The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Baking Stone or Baking Sheet?

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sphinxie's picture
sphinxie

Baking Stone or Baking Sheet?

I'm so happy to have found this forum!

I'm venturing more deeply into the territory of baking. (I used to bake bread often but without really knowing what I was doing; more recently all I have baked has been irish soda breads.) Most immediately I'd like to be baking galettes, cookies, and breads, as well as quickbreads. My question is, what would be the best piece of equipment to start with? Is it a choice between a baking sheet and a baking stone, basically? What would you recommend?

My understanding is that baking sheets are best made from aluminum?

How about choosing a stone? How convenient is it to have handles on the stone?

While I'm at it, any other basic/essential equipment you would recommend for a beginner?

sphealey's picture
sphealey

Since we use a baking sheet[1] almost every day for some cooking task I would have a hard time imaging a kitchen without 2 or 3. If you are going to be baking a lot of cookies and similar pastry-type items then you will need those first. After years of buying cheap ones at the discount store, I would recommend investing in 2 or 3 good ones (possibly two light and one dark) from a baking store, King Arthur, or similar high-quality supplier. The solid half-sheet pans work better and last longer than the more common cheap ones.

As far as a stone goes, I personally think it made a large difference for the better in my artisan breads (and certainly in my pizza). Others here don't think a stone is that important, so you might want to search this site for "cold oven" and read some of those threads.

In buying a stone you want the heaviest one that will fit in your oven and that you can lift and move easily, keeping in mind that you will want to put it in/take it out 2 or 3 times a week. Be sure you have a place to store it too. I have a Heartstone I received as a gift; I love it but it is on the far end of what I can lift.

For other equipment you really don't need much to get started. A digital scale with metric/US and tare functions is very helpful (I use the MyWeigh i5000). One or more of the core books reviewed on this site. A collection of bowls; you can buy new or find at garage sales. A bunch of plastic dough scrapers (89 cents from King Arthur) and one good metal dough cutter/scraper. Several rubber/silicone spatulas. A cast iron pan for steaming the oven (another garage sale item). A good conical liquid measure. A flour wand.

Most of this you can find at garage sales or discount stores without spending much; even if you order it all new from King Arthur the total won't be too high. Avoid spending money on equipment until you have a better idea what you need based on your personal technique. Besides you will need that cash to buy flour ;-)

HTH

sPh

[1] Or as we say around here "cookie sheet", since that is what my mother and grandmother-in-law called them.

browndog's picture
browndog

My best baking sheets are big commercial-style heavy aluminum, which heat quick and even. If you are looking for one starter piece, that would be my suggestion, as you can bake just about anything on it, and clean-up is relatively easy. Many people swear by stones, but they take ages to heat up and you wouldn't want to bake cookies or galettes directly on its surface. To put it another way, if you have a sheet you can manage without a stone. If you have a stone you will still want a good baking sheet or two. A stone is really an adjunct item, something to have along with rather than instead of.

A good, inexpensie electronic scale is fundamental for getting a sound start in artisan baking.

For me, a good book, such as Maggie Glezer or Peter Reinhart offer, is an essential piece of baking equipment.

ehanner's picture
ehanner

I agree with sphealy and browndog above and would add that I recently decided to try a new heavy duty Aluminum baking sheet from King Arthur. I have been using nonstick steel pans  for years that are thin and warp when heated to high temps. I'm so glad I finally sprung for a good HD Aluminum pan, it heats so evenly and quickly I really enjoy the difference.

I would also say if you want to try creating a hearth in your oven the cheapest way to do that is to go to Home Depot or like store and buy unglazed quarry tiles. For just a few dollars you can line a shelf in your oven and get the same effect. Personally the only time I use a stone these days is for Pizza and when I am baking more than one session of breads. Otherwise, I use a pan every time lined with parchment paper.

The other piece of equipment you need is a fast reading thermometer. I ALLWAYS check them for accuracy in boiling water and calibrate if necessary. These are inexpensive and will help you learn how to determine when your bread is done. Checking the temp in the center of the loaf from the bottom is the best way. For wheat breads with AP flours, 205 is the number for me and 195 for whole wheat and rye breads. 

Things you probably already have in the house are helpful also. The activity and fermenting times and proofing times are affected greatly by just a few degrees change. Knowing how warm it is above the refrigerator and in your kitchen will lead you to a better understanding of your dough and knowing what to expect while waiting for proofing. The same applies to your refrigerator temp. Cooling or retarding dough  gives you flexibility in scheduling and helps with flavor. It is helpful to know what the temp is in the cooler. Before I started baking seriously, I figured as long as the lettuce didn't freeze I was good. Now I know where the warmest place in the cooler is and that's where my starters live.

