After Modernist Cuisine's first two books, their debut encyclopedia of kitchen knowledge and their lighter at home edition, the kitchen scientists at Washington's Bellvue-based lab embarked on a new kind of adventure—creating products that "help people cook better," says director of applied research Scott Heimendinger. "Our enemy is bad cooking whatever and wherever that might be."
Heimendinger and the Modernist Cuisine Lab's first project is, somewhat surprisingly, a pizza steel. A simple steel sheet sized to fit in the oven, at first blush the product didn't seem to match up with the brand's previous endeavors, which include highly technical setups that invoked a sense of awe. Curious about the tool's simplicity, we were eager to give it a try and see if the quality of the brand's cooking products are on par with the gloss of their detailed publications.
Coming in at 22 pounds, Modernist Cuisine's Baking Steel is relatively lightweight in comparison to traditional pizza stones, but is in no way an easy load to maneuver. However, it's less-than-ideal weight correlates with a long period of testing by Heimendinger and his team and that rationale makes it a sufferable burden.
"Three-eighths was our Goldilocks," says Heimendinger of the steel's thickness, a key component in providing a convenient pre-heat time as well as enough heat retention to cook multiple pies. Heimendinger says nailing down the optimal dimensions took extensive research and development, including thermal modeling to measure the consistency in surface temperatures. "In the end that is what this thing is", Heimendinger says, "it's a tool for efficient thermal transfers, whether that's hot or cold."
Heimendinger expressed excitement in seeing what the home chef will do with the new product and cites the scientific beginnings of the sous-vide, which originally started as a piece of lab gear for keeping chemicals at an even temperature but is now a commonplace item in upscale establishments and ambitious home kitchens. "There's nothing more exciting than creating a piece of gear and releasing it into the wild," Heimendinger said. "We are excited to see what people will come up with and how the product would evolve." Although originally designed to improve the quality of the average baking session so that the amateur chef can get closer to the brick-oven Neapolitan crust, the steel can also be frozen overnight and used to keep seafood chilled at a dinner party, or as a slab for mixing up homemade ice cream.
We experimented with the Baking Steel on our own, using their suggested recipe for Neapolitan crust and our own favorite sauce recipe. The Baking Steel transformed our urban-sized oven into a roaring furnace and did an excellent job in crisping the bottom of our pizzas. The crusts came out even and the toppings were perfectly melted as well. After the success with the pizzas, the Baking Steel has now become a go-to item for baking as well as cooking because it provides an even surface for delicate and temperamental pastry recipes requiring super steady temperatures in order to form correctly.
Innovative in its simplicity, Baking Steel provides a great platform for amateurs to be more effective in their cooling and heating even with the limitations of their own kitchens. It's entirely functional, and exactly what we were hoping for from the brand that seeks to bring logic back to cooking.
The Baking Steel sells from Modernist Cuisine for $99.
Images by Kat Herriman and Modernist Cuisine