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Using/Sourcing Baking Stone Alternatives or Substitutes

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spinge's picture
spinge

Using/Sourcing Baking Stone Alternatives or Substitutes

I have read http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/507 regarding baking stones, and some people cannot understand why for the love of god people are discussing quarry tiles and substitutes, when FDA approved baking stones are readily available.

I have no option but to choose a substitute to baking stone, and I'd be glad if you could help me find one. To put it bluntly,

To use a baking stone, a baker need to satisfy 3 conditions:

1) Live in a location where baking stones are available


2) Or Live in a place where safe handling and delivery is made


3) And Have the item tested for safety



Unfortunately, I don't satisfy either:

1) I'm from India, specifically Mumbai city (its similar to NY city, but much worse), and apparently no baking goods supplier knows what a baking stone is here. I just went to some B2C shops in this godforsaken city and they were totally confused. I'm sure the pros get their tools B2B and imported. Also Google, shows no suppliers in India. None whatsoever.

2) Even if I do import one, I will not receive the baking stone in one piece, due to the way things work here. To put it simply, the handling is so bad here, even if it was FedEx-ed/UPS-ed or DHL-ed, the delivery will be made by a chilled out local who will definitely break it if its says handle carefully, or steal it if it says valuable :D Ok so I'm cynical, but I've had my share of experiences when I ordered Zildjian cymbals from NY some years ago which 'luckily' arrived 7 months later, yeah I kid you not. Luckily they were too durable to break. Other items aren't so fortunate.


3) The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is USA specific, and others countries may have their own version, but where I live the item to be tested (baking stone) isn't really available and therefore obviously there is no further question of testing.


 


Regarding Unglazed Quarry Tiles: Its a USA specific substitute from what I've read.


As far as Mumbai is concerned, some Tile shops I went to here clearly said its unavailable, others have no idea what it is. Even if I was told it is available, there is no way to check if it is glazed or unglazed. The seller will pass off a glazed piece as a unglazed here, as long as he makes a sale, since value of life in a country of 1 billion+ (1.1 billion now?) comes very cheap. :)

Therefore, of the other available substitutes (Granite, terracotta flower base plate, ceramic dish, soapstone, anything else? PLEASE SUGGEST OTHERS) which one would you think would be the best bet to get a good bread, especially pizza, or focaccia, and are there any conditions, that need to be satsfied for them to work. eg. unpolished granite, etc.

Although I'm throwing random darts here, I hope you will help me.

Thanks,


spinge


P.S.: This is my first post :)

LindyD's picture
LindyD

Am sure you'll get lots of suggestions, however, I wonder if the folks at your local Pizza Hut could help you source material.


Not sure how close you are to any of their stores, but here's a  map of their locations in India.

Nickisafoodie's picture
Nickisafoodie

I have used soapstone, very dense and heavy and commonly used as a hearthstone in fireplaces for its thermal properties.  Lots on the web covering this.  Don't know if it is available in your area...


It tends to take a long time to heat up and absorb heat- at least 90 minutes to reach about 550 degrees.  The flip side is that hours later the stone retaines a huge amount of heat, at least 350 degrees F after two hours.   So slow to heat and a long time to cool.  My piece is from a countertop and is 7/8" thick, perhaps a thinner stone would work better, especially for bread.  And heat quicker.


For pizza, I have found that putting the stone 3 inches from the bottom, heating to 550F, then turning on the top broiler which is about 10 inches from the pizza top - before putting in the pizza works well and better than without the broiler on.   Funny though, I do have a fibrament pizza stone that bought after and I use it for bread rather than the soapstone!!  Go figure...


Granite's structure is not suitable for oven floors...  Good luch with your search

jeb's picture
jeb

You might want to look at cordierite kiln shelves. There are several 'bread stones' that are made of cordierite, which is also used to manufacture kiln shelves. You can also get kiln shelves that are thicker than most bread stones (though they are also much heavier).

