The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Doing without a baking stone - basic questions

Tarrosion's picture

Doing without a baking stone - basic questions

Good morning,


Since this is my first post here, I suppose I should introduce myself. The actual relevant bits of the post are below.
I've been lurking around for almost a year now, but especially in the last month I've been trying to expand my knowledge here. I've been toying with baking breads for almost two years now, but it was, until recently, not much of a serious hobby. I had limited success and I didn't much try to find out exactly what went wrong (as something often did!). Recently I've become much more interested in serious bread baking (hence the increase in visitations to this site): I splurged and purchased BBA and I'm determined to initially follow instructions and techniques very carefully so that I can learn what I've been doing wrong and become a better baker. That brings me to my questions:


I'm going off to school in about two months, so I'm reluctant to spend a lot of money on bread baking equipment. Without knowing where I'll be in a few years, shelling out for a stone hardly seems wise. So I am stoneless. However, I'm not quite sure on the best way to do without. I've heard of inverting a heavy baking sheet on an oven rack and using that as a stone, and I've also heard that you can just bake directly on a non-preheated heavy baking sheet. As well, I'm unclear about when it's appropriate to transfer loaves to the oven using parchment paper - I know it's oven-safe, but can it survive the 500 degree Fahrenheit temperatures for baguettes, pizza, and the like? Will it interfere with heat transfer to the loaves?

As my first foray into meticulous bread baking, I'm trying the French bread recipe from Bread Baker's Apprentice. I made the ferment last evening, and hopefully I'll be turning out some half sheet pan sized baguettes today.


Thanks for the help,


Dragonbones's picture

You'll do fine baking without a stone until you can afford one; you just won't get as crisp a bottom crust for bread. It's more important for pizza. You can still make pizza without it, but you might not be in love with the crust, that's all. But if you go scrounging around for some tiles you might be able to get some for free. Ask at a local flooring shop or construction site and try to pick up some spares they can't use.

A preheated heavy baking sheet will probably be a tad better than a non-preheated one, but a stone is much better. Check out garage sales for old cast iron skillets, as that's another option.

I've not had any trouble using parchment paper directly on a stone in a 483 F oven. Will it interfere with heat transfer to the loaves? No, I don't think so. It's very thin. Good luck!

flournwater's picture

Baking stones aren't really that expensive, you can get some of the lighter weight stones for around $15.  However, you're in a better position to manage your budget than I am, so let's stick with the inverted baking sheet idea.  This method works fairly well, but I'd rely on parchment paper as an insulator between the metal and the bread loaf.  Metal pans, even heavy metal pans, often develop hot spots and the parchment paper (which I use at temperatures well over 500 degrees) will help to reduce the burned bottom loaf that occurs with hot spots.  A stone heats more evenly  -  but I use parchment on my stone too.  If you're concerned about the temperature tolerances for the parchment you're using, check the label on the box and see what the manufacturer's recommendations are.

Additionally, a baguette which may start at 500 degrees usually doesn't finish at that high a temperature and pizza doesn't usually remain in the oven as long as a bread loaf. 


I interpreted "burn" to mean bursting into flame.  I've never had that problem.  But the parchment paper does get VERY brown, so if that's what you mean by "burn" I'd have to admit that mine does "burn" quite often.

Thanks Janknitz for the tip on Whole Foods.  We have one within a shor distance of our place and I'll make it a point to see if I can find the parchment you recommended next time I get over that way.

Janknitz's picture

. . . depending on the brand and how the paper is treated.  The Wilton stuff you buy in the grocery store is rated for only 420 degrees and it DOES burn at higher temps.  I have asthma and I don't tolerate the burning paper very well.

I've been really happy with unbleached parchment paper I got at Whole Foods under the brand name "Because We Care".  It's actually a little cheaper than the grocery store stuff, and lasts longer because it's rated for a higher temperature and I regularly reuse each piece.  Because it's a narrower roll, there's less waste.  It is treated only with silicone and unbleached, so it's more environmentally friendly (the box claims that other parchment paper treatments like Quilon are toxic to the environment).

I usually cut the parchment paper close to the shape of the loaf I'm baking so there is less exposed paper that might burn.  I've used the same round piece (perfectly sized for my banneton) four times now, and it looks like I can use it a few more times.  The Wilton stuff was too "crispy" after one use to reuse it. 

I highly recommend using parchment paper--it makes life so much easier and it can be very economical when used this way. 


Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

For all of my freeform loaves, I use an airbake cookie sheet. I have no issues whatsoever with bottom crust formation, the browning of that crust, or sticking. If I had any of those issues, I could easily afford to buy whatever might be needed to remedy them, but I simply have not had to. I have 2 boxes of parchment paper that have been sitting in my pantry for over 6 months, unopened.

You can bake great bread with excellent results for very little. It's mostly technique. If you want magazine quality, then you might need to spend a bit.

- Keith

Tarrosion's picture

Thank you for your informative replies. So far, I've made the French bread recipe and the Italian bread recipe from BBA. The French bread had great taste and crust, though the crumb was somewhat dense and the shaping of baguettes a disaster (two were thin in the middle and thick at the ends; one oven sprang off the baking sheet into a sort of U shape with a bulge at one end - clearly, I have plenty left to learn).

The Italian bread, which was also tasty and more successful in shape and crumb, lead me to another quick question (if I may). The biga, made according to the book's instructions, picked up a "sour grape" smell. It's not a pleasant smell like that of my sourdough starter. I've noticed a similar effect before, but I assumed the smell was due to my haphazard throwing together of some flour and water the night before, rather than making a preferment according to a recipe. The "rotten grape" flavor didn't transfer to the finished loaves, but a bit of the odor did. Is this normal?




serifm's picture

I went to a tile store and bought two saltillo tiles. I had one cut in two as my oven can only accommodate an 18" baking surface. I tempered the tiles by baking them at 300 degrees for four hours. They work beautifully even when heating the oven to 500 degrees.  Cost?  $2.00.