Hope this helps,

Eric 

SDbaker's picture
SDbaker

I have transitioned most of my metal bakeware to Chicago Metallic.  They can be found in bed, bath, and beyond or better cooking stores.  They are dishwasher safe, which is important because some aluminum cannot go in the washer (like my kitchenaid attachments).  These are heavy duty, and often come in a 2-pack with a fitted cooling rack for about 20-30 dollars.  The darker non-stick versions say to reduce the oven temp by 25 degrees I believe.  I am still experimenting with this offset because for some pastries and confections, I need a the temps in the recipe for browning or caramelization.

-Scales.  Some are able in measure minute amounts for salt or yeast which is very handy if you vary between types of salt such as table salt, kosher, sea salt etc.

 -Instant read thermometer.  If cost is not an issue, consider the Thermapen instant read

-Stone - a great asset to my kitchen.  Also, if you cook pizzas, you will love it.

-Flavorless spray oil. Some differing views here, but I use it regularly.

-Dough scraper.  If you are cutting on a formica countertop, you can get a very stiff professional plastic cutter from the San Francisco Baking Institute.

-Oven Thermometer.  Let your oven run for 45 minutes and see if you need to add an offset. Remember oven thermostats run on average temperatures and need several cycles of heating/cooling to get that average.  Commercial ovens are often up to 100 degrees off..which is no problem if you know how to apply the correction.

-Use filtered or bottled water, of if you have chlorinated water, leave it out to allow the chlorine to transition to the gas phase and evaporate

-Get some quality flour.  King Arthur, King Harvest, Bob's Red Mill.  Regular all purpose flour can be quite good..but it can be quite variable in the protein content since it is essentially the leftover flour from after the specialty flours have been blended. 

It's not a bad idea to eliminate as many variables as possible as you try recipes more than once..you can gauge your skill consistency, or troubleshoot a particular problem.  It helps as  you experiement with new recipes and not wonder if it was the oven, or the water, or the yeast, etc..

Keep baking!

SD Baker

SDbaker's picture
SDbaker

I have transitioned most of my metal bakeware to Chicago Metallic.  They can be found in bed, bath, and beyond or better cooking stores.  They are dishwasher safe, which is important because some aluminum cannot go in the washer (like my kitchenaid attachments).  These are heavy duty, and often come in a 2-pack with a fitted cooling rack for about 20-30 dollars.  The darker non-stick versions say to reduce the oven temp by 25 degrees I believe.  I am still experimenting with this offset because for some pastries and confections, I need a the temps in the recipe for browning or caramelization.

-Scales.  Some are able in measure minute amounts for salt or yeast which is very handy if you vary between types of salt such as table salt, kosher, sea salt etc.

 -Instant read thermometer.  If cost is not an issue, consider the Thermapen instant read

-Stone - a great asset to my kitchen.  Also, if you cook pizzas, you will love it.

-Flavorless spray oil. Some differing views here, but I use it regularly.

-Dough scraper.  If you are cutting on a formica countertop, you can get a very stiff professional plastic cutter from the San Francisco Baking Institute.

-Oven Thermometer.  Let your oven run for 45 minutes and see if you need to add an offset. Remember oven thermostats run on average temperatures and need several cycles of heating/cooling to get that average.  Commercial ovens are often up to 100 degrees off..which is no problem if you know how to apply the correction.

-Use filtered or bottled water, of if you have chlorinated water, leave it out to allow the chlorine to transition to the gas phase and evaporate

-Get some quality flour.  King Arthur, King Harvest, Bob's Red Mill.  Regular all purpose flour can be quite good..but it can be quite variable in the protein content since it is essentially the leftover flour from after the specialty flours have been blended. 

It's not a bad idea to eliminate as many variables as possible as you try recipes more than once..you can gauge your skill consistency, or troubleshoot a particular problem.  It helps as  you experiement with new recipes and not wonder if it was the oven, or the water, or the yeast, etc..

Keep baking!

SD Baker

KipperCat's picture
KipperCat

I don't know why Linens and Things sells this for so much less online.  It's $20 or so in their stores, but you can order it online and pick it up at your local store.  Someday I'd like to have a large rectangular stone, but this price was right when I wasn't sure how much I'd use it - and still had lots of other things to buy.  It looks like there are metal handles, but this is actually a rack to set the stone on.  If I ever to get a larger baking stone, this one will be nice for a top stone.

I can't do a direct link to the product, but the website is lnt.com 

RFMonaco's picture
RFMonaco

http://www.lnt.com/product/index.jsp?productId=1356043&cp&parentPage=search

is the site. Used "Pizza Stone" in their search.

sphinxie's picture
sphinxie

Thank you guys! I had come across some people suggesting that such things as cookies should be made on baking stones and I was confused by that. It's so nice to come here and be able to get a clear answer.

