It's exciting times indeed in the world of backyard pizza-making. Last year, I tested out two fantastic products that improved the quality of my home-baked pizzas by leaps and bounds. This year, I've combined their powers to produce the ultimate—and inexpensive—home pie-slinging setup.
'baking surfaces' on Serious Eats
I first reviewed the Baking Steel a few weeks ago, a new home pizza-making tool that delivered the best crust I've ever made in a home oven, over and over again. Since then, some folks have been asking questions: How does the new half-inch version compare? How does the Lodge cast iron pizza pan stack up? I headed into the kitchen and baked off a dozen pies to see if we could answer those questions.
I came out with the early word on the Baking Steel, a product which at the time was in Kickstarter mode trying to raise enough money for their first run. Thanks to crazy pizza heads like you, they managed to blow past their initial investment requirements by several thousand dollars. By all accounts, founder Andris Lagsdin is in over his head trying to keep up with demand on that first run. This is good news for him, and even better news for home piemakers, because I've got to tell you: This is the most impressive home pizza product I've ever tested.
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.
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.
You may already know that Emile Henry has a line of round, enameled pizza stones in various colors, but check it out: The ceramic ovenware–maker has just introduced a rectangular stone.
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.