Spurred on by the realization that I haven’t cooked for a while, I’m making the effort to feed myself (and maybe my roommates) like an adult. Melissa’s #2 food is pizza, and I’m always down to make pizza.
In the past, I’ve always used a hot oven and a sturdy baking sheet to make crisp pizza crusts, but I’ve been intrigued by the idea of a pizza stone or baking stone. It’s a slab of stone or ceramic that’s used in a regular oven to simulate a brick oven’s heat. You put it in a cold oven and preheat at your oven’s highest setting for about an hour, then surf the retained heat to make crisp pizza crusts and artisan breads for hours. The stone pulls moisture out of the dough, which crisps the crust to perfection.
My brother has a baking stone, and though it cracked pretty early on, he continued using it by pushing the cracked pieces together. Before I dropped $25-50 on my own that might just crack after a couple uses, I thought I’d see what the internet had to say on the matter.
There are webpages out there that have documented their own baking stone adventures. They offered the cheap alternative of finding unglazed quarry tiles from a hardware store. They come in 6″ and 12″ squares, usually at about $0.50-1.50 apiece, which is far less than you’d spend on a baking stone on Amazon.
So off I went to the hardware store. Lowes only had 8″ squares on special order, which would have meant buying about 100x more tiles than I could ever need, cracks or no. They were the same as I’d seen in a blog post, so I knew I was on the right track. I fared better at Home Depot, where they had Saltillo paver tiles — 12″ squares that looked like terra cotta — for $1.19 each. They’re a little over half an inch thick (14mm to be exact), which is about right for sticking in the oven. One of the posts I’d read had mentioned this brand, so it was with slightly more confidence that I bought two and didn’t think I’d poison people.
Supposedly it’s important to rinse and thoroughly dry the stones before using, though honestly I have no idea if that would’ve gotten rid of anything toxic on the surface. In my opinion, it’s more important not to use soap to clean them, as the porous surface will absorb the soap and your pizza will taste like soap.
I prepped the pizza dough last night — pretty simple recipe with minimal effort. The dough goes into the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Today when I got home, I took the dough out of the fridge to warm up while I took a shower. Heat up the oven and the pizza stones, stretch out into pizza crust, and add sauce and toppings. I opted for nice and simple margherita pizzas using Roberta’s recipe in the NYT recipe.
The baking stone worked really well. The oven was HOT for a hot day like today (86 degrees — so Northern California hot, I guess), though the stones probably could have used another twenty minutes of preheating before I shut the heat off entirely. The pizza crust was nice and crisp on the edges, but the centers weren’t quite up to snuff (possibly because the stones weren’t hot enough in the centers either). All in all, the pizza was still delicious. I also haven’t died yet, so the tiles are a success!