Baking stones, Part 3 -
Transferring Risen Bread To The Tiles, Safely
This page discusses how to get a fully risen, and therefore fragile, loaf of free-form bread onto the hot baking tiles without deflating the loaf of bread. There are a number of ways of doing this. To start with, I suggest using a banneton, a bread form used by the French. The banneton gives the dough shape, and helps it rise. When the dough is fully risen, it needs to be transferred to a peel of some sort, which will in turn transfer the dough to the oven tiles. On the "Useful Tools" page I talk about bannetons, and have some pictures of them.
You use a banneton by lightly flouring the cloth so the dough won't stick to it, forming the dough, and putting the loaf into the banneton with the nicer side touching the cloth and the seam side up. Then, cover the dough with some clingwrap or a damp cloth.
Once the dough has risen, remove the clingwrap or cloth from the banneton. I like to use either a regular peel some bakers parchment, available at most grocery and health food stores, or a SuperPeel. First, I'll describe how to use the regular peel and bakers parchment.
Cut some bakers parchment to size, so it will cover the dough in your banneton. It's OK to have some hanging over the edges, it won't burn in the oven. Now put a peel over the parchment. Lift the banneton, bakers parchment and peel. And then, carefully, turn the whole mess over. (I'll add some pictures to this page the next time I bake at home.)
Now, the banneton should be upside down, covering the dough. The seam side of the loaf should now be down, which is why we started with the seam up... we knew we were going to flip the dough over.
Some people just hold the banneton in one hand and flip it over, dropping the dough onto the peel. If your dough is very well risen, the drop can deflate the dough. My way, while slightly more complicated, is far less likely to deflate the dough.
Now, lift the banneton off the dough. Pull slowly and gently, in case the dough sticks. If it sticks, pull a little harder, it should come off cleanly.
Now that the dough is uncovered, go to the oven, open it, and move the peel so it is aiming towards the tiles. Move the peel forward so the dough is about where you want it, and very close to the tiles - very close as in almost touching the tiles. Stop the peel, and then jerk it backwards. The parchment paper and the dough should be on top of the tiles. Remove the peel from the oven and close the oven door. With practice, you should be able to put several loaves of bread on each rack.
A few warnings. Some people move the peel into the oven quickly and then suddenly stop moving the peel. This causes the dough to slide forward, hitting the back of the oven all too often. (Please don't ask me how I know this.) Some people put the peel up too high above the tiles, so when the jerk the peel out of the oven, the bread falls too far and deflates as it hits the tiles. (Again, please don't ask how I know this.) The goal is to be gentle, and minimize movements that might cause the bread to collapse.
A few people have asked me why I don't just let the bread rise on top of the bakers parchment. The damp dough will moisten the bakers parchment, and then it won't slide off the peel. And, trust me, you don't want to lift the bakers parchment with the dough on it and move the mess into the oven, the parchment may well rip. (OK, someone told me about this little mess.)
Some people prefer to use corn meal or semolina to lubricate their peels and avoid the use of the bakers parchment. I find that corn meal and semolina tend to make too much of a mess in my oven, and that they don't smell very nice when they scorch. Bakers parchment is cheap, and reusable a few times.
Some people prefer to use reusable parchment, or even Silpat. Reusable parchment paper, while more expensive than plain bakers parchment, is very reasonably priced compared to Silpat. It is reusable and will last longer than bakers parchment, though not as long as Silpat. I've used reusable parchment paper and it is very nice stuff. We considered using it in out bakery but didn't because our staff was used to throwing away the parchment paper, and that would have made our bread kinda expensive.
The SuperPeel is another approach, that has the advantage of using nothing to hold the dough as it is put into the oven. To use the SuperPeel, pull the grip back on the SuperPeel, put the canvas over your banneton, and then turn the SuperPeel and banneton over. Lift off the banneton, as described above. Now go to the oven, open the oven door, and put the dough about where you will want it to be. Hold the handle of the SuperPeel in one hand, and the gripper in the other. Hold the gripper so it will not move, and then pull the handle back. The SuperPeel will slowly pull out from under the dough, leaving it directly on the baking tiles. Once the SuperPeel is clear of the dough, pull the SuperPeel out of the oven and close the oven door.
I like the fact that nothing is between the dough and the tiles when you use the SuperPeel. If my description doesn't quite explain things to you, surf over to the SuperPeel web page, where you will find nice pictures, and even movies of the SuperPeel in use. I especially like the video of putting a fragile lattice crust onto a pie, as will anyone who has tried to move a lattice crust.
Once the bread is baked, you'll need to remove it from the oven. I find a plain peel works best for this, and a thin metal peel works best. Just slide the peel under the bread, lift the bread and remove it from the oven. You can use a wooden peel for this if you, like me, try to minimize the number of tools in your kitchen. If you use a wooden peel, there is a greater chance you'll push the bread around instead of sliding the peel under the bread. If this happens, it usually resolves itself when the bread is pushed against the oven wall. When it has no where else to go, it will slide onto the peel.