Baking stones, Part 2 - How do I use them?
In the first part of this three part discussion of baking stones, we talked about selecting a baking stone. We prefer to use either the fairly high dollar Fibrament Baking stones or unglazed quarry tiles. We feel Hearthkits and Cloche's rob us of too much baking space. So, the rest of this discussion will about the Fibrament and unglazed quarry tile options.Tile preparation - If you buy a Fibrament stone, it will come with detailed instructions on how to prepare your Fibrament stone for use. Follow them carefully. If you are using unglazed quarry tiles, wash them twice before using them, once using mild dish washing soap, then again with a solution of water and baking soda. Rinse them well. You may still notice smoke given off the first time you use the tiles. This is to be expected, and should stop by the time the oven is fully heated.
Tile use - Tiles are intended to duplicate the effect of a hearth oven, transferring heat to your bread dough by conduction. The big drawback is that the tiles are not heated the same way they are in a hearth oven. As a result, they will not give the same results. They will give an approximation. If you want the real thing, get a hearth oven, or build a masonry oven.
The key feature of a hearth oven is that the hearth is hot when the bread is put on it, so the hearth will transfer heat by conduction directly to the bread. To make this happen, your baking stone has to be hot. If you put your dough on cold tiles, or try to use cold-oven techniques with baking stones, you will not get the results you are looking for. Baking tiles are a hot oven technique.
Once you have tiled your oven and are ready to bake, turn on the oven and set it to the temperature at which you wish to bake. Heating the tiles will take longer than just heating the oven. I suggest waiting 30 to 45 minutes before using the oven. I suggest using an oven thermometer to make sure the oven is as hot as it is supposed to be.
If you want to get fancy, check out your local car parts house and get an infra-red thermometer. They can measure the temperature of anything you point them at. If you spend a bit extra, you can get one with a laser sighting aid. I think this is overkill, but that way you can be sure the tile temperature is where it should be, at your baking temperature.
I use the tiles for all of my baking, whether it is a roasted chicken, pan bread, free-form bread, pizza or whatever. So far, the tiles have not damaged any baking accessory or pan. Leaving the tiles in makes using them easier.
The next issue is how to transfer a fully risen loaf of bread to the tiles without deflating the bread. If the loaf is sufficiently over-risen, it may not be possible to do this, but we'll talk about it in the third part of this exciting series on baking stones.