The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Hello craftbakers!

BayCook's picture

Hello craftbakers!

Hi everyone, 

    I'm fairly new at this, and don't have many recipes to share as yet.  I'm still working through the basics- I'm one of those ppl who like to master the foundations before getting fancy.

So currently I'm working on mastering pizza crust... like this guy :Jeff Varasano's NY Pizza Recipe  .  Although I'm not brave enough to cut the safety interlock off my oven's cleaning cycle lol. 

    I rather think I'm going to go with the dual baking stone concept to make a mini intense convection oven inside my conventional electric oven.  Looking on craigslist, I was able to spot some Pampered C's baking stones for sale cheap... though I have not gotten them yet. And I need a pizza peel... ah, the challenge of low-to-no budget baking...

    One thing I found very interesting is Mr. Varasano's description of what he terms "poolish"... he reccomends starting with a commercial (mail-order) sourdough Italian culture.  Has anyone here had experience in this area?  Has anyone in my area come up with a sourdough culture they would share a cup of?  I'm not sure of what would germinate in my kitchen, but pretty sure it woud be something odd.  I'm in Baltimore, MD btw.

thanks in advance!




OldDoughNut's picture

I've tried growing cultures on my own and wound up with several lively cultures, but they didn't produce any bread I'd eat.  Way too sour for my taste.

I sent off for free Oregon Trail sourdough starter.  Not Italian, but it's sourdough and it's free.  If you're interested, do google search for "Friends of Carl sourdough" and it should be the first hit. It came in the mail in about 3 weeks.  It produces bread I can eat, and if you let the loaf ferment "too long", it probably gets sour enough for the die-hards.

I remember someone saying they use a flat cookie sheet as a pizza peel which seemed like a great idea.  I love my wooden pizza peel though, since it doubles as the cutting board.  I can't imagine it was very expensive at a discount chain store locally - something like a Walmart.  In the summer I do my pizza on the gas grill on parchment paper (directly on the grill grate), but I burned several before getting it right - and there's still room for improvement.

Good luck!

yozzause's picture

Hi Baycook

Just use some off cuts of ply it works just fine for a peel, a hand saw and a bit of sand paper. boat builders have plenty of marine ply and cabinet makers should have the straight ply, marine is best as it has water proof glues holding it together.

If you have some old fashioned tradesman offering old fashioned service and you tell them what its for they might even cut it to size and put a bevel on the edge with the belt sander on the promise of a free sample. Bartering is  not dead, even a handy man will be more than happy to help at thought of a pizza slice or 2 coming their way.There is not much i wouldn't do for GOOD FOOD. 

BayCook's picture

wow- both of these are great replies!  I will definitely check out Friends of Carl.. erhm, that sounds kind of culty, but they are based in MD, so what the heck... 

and sure, that could be doable with the bartering... I know skilled tradepeople, and yes, they are always hungry! All that hard work makes the brain go to glucose deficiency!

now, all that is left on my list is baking stones...  I was looking on home depot and they have concrete pavers for $3.78, 16x16" and 2" thick... but given my own experience of concrete, I wouldnt eat anything cooked on it...  anyone have feedback there?    Alternatives?   I actually have a source for slate- I just have to quarry it myself lol.

I'm sorry to drag this off to the land of "frugal" cooking, but my experience is that when you master making ends meet and make a gourmet meal in the bargain, it's VERY satisfying!   I'll have to post my "perfect deep fry batter" in the "frugal cook" category if there is one.


patishaffer's picture

I work in Essex, the east side of Baltimore and I can give you some sourdough if you would like. I have made all kinds of things with it from blueberry muffins to ciabatta, but have not made a boule of SD bread yet. I also have a Rye SD if you want to try that too..


BayCook's picture

that would be perfect, Pati!  I'll PM you and we can arrange something.  Thanks!


ClimbHi's picture

I make SD bread pretty much every week, and I see no reason not to use the same starter for pizza crust, which is what I do. I usually make a SD ciabatta dough to use for pizza crusts -- very high hydration, just like Jeff V's.

I keep my starter at 100%, feed it only once per week after making bread, and put it in the fridge as soon as it starts to bubble, about an hour after feeding. This schedule makes it a very mild starter -- just enough to add some nutty flavor without the sour coming to the forefront.

