As I promised, here is a small note about my experience using baking stones and some things I think you should take into account if you decide to use one.
First of all, I think, if my memory doesn’t fail me, that I have used just one baking stone and it broke as a cause of the heat —while we were baking a pizza some pieces of the stone started to fall from the rack, creating a interesting scorched mess in the bottom of the oven composed of stone pieces, pizza dough, tomato and mozzarella. Until it broke, I use it extensively to bake pizza and bread.
Now, what do you have to take into account when you are baking over a stone, and what are the pros and the cons?
- I think that the only pro you have when you are baking in a stone is the final result. Usually the stone is somehow porous and it pulls the moist of your dough which allow you to have a crispier results in your bread and pizza. Even more, in a place quite complicated as the bottom of the pizza or the loaf that it isn’t in direct contact with the hot air of the oven. Probably the results are going to be closer to a professional oven .
- Warm up the stone is going to take more time that just warm up your oven. A minimum of 30 minutes, ranging as a normal time almost 1 hour. By no means you should put your dough over a not-enough-hot stone because you’re going to get the opposite effect. The bottom of your pizza or loaf if going to be under-baked.
- You no longer going to be able to work on tray and you need to work on your pizza over a pizza / baking peel. Perhaps it’s something appealing for you, since you are going to look like a real baker, oh yeah! But it’s something that takes practice to master. Besides, it really limits the size fo your pipes and loaves. Usually the peels you are going to find aren’t going to be as big as your tray. The size of your pizzas is going to be reduced.
- In the same way that you need to warm up your stone, you need to cool it down. If you take your stone from the oven too soon if can break due to thermal shock. Even when you are careful, your stone can break, like it happened to me. This cripples a little bit the capacity operation of your oven, extending even in two hours your normal baking time.
- The results are good, but they aren’t, at least in my opinion, incredible good that justify all the fuss and the price. I get really good results with my regular metal tray, and in some cases, I would say that even better than with the stone, since I have more experience that before. Before you decided if you want to give a try to the stone, I would recommend to master your technique.
- Although the purpose of the stone is to get more crispier result, since the stone pulls the moist of the dough, it going to get colder than the rest of the oven by the effect of the dough. In other words, where you put the loaf to get baked, it’s going to get colder. to avoid that, my grandpa —who was a professional baker— always told me that you have to move your loaves towards the end of the baking to a spot where there wasn’t a loaf previously. I guess that in the modern industrial ovens it’s less of problem since those are more powerful —and electric— than the previous and lumber heated ones that my grandpa was using. Anyhow, you are going to probably find this problem too in your home oven, and this is the reason because I take out the loaf and turn it over bottom up for the last 10 minutes of baking. I doubt you have a stone and oven so big that you are able to move your loaf around in the oven, so you are going to probably do as me. The stone is going to make this process slightly more difficult.
- It’s somehow dirtier. You aren’t going to be able to use parchment paper anymore. I’ve seen some setups that use it in combination with the stone, but in my opinion you can’t use both. The parchment paper will stop the stone to take the moist of your dough while baking. If you bake just bread probably it’s going to be ok, but it’s quite often that you some ingredients fall over the stone when you are baking it. Even more if you need to use the peel to take it in and out.
As you see… I’m not a big fan of baking stones although I recognize its appealing since they make things closer to the real thing. They aren’t cheap either and good ones could be really expensive, around 50 to 100 €. Besides, they are really heavy and delicate. In my opinion they are something that if you decide to use better to be a good on, thus you are going to expend money on it. I recommend you to think it over really carefully.
If you really want to give it a try, I think that the stone as thicker the better —it takes also more time to warm up and cool down— and that the tiles are a better solution than a really big stone since they more adaptable, easy to keep and probably as a result of their size some less dilatation and contraction, thus they be less prone to break. However, take into account that I never ever I’ve used them, so it’s just a guessing.
That’s my two cents about baking stones.