Next obscure questions: Should I just get a standard edgeless baking sheet, or is it a good idea to get a jelly roll pan as well? What are the jelly roll pans for?

Do silicone mats really work just as well as parchment paper?

Are the canonical liquid measures in order to make the smaller amounts more visible?

sphealey's picture
sphealey

=== Are the canonical liquid measures in order to make the smaller amounts more visible? ===

Yes, the cone-shaped measuring cups have a greater vertical distance for the 0-1 oz amount (0-30 ml) than for the 8-9 oz amount (220-250 ml). This makes is easier to measure small amounts, where a percentage variation is more important, accurately. Brilliant invention whoever came up with it.

sPh

SDbaker's picture
SDbaker

Hi sphinxie, silicone mats are great for cookies, but I've not used them for baking freestanding bread loaves..the parchment has much less insulating value and encourages the heat transfer from pan or stone to bread to help crisp the bottom.  I would be curious the results of silicone mats.

An edgeless cookie sheet can double as a peel.  If money is an issue, get the sheet pans so you can use them for other uses like roasting vegetables etc.  In a pinch, I've used inverted sheet pans as a peel.  You can also just bake on the sheet pan with parchment and semlina or corn meal.

SD Baker

 

(sorry everyone for the double post earlier..am unable to delete it.  Floyd if you're able, please feel free)

 

 

browndog's picture
browndog

Jelly roll pans are for, er, making jelly rolls, that is, bakng yourself a big, thin rectangular cake,  but  they can be used for anything really. As SD says, the edges come in handy if you are baking something juicy or likely to slide off, though in that case I would choose a regular cake or roasting pan. The edgeless pans are great for slipping off cookies or free form breads. But if you are not doing tons of specialty baking the difference is not significant and you'll find either type very useful.

ehanner's picture
ehanner

I was trying to bake a couple loaves of puffy Italian bread one day. I was in a hurry and was rushing around trying to get these loaves going. I had the oven heated and ready with the cookie sheet warmed up and was loading the dough on parchment with my peel. I pulled the rack out a few inches to make sure I could see the back of the flat sheet and carefully loaded the dough. In my rush, I pushed the peel all the way back to the back of the oven and dropped the first loaf onto the heat coils on the bottom. What a mess! Smoke everywhere, everyone else at home was sleeping when the smoke detector went off and I soon had an audience enjoying the ciaos. I was able to retrieve the dough eventually and bake the remaining dough.

I am more careful now, not wishing to repeat the fire drill. Usually I stick with my new heavy Aluminum 1/2 sheet pan, with an edge. :>)

Eric

pjkobulnicky's picture
pjkobulnicky

I am having second thoughts about stones.

I have had a Fibrement stone for six years ... actually on my second one. I swore by it until:

1. It caused my regular $1000 stove's oven to bow out under its weight and now i can't put a rack in the middle of theoven without its coming off of its supports.

2. I got tired of my wife's making me take the stone out and storing it every time she wants to bake anything else because it changes the heating properties of the oven. Since my wife is a great baker of cookies, cakes, pies and pastries she wants the oven to work the way she wants it to work and the stone is really bad in these cases since the oven does not heat up the same way and the natural convection in the oven is inhibited by the stone. That's why, for example, bakeries don't bake everything in the deck oven they use for free form breads. My wife, by the way, makes me take MY stone out since it is heavy and since it would not be there at all if she were baking alone ... ah, rightious indignation is always sweet.

3. The recent discussion and my positive experiences with cold oven techniques.

If I had it to do over, I would buy tiles or a cheap stone for pizza and leave it at that ... or a second hand stove in the basement that was for me and MY stone. 

 

Paul Kobulnicky

Baking in Ohio

verminiusrex's picture
verminiusrex

Above comments have covered most of what I would suggest, so I'll summerize.  If you go to Sam's Club, you can get good baking sheets, a 3 pack of 6 quart container with lids good for proofing dough, and silicone spatulas good for moving wet dough.  You can also get bread flour in 25 lb bags for about $5. 

 I'll second the vote on a cheap baking stone (pizza stone) from Bed Bath and Beyond unless you plan to use it a couple times a week.  I keep mine out of the way with the cutting boards since i only use it once in a great while.  And if it breaks, it's only about $20 or so to replace.

 My favorite piece of equiptment is my Kitchen Aid mixer, the dough hook takes all the work out of kneading.  Some people like to hand knead, I'm lazy.  In my experience your typical Kitchen Aid classic will make a loaf with 24 ounces of flour max (with water about 2.5 lbs of dough), my 600 series can do 32 ounces of flour without complaining (about 3.25 lbs of dough, and I like the spiral dough hook even better.)

 And parchment paper is (in my opinion) a baker's best friend, especially for freestanding loaves on baking sheets or on stones.