Home Bread-Bakers v006.n015.7

Bread Stone How-To

lenf@netcom.com (Len Freedman)
Wed, 5 Apr 1995 15:07:52 -0700
Howard (for Howard and Sue) wrote:

> We have a baking stone but have never used.  Will someone please
> comment on how to use it.  Specifically:
>  l.  How to shape the loaf
>  2.  How long and at what temperature to preheat the stone
>  3.  How long and at what temperature to bake the loaves (2)
> We are baking a plain white bread made with a combination of
> milk and water.  Thanks a lot.  Howard(for Howard and Sue)

We have a stone which we use at least every week, mostly for flatbreads
like pizza, foccacia, pitas, and crisp breads like lavosh.  I use it
less often for _loaves_ of bread, for reasons I'll get to in a minute.

When you put fully-risen bread in a pre-heated oven, if everything is
working right, the gas bubbles in the bread expand from the heat before
the bread begins to harden.   This causes the bread to rise that last
little bit, maybe 10 or 15%, in the first ten minutes of baking.  I find
this works best if the oven is just as hot as I can get it when I put
the bread in, at least for those first ten minutes or so.  Flatbreads
cook very quickly, in maybe ten minutes total, so I just turn the oven
all the way up to 500 and leave it there!

I always heat the oven up with the stone in it.  I slide the bread onto
the hot stone and slide it off when it's done, then I leave the stone
in the oven to cool down.  I've never had a problem with bread sticking
to the stone!

To slide the bread onto the stone, you need a 'peel'.  You can get a
nice thin wooden paddle made just for this, or use a piece of 1/8"
plywood (I use a piece of plywood that used to be the bottom of a drawer).
You take about two tablespoons of cornmeal and spread it over the wood,
then, after first-rising and punch-down, you shape the dough and put
it on the peel.  The second rising is done right on the peel, perhaps
with a piece of lightly-oiled plastic wrap over the dough to keep it from
drying out.

When the rising is complete, you take the peel and shake it slightly,
making the dough slide around on it a bit to ensure that it's not stuck
to the peel.  The cornmeal keeps the dough from sticking to the peel.
Then you gently slide it off the peel onto the hot stone, using a back-
and-forth motion, and begin baking.  I used to sprinkle a little cornmeal
on the stone too, but it would blacken immediately, and I found it wasn't
necessary anyway.

Alternatives:  Lavosh is sort of like a soda cracker--rolled very flat
and not risen a second time.  You drape it over the rolling pin and
carefully 'unroll' it onto the hot stone.  Pitas are rolled thicker and
just 'thrown' on the stone by hand.  In these cases, cornmeal is not

(By the way, I would encourage anyone to try flatbreads!  They're very
easy to do and the results are really impressive!  I'd be happy to
share recipes, techniques, etc.)

Now, as to loaves.  I have tried to make nice round loaves of bread,
but they always come out flat, more like disks than like balls.  I can
never get dough to rise more than three inches or so.

I've heard that it's important to 'pre-stress' the dough before the
second rising.  For example, to roll it up tightly and seal the edges,
then let it rise.  This seems to help a little, but by the time the
dough is risen, it's all loose again and sags out into a bigger flatter
shape than I want.  Also, scoring the top of the loaf before baking is
supposed to allow the dough to rise vertically rather than sideways.

I saw a Julia Child program once where she had the dough rising the
second time in a cloth-lined basket.  The basket about as high as it was
wide.  When risen, the dough filled this basket, and then when she
dumped it out on the peel, it had sort of grown into shape--it was
already roughly spherical and it kept that aspect ratio.  I might try
that some day.  I've never seen one of those baskets in a gourmet store.
I'd have to make one.

One more thing.  You've probably heard this before, but if you want a
nice thick chewy crust, you spritz the bread with a sprayer right after
you put it in the oven.  You use a 'pump' sprayer like the one you use for
cleaners like Fantastic or Windex (but get a clean one!)  The layer of
moisture on on the surface of the dough actually inhibits crust
formation in the first few minutes of baking, so you end up with thicker,
chewier crust.  Commerical ovens for French bread have steam-injectors
for this purpose.

        Len Freedman                            (lenf@netcom.com)