Posted on 22 Jan 2015 21:37
Whenever I see professional pizza makers putting their pizza into an oven, it just slides off the peel as pretty as can be. When I make pizza at home, which I often do, I always find it hard to get the pizza to slide off my pizza peel without messing up the shape of the pizza, or potentially even ruining it. As well, some of the toppings might fall off, etc. One problem is the pizza peel itself, or whatever you are sliding the pizza off of. My pizza peel is a fairly rough wooden one. That is not exactly conducive to sliding a flat thin dough off of, especially one weighted down with toppings. But at the same time, a smooth metal one may not be any better, as there is more surface area making contact with the pizza dough.
Of course, there are lots of factors that will affect how well your pizza slides into the oven. Wet dough, dryer dough etc. If I made pizzas every day of my life then I'd probably be able to do it without any problems. Part of the secret, after all, is to have the dough just right and to work very quickly. The longer the dough sits, the more it sticks. But, that isn't me. I make an awesome pizza when it comes down to it, but I don't show any professional smoothness while doing it. I really dislike the kind of cooking advice that goes, "just practice a lot" and you'll get better at it. As if I am going to make pizzas all the time just for the practice. I'm not that kind of food blogger, sorry.
The two most time-honored ways to make sure your pizza will come off without a hitch are using lots of flour or cornmeal. Here are some basic tips:
- Before you begin to shape and top your dough, have all your toppings ready and convenient for topping, so that you can work quickly.
- While shaping your dough, make sure it is not too wet. If it is, apply flour while you start to push the dough into shape.
- Put plenty of cornmeal on your pizza peel. Once you have shaped your dough or rolled it out, transfer it to the pizza peel on top of the cornmeal.
- If you feel like you need to add more cornmeal. Be especially careful to make sure there is enough cornmeal along the edges, where the dough is likely to sick.
- Work quickly to top the pizza and while doing so, shake the pizza peel to slid the dough back and forth a bit. This will help keep the pizza dough loose.
- Slide the topped pizza onto a very hot pizza stone.
- When making more than one pizza, scrape the excess cornmeal from the pizza stone onto a plate (making sure not to burn yourself). If you leave the cornmeal on the pizza stone between pizzas, it will burn and potentially affect the taste of the next pizza.
Don't let your prepared dough sit too long on a pizza peel. The longer it sits, the more it will stick. Also, you'll probably find it much easier to make several smaller pizzas rather than one very large one.
Using flour instead of cornmeal to facilitate sliding your dough is a bad option, especially if you use a pizza stone. The flour burns and gives an unpleasant taste to the dough. Cornmeal does better, but lots of cornmeal gives you a gritty underside. Course grain semolina flour, I have been told, works nicely and actually toasts up to provide a nutty, rather than burnt, flavor. As hot as I get my pizza stone (scorching hot), I doubt that semolina will work any magic.
Super Pizza Peel
A pizza peel that comes highly recommended by America's Test Kitchen and Cook's Illustrated, as well as Fine Cooking Magazine, is the EXO Super Pizza Peel. Billed as a "precision dough handling tool." The tool combines a traditional peel with a pastry cloth creating a hand-held conveyor belt system, making picking up and moving any type of dough much easier. The pastry cloth should be lightly floured to ensure it won't stick to any dough, but it is machine washable. You can watch a video demo below:
The Secret, Not So Secret
If you learn to work quickly, the above cornmeal method will work fine. If you want to avoid grit on the bottom of your pizza, but don't want ot invest in the Super Peel, there is there is a solution I discovered myself, although I am not the first person, I quickly discovered, to have done this. It is not nearly as advanced as the Super Peel but it is easy and it works well: parchment paper.
All you have to do is put a bit sheet of parchment paper on your pizza peel. Make sure there is enough parchment paper covering the handle of the peel, or the surface of your transfer sheet so that you can place your thumb on it to hold it down while sliding the pizza into the oven. Assemble your pizza on the parchment paper, hold down the parchment paper with your thumb, and slide it right in! No need for flour, cornmeal, or semolina sticking to the bottom of your dough. The drawback of parchment paper is that if it gets moist, it will stop working as well. So, you do not want a super-moist dough and you need to avoid sauce spillage.
If your making multiple pizzas, one sheet of parchment paper should suffice for all of them. Give the parchment paper a quick wipe between pizzas to get off any toppings or sauce that may have fallen on it. And you're set.
The other advantage is that you won't have to clean off your pizza peel when you're done.
See also Is Parchment Paper Flammable?
What if I Don't Have a Pizza Peel?
If you don't have a pizza peel, using the back of any cookie sheet. You can still use the parchment paper trick. If you have a flat cookie (baking sheet), without a lip, you can of course use any side of it you'd like. Keep in mind that metal sticks to dough much worse than wood, which is why you shouldn't buy a metal pizza peel.
What if I Don't Have Parchment Paper?
First, get some parchment paper next time you shop. It is always worth having around. There are so many uses for it you'll be amazed. But, if you don't have any, use the corn meal or semolina method. However, there is a trick to this, and I mentioned it above. If you just sprinkle on the corn meal, put on your dough, and assemble the pizza, chances are, it is still going to stick. While you are making the pizza you need to shake the pizza. My dough is always a bit moist, but not too wet. Even so, I have to shake the dough throughout the making of the pizza to make sure it slides around nicely. Not too hard! If you shake it too hard, and it is sticking, you might cause the dough to rip. Just shake it hard enough to get the pizza to slide back and forth a bit. You some times have to sprinkle on a bit more corn meal or semolina. You may need to carefully lift up part of the dough to put some corn meal underneath. You'll figure it out! Just make sure it keeps sliding and then you'll know it will slide off into the oven. Along with a bunch of corn meal or flour, which is why you should use the parchment paper method.
Since most of us make more than one pizza (one dough recipe usually makes two pizzas), there is going to be a bunch of browning, and then burning, corn meal, flour, or semolina on the pizza stone. You'll want to clean that off in between, which is not so easy as it is very hot. Use a scraper or spatula to scrape off the mess onto a small saucer, etc.
Or, Use a Pizza Screen
This post sort of assumes you are using a pizza stone. Otherwise, you'd be making your pizza on a pan and then putting the pan in the oven. If you want a crispy crust1, though, you're not going to get it with a pan. For that you need a VERY HOT pizza stone. Don't try to make a medium crust or thick crust with a pizza stone.
Another method is to use a pizza screen. You can place the dough and top your pizza on the screen, then the whole thing goes into the oven, helping you achieve a nice crispy dough. Of course, you want the dough to be somewhat thin for that.
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