If you ask a baker what protein does in dough, they'll tell you protein forms gluten, the stretchy web that's necessary for making bread (but a less desirable quality in things like cakes). Protein affects the amount of water that flour can absorb. It's thirsty. Dough made with high gluten flour will seem less wet than dough made from flour with a lower gluten content. This can be true even if the same brand of flour is used to make the same dough. While measuring errors are one common problem, even if the measuring is precise, doughs made from the same recipe can feel different. The reason being, protein levels can vary within the same brand of flour. Although brands state the percent of protein on the bag, the numbers fall within a range depending on the manufacturer's tolerances. The true percentages can be significantly different enough to produce very different outcomes. But how much difference does it make?
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.
Whenever the subject of pizza baking stones comes up, people chime in with their favorites. But how many people have owned more than two—or maybe three—pizza stones? And how many have tested them with exactly the same recipe in the same oven baked for precisely the same amount of time? Over the course of 12 weeks, I tested a variety of baking surfaces with the same pizza recipe, photographed the results, judged the textures, and ate the pizzas.
When I was researching stones, I saw that All-Clad had a pizza stone. And unlike all the man-made products, this one was a hunk of soapstone. The stone itself is 13 inches in diameter, 3/5-inch high, and weighs 9 pounds, 10 ounces. It comes with a metal ring with handles that the stone fits into for transport. (It also comes with a pizza cutter.) But does the precarious nature of soapstone's soft surface get trumped by the stone's performance?
It's hard to believe I haven't tested every possible pizza cooking surface yet, but I'm still at it. This time, we're talking heavy metal. As in cast iron. Specifically, the Lodge cast-iron pizza pan.
With most baking stones, you get what's available — a uniform size and thickness. Maybe there's a choice of round or rectangular, or a couple of standard sizes, but you're still limited by what's available. The greatest benefit of the Fibrament baking stone is that you can specify exactly the size you want. There are several standard sizes, but if want something different you can order whatever you like; perfect for an odd-sized or custom oven. The stone I have is 15x17 and 3/4 inches thick. Greenish in color, the stone is simultaneously slick to the touch and bumpy. It's obviously not the same material as your usual stone.
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.
Last week, I tested a pizza screen. Although it made handling the pizza a lot easier, the bottom of the pizza didn't crisp very well. Since the easier handling is such a huge plus for people who aren't adept at getting a pizza off of a peel and onto a hot stone, I decided to give the screen another chance. But this time, I also used a baking stone under the screen.
If you haven't seen one up close and personal, a pizza screen is just what it sounds like. Mine is exactly 14 inches in diameter, and is made from expanded aluminum with a solid aluminum rim. The theory is that the screen allows the heat of the oven to hit the dough directly.
This stone from Emile Henry has some interesting features. Unlike most pizza stones, the Emile Henry stone is glazed. The point of using stone or ceramic instead of metal is that the stone absorbs moisture from the dough, resulting in a crisper crust. So, glazing sounds like a bad idea, right? I put it to the test, and was quite pleased with the results.
Go shopping for a new pizza stone, and you'll find a huge variety of surfaces, from metal to clay to natural stone to man-made composites. If you were going solely by recommendations from respected testers, you might settle on the baking stone sold by King Arthur Flour. I decided to put it to the test.
After testing a single layer of quarry tiles, I decided to see if there was any benefit to stacking the tiles on top of each other. The theory is that a thicker stone holds heat better, which is why many bakers seek out the thickest baking stones they can find. I was pretty happy with the way the pizza baked on my single layer of quarry tiles, but wondered if a double layer would be better.
When my favorite pizza stone broke a while back, I started shopping for a new one. It wasn't long before I was mired in indecision. I knew it would take me a while to sort through details and narrow the field down a bit, so I opted for the super-cheap temporary fix—unglazed quarry tiles.
While pizza stones like the one we tested last week are pretty popular, they have their drawbacks: they're bulky, heavy, and a little pricey. How does a cheaper, thinner, lighter aluminum pizza pan compare?
Over the course of my next few columns, I'll be testing a variety of cooking surfaces to see how they perform. We'll start the testing with a cheap, basic pizza stone that's 13 inches in diameter and less than 1/2 inch tall.
Working with a dough that wet has its challenges, particularly if you're used to handling more typical doughs. Mixing a wet dough is easy. Baking a wet dough, well, the oven does all the work. Kneading a wet dough is where many bakers go astray. For most doughs, the kneading is done on a floured surface to keep the dough from sticking. But if you knead a very wet dough that way, that dough is going to gather up a lot of flour along the way.
Fresh yeast imparts a flavor that isn't present in breads or pizzas made with dried yeast. It's not the same as sourdough, but it has a distinct flavor of its own. Here's how to buy it, proof it, store it, and revive it.
I recently started a Talk thread asking Serious Eaters if there were dough-related tips and techniques they wanted to hear about. There were quite a few "troubleshooting" questions—not so much "how do I?" but more like "Uh oh, it's gone wrong...now what?" So let's get answering!
A high altitudes, the boiling point of water is lower, the air is thinner, and generally the air is also drier. Two of those three things affect your dough significantly. Here are a few ways the baker and pizzamaker can adapt.
If you've found an intriguing recipe that requires a food processor or stand mixer, you can convert that recipe to hand kneading without too much trouble. The first thing that changes is the amount of time it will take to knead the dough enough to properly develop the gluten. You'll also need the change the order in which you incorporate ingredients.