sorry  :(  The steel plate only seems to compound the top heat issue and may be hurting more than helping.

If you can't get a Neapolitan bake time, then it's critical that you go with a more NYish amount of salt, as that much salt will impact fermentation, which, for your oven, you want to encourage.  Because of your oven limitation, you really should embrace NY style pizza across the board by adding some oil to your formula.

You had mentioned hitting a 5 minute bake time previously.  Could you tell me about your previous stone?

Btw, those are very nice looking pizzas. Not Neapolitan, but, for NY, pretty respectable.  What kind of cheese is that?

Offline breadman_nz

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Re: My Steel Plate Experience (and other matters)
« Reply #6 on: January 01, 2012, 04:53:09 PM »
Heh - too late!  :D I've made Glutenboy's NY formula for tonight's bake (http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,7761.0.html) and chucked in a few grams of 79% pure gluten flour according to this calculator (http://foodsim.unclesalmon.com/) to go from 12 to 14%. It's gonna be a chewy sucker I bet (given the Beta is already chewy). I have to say, I'm still a bit skeptical that the Beta is only 12%, but I suppose you have to go by the label.

I didn't add oil (as per the glutenboy formula) but there is oil spray around each dough ball. Interestingly, glutenboy's formula also uses 2.5% salt. This dough isn't too sticky at 61% - I'm guessing adding some gluten flour has sucked up some water.

I've accepted my non-Neopolitan fate and will work on my NY-style pies until the WFO is running. All journeys have a beginning - mine and Gemignani's!

I'm gonna put the pizza steel near the top of the oven tonight (it was previously low-middle) to see if I can get the pizza top in a relatively hotter place to the steel.

The pies pictured above were at the 4-5 minute mark - before this (using a ubiquitous thin, round ceramic "pizza" stone) I hadn't quite been able to hit this low. My oven does get to 560-570F, so it's not terrible, if you don't take into account what I THINK is a single, posterior element (I'm trying to confirm its conformation presently). We will only be in this house for another year, and the type of oven will definitely be a consideration in the new house!

At least we do get good to very good cheese here in NZ. The stuff on these pies is fairly standard supermarket mozzarella (http://www.perfectitaliano.com.au/perfect-italiano-mozzarella-traditional-block-500g/). I do use mozzarella di buffala when I want to go tradizionale.

EDIT: Yep - single posterior element (http://spares.bigwarehouse.com.au/index.php?cPath=64677_77011_77013&sort=2a&page=1&osCsid=a701428782e7eed779f280781a398903) .... oh well, it was a cheap 2nd hand oven and better than our old gas oven which rusted out. Will get one of these next time (http://outrageousluxury.com/?p=980)

EDIT 2: Ah-haaaa - high grade wheat flour. 13.5%. (http://www.mybreadmix.co.nz/modules/cpshop/breadshop.php?op=prod&sid=55).
« Last Edit: January 01, 2012, 08:45:43 PM by breadman_nz »

scott123

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Re: My Steel Plate Experience (and other matters)
« Reply #7 on: January 01, 2012, 08:44:08 PM »
Yup, it's going to be chewy.  Do you have a dog? It could end up being a good chew toy  :-D

I think it's time to retire the steel as well- as a hearth.  You might be able to bolster the top heat a bit by using it as a ceiling. You still have the sillimanite stone floating around, right?  If you have 4 shelves, I'm thinking that if you put the sillimanite on the lower middle shelf and the steel on the upper middle, that probably won't give you much of a gap, so try lower middle for the sillimanite and top shelf for the steel. Ideally, you want the vertical gap as small as possible, but still large enough to comfortably launch a pizza.

Could you snap a photo of your oven sensor?  I think, in order to get the most out of the sillimanite, you might want to due a gentle trick to buy you 25 or so more degrees.

Btw, I'm sorry for recommending steel plate to you without knowing more about your oven.  I saw the higher peak oven temps and jumped to the conclusion that it was electric and had a conventional element arrangement.  It is electric, but that rear element is definitely not conventional.

Offline breadman_nz

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Re: My Steel Plate Experience (and other matters)
« Reply #8 on: January 01, 2012, 10:45:37 PM »
No worries ... the joy is the journey, as well as the destination! Who was to know it was such a weird, slightly cheaply designed oven (certainly not me!).

I can reuse the steel plate as an oven mod now, and very likely in the not-too-distant future when I move house and have a more conventional oven (before the WFO). I donated the sillaminite plate to my brother as a house-warming gift, so it's being put to good use in his oven for bread (and sometimes pizza) baking. I plan to get the Best Manufacturers Pizza Stone (http://www.amazon.com/Best-Manufacturers-14-inch-16-inch-Pizza/dp/B000ORE0KA/?tag=pizzamaking-20) to further this sojourn.

