Pizza Protips: A Different Sort of Peel

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[Photographs: Donna Currie]

When people talk about using baking stones for pizza or bread, the one issue that consistently rears its ugly head is the need to get the pizza—or bread—onto the stone. Pizza peels are made for the task, but it takes a certain amount of practice and confidence to get the unbaked item off the peel and into the oven.

A dusting of cornmeal and semolina on the peel will act like tiny ball bearings and help "lubricate" the movement of the dough. However, they do introduce an additional flavor and texture into the equation. Along with that comes the residual effect that whatever isn't directly under your baked goods might burn. That is more of a concern if you're baking several items in sequence; the burned bits from the first round of baking can end up under items in subsequent rounds.

Even the most experienced bakers will produce dough that is a little too slack or slightly over-risen bread, making pizza peel maneuvers more challenging. Pizzas ends up misshapen, or the bread collapses from too vigorous a snap of the peel. Poor aim lands items partway off the stone, or a misplaced first loaf leaves little space for a second loaf. Using a peel takes confidence, but unless you bake a lot, it's hard to gain that confidence. And all the confidence in the world can't make up for clumsiness, so a touch of gracefulness helps as well.

There are those that advocate using parchment paper under pizza, but my recent tests show that it has some affect on the crispness of the crust. Baking sheets are fine for many breads, and for some styles of pizza. For others, it's not recommended. Pizza screens offer yet another option. But sometimes you just want naked dough directly on a hot stone.

When I first heard of the Super Peel, it seemed a little silly to me. Do we need another gadget? Well, if you don't already have a peel, it's not another gadget.
The Super Peel is a loop of fabric that acts as a sort of conveyor belt to move the dough on and off the peel. It takes a little practice to get the movement right for a smooth transition, but it's not a steep learning curve. The first instinct is to move the conveyor-belt-cloth to pull the dough up, but that will stretch the dough. If you move the peel under the dough while keeping your other hand (holding the conveyor-belt-cloth) in the same place, the dough slides up onto the peel.

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Moving the dough off of the peel and onto the stone is the opposite motion. Once you get the hang of it, it makes perfect sense and it gets easier.

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Admittedly, I like the showmanship of getting a pizza off of a peel in one deft movement and having it emerge from the oven perfectly round. Then again, my overconfidence with a peel recently sent a perfectly good pizza into the ashes of a wood-fired oven, so my peel skills aren't as honed as I sometimes think think they are.

The benefit of the Super Peel isn't just that you can get the dough on and off the peel, but that you can do it slowly and gently. That's a huge asset if you're dealing with a puffy loaf of bread that might be just a bit fragile. And if your pizza is about the same size as your stone, you can place that pizza much more precisely with a lot less practice.

Is the Super Peel for everyone? No, obviously not. If you're moving pizzas around like an expert, there's no need to invest in this sort of peel. Like parchment paper and pizza screens, it's a bit of a crutch. But unlike the parchment and the pizza screen, this particular crutch doesn't affect the crispness of the crust.

The standard Super Peel sells for $48.

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 or @cookistry.

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