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Making Bubbly Crust Pizza

After dropping off my old iMac for repairs at the Apple Store a couple of years ago I was starving and decided to go across the way to the California Pizza Kitchen for my first taste of their signature dish. I was a little early–before any of the lunchtime crowd had arrived–so I sat at the bar watching a cook prepare several of their pizza crusts. She was using a machine to roll out a ball of dough about the size of a hardball into a perfectly round disk. Then she did something unexpected with it. She plopped the flattened disk of dough onto the hot stone floor of the pizza oven, just inside its open door, and let it bubble up a bit before transferring it over to another pan stacked with already prepared crusts. It just took a few seconds to bubble up enough to satisfy the cook. So that's how they get those wonderful bubbles into their pizza crusts. A few weeks later I tried to work out a way to accomplish the same thing here at home using the wood stove and this is the best method for me.

0. Get a good bed of coals glowing in the wood stove

1. Roll the dough out as thin as possible (as close to 1/16" thick throughout as I could get it)

2. Place it on a perforated aluminum pizza pan (the kind with a jillion little holes drilled into it)

3. Using a pair of channel locks grip the pizza pan at the edge and hold it over the hot coals

4. After about 10 seconds rotate the pan 180º and repeat holding it over the coals like that

Using channel locks is necessary because the heat of the bed of coals is intense. I also wear a pair of leather gloves when precooking the dough like this to avoid overheating my hand. Note that step 4 says to rotate the pan 180º, not flip it. If you flip it, you'll just stoke your fire with pizza dough. It burns very well.

Do not poke any holes in the crust that will let steam escape from inside. This is important.

Be careful not to hold the crust over the hot coals too long because that will singe the crust.

The end result is a beautifully bubbly pizza crust ready to spread sauce and toppings across.

Add sauce, cheese and toppings–some lightly sautéed sausage and onions in this case.

Slide it back over the hot coals using something metallic to elevate it a bit above them. I use an 8-inch long piece of 1/4-inch thick by 3-inch square steel tubing which keeps the pan about 3 inches above the coals. Having at least that much airspace between coals and pan is essential for the pizza to cook properly.

Close the wood stove door and let it bake that way for about 10 minutes or until the toppings are sizzling nicely, but not too long or you'll seriously char the bottom of the crust! You'll know also when it's ready after the edges of the crust roll up a little bit from the pan.

Cut and plate it up, sprinkle some parmesan and flaked red pepper on top and feast away!

The crust will be ultra thin with scattered air pockets, crispy underneath and perfectly tender on top, all tinged with a delightful smoky flavor imparted by the still glowing wood coals. This method also results in the best yesterday's (leftover) pizza I've ever eaten.

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