Thursday, August 11, 2011

Baking Stones

I have been the proud owner of a pizza stone for nearly ten years.  Well, I’ve gone through a few, so it would be honest to say proud owner of several - most of them now deceased.

I love making pizza and son-in-law Ken loves it, too.  When he and Joy were first married, they lived 45 minutes away from us (normal speed / traffic).  If I told him that pizza was in the oven, he’d make it to our place in less than 30 minutes!

Pizza stones are fantastic for pizzas and for bread.  But when I started making longer loaves of bread and wanting to do two pizzas at a time (our now larger family loves pizza and one - homemade - is not enough), I started looking into  baking stones.  These are rectangular and I would be able to put two pizzas or two large loaves of bread on one. The size is about 14" by 17", whereas the pizza stones are about 16" in diameter; the rectangular stone would almost double the baking surface.

Saving money is always a priority around here, as long as the item will work.  As I was looking for baking stones, I read an article about purchasing paving stones instead of the more expensive baking stone. 

I measured my oven, looked at the normal sizes of the baking stones and started to look for the paving stones.  I was warned to get the un-glazed ones because of chances of lead in the glazing. 

Norm thought I was being foolish, but agreed to help me look in several of the self-help stores (Menards, Home Depot, various hardware stores).  I finally found paving stones at Home Depot - they were 8" by 14" so I got 2 of them for 68¢ each.  They were 2" deep and very heavy (about 12 pounds each), but I figured that at least I could tell if I truly wanted a baking stone and if I didn’t, they would be handy somewhere in the garden.

I got them home, washed them (without soap) and put them into the oven to dry.  Now, I have a pilot light so the oven runs about 100º on the average even if it isn’t turned on (makes a good drying rack for herbs but that’s another story), so the stones dried quite quickly.  The next morning, giving the stones a good chance at drying, I turned the oven on and baked them at 400º for about 30 minutes to give them a test ... would they break?

However, there was a concern that the oven rack might break.  The weight of the stones made it bow in the middle, which also made the stones uneven instead of flat.  Not much, mind you, but enough to cause a little concern.

 Look at the bowing of the rack

No, the stones didn’t break from the heat so I whipped up a pizza dough and baked a pizza that very night.   All instructions for stones say to pre-heat the oven at 500º for about 30 minutes, so I did so.  Then I put my dough on parchment paper just in case there was some “foreign” stuff in the stones and turned the oven down to 400º for the suggested 20 minutes.  I turned the pizza (my oven is not quite even) at 15 minutes, then took it out when the crust was brown and the cheese was melted.

Even though the pizza had a thin crust, the bottom was not quite cooked crispy like I wanted, so the next pizza, I pre-heated the oven for 45 minutes and the crust was a little better.

I thought my problem was that the stones were too thick and it would take a much longer pre-heat for them to heat through for the desired crispiness.  I was not willing to pre-heat the oven for an hour, as that would be a disadvantage, financially.  However, I DID like the stones .. they were almost the size of the oven and made a great size for my breads (although the breads didn’t have the desired bottom crust, either, and some were not baked all the way through). 

I looked, again, at the “real” stones on-line and decided to go with a commercial one from  that was only about half an inch thick.  The cost had dropped from $50 to $35; I have a “Prime” membership which, for $75 a year, gives me free shipping on almost everything that I would ever need.

Since I live an hour from any “decent” store for electronics, baking essentials, books, movies, music, etc., I get most of my personal and gifting items from; therefore the “Prime” cost is well worth it.

I told Norm that I would get a “real” stone, which he first objected to, because of the cost.  However, I told him that I felt that I would eventually save money because I wouldn’t have to pre-heat the oven as long; he finally agreed.  Ordering it from my favorite on-line store gave me the two-day free shipping and I had it in my hot little hands quicker than you can say “Jack Robinson” (or nearly, anyway).

I took the paving stones out of the oven and asked Norm to take them outside, then washed the new stone (without soap, of course) and placed it in the oven to slowly dry.  The size is right - almost the same size as the  two paving stones put together but the weight is half - only 12 pounds total.  The oven rack was still bowed, but it has now slowly relaxed and straightened itself up.

The new stone is much thinner and a lot lighter

 Extra large pizza

I whipped up some pizza dough, pre-heated the oven for 20 minutes (maximum time I wanted to have the propane oven heating), placed the pizza on parchment paper to protect the stone’s pristine surface and baked it for 20 minutes.  The crust was perfect!  

Just LOOK at that crust!
I then baked some French bread, with the 20 minute pre-heat and was totally impressed with the bottom crust and with the middle of the bread - there was no doughy-ness as had been with the thicker paving stones.

Norm was impressed, as well and did not fuss at the extra cost of the “real” stone.

And my expensive 68¢ stones?  They are out on the edge of the driveway, holding an old board which is the shelf for my containers of herbs.  The containers are off the hot driveway, which helps keep the soil from drying out too quickly.  A happy solution for all concerned!

It is a beautiful day today - our excessive heat has dissipated and the dew point has dropped to a VERY comfortable 57º.  The humidity (the old way of measuring moisture in the air) is a comfortable 44%, as well .  You have a beautiful day.


Magickafoot said...

Now you need to do a follow up post with your Pizza recipes Connie!

Happy baking and eating

(Fran from Scotland)


Magickafoot said...

Hi Connie , yes , I have been reading your blog avidly , but sadly have not been able to leave comments - maybe now I'm on a new site is the reason I can? I've also not been able to comment on Tammie's (unusual farmchick's) blog , I miss her so much! I know she's on Facebook but I don't think she's on a lot.
I'll leave you a comment for each post you do, now I know I can!

Love to you and Norm

Fran from Scotland