Anyway, I got me some pies to make for tea - the dough won't get itself out of the fridge!


scott123

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Re: My Steel Plate Experience (and other matters)
« Reply #9 on: January 02, 2012, 12:22:50 AM »
If it's not too late, please don't buy that stone  ;D It's a bit too thin and most likely, by the time you factor in shipping, three times what you'd pay for a good kiln shelf.  Call around to some ceramic suppliers, you've got to have at least one in your area. Can your oven handle a 17" square stone?  Ideally, for a 16" pizza (and, eventually, you're going to want to do a 16" pizza), you'll want at least a 17" stone. 17 x 17 x 3/4 or 17 x 17 x 1 is good too. If your oven can fit an 18" square stone, even better.

Edit: If you haven't already, here's some places to call:

http://www.nzpotters.com/Corporate/Commercial.cfm?page=Ceramic%20Supplies&depth=1

Here's one more:

http://www.wellingtonpotterssupplies.co.nz/index.html

It seems like sillimanite is the norm for kiln shelves.  Any chance you could borrow your brother's sillimanite for some testing?  It might be perfect for your needs, but I'd hate to spend the money on another sillimanite shelf only to find out that it doesn't quite have the specs you need.
« Last Edit: January 02, 2012, 12:59:15 AM by scott123 »


Offline breadman_nz

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Re: My Steel Plate Experience (and other matters)
« Reply #10 on: January 02, 2012, 02:19:45 AM »
Gun shy on the recommendations now, eh Scott?  :chef:

I had wondered about that Best Stone - looks like it's only 1/2 or 5/8th thick as far as I can tell. There's another one on Amazon (old stone oven: http://www.amazon.com/Old-Stone-Oven-4467-14-Inch/dp/B0000E1FDA/?tag=pizzamaking-20) which is a bit cheaper ($113NZD) is made of cordierite and - including shipping to NZ - still works out cheaper than the Best stone ($137 NZD).

Thanks for the kiln shelf links. I'll try to nab my brother's sometime to test it on the lower middle shelf, with the steel plate up top - although I'm perfectly happy to purchase another, since I'd also use it for baking bread. My current oven will just take a 16" x 16" stone/steel - no larger. Luckily that appears to be a standard kiln shelf size (x 5/8 or 3/4 inch thick). The sillimanite kiln shelf I bought my brother was $120 - so unless the other guys are cheaper, it works out similar price to the other options. I consider it to be part of the trade-off for living on an isolated island in the South Pacific.

Anyway, on to tonight's bake with the steel plate on the top shelf. Photos 1&2 is the location of the plate and the temperature probe. The oven gets good and hot, and after an hour's preheat it was up to 570F (300C). The location of the rear element is problematic for two reasons:
1) the top doesn't cook as rapidly as it needs to - resulting in around 5 minute bakes for both of these pies. With 5 minute bakes, the top is only just done, and it could be argued, underdone a touch. With the steel plate, the bottom is nicely crisp with a mild char - some would argue overdone, but it's really just about right for my tastes.
2) The rear of the oven, near the element, is obviously warmer than the front. The 3rd photo of the whole pie clearly shows an unevenly cooked rim. Nothing a rotate couldn't solve, buts it's an extra step and means the oven is opened (losing heat).

The subsequent photos are of the pie itself. Good spring, perfect chew, crisp outside, a bit of droop but still a crisp base. Not bad IMHO.




scott123

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Re: My Steel Plate Experience (and other matters)
« Reply #11 on: January 02, 2012, 04:25:07 AM »
Gun shy... funny  :-D

As far as retail baking stones, the old stone is pretty popular and pretty well made, but it's still a retail stone, and thus, inferior to a kiln shelf.  It doesn't say it on the page, but I think that stone is 1/2" thick, with feet that give it another 1/4".  I'm still not 100% sure how sillimanite will perform.  I know it's a very close relative to cordierite, but I can't say for certain.  Ideally, I'd really like to see you get a 1" cordierite shelf.  The cordierite should work very nicely to get you great bake times at 600- which is right about where you're going to get your oven to.

I did a little more digging and found one more NZ ceramic supplier. It's at the bottom of this list:

http://aardvarkclay.com/new_pages/distributor_list.html

NEW ZEALAND    BLUE SKY CERAMICS    9-413-8050

Good news on the temperature probe.  You should be able to unclip that quite easily and slip something insulating around it. Perhaps when you order the kiln shelve, you can order a small patch of fiber blanket as well and use that as a pouch.


