Guest Column: “Baking with Steel,” a Review by Scott Wiener
Every amateur pizza baker understands the limitations of a home oven. That’s why those in search of professional results have turned to aftermarket products to push their equipment’s capabilities. Pizza stones are great because they introduce a conductive, radiant surface upon which the pizza can directly bake. A few years ago, Nathan Myhrvold’s food science tome Modernist Cuisine made a big splash when it pointed out that the conductive properties of stone are far exceeded by those of steel. For a baker or pizza maker, that’s the golden ticket for achieving oven spring! The revelation set off a spark for Andris Lagsdin, whose family runs a steel company in the South Shore of Boston. Not particularly attracted by the family business, Andris worked as a cook. He learned the art of pizza making at Figs, the Todd English restaurant in Boston. When Andris read about the faster heat transfer of steel, he made use of his family’s steel business and began testing. After multiple testing cycles and pitches to his family, the Baking Steel finally went into production.
Now that the Baking Steel is on the market, Andris faces the task of teaching the public how to get the most out of it. Andris’s new book, Baking With Steel: The Revolutionary New Approach to Perfect Pizza, Bread, and More (co-written with Jessie Oleson Moore of the blog CakeSpy) does a great job of guiding the new, timid novice while simultaneously pushing the advanced baker.
I’m not usually a cookbook guy because I prefer explanations of concepts over instructions, but this book does a really good job of providing both. There are great explanations of big-picture concepts that illuminate without alienating. Like most pizza cookbooks, this one begins with a rundown of basic ingredients and tools. It has an added section specifically about how to care for the Baking Steel, which means that I can finally trash the photocopied pamphlet that came with my first Steel! Nothing else in the book is actually dependent on use of the Baking Steel.
The book spends its first half on pizza and bread. You get a basic “Master Dough” recipe as well as variations for thin crust and deep-dish pizzas. There are even sections explaining sourdough starters for the advanced user and fast turnaround dough for the impatient. Nobody is left behind here, there’s something for both the experienced home baker and the newbie. Recipes are given in both metric and cup measurements, so nobody can complain about snooty science talk preventing them from making a good pie. Some of the concepts discussed are fairly advanced, but they’re explained in a simple way that doesn’t speak over anybody’s head. This is not a science book, but it’s clear that the authors understand what’s going on behind the ingredients.
I was initially concerned that this book would be useful only as a companion to the Baking Steel itself, but that’s not the case. While the Baking Steel gets excellent results, there’s nothing in Baking With Steel that is predicated on its use. At the end of the day, a slab of steel is just a faster way to conduct heat, and that means faster cooking. The non-pizza recipes in the book’s final section just require a smooth cooking surface, such as a pan or dedicated griddle. The benefit of the steel is that it has an optional smooth flipside designed for griddle work, so it’s both a pizza stone and a griddle top in one.
Just like the product upon which it’s based, Baking With Steel is useful and user-friendly enough to provide value to cooks of all levels. It’s just as helpful for the seasoned pizza vet as it is for the first timer. I like the book so much that I immediately made a batch of Andris’s “72-hour dough” just to give it a test drive. The results were fantastic. There’s not much more I could ask for from a cookbook.
Baking With Steel: The Revolutionary New Approach to Perfect Pizza, Bread, and More, by Andris Lagsden and Jessie Oleson Moore, (Little, Brown, and Co. Publishers, 2017)
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