Anyone who bakes bread is an alchemist. Flour, yeast, salt, and water are combined and are transformed into edible treasure. Medieval alchemists endeavored to make the best possible gold, and many bakers today endeavor to make the best possible bread. While it is impractical for most bakers to install a bakery-quality oven in their homes, it is possible to invest in a baking stone. Baking stones are a stone or ceramic slab that encourage better oven spring and crispier crusts. While it sounds like magic, it is due to oven thermodynamics, which are not as complicated as they sound. Because picking out a baking stone is dependent on which breads a baker is planning on making, it is important to compare different baking stone styles. Most baking stones are marketed towards pizza, but the best four for making bread are listed below. A baking stone is a valuable tool for a baker to use in the adventure to make the best possible bread.
Baking stones are often made of the same heat-retaining materials like clay, stone, and ceramics that primitive ovens were made from. While unglazed baking stones are more common, glazed baking stones are an option. Unglazed baking stones absorb excess moisture in dough, contributing to the crispier crust. Glazed baking stones are easier to clean, and maintain a brand-new appearance. Both make good bread. Baking stones can be made from ceramics, clay, stoneware, cordierite, cast iron, and even steel. The stone-type materials (ceramic, clay, stoneware, and cordierite) retain heat longer than the metal-types (cast iron and steel). With the exception of cordierite, the stone-types are more likely to break because of drastic changes in temperature. Cordierite, cast iron, and steel are more tolerant of temperature change.
Best Baking Stones for Bread – Our Picks
There is a great baking stone for every bread baker on the market, but it can be difficult to navigate all the available options. In addition, many baking stones are only advertised in reference to pizza which only increases the confusion. Here are the four baking stones that are the best to bake bread with:
The Unicook baking stone is a smaller baking stone, which means it is a great choice for smaller ovens. For larger bread loaves in larger ovens, two of these baking stones can fit comfortably side by side. Because it is a rectangle, it does not waste any space in the oven. Made from unglazed cordierite, this baking stone is able to survive temperature changes.
A round baking stone, this Cuisinart baking stone is fantastic for baking bread in loaf pans and artistinal round loaf-type breads. At only 13”, this is another great option for smaller ovens. This stone also includes a stainless steel peel (for putting dough on the hot stone safely), pizza spinners, and cutter. While this baking stone is advertised for pizza, its cordierite construction and inclusion of a peel make it a solid choice for baking bread.
Vescoware’s pizza stone is an attractive 15”x16” rounded rectangle constructed from cordierite. An e-book filled with recipes is also included. At a little over 4/5” thick and weight 10lbs, this baking stone is the most heavy duty on this list. Because this baking stone is thicker, it will take longer to preheat, but will retain the heat longer. That heat is what makes successful oven spring happen. This baking stone is ideal for crusty bread, but can be used to make all bread varieties.
The Rocksheat pizza stone comes in several options including square, two rectangular sizes, round, and even glazed. This baking stone is sleek with handles cut directly into the stone, meaning no racks are needed. However, heavy duty hotpads will be needed because not all hotpads are rated for use at 500 degrees fahrenheit. Because of the many options, this baking stone will work for many different kinds of bread and in almost any oven.
Using Baking Stones
Using baking stones is easy, but, like any tool, there are instructions to follow. Baking stones should be in the oven while the oven is preheating. The preheating portion of the bake process will take longer. 30-60 minutes at 500 degrees fahrenheit is a common instruction, but varies for each baking stone. After a baking stone is hot, it stays hot for much longer than a metal baking sheet. The fabled oven spring happens when room temperature dough is placed on a preheated baking stone. Oven spring happens when dough jumps up in the oven. Good oven spring means the crumb is more open, and the bread is springier.
Unlike most other equipment in the kitchen, baking stones should not have oil spread on them to keep food from sticking. Baking stones absorb any moisture that is placed on them, and will absorb oil. That can lead to bad flavors and unpleasant smells. Instead, cornmeal or flour should be sprinkled on top of the stone. These create a barrier between the baking stone and food. If oil, cheese, butter, or some other fat has already been spread on a baking stone, it can be seasoned away. Each baking stone has its own instructions which should be followed. Generally, seasoning a baking stone means sitting for a period of time in hot temperatures like sitting in the oven during a cleaning cycle.
Unglazed baking stones are also unique in the kitchen in that they stain during each use. This is completely normal and expected. The stains that accumulate on unglazed baking stones are like an adventurer’s shield – each victory leaves a mark. The difference is that each stain on an unglazed baking stone is the memory of a delicious bread.
Although they sound like magic stones that make bread taste good, baking stones achieve success through something simple: heat transfer. To understand how the heat transfer works, it is important to understand how different kinds of ovens work. Deck ovens are widely regarded as one of the best ways to make bread, and are used by many professional bakeries. These ovens use stones as the bottom of the oven and the ceiling of the oven. However, many home ovens are either conventional or convection. Below is a brief explanation of how each of these works to heat baking bread, and how it affects the quality of the bread:
- Conventional ovens: most homes employ conventional ovens that use an element in the bottom to heat food. Heat radiates from the element and between the oven walls, warming the air, which heats the bread dough. This can lead to a significant temperature difference between the bottom of the oven and the top of the oven, as well as lackluster oven spring.
- Convection ovens: convection ovens work like conventional ovens, except that fansin the top are used to circulate the air in the oven. This leads to a more consistent temperature throughout the oven. The same heat transfer method is being used: the element heats the air, which heats the oven wals, which heats the food.
- Deck ovens: the stones in the bottom of the oven transfer heat directly onto the bread (or bread pan, for loaf bread). This type of heat transfer is called conduction, and is used in addition to radiation heat transfer which happens when the element heats the air, which heats the food. The conduction contributes to oven spring and better crust formation.
Baking stones are not able to transform a conventional oven or a convection oven into a deck oven, but they can help achieve that effect at a more affordable cost. The first step to figuring out which baking stone is the right choice is knowing the oven’s measurements. Baking stones are sold in many sizes, but are only useful if they can actually fit in the oven. Then, it is important to consider what bread is to be baked on it. For example, baguettes need a larger baking stone than a loaf of wheat sandwich bread. Rectangular baking stones are more versatile than round baking stones, but both work well to bake bread.
Alchemy is taking lead or other common materials and transforming them into gold. Baking stones sound like they would fit easily into that tradition: on the surface they seem like a magic stone that makes bread “jump” in the oven and get crusty. In reality, it provides another method of heat transfer, and absorbs moisture in the dough to help develop that crust. While a baking stone may not be magic, it can definitely help bread bakers in the quest for their best possible bread. Let the adventure begin!