Offline breadman_nz

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Re: My Steel Plate Experience (and other matters)
« Reply #12 on: January 02, 2012, 08:01:11 PM »
Lunchtime's bake today.

I wrapped a piece of aluminium foil around the temperature probe and got the oven up to 600F (at least that's as high as my oven thermometer reads). This needed around 65 minutes pre-heat time.

The steel tray was on the top shelf (as above) to provide some radiant heat from above. I used my cheap, old round ceramic stone on the middle shelf to bake on.

Much nicer tops - the cornicone is evenly browned without any turns required. The bottoms are a tad less charred than I'd like.

The best news: the pies below were at exactly the 4 minutes bake time nirvana. If I can just get a hint more char from below, I'll be happy with this set up.



« Last Edit: January 02, 2012, 08:05:26 PM by breadman_nz »

scott123

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Re: My Steel Plate Experience (and other matters)
« Reply #13 on: January 02, 2012, 08:13:26 PM »
Getting there, definitely getting there.

This is still one of the gluten flour batches, right?

Tell me about (and/or take a photo of) this cheap circular stone. What's the thickness?

What's the vertical gap between the steel and the stone?  How comfortable was the launch? Do you think you might be able to work with an even smaller vertical gap?

1" or 3/4" sillimanite/cordierite and I think you should be good to go.

Was the foil on the probe the whole time or did you add it later during the pre-heat?

Now that that oven setup is coming into focus, I think it's time we had the cheese talk :)  Is that mozzarella? Do you have different brands of mozzarella to choose from?

Offline breadman_nz

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Re: My Steel Plate Experience (and other matters)
« Reply #14 on: January 02, 2012, 08:36:41 PM »
Thrilled to have almost graduated to the cheese talk already :). It's a grated 100% mozzarella - just some generic cow's milk supermarket stuff (http://shop.countdown.co.nz/?banner=www#url=/Shop/SearchProducts%3Fsearch%3Dgalaxy). The pie above used pre-grated (which my wife thinks is being lazy). When going tradizionale, I get some fresh hand made mozzarella di buffala. A few cheap brands to choose from (http://shop.countdown.co.nz/?banner=www#url=/Shop/SearchProducts%3Fsearch%3Dmozzarella); and good artisanal cheeses available at the local delicatessen.

Yep - still one of the 14% gluten batches. Will probably try a Lehman next - 2% salt and, say, 1% oil. I would like to get these pies stretched out a little more. I'm currently using 300g dough balls and getting to around 13"-13.5". The dough today was quite resistant to staying stretched out. I'm prevaricating on whether to add the gluten powder next time, and have my eye on some 13.5% protein flour (http://www.mybreadmix.co.nz/modules/cpshop/breadshop.php?op=prod&sid=55).

Vertical gap is 11cm from the top of the ceramic stone to the bottom of the steel plate. I could probably just launch the pies into a 10cm gap, but not much narrower than that. So I could just use a thicker base stone OK.

The thin ceramic stone is 3/8" thick - and is this exact make & model: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Typhoon-Pizza-Stone-Chromed-Handles/dp/B001CBZ8K8/?tag=pizzamaking-20 .

The foil was on the whole time ... with the location of the probe and hot steel plate, I wouldn't like to try to fiddle with it once things were hot!



scott123

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Re: My Steel Plate Experience (and other matters)
« Reply #15 on: January 02, 2012, 10:25:08 PM »
Breadman, the cheese talk certificate of completion is in the mail. It's quite nice. Suitable for hanging ;D

Seriously, though, I'm not certain about the grated cheese, but the 'expensive' galaxy mozzarella, is, imo, most definitely not mozzarella. I would stick to the grated cheese and/or try some other options. Fresh mozzarella (high moisture) (fior de latte, bufala) isn't really suitable for your bake time. Maybe once you get the thicker stone, and trim the bake time a bit further, you might be able to play around with those. In the meantime, though, try to find a brand that comes in both grated and brick versions and buy the brick and grate it yourself. That tends to be the best for this style.

I can't speak for NZ, but here in NY, money doesn't always buy you better mozzarella.  The cheapest stuff is frequently the best.  At least on the retail end.  There's commercial mozzarella that runs circles around the retail stuff.  Keep your eye out for mozzarella that's white and firm.

How chewy was this last pie?  It looked a bit chewy to me. Don't prevaricate on the gluten flour. Omit it.  It tastes horrible and brings no benefit to your crust.

