For pizza cooks, the last word in a crisp crust
HANOVER — Less than 24 hours after Andris Lagsdin put Baking Steel up on Kickstarter, the crowdfunding website, he raised $3,000. That was his modest goal needed to create a 15-pound, polished, pre-seasoned sheet of recycled steel for baking Neapolitan-style pizza. It produces a crust so crunchy, chewy, and charred, you’d think it came out of a blazing wood-fired oven.
People who sent in $59 to back Baking Steel’s first run received a sheet. In the 30-day campaign, Lagsdin raised more than $38,000. “Everyone wants to make a perfect crust,” says the entrepreneur. Those early investors were getting a bargain. A 16-by-14-inch baking sheet, which is ¼-inch thick and weighs 15 pounds — you have to lift weights to muster the strength to use these — costs $79; another version that’s the same size but ½-inch thick (30 pounds) costs $119. Shipping is free.
It all started when Lagsdin, 44, read Wall Street Journal excerpts of “Modernist Cuisine: The Art Aand Science of Cooking,” by Nathan Myhrvold, a six-volume collection. Lagsdin is deeply interested in cooking. He trained at Baltimore Culinary Arts School and worked in the early 1990s as a chef at Todd English’s Figs pizzerias. At one point he considered opening his own restaurant, but instead and joined the family business, Stoughton Steel in Hanover, a manufacturer of steel parts for heavy equipment. “My dad was looking for help and he makes a product that isn’t perishable,” says Lagsdin.
But when he read in “Modernist Cuisine” that metal conducts heat better than stone — so the best tool for turning out a thin crispy crust in minutes is a steel sheet — he knew there was enough in the plant to start experimenting. “I’m a steel guy,” he says. He brought home a ¼-inch-thick slab of steel and baked what he thought was a perfect pizza.
Making the sheets would be the easy part. He needed to raise money and get the word out. “Kickstarter got eyeballs on the product and showed me it had market feasibility,” Lagsdin says. Now he’s selling his steel sheets through his website and, eventually, to selected stores.
Right from the outset, accolades poured in from influential food bloggers to whom Lagsdin sent samples, including J. Kenji Lopez-Alt of Serious Eats, who raved about it on his website. A rush of sales followed.
Lagsdin also sent a sample to, naturally, The Cooking Lab, the food research group behind “Modernist Cuisine.” “They loved it,” says Lagsdin. “They wanted to do one themselves.” Instead, the group partnered with Lagsdin to produce a 22-pound version to sell on their website.
As expected, The Cooking Lab discovered the sheet has other uses, including as a griddle to quickly cook eggs and pancakes on the stovetop. Because steel has great conductivity it also works in the opposite extreme. When the sheet is put in the freezer for a few hours it can work as a cold plate to keep foods chilled.
On a recent early afternoon in Lagsdin’s parents’ kitchen in Hanover (he lives in Cohasset with his wife and two children), a baking steel is sitting on the top shelf of a 500-degree oven, where it’s been heating for about 45 minutes (the sheet absorbs a lot of energy) to become scorching hot. Lagsdin has rolled out dough and is building a pie, layering pickled peppers, pepperoni, and shredded mozzarella on tomato sauce. The pizza goes onto a paddle dusted with flour and onto the hot steel. It takes just minutes before the smell of baking dough wafts throughout the kitchen. After seven minutes, he uses the paddle again to remove the pizza, with its golden brown crust, leopard-spotted, thin, and quite unbelievably crisp.
Lagsdin says he’s overwhelmed by the outpouring of e-mails and phone calls from people who have bought or heard about his creation. “They just want to talk pizza,” he says.