Pizza Parties: How do you cook many pizzas for larger crowds?
I am planning to host about 12 people in a couple weeks for a pizza party. I want to know what the group has learned about baking pizzas for crowds.
Last night I cooked pizza for five people. I had eight doughballs in a commercial pizza dough box. The dough was high hydration (62%) and the dough "balls" took on the appearance of pancakes in the box. It was very difficult to remove them from the box when I wanted to press them out. They didn't "rise" very much (intendedly so; I use a NY-style dough recipe which produces fanastic pies with very little yeast) and I had to pretty much scrape the gooey dough off the bottom of the box which ruined its round shape. I am thinking it would be easier (though much more cumbersome) to put individual dough balls in small round plastic containers, for easier handling.
I made eight dough balls, and had to throw out two of them because they lost their shape.
How do you cook for large crowds? Do you make many small pizzas or fewer large ones? Do you have a staging area for finished pizzas?
What about fire management? I found I had to add another hunk of wood about every other pizza to keep the flame burning bright. Does this sound right?
I'm on the low end of a very steep learning curve, but having a blast!
There's a couple of ways to go here, but keep your box. First, and simplest, spray the box floor with cooking spray, then use a spatula to get the balls out. Second, and better, cut pieces of parchment paper to size (oversize in fact) for each ball, spray the paper, then lift each one out as needed, turn upside down, peel off paper. Voila. High hydration doughs always create handling problems, pizza or baguette. You might also want to try using a very fine mesh sieve to lightly dust your dough balls before you put them in the box to retard.
Efficient pizza preparation and storage
We recently did a party for 18 people and I made up 20 pizza pies the day before the party, put them into Hefty One Zip Jumbo (approximately 14" x 16" I think) zipper type plastic bags and stacked them on top of one another in the refrigerator. ( Spray the inside of the bags with oil prior to placing the dough inside otherwise getting them out is a challenge as I found out.)
The next day we took them out a few hours prior to cooking them.
Using large plastic bags is an eficient way of storing and if necessary transporting the pies. Other techniques can also be used such as plastic rigid sealable containers that can be stacked.
Dough, fire and pizza peels
Great to hear that you are having fun. My memory is that you will come up the learning curve really fast, and be making great pies consistently within a few sessions. Of course it's better to make your mistakes when nobody is watching, which of course I didn't do. :rolleyes: My first brick oven pizzas were at a party where we had (among other friends) a bakery owner. He was forgiving, and he helped a little -- though he wasn't experienced with brick ovens.
Here's my two cents.
Jim's comments on spray (or lots of flour) in a dough storage tray were spot on. You can keep your dough balls under control that way. One trick I was taught was to use a pastry knife (an essential tool) to lift and flip the dough ball, so that the nice, moist underside becomes the top of the pizza. If you get any dough ball "skin", it's down.
For wood, you should plan on adding a new stick of 3" diameter wood every 20 minutes or so (more or less). I wrote my soapbox posting on retaining high heat, and your oven will do a good job of recharging with that fire -- including the cooking floor which can be the trickiest part to keep hot.
For peels, we have evolved to a strategy where we have 4-5 short wood peels in circulation. Everybody makes their own pizzza on a short peel. They slide it onto the rectangular aluminum peel, where the pizza chef slides it into the oven. That seems better in the chaos of a party than the alternatives:
1. slide the rectangular peel under the pizza on the wood peel (can wreck pizzas);
2. slide the rectangular peel under the pizza on granite or marble work surface (can wreck pizzas);
3. make pizzas on a long handled wood peel and slide them directly into the oven (too complicated juggling multiple long peels);
4. make pizzas on short wood peel and slide them into the oven (burn all the hair off your hand and forearm).
Use lots of flour -- there is nothing worse than trashing your neighbor's kid's pizza. Don't use cornmeal -- I think it's gritty and doesn't taste good.
Also, you really should have a small round peel to turn and remove your pizzas. Regardless, use two different peels for placing and turning. If you don't, the peel will get hot and raw pizzas will stick to it. If you are cooking multiple pizzas at a time, your turning peel will get really hot.
Pizza party on. :)
Pizza Cooking Question
Ok.. I cooked my first Pizzas this weekend...and yes I burned the first one...
so I learned let the fire die down rather than be blazing in the back...
They came out good but the center of the dough could have been cooked a little bit more.
Any tips on how I can cook the dough a little more so it is cooked all the way through with out burning? I turned the pizza about 2 times with a total cook time around 3 minutes. Most of the pizzas were thin but what if someone wants a thicker pizza?
pizza parties i love them.
Mr Nance, keep your pizza farther away from the fire, like just inside the door to cookit more slowly, it willl cook, I promise you.
Anyway, I have thrown<get it?> many pizza parties for up to 20 people. It is a blast. I have the dough all made up in advance, all the toppings prepared and chopped and I have people make their own. I am happy to show folks how to toss one if they want. It is always comical watching someones first attempt. hen I give them bassic guidelins on how to layer things and how much and then I just turn them loose. I have several shallow pizza pans turned over with cornmeal generously sprinkled on, I give them a ball of dough and they go for it. I am the cook so I run the oven and coordinate that. It is a great deal of fun, we always make a big mess and everyone I know is looking forward to the gala opening of my new oven. ;-) Me too!
Green peppers, roasted red peppers, good sausage, country ham<I have my favorite> garlic, pepperoni, kalamata olives, good tomato sauce, pesto, mozzarella, provolone, onions and good EVOO! I have had chicken, smoked salmon, and a few seafoodie things that dont really say PIZZA to me, but I dont often include them.
Keep the fire going!
Congratulations on getting your oven finished and fired. That must feel good.
Try moving your pizzas a little further from the fire to one side. You still want a good fire going in your oven the entire time you are cooking pizzas. You need the reflecting heat from above, and the fire is re-charging both your dome and cooking floor with heat. If your fire starts to die down, you will see your cooking floor start to fall in temperature pretty quickly. Equally, you can stoke the fire and drive heat across the cooking floor pretty quickly.
Here is a link to an oven management page on fornobravo.com.
If you push your fire all the way to one side (you can shovel out the excess coals and ash if you have any), and cook your pizzas about half way between the fire and the far dome wall, you should be OK. One or two turns when the side facing the fire gets brown, and you are there.
Then, comes the fun part. Juggling 3-5 pizzas at a time. :D
What kind of mixer do you have? I'm having 7 adults + 2 kids for pizza tomorrow. This morning at 6 AM I realized I needed to make seven doughballs for seven 12" pies (I figure one 12" pie per adult). My mixer (Hobart N50 - 5 qt) can only make 6 doughballs at a time, so I had to make two batches. Took me an hour and a half (including two 20-minute autolyze rests for each batch). I decided to make 12 dough balls, since the incremental cost and work is minimal.
Anyway, if I want to serve 20 people, that's 20 12" pies (to be comfortable) and that means at least three, possibly four batches with my small mixer.
You must have a bigger mixer or make up LOTS of batches of dough to prepare for a party like that!
There are a couple of good threads on stand mixers. Why don't you look here and let us know what you decide to do -- I think you are in a very typical situation.
My Mixer is at the local italian store. I buy there dough there fresh made that day.
Call me lazy but it comes out great! Ecspecially for a big party which we are having in 2 weeks!
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