Pittsburgh, PA

BayCook's picture

i'd love to know more about your techinique there-

I had a try at making high-hydration style crust this last  Saturday and .. good lord thats sticky.. i'm sure it must have been comical to watch me trying to shake it off the peel without tossing toppings all over the oven-  I wound up over-flouring it of course and made some concrete slabs.   I'm definitely admitting my lack of experience here.   You might even say, I ATE HUMBLE PIE!

I've got some sourdough culture started and we will see where that goes.  However, this week I've been COMMANDED to stick with the method that already has been perfected-  the Pizza Hut style deep dish.   I know, it's not real pizza, but my ppls just want big gobs of cheez on a crust that isnt concrete...


PeterPiper's picture

See if you can find some unglazed clay tiles at your local hardware store.  I got plain clay tiles for around $1.50 each (12x12) from Home Depot.  You can use a hand saw to cut them to fit so you'll be able to tile them in your oven to create a full bread deck on the rack.  Total cost will be less than ten bucks, plus some sweat and clay dust when you saw.  I washed and dried my clay first and it's worked fine.  If you crack one tile, no biggie.  Good luck!


BayCook's picture

Thanks Peter, that would be my next experiment i think-

I'm currently using a 15x14 sheet of stainless steel, about .2" thick - it's around 15 lbs, and has been well-seasoned already during numerous camping trips.   Maybe some tile underneath would help with heat retention?  I must admit, I'm a nervous peeker, and open the door too much.

I had some minor success (tastes all right, some nice little air bubbles in there) tonight making sourdough crocodillo pizza (sort of) ... things I will do differently next time involve straight-up bottom rack 550° for 15 minutes and some parchment paper.  I just cant get the hang of sliding the (STICKY DANG) pie off the peel onto the cooking surface. 

Also, I don't have a dough mixer, as in KA or DLM...  after 10 minutes I got tired of trying to hand beat the dough (OW!) and used a hand mixer with dough hook attachments.  That seemed to work, after I added enough flour to turn it from gloop to ... oop.

Again, my main problem seems to be getting the thing in the oven without adding so much flour it turns into a lethal weapon.  Theres got to be a better way.

any tips?


PeterPiper's picture

Hi BayCook

I always use parchment under my bread, even if I have cornmeal on the bottom of the loaf.  i just slide the whole thing, parchment and all, onto the baking stone.  Take the parchment out when you are done baking.  Never had a problem and you don't need to flour at all.

Also, I'd try using clay tiles or a large baking stone.  I have a feeling it will have much better heat retention when you put cold dough on it, compared with the stainless steel.  Happy baking!



deblacksmith's picture

BayCook's heavy stainless plate (anything over 1/8 of an inch is plate) will retain a lot of heat -- most likely more that the baking stone.  A 15 pounds weight that is a lot of thermal capacity.  In other words if you take it out of a hot oven it will take a long time to cool to room temperature in still air, just like a baking stone. YMMV

I too have come to really like using parchment paper to move things on and off of a baking stone or even a flat sheet that is preheated.


BayCook's picture

thanks for the insightful comment there Dave... I just might be onto something with the steel plate after all, instead of just making my wife roll her eyes and sigh...  it stays hot overnight after I've used it- the next morning (8-9 hours later), its still almost hot to the touch.

I'm making 3 pies tonight, in 3 different ways, and making careful notes.  2 of them involve parbaking.  The exception is a cast iron skillet, which doesn't seem to need the extra step. 

I'll have some results to share or gripe about tomorrow...  if I get some success I'll post a recipe and pictures.  Should be interesting pictures, given that I've made almost all my own cooking gear, lol...  For example, currently I'm figuring out how to make a large dough hook for my electric drill... be afraid, ppl, be very afraid...  no, really, its not that weird, given that it's infinitely speed lockable, with dual gear reduction.  If I had a stand for it, it would be a poor mans KA.  Hmm.  Maybe later.




Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I used one in my China mini oven a few years back.  I wish I still had it.  Used it with parchment.  It fit right into my little oven as a shelf.  It was thicker than 1/4 inch and my husband had made it for me.