I'm backtracking on the higher gluten flour.  If you tell me the beta tends to be chewy, then I believe you.  Instead of ramping up the protein, I highly recommend increasing the hydration. Lehmann is 65%, but that's too high for your flour.

Beta + 61% hydration + 2% oil.  No gluten flour. With your current setup, it will be a bit paler on the bottom, but it will be a marked improvement over this last pie. Once you get the kiln shelf, this flour/hydration will rock your world :) It will be a bit sticky/droopy/hard to work with, but if you want to enter the realm of sublime pizza, you're going to have to get used to it.  Use plenty of flour, don't toss it (obviously) and stretch it carefully. The best pizza (and bread) doughs are always a bit difficult to handle.

The impetus to stretch them a bit more is a good one.  If you can stretch it to 14, that would really help, both aesthetically and with oven spring.  Thinner dough will translate into faster bakes, which is anther added plus- or more color in the same amount of time.

We've all used stones like that at one time another.  For what it is, you're getting a lot out of it, but, as I know you're aware, a kiln shelf is a gargantuan leap forward.
« Last Edit: January 03, 2012, 01:30:47 AM by scott123 »

Offline breadman_nz

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Re: My Steel Plate Experience (and other matters)
« Reply #16 on: January 03, 2012, 06:29:58 AM »
Dare I suggest a two steel plate setup? One for baking, the other ~10cm above to provide the top broiler effect? A second steel plate would be slightly cheaper than the sillimanite shelf, but at the cost of being less useful for other baking uses. Decisions, decisions....

scott123

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Re: My Steel Plate Experience (and other matters)
« Reply #17 on: January 03, 2012, 01:32:08 PM »
Breadman, a steel hearth wouldn't work. Right now, at 600, your steel ceiling is giving you about a 4 minute bake on the top. If you lower that temp, the top won't bake as fast.  You need that 600- and maybe a little higher. At 600, a steel hearth will burn your pizza long before the 4 minutes required for good top browning.

At least, 600 with 1/2" steel plate.  1/4" steel plate... that's another story. I know 1/4" steel plate, at 550, doesn't have the thermal mass for less than a 6 minute bake, so, perhaps 600 might work, although I can't make any guarantees. 575 might be the magic number that gives you the 4 minute bake on the bottom, and, at this point, you don't want to lower the heat on the top plate a single degree. I also wouldn't go any thinner than 1/4" as there's a chance thinner gauge steel might warp. Here, I can get 1/4" x 16 x 16 for less than $25, but, considering the price you paid for 1/2", it will most likely be considerably more.  There's a chance 1/4" could work, but I'd hate, at this point, for you to shell out for yet another stone and have it not work perfectly for you.

If I had to bet on 3/4" sillimanite vs. 1/4" steel, I'd definitely go with 3/4" sillimanite.  If anything, the sillimanite might need slightly higher temps than 600 to achieve the 4 minute bake, which, with your probe, should be pretty easy to achieve.  It's better to use a material that requires a slightly higher temp, rather than one that might require a lower temp, since your ceiling doesn't have any flexibility when it comes to temp reduction.

I don't normally recommend these, because I don't find them very durable, but, considering the price you're paying for kiln shelves, you might want to look into quarry tiles- ideally 1/2" if you can find them.

Offline breadman_nz

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Re: My Steel Plate Experience (and other matters)
« Reply #18 on: January 29, 2012, 09:24:38 PM »
Ahhhhhhhh! The sweet taste and smell of satisfation!

I finally got my steel plate in the top of the oven, matched up with a 3/4"x16x16" sillimanite kiln shelf.

The oven took about two hours to heat up to temperature with this hefty stone combination - but eventually got to at least 600F (my oven thermometer doesn't go any higher). The element was still on at this temperature.

As a result, the pie below was exactly 4 minutes. It was actually looking pretty done at around 3:30-3:45, depending on taste. Bottom crust is just how I like it, and nice puffed cornicone with crispy exterior and chewy interior.

As per Scott123, I used a NY-style dough: 61% hydration, 2% olive oil, 2% salt, 0.5% IDY. Two days of refrigeration, followed by a reball 1 hour prior to baking. Not the most aesthetic of pies - that'll come with practice, I hope - but I finally have the taste and texture I'm happy with. The 2% oil is nice, just softens the finished product a little, without sacrificing the chew, and the 2% salt is less 'harsh' and drying on the palate. The 0.5% IDY is pretty aggressive in the fridge, and needed a couple of punch downs. I might try 0.4% next time, but this had a great oven spring:



 

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