We turn to Andrew Janjigian, bread baker and former editor at Cook’s Illustrated, for all our pizza-related questions. Including the essential equipment that will make our home ventures more likely to veer into the superlative realm. Here are the things he considers most indispensable.
If you have yet to try your hand at making your own homemade pizza, we have a little secret for you. It’s seriously not that hard. And you can exponentially increase the likelihood of your venture turning out flawless without any drama by investing in a few essential tools. Below are the items that our trusted pizza guru, teacher, and former Cook’s Illustrated editor Andrew Janjigian finds indispensable.
Danish Dough Whisk
A metal curlicue on a wooden rod, the Danish dough whisk is the perfect mashup of a wooden spoon and a balloon whisk, and the very best tool for mixing doughs and batters of all kinds. Unlike a wooden spoon, which doesn’t agitate particularly efficiently, or a balloon whisk, which quickly gets glommed up with thick doughs, a dough whisk’s open loops stir mixtures beautifully while remaining easy to clean. (The stiff wire loop can also be used on its edge to “cut” through a dough, useful when incorporating solid ingredients into it.) While designed for bread doughs, it makes quick work of other thick mixtures, like cake, muffin, pancake, or soufflé batters.
The Super Peel is a conveyor belt for pizza and bread, too. It’s identical in function to the loaders that professional bakers use to get bread into a deck oven, except scaled way down in size. What makes it such an effective tool is that you can load a dough onto it without adding any bench flour at all. More importantly, you can take your sweet time getting the pizza into the oven, since there’s virtually no risk of the dough sticking. That’s because instead of sliding the pie off of the peel, you pull the belt out from underneath it, and it simply drops straight down onto the baking surface, not unlike a magician’s “tablecloth” trick. And if you use the Super Peel for loading and a metal peel for unloading, you can save time by shaping and topping the next pie while the first one bakes. (The Super Peel is not ideal for removing pizzas or breads from the oven; for that I recommend a simple aluminum peel like this one.)
One secret to pizza excellence is baking the pizza as quickly as possible, so that the exterior to be crisp, while the inside remains moist and tender. The best way to cook a pizza fast is to place it onto a heat-conducting surface—and there’s almost nothing faster than a pizza steel. The original Baking Steel seems to be out of stock these days, so I recommend this one instead for the time being. Steel is steel, as long as it’s seasoned, the brand shouldn’t really matter: Made of 1/4” thick seasoned steel, it works more or less just like a baking stone, but transfers energy to the pizza at a much faster rate than a baking stone, so that a pie that cooks in 10 to 12 minutes on a stone will be browned and crisp in 6 to 8 minutes instead. (Keep in mind that a pizza steel is a little too conductive for bread, you’ll still want a ceramic baking stone for that.)
Challenger Bread Pan
Dutch ovens make wonderful mini bread ovens since they have tons of heat-holding mass and their lids form a tight seal to trap steam around the loaf, both of which encourage maximum oven spring and a crackling, crisp crust. But Dutch ovens are round, which makes them less than ideal for baking oblong loaves. For that, you’ll want a Challenger Bread Pan, which is roomy enough for bâtards and boules alike. Moreover, unlike most Dutch ovens, most of the mass of the pot is contained in the lid and not the base, so it pumps more heat toward the top and sides of the loaf, further encouraging a beautiful loaf, inside and out.
Precision Gram Scale
For accuracy, bread bakers work in gram weights, not volumes. For home bakers making one or two loaves at a time, that means certain ingredients—things like salt, yeast, or diastatic malt—are called for in tiny amounts. Amounts too tiny for the average kitchen scale to weigh precisely. For such measurements, you need a pocket gram scale like this one, accurate down to a single gram. It also has a maximum capacity of 1000 grams, which means you could use it exclusively if need be—making it a perfect “travel” scale for vacation baking.