Making a pizza at home in a sense is an exercise in self-flagellation, or self-aggrandizement. Why would you do it when so many great pizzas are available a phone call away? Why improve on something that is already perfect? Still they try, these women and men, mixing atta (wheat flour) with maida (all-purpose flour) in various proportions to make this perfect street snack a healthy shadow of its glorious past.
Television commercials need to take a lot of the blame. In it, families who are not snarling, snapping or being sarcastic at each other congregate around an open kitchen and blissfully prepare home-made pizza. Nobody is yelling or sulking. Instead they all smile, grate—not words but cheese—and shred—not each other but basil.
No wonder people want to duplicate this at home. The poor sods think that if they get the pizza-making going, they will have a happy family. In their minds, this fantasy family doesn’t have children who disappear into their mobile devices but instead pull at gooey dough till it rises and falls with a hiss.
Pizza making is complicated and fraught with questions. Do you buy fresh yeast or dry yeast? Do you add honey to the warm water? Do you ferment the dough in a cold or warm place? Can you mix using a food processor or must you mix by hand? Which rack of the oven do you place the pizza in? Do you use a pizza stone or make do with a steel grill?
Once you figure out all the answers, the battle of the toppings begins. Your son loves mushrooms but your spouse hates them. This endless permutation and combination is the pleasure and pain of pizza. Actually baking the pizza seems to be the easiest part of this equation but is arguably the most important aspect. Getting high heat for short periods of time is key to a great pizza. Hence the wood fire, and hence the stovetop pizza maker.
Like many Indians, I don’t have an oven. So the thought of making a pizza using nothing but the gas from my Prestige stove was, to say the least, mouthwatering.
The stovetop pizza maker looks like a fancy pressure cooker and works broadly in the same fashion. It compresses the heat into a tiny space. Unlike a pressure cooker though, the stovetop pizza maker has “dual cordierite stones” (and I am not even going to pretend I know what these are) that are perfect for grilling pizzas.
This is a product that tries hard to get it right. Before you even buy the pizza maker, the website grills you with more questions.
Do you have the right stove? Models with the plastic controls right near the stovetop are no good because anything kept nearby will melt in the high heat. It also asks if your stove can generate an output of between 9,500 and 15,000 BTUs (British thermal units), because the pizza maker needs to get as hot as 600 degrees Farenheit (about 315 degrees Celsius).
My stove does not generate that much heat. And that in the end is this product’s Achilles heel. It can control for everything but not the stove. Most Indian stoves, in fact, do not generate that much heat. So you have to cook the pizza for longer than the six minutes advertised.
Putting the pizza in and turning it around midway through the cooking process takes about as much finesse as making a dosa. Thankfully, the company’s “pizza peel” serves like a dosa-flipper. Dusting the stones with flour or covering them with parchment paper also helps with moving the pizza around.
At the end of ten fraught minutes, I took my pizza out. The bottom had a decent crust even though it still didn’t equal store bought pizza. The cooking time was longer—not 6 minutes but 10. There were blisters on the cheese crust. The basil smelled heavenly. Some cheese bubbled on to the stone and it was a pain to scrape it out later. But at least we ate good, healthy and, most importantly, home-made pizza.
The stovetop pizza oven retails for $179 from Pizzacraft.
If you don’t have an oven and want to experiment with homemade pizza, this product will give you a more-than-decent pie that will make you, suddenly, the most popular home in the neighbourhood. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Disclosure: this product was loaned for purposes of this review.