SCruz's picture
SCruz

How about an iron skillet? It provides constant heat and will not break.


 


There's a lot of controversy about kiln shelves being toxic.


 


Jerry

Brot Backer's picture
Brot Backer

As long as the shelves are unused/new it should be fine as the toxicity is most likely to come from heavy metals in pottery glazes fired in the kiln and not the shelves themselves.

Tatoosh's picture
Tatoosh

Hello there Spinge! I understand your frustration in trying to find a baking stone. I am in the Philippines and while there may be some stones in Manila, I have not found them. I live a few hours away and I can guarantee there are no stones in the city I hang my hat in either.  So I made a stone out of some thin building bricks.  So far it has worked wonderfully, taming my home oven (propane) which would not keep a set temperature for long.  They also greatly improved my pizza, allowing me to produce a nice crispy crust, though nothing that would compare to a commercial wood, coal, or gas fired oven.


Since I cannot test the bricks to ascertain they are completely food safe, I never cook directly on them but rather use a tray, foil or parchment cooking paper between the bricks and what is being cooked.


Another poster here, from Malaysia or Indonesia, faced a similar problem and tried a 3 mm stainless steel plate in his oven.  Other contributors mentioned using steel plates too, saying they worked well for them.  Just remember to leave space between the edge of the plate and your oven wall so that air can move.  I believe they recommend at least a one inch minimum space between the plate and the oven wall.


The steel will not have a problem with the temperatures your oven generates. The shelf from a potter's kiln, if available, would be another good choice. 


Tatoosh

lumos's picture
lumos

I'm with jeb about cordierite kiln shelves.


I live in UK and a rectangular baking stone is not easily available here. So I'd been using quarry floor tiles I got from my local flooring shop for a short while but it wasn't ideas because it was square rather than rectangular, so you couldn't bake long loaves, like baguettes.


Then I found a granite chopping board like this that many kitchen shops/supermarkets sell here. I used it for a few years quite happily after I removed small rubber non-slip pads on the bottom. It wasn't too bad. As far as I'm aware, this is the most easily obtainable substitue for baking stones in UK. Maybe you can find a seller in your country, too?


The only downside with this granite chopping board was it sometimes cracks, especially you bake with lots of steam. (heat shock)  You can keep on using it even afterif  it's cracked, but I wanted to use it as a pastry board as well, so I didn't want it to crack.


In the end, I combed through internet and found a small manufacturer of pottery equipments not too far from me and got a couple of cordierite kiln shelves which they cut to fit my oven shelves. It turned out to be much cheaper than buying a baking stone, and it's very strong against intense heat and heat shock. I've been baking with it very happily for five years or so, and never looked back. The only 'health hazard' pointed out by the Health & Safety authority in UK (which is increasingly ridiculously strict) is a possible injury in case you drop it on your foot. If that's the only danger they could find, you can be assured it is not quite so dangerous. No toxic even when heated at high temperature.


Or another Quest-for-Baking-Stone tale I've heard somewhere was getting off-cut granite/marble slab from a stone mason or kitchen worktop maker. Or even grave stone maker. I couldn't find any stone mason in my area who could sell me one, but I've read several posts in other forums who were happy with their findings. You may be lucky, too. Good luck!


 

spinge's picture
spinge

@LindyD: I think checking up with Pizza Hut is a nice idea. Will do that next time i go there.


@Nickisafoodie: Thanks for the info on soapstone. I'm looking around for it currently. :)


@jeb & lumos: Awesome idea. Had not come across that before. Seems there is one supplier in another state of India, Tamil Nadu, (refer http://www.abref.org/products.html) from a quick google search, but gotto find one here. Still I think this is my best option if I manage to source it! Thanks a lot.


