During this series, quite a few people commented about the value of using parchment paper to transfer pizza to the oven, so I figured I'd give it a try before I moved on to more stones. Since I used the King Arthur Flour baking stone for the test with the pizza screen, I figured it would be fair to use that same stone with the parchment paper. As usual, I heated the stone for 1 hour at 550 degrees before I slid the pizza, with the parchment paper under it, into the oven.
I still used my peel to get the pizza into the oven, since moving a floppy pizza on a flimsy piece of parchment paper would be silly. It all worked well enough, except that I'm used to a peel with cornmeal, rather than a peel with parchment paper on it.
I was assuming I could slide the pizza off the same way, but that didn't work as expected. I had to pull out the rack with the stone on it, and then pull the parchment paper and pizza onto the stone. Consequently, the oven door was open longer than usual, resulting in heat loss. If I was going to try this again, I'd be quicker or find a better way to get the parchment to leave the peel. Ultimately, this attempt was clumsier than simply sliding a pizza off a cornmeal-sprinkled peel.
About four minutes into baking, I wanted to turn the pizza around so it would bake evenly. I figured that the easiest thing to do would be to grab a corner of the parchment paper and spin the whole thing around. The corner was crispy, so it tore. I tried again and ended up with the parchment crinkled under the pizza. I had intended on leaving the parchment under the pizza for the entire baking time, but at that point it made more sense to pull it out, turn the pizza, and shut the oven door.
The parchment slipped out easily. One corner of the paper was well-browned, and while I'm sure it would have lasted another four minutes, there was no point in leaving it under the pizza once it could be removed.
After eight minutes, the pizza was ready to come out. Whatever loss of heat that occurred during the oven loading didn't seem to affect the pizza's cooking time; a testament to the value of a pizza stone. Both the bottom and the top of the pizza were well-cooked. One possibility is that the loss of oven heat prompted the oven to cycle on right away; helping to cook the top of the pizza from heat convection, while the stone's heat retention nicely cooked the bottom.
When I cut into it, there was a reassuring crunch.The bottom was mottled brown. It was slightly crisp, not limp at all, but not as crunchy as some of the pizzas baked directly on stones. It resembled delivery pizza, in a good way.
The texture was great — no sogginess, gumminess, or doughiness. It was as good as the pizzas baked directly on the stone, except for the crispness factor. I was surprised there was such a noticeable difference, considering the pizza spent the last four minutes on the naked stone. Removing the parchment earlier on in the baking might have resulted in more crunch.
Not everyone's looking for a super-crunchy crust, so parchment is a good way to adjust that crispy-crunchiness, without compromising the overall quality of the crust. Whether it's easier... I'll let you decide.
About the author: Donna Currie has been cooking for fun and writing for pay since the days when typewritten articles traveled by snail mail. When she combined those talents in a food column for a newspaper in her area, she realized that writing about food is almost as much fun as eating. You can find her on her blog, Cookistry or follow her on Twitter at @dbcurrie.