Okay, so I tried a couple of things tonight.
First, I experimented with fermentation times.
First batch: 24hrs bulk, then balled and proofed for 6hrs. Second batch: 6hrs bulk, then balled and proofed for 24 hours.
My goal was to see if either dough provided better crust color. Essentially, they both performed identically. If I had to give a slight advantage, guess I preferred the 6/24 dough. It might have had slightly better flavor. But, like I say, they were almost identical.
The second experiment was more drastic. I had been cooking my pies under the broiler after a long pre-heat with my 1.25" soapstone. My broiler, however, is weak, and I never was quite able to achieve the leapording or color I hoped for. In addition, I believe I was sacrificing any hope at achieving the tenderness I came to appreciate after a recent trip to Napoli. So, I moved the stone down the very bottom of the oven and constructed a make-shift roof out of a spare oven rack. I covered it in foil and placed a small baking stone right in the center facing downward. I had hoped the stone would absorb and reflect some heat back to the pie. My ultimate goal was tenderness through higher heat.
Temperature of soapstone slab:
60 min - 556deg
75 min - 650deg
90 min - 670deg
I decided to go ahead and bake, although originally I was tempted to let it go a full two hours. From past experience, however, I knew the soapstone to be very conductive, and I thought 670 might be more than enough to achieve a 60-90sec bake.
First pizza was a disaster! A thin spot formed during shaping, but I went ahead with it anyway. It ripped, and fortunately I was able to extract it before too much smoke. The result, however, was a step in the right direction. (See 1st pic)
So, I shaped the next two balls, and proceeded. Bake time was 75 seconds for the first, and 90 seconds for the second. The results were mixed. As you can see, the cornicione color is still very anemic. To be honest, it looks pathetic! I really need to reconsider how to get the top-color I'm searching for. That was the negative.
The positives, however, far outweighed the negatives. First, I can really appreciate the difference a short bake time/higher heat has on flavor. The tomatoes just "popped," the cheese was perfect, and the crust was by far the most tender I've achieved. Truthfully, everything up to this point pales in comparison. The bottom of both pizzas had just the right amount of char, and provided a nice depth of flavor, as well. In fact, the cornicione even had a nice texture, despite lacking any color, and had a nice "bite" to go along with great flavor. And, of course, the interior had so much of the tenderness for which I've been searching.
So, in an honest evaluation, I'd like to think tonight showed some real progress. I was starting to doubt I could obtain the tenderness I was seeking (and I admit there is still MUCH room for improvement), but Omid made a comment a while back that motivated me to keep pressing forward. I think I achieved more in terms of texture and taste than I had previously thought possible. Of course, there's that darn color!! As a bread baker, I know the importance of color. It is essential to the finished product. No one wants to eat a pale, insipid looking piece of bread or pizza. So... please... I'm all ears! Any thoughts/ideas/suggestions are welcome.
Oh, and before anyone says it, I apologize if I didn't put forth a whole lot of effort in "dressing" up these pizzas. I was truly focusing on the other details!!