@SCruz & Tatoosh: I'm current making only whole wheat breads (or whole wheat versions) since it healthy, and more so, tastes closer to an Indian bread we make everyday (really, like 4-6 phulkas per meal/person) called Chapatti/Phulka, which is a non-yeast bread also made from whole wheat/atta. Its a 2 minute first skilleted, and then flamed functional flat bread and goes well with other indian stuff (including butter chicken :P). Haven't found anything on chapatti/phulka on the forums here surprisingly.


But as far as yeasted baked breads with whole wheat go, they remain a little soggy at the base, especially the pizza/focaccia type.


In fact I tried out the stainless steel plate method for the pizza, but its clear it does not work as a stone, at least in terms of moisture absorbtion (and im assuminng the same for the skillet), which is really essential here. The pizza turned out awesome from top, but was really soggy from below. Finally had 2 heat in a pan on flame for 10 mins more before it became crispy.


I tried again on steel plate with reduced toppings and negligible sauce next time to reduce the water content, still same problem. But better.


Third time tried cooking base first, and then added the toppings, but then it tasted like a 'ready base pizza' (a soggier version still :( ), and did not match up to the authentic way. In that case, it would have been better to just get the ready base from a supermarket, and work on it. :) But really, thats the difference between the ready base pizzas and freshly made ones with the merged bread, sauce, & cheese top. Huge difference there!


Pizza, especially whole wheat, just needs baking stone. And I'm here to find a substitute :)


@lumos: The granite chopping board also looks like a nice substitute. But the image u linked looked polished which I think would reduce its porosity (not sure), and also I think it might contain resins/chemicals used for polishing. You also suggested a stone mason for a fresh granite piece, and I'm looking for one currently for rough soapstone/granite.


But the cordierite! Since your using it for 5 yrs, and its ment for kilns, man that was a fantastic suggestion by jeb!


 


Now its supplier research time, then hopefully action!


If I find one, I'll post up the supplier details on this thread, and also details regarding the other suggestions which ill also probably try along the way!


Please keep your help/suggestions coming! And thanks to everyone who replied!


P.S.: I really love pizza, the (comparitively) healthy version :D

turosdolci's picture
turosdolci

I have spoken to a company in the Alps in Switzerland who makes wood burning ovens and pizza ovens.  They use soapstone, so I suggest that if you have access to soapstone, which you mention in your posting, then try to get a piece.  I have soapstone and it works great.


 


Regards,


Patricia

spinge's picture
spinge

Finally located a cordierite stone supplier aka baking stone / pizza stone substitute supplier for all people in and around Mumbai!


Its located in Navi Mumbai called Excelsior Ceramics (http://excelsiorceramic.com), and it supplies Abref (http://www.abref.in) coderite stones.


Custom sizing is available too! wow!


Its marketed as kiln stones/shelves, but both entities/companies said the product is totally food/baking safe, and its easily withstands high temperature.


So others searching for the baking / pizza stones in Mumbai, like me, look no further!


Thank you jeb & lumos again.


Btw, I have few questions regarding selecting the optimal thickness for a baking stone / pizza stone made of cordierite to all. Would a thinner one crack easily/ be more thermal shock sensitive? Would a thicker one take more time to heat? Would a thicker one absorb more moisture? Would a thicker one be more porous? Would a thinner one be better for general bread baking, and a thicker one be better for pizza?


So optimal thickness for general bread baking and/or pizza baking is 1/2, 5/8, 7/8, 1, or 1 1/2 inch? How does it make a difference?


Questions, questions.... :)

lumos's picture
lumos

Congratulations on finding the supplier!  I remember I spent a few hours in front of my PC searching for a kiln equipment suppllier until I find a small one in my area, too.


Yes, they sell it as 'kiln shelf', so usually they're quite happy to cut it to suit your need because kiln sizes are all different.  Make sure you have 2-3cm gaps between the stone and the oven wall for the heat and steam (if using) to move around.


Hope they'll give you a good price for it, too. Good luck on that, too! :D


You may not need this info now that you've found the kiln shelf supplier, but to answer your questions about granite chopping board



The granite chopping board also looks like a nice substitute. But the image u linked looked polished which I think would reduce its porosity (not sure), and also I think it might contain resins/chemicals used for polishing.



