The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Countertop Materials

bassopotamus's picture

Countertop Materials

This is probably a repeat question but...


We are redoing our kitchen and going to get new countertops. We are looking at mostly granite, but we have a section that goes under a window that will be lower, and we were thinking we could put a different surface on that (possibly butcher block). It's a small enough chunk that the price doesn't matter much. Are there any advantages for butcher block over granite? How does granite wear with a bench scraper? I do most of my rising in the fridge, but do shape batards on the counter (have a stainless prep table now, which doesn't work very well). 

Thanks in advance

Janknitz's picture

I have a portable polished marble pastry board that I just love for bread doughs. I love the smooth surface which does well with flour or oil as needed, while it seems to have enough "tooth" when I need it.  It's easy to clean and scrape, and doesn't absorb anything.  

My countertops are hideous 4 inch tiles with 1/4" grout spaces in between (very 80's)--not good for dough at all, and a bit too high.  I pull out the cutting board and lay my marble board on top, which works pretty well, but the size is limiting.  I would love to have a larger surface of marble at just the right height. 

clazar123's picture

I had laminate and then went to granite. I have no problem kneading dough, no matter the hydration. I use plastic rather than metal scrapers. The only thing I would do different is install a warming unit in one area for proofing. That has to be done to the bottom side of the slab at the time of installation.

Actually, laminate worked fine, as long as it doen't have too much texture.

jackie9999's picture

I recently upgraded from laminate to granite and I love it! I don't hesitate using scapers on it - apparently you can cut on granite but it will dull your knife. I would suggest asking your supplier to give you the piece they cut out for the sink - I ended up with a nice big square that I use as my working tends to keep my flour mess confined.

NCKathryn's picture

I have gone back and forth re: surfaces. I got a silicone mat that had circles in different diameters, etc.,--it was okay but slipped a lot (have to try the wet paper towel trick). RIght now, I've ben doing my kneading, etc. on a baking stone. I could use my formica fake-wood countertop (which I really hate, btw) but where I would want to work is close to a seam, and I could see flour and dough getting stuck there. 

LindyD's picture

Look at what Mark Sinclair, Jeffrey Hamelman, Ciril Hitz, and the other pros use: wood.

bob13's picture

While I use a butcher block 4" thick table top for my prep work, the granite counter tops work well as long as they are dry.  When they get wet they tend to let the dough slid around making it difficult to knead easily.  For anyone who wants to give granite a try, just stop by any granite counter top fabricator and ask if they have any kitchen sink "cut-outs" from any of their installations.  Most times they throw them out and are willing to give them away for free to anyone who asks.  I would put a towel down first so as not to damage your existing countertop.


pmccool's picture

With apologies to Richard Covey...

Each potential material has its pros and cons. 

For bread, it's hard to beat maple.  It offers just about the perfect combination of handling characteristics, ease of cleaning (superficial dough, that is), and thermal transfer.  If you have a spill-prone family, you may wind up with lots of Kool-Aid, wine, tomato, etc., memories in the wood.

Granite is obviously durable and available in a huge range of colors, along with finish options ranging from glossy to leathered.  Requires sealing at regular intervals.  Some porosity and some susceptibility to staining.  Can be scratched with a bench knife (been there!).  A "cold" surface (as is true for any stone) when compared to wood.

Marble is the friend of pastry and candy chefs, particularly if the slab is thick enough to absorb the heat from a kettle's worth of molten sugar or stay cool enough to keep a butter block chilled.  Easily scratched, easily etched by any acid (vinegar, fruits and juices, etc.) and easily stained.  Wide range of colors and patterns.

Slate is not widely used and for good reason.  It has a tendency to split along it's fracture planes and is more easly broken than many other countertop materials.  Beautiful stuff, though.

Soapstone has a reputation for being easily scratched.  Some varieties are more so, some less so.  I tend to use a plastic scraper instead of a bench knife.  Scratches can be buffed out with sandpaper.  Absolutely impervious to stains or etching by strong acids or bases.  Very tolerant of thermal shock.  Limited range of colors (greys/blacks/greens).  Finishes can be glossy, though not mirror bright like granite, or softer.  Some like to oil their soapstone counters because it brings out the veining, others leave them dry.  There's something about its tactile quality; people keep touching the stuff...

Concrete can be a legitimate choice, if installed by a competent professional.  Can be dyed or stained as part of the installation.  Must be sealed.  Vulnerable to most of the same things as marble.

So, depending on what you want to do, you may actually want different zones with different materials.


Loafer's picture

Go with one of the synthetic stone choices like Silestone.  They are harder and more durable than granite, often come embedded with antimicrobial technologies, and are considered better for the environment because they are manufactured and not quarried.  Plus, you'll find that they stain less easily and are less likely to come with weird color streaks and stuff.  They make some styles and colors that look like stone, but they also make some crazy stuff (blue with sparkles) if you are interested.

linder's picture

I have silestone countertops(love them, they are just about impervious to stains) and have one area with a single cabinet slightly lower than the rest (since I'm short) where I can work the dough.  I use a wood board on the counter when kneading the dough.  A damp dish towel under the board will hold it in place, while I knead away. 

foodslut's picture

.... although I have to agree with jemar that wood offers a bit more resistance/friction, especially when shaping lower hydration doughs.

3 Olives's picture
3 Olives

I didn't want to tear my countertops up with a bench knife so I bought a bench board from NY Bakers.  I am very pleased with it.