The problem is the old ovens heated faster and more intensely. The new ovens take a long time to preheat and seem to fluctuate as much as 80 degrees as the thermostat tries to keep the oven at the temperature I've set on the control panel. The rear of the ovens are also 25-35 degrees hotter than the front... this is due to the fact that the glass on the doors is one of the largest I've seen on wall ovens.. that much glass simply does not hold the heat as much as an oven door with a smaller window.
So, I've tried a few things to help my pizzas bake faster and more evenly. First I tried a double stone technique--where you place one stone under your pizza and another on the rack just above the lower one. Supposedly this is supposed to radiate heat downwards as well as upwards toward the pizza. I didn't see any difference. Since Lisa doesn't like pizzas that are too dark on the bottom, I usually make pizza on my newer, lighter colored, less seasoned stone. Ok, so I tried using my darker, more aged stone. It helped a bit, but my normal bake time for a pizza placed right on the stone (I use parchment underneath the dough) still were taking almost 20 minutes at 550 degrees F to bake properly. My old oven only went to 515F and finished a pizza baked without a pan in 3-5 minutes!
For my pan pizzas I often use a silver steel half sheet pan--a heavy commercial one. I've always gotten great pan pizzas in 15 minutes at 475 degrees F from these pans--the pan placed on the preheated pizza stone. With the new ovens, the bottom of the crust took forever to crisp and brown up. So, I tried changing pans and got a dark colored heavy sheet pan. This worked pretty well. My times came back down to 15 minutes... but sometimes needed a minute on broil to finish cooking the toppings. Ok, I could live with that--pan pizzas are back on track.
Now, back to on-the-stone pizzas... I tried the upper oven's convection feature only to find that the rear of the crust burned--a charcoal tasting black. Not good. This seemed to happen no matter what rack I put my pizza stone on--above the rear convection fan or at the bottom. I typically bake rectangular pizza shapes so turning the thing halfway through baking would be awkward and potentially dangerous.
Well, I think I've found a secret weapon to solve some of these problems. The pizza steel. It was a bit hard to decide on the perfect one... most are made of a carbon steel and have to be seasoned. Most are also smaller than a standard 14" x "16" pizza stone, too. The Nerd Chef Pizza Steel was the right size but a bit expensive at $80 on Amazon. I ordered one and got right to pizza making...
So, problem solved. I still am not crazy about my new ovens, but at least I've found an acceptable workaround. BTW, if you decide to get a pizza steel, just be careful about never touching it when it's hot. Give it a very long time to cool down and perhaps crack the oven door open a bit after you're done making your pizza. This thing is so heavy that I'm leaving it in the oven even when cooking other things. I'm going to try it for bread also, but I'm thinking it might brown the bottom of a bread a bit too much. I'll let you know...
UPDATE: Since I originally wrote this, I have used my steel at least once a week, I have some other observations...
- You can definitely get a darker crust and a slightly faster cooking time by preheating your steel on the BROIL setting, then switch back to BAKE (I used 550F) after you place the pizza on the steel.
- I've found that the steel is also useful for baking casserole, too. My mac and cheese is more evenly baked when I place my Emile Henry casserole directly on the steel on the middle rack.
- I've discovered that for the bottom of a pizza crust, it really makes no difference what rack you place the steel on. No matter its position in the oven, the steel heats up pretty much the same. The rack height still does affect the top of the pizza, however.
- If I make my pizzas at least 1" in from the edges of the steel (I make lots of rectangular pizzas), the steel itself helps the crust bake more evenly around all sides--though I still have a hot-spot toward the rear fan area.
- Even though it's very heavy, I've found that I can't place the steel on the sliding rack in my oven (we have one ball-bearing sliding rack per oven)... the action of pulling the metal peel out from under my prepped dough will also pull the sliding rack outward. The steel should be positioned on a fixed rack.
- I have recently discovered that the top convection oven's fan was turning on periodically during baking even though I wasn't using convection mode... causing the blackened crust at the read edge of the oven. The temperature varied up t0 25 degrees from front to back on the pizza stone.
- I've since changed to baking my pizza in the lower, conventional oven (without any fan). The temperature variance is within 15 degrees in this oven, front to back. If I keep my steel on the middle rack, I can get a decently cooked pizza in 5-6 minutes, with perhaps another minute or so set to BROIL to finish cooking the toppings. Success at last!
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