Pizza has become a hot dish — a really hot dish — at Schenectady County Community College.
The college’s school of Hotel, Culinary Arts and Tourism on Tuesday showed off its new wood-fired brick oven during an open house-style “showcase” that attracted several dozen people. Veggie-topped pizza baked quickly inside the outdoor oven, which looks like a small house and was built last fall on a new patio outside Elston Hall — near the entrance to the Casola Dining Room.
“For our baking program, it’s going to offer a whole other aspect,” said Sue Hatalsky, a culinary professor who teaches commercial baking at the college. “This is the trend in artisan baking, all the artisan bakeries pretty much across the country are building ovens like this or have ovens like this, so this gives us a nice added thing.”
Paul Krebs, another SCCC baking professor, used large paddle sticks to move small pizza pies in and out of the oven. Oak and maple wood burned on the left side of the oven, as pizzas baked on the right side. Temperatures were around 600 degrees on the bottom of the oven and 700 higher up, in the oven’s “dome.”
Hatalsky said bread and bagels will also get their turns in the big brick. Meats will also be on the schedule.
“Anything that will fit in that oven door can be roasted and then, eventually, as the oven cools down over subsequent days — it will probably take two days — the oven will cool down enough to slow roast, so if you want to slow roast spare ribs or a brisket or a pork roast or pulled pork, the oven is perfect for that.”
The oven was built by Patrick Manley of Maine, who has built wood-fired ovens all over the country. Krebs and Hatalsky both have their own home wood-fired ovens, and love the way they work.
On Tuesday, pizzas took about five minutes to cook.
“When we’re doing pizza or flat breads, things like nan, it’s always with a live fire inside,” Krebs said. “When we do loaf breads, bagels, we generally have the fire raked down. There’s an ash drop.”
Krebs said people can tell the wood-fired difference in pizza.
“I think it really comes in the crust, where you have the nice high heat here and the flames radiating down,” he said. “It browns up very quickly on the surface, it puffs beautifully on the edges. We actually make the edges thinner and they still puff up beautifully. So you get this nice crisp crust that’s still very moist on the interior, whereas in home ovens or a lot of lower-temperature ovens, by the time you get the browning you want, it gets kind of dry. That’s where you see people leaving their crusts on their table tops or their plates.”
And the pizzas come with a slight, smoky flavor.
Krebs added people can’t get that wood-fired taste at home — unless they make plans for brick, mortar, maple and elm.
And they can.
“You can always build one at home,” Krebs said. “I’ll have a non-credit class in the spring where I’ll be talking about wood-fired ovens and steering students to sources for building their own on a small scale.”
During the “showcase,” college officials also showed off the school’s new casino lab, on-premise butcher shop, Casola Dining Room, greenhouse, bakery store and the new quantitative food lab. The latter is where cooking takes place for large groups, and three new induction stoves and burners will make the jobs a lot easier.
Dr. David Brough, dean of the Hotel, Culinary Arts and Tourism school, said the new equipment — which includes a grill and broiler — is more energy efficient.
“It only heats up where the surface of the pan meets,” Brough said, showing off a pot full of butternut squash soup. “It’s magnetized. If a magnet can stick to a pan, it will work on here. If it doesn’t, it won’t work. You have to have special pans.”
The new stoves and ovens will not heat up the lab the way the old stoves used to.
Assistant Professor Tom Alicandro is looking forward to the cooler work space.
“The biggest advantage is that this is perfectly controlled temperatures for cooking,” Alicandro said. “For the students, our old thing was from the 1960s, and they were very hard to control the temperatures. You had to come in early to let them heat up, but once they got hot they were too hot. So for us, this really helps the students control the temperatures.”
Foods will now be subject to sensitive temperatures.
“Stuff can be really bubbling,” Alicandro said. “The minute you turn it dtown, it drops. It’s just a whole new world for the students.”
Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at [email protected] or @jeffwilkin1 on Twitter. His blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/wilkin.