It's only polished on the topside, the bottom left rough just as it's cut. So you use it upside down in the oven, and I have used it for a few years (pre-codierite era) and  I know other people who use that for baking breads, too. You just have to remove the rubber pads before you use it because ....for the obvious reason. :p


And they don't use any chemical to polish the surface. It's physically/mechanically  'polished' by machine to make it smooth and shiny, so you don't have to worry about toxic.


As for the thickness of codierite, my kiln maker had choices of 1.5cm, 2cm or 3cm. When I used to use the quary floor tile that I mentioned earlier, it was 3cm thick and it took a looooong time until it's completely heated, and my pizza stone was 1,5cm thick which I thought a little too thin for bread, so I went for 2cm thick. I'm quite happy with it.  The guy at the supplier said thinner one tends to be stronger against thermal shock, but with heat resistant up to 500+C, he said you wouldn't really have to worry about it if you use it in a domestic oven.


 

spinge's picture
spinge

Hi,


I got a 12 inch x 12 inch x 12 mm cordierite stone (standard size),


and another one that is 11 1/2 inch x 8 2/3 inch x 20 mm (...a leftover from a large size piece that was cut).


Since it was not sold as a baking stone, but a kiln shelf, it did not come with any instructions.


It was a really tiring journey to the supplier and i hope not to repeat it.


So what should I do before my first use?


From what I've read online, before the first use, I need to rinse it in hot water (no soap/detergent), and rub with towel.


It has some stone dust on top. Do i first wipe excess dust with dry cloth? Then immerse it in a bucket of hot water? Or just dab the surface with a towel?


And how much time to let it dry after washing? Someone on another post (http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/17029/problem-baking-stone#comment-110926) recommended 3 days! I think I should mention that the monsoon season (rainy season) is going on and there is a lot of humidity here (take 90%+ approx).


 


What should I do for my first use?


Also I've read in some forums about seasoning the stone with some vegetable oil spraying, or smearing it on the top. Is that necessary? While some posts recommend it, others do not.


While preheating the stone, do i gradually keep increasing the temperature, or directly set the oven to heat at the required temp. eg. 40 degrees for 1st 5 mins, 150 degrees next 5 mins, 200 next 5 min, 250 next 5 mins (all degrees celcius),


VERSUS just set it to 250 degrees celcius (250 is max on my oven)


 


Thanks for all your help uptil now freshloafers!


Spinge

Dillbert's picture
Dillbert

wipe off any dust with a damp cloth, put it in the oven.


I would not recommend 'seasoning' it - it will stain by itself over time and using it at high temps burns off fats/oils anyway.

lumos's picture
lumos

I entirely agree with Dillbert.


No need to soak in water (either hot or cold), Cordierite itself doesn't contain any chemical/substance which is health hazard, so just thorough dusting off with slightly damp cloth is usually good enough, and putting in an oven hot enough to bake bread will kill any germs on surface if there is any.


(though I must say I did run some water on the surface briefly because mine was VERY dusty. I dried it for a day or so, by which time it looked completely dry. Even it wasn't, I'm sure all the soaked water (if any) evaporated during pre-heating of oven before I put my dough on it.)


Seasoning with oil is not necessary at all. Some metal tin/baking sheet require seasoning with oil sometimes before the initial use, but definitely not stones. Stones soak up oil, so there's no point in seasoing it with oil which doesn't stay on surface, because you  heat it at very high temperature before you put dough on it,  burned oil will gives off nasty smell. Not a nice environment to bake your bread.  ;)

akupond's picture
akupond

"Soapstone has been used in India for centuries as a medium for carving. Mining to meet world-wide demand for soapstone is threatening the habitat of India's tigers.[5] The Hoysala Empire temples were made from soapstone.[6]"


 


from wikipedia