Baking with Stones
By Norma Ritter
Big Flats NY USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 22 No. 4, July-August 2005, pp. 168-169
I remember as a young Girl Guide in England learning how to make "dampers," strips of flour-and-water dough that were wound around a green stick and held over an open fire to cook. The half-burned, half-raw dough was then filled with jam and eaten hot—delicious! Or so we thought then.
But perhaps the most historic way of making bread, predating the invention of ovens, is to bake it on a hot stone.
Baking loaves on stone yields a thicker bottom crust and is an especially good method for robust peasant-style breads. It also produces more authentic pizza and pita, thin specialty breads from the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
Caring for Your Stones
Today we can achieve the same effect without the inconvenience of building an open fire by using ceramic stones in our kitchen ovens. After use, leave the stone to cool in the oven. Hot stones are awkward to handle and may crack if placed in contact with a cooler surface or cold water. When they are cool, wipe off any crumbs with a damp cloth. Burned-on dough is easily removed by soaking in plain, hot water and then scrubbing (if necessary) with a stiff brush. Avoid soap, detergent, and other chemicals, as they can affect the taste of the bread.
Using Your Stone
To make thin breads such as pizza and pita, place the stones on the bottom rack of your oven and preset it to the highest temperature. These breads need to bake quickly in a very hot oven—at least 500° F (250° C).
For thicker sandwich breads, place the stone on a rack in the top third of your oven. Preset the oven at the usual temperature for each recipe (350°F to 375° F, 175° C to 190° C) as these taller loaves need a longer baking time. Spraying them with water before and halfway into their baking time will help to form a crispier upper crust.
You will need a peel (a thin paddle) to slide your breads into the oven. You can use a flat cookie sheet (without any sides) or a big plastic cutting board instead. The peel is sprinkled with cornmeal, which acts as a lubricant and enables you to slide the pizza smoothly onto the stone.
Bread or “strong” flour has the most gluten and produces the best results. When making thin breads, remember that they will double in bulk during baking.
Pita Pocket Bread
In a large bowl, mix:
2 1/2 cups (375 g) flour
1 1/2 tablespoons (22.5ml ) instant yeast
1 teaspoon (5 ml) salt
1 cup (200 ml) of water that feels hot to the touch
Mix with a spoon and then knead, adding more flour as necessary to stop the dough from sticking. Form into a ball, cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk—about an hour. Punch down the dough.
Place the stone on the bottom rack of your oven and preheat it to the highest temperature. Divide the dough into 24 pieces. Form each into a smooth ball and roll into thin circles. Cover and let rise again.
Turn the oven setting to “bake.” Sprinkle your peel with cornmeal. Carefully lift one pita at a time onto the peel and slide it onto the stone. Repeat until your stone is covered in pita breads that are just far enough away not to touch each other. Bake for about 5 minutes. The pitas will be slightly brown and puffed up. Remove from the oven using your peel and cool on a rack. Repeat the process until all your pitas are baked.
In a large bowl, gently mix together:4 cups (600 g) flour
2 tablespoons (30 ml) instant yeast
1 1/2 teaspoon (7.5 ml) each of salt, garlic powder, onion powder, and basil
1 tablespoon (15 ml) sugar
1 teaspoon (5 ml) olive oil
Add 1 1/2 cups (300 ml) of water that feels hot to the touch. Mix with a wooden spoon and then knead, adding more flour as necessary to stop the dough from sticking. Form into a ball, cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk—about an hour. Punch down the dough. Divide in half for two large pizzas, or into eighths for individual ones.
Place the stone on the bottom rack of your oven and preheat it to the highest temperature. Roll out each pizza very thinly to the desired size. Sprinkle a pizza peel with cornmeal. Gently roll the dough around your rolling pin, pick it up, and unfold it onto the peel. Now spread on the sauce, cheese, and other desired toppings. Turn the oven setting to “bake” and slide the pizza onto the stone. Bake for four minutes, turn the pizza from back to front, then bake for about another four minutes.
Ovens vary, so experiment with the timing. It is done when the bottom of the crust is slightly brown and the cheese has melted. Remove the hot pizza carefully using the peel. Sprinkle the peel with more cornmeal if necessary, place the next pizza dough on it, and sprinkle with toppings until all your pizzas are made.