How to keep pizza from sticking to the stone.
Here's the situation: I bought a nice, heavy ceramic pizza stone from Crate and Barrel a few months ago. I have an incredibly hot gas oven. This should be a match made in heaven, but I'm having some serious problems with pizzas sticking to the paddle and the stone. Any suggestions would be much appreciated. Here are some things I've tried/noticed so far:
1. Cornmeal only helps so much. I can't use as much as I'd like because some particles invariably come loose and incinerate on the pizza stone, filling my kitchen with black smoke. Firefighters are sexy and all, but I don't want to share my pizza. (grin)
2. I friend of mine seasons his pizza stone by baking cookies on it. He swears that once the grease permeates the ceramic, he has no more trouble with sticking. However, the instructions that came with my stone said that I mustn't get any grease on it because the grease will smoke and create off smells.
3. Making smaller pizzas seems to help, but it hasn't entirely solved the problem.
I was making pizzas on a friend's stone recently and had the same frustrating problem. We made 3 pizzas, and by the third one, the sticking problem wasn't as bad. So perhaps after you've used it a few times, it's seasoned enough to not stick? I also found that working with the dough as little as possible on the stone made a difference-- if you're padding and prodding, it probably is more closely bonded with the stone (especially because the dough melts a little on the hot stone).
But here's a potentially stupid question-- what's a peel? If that's some sort of special tool, I wasn't using it.
I use flat unglazed tiles abt 1/2 inch thick that I got at a masonry place in SF. Ive had them for years and never had a problem with sticking on bread or pizza.I do not wash them , i just clean crumbs off with paper towels . If you've burned you might use salt to rub off.
I usually use a little cornmeal BUT I do heat the stones for about 20-30 min as high as I can before putting dough on.
Here's what I do:
First, the dough needs to be well-floured and stretched out (almost) to size when you put it on the peel. I dust my peel with flour, either that or cornmeal will work. If you stretch the dough on the peel and press it, you've created damp spots that will want to stick to it.
When you finish this step, you should be able to give the paddle a shake, and the dough circle will easily slip off onto the counter. If not, don't proceed. It won't get easier. Remove it and flour the bottom again.
Second, you should be sparing with the toppings. If you cover it with heavy stuff, you'll weight it down, and it won't slide off properly. If you want a pizza that's thick and dense with toppings, put it in a deep-dish pan for easier handling.
Your oven may be too hot, if the cornmeal burns up with lots of smoke. I have a cast iron round griddle that I use as a pizza stone. I can put it on the stove to preheat it, so it only takes about 15 minutes to get ready to bake on it. After it's cool, I can wipe off the darkened flour. But I like to keep the oven about 475F. Do you have a thermometer?
I've always been uneasy about baking cookies on a baking stone that I would use for something else. Actually, I've also been uneasy about baking cookies on a stone instead of a cookie sheet. I know they encourage people to do this at Pampered Chef, but they didn't provide me with instructions on how it's done. Do you only cook one sheet, or do you handle multiple batches differently? If you preheat it, how do you get the cookies onto it, and off it when they are done? If you drop cookie dough on a hot stone, won't the first cookie be done on the bottom before you get them into the oven? Or can you only do cookies that are easy to handle in the raw condition?
Someone I helped make bread for the first time asked me how to bake cookies on a baking stone. I suggested that they get the information out of someone who did it on a regular basis.
I always suspected this was a ploy to sell more baking stones, rather than a way to get better cookies.
I suggest a piece of dental floss for a pizza that is stuck to the peel. Just run it under the pizza.
A good way to prevent sticking on the peel is using a combo of flour and cornmeal. By using a fair amount, you should not have to add any directly to the stone. There will be enough under the pizza to stop any sticking problems.
This, too, may be heretical, but I have used this method to some success: Get the dough--without toppings or sauce--on the pre-heated stone, and let it cook for a very short time (maybe a minute). Pull it back out and sauce and top it. Place back on the stone and finish cooking.
It has been my experience that the liguid of the sauce, etc., can gum up the uncooked dough if the stone/oven is not hot enough (and most home ovens don't get high enough). This makes it difficult to peel off the stone even when the top of the pizza seems cooked. This method allows for the beginning of a crust to form without the liguid sauce above it, which seems to improve its possibility of transit later.
One more thing, my stone came with the same instructions as yours regarding grease. I paid attention for a while, but then got into making pizzas so often that the stone began to live on the bottom shelf of the oven. Invariably, I would get some drips and slops of this or that on it. It DID smoke and smell at first, but after a while the smoking stopped and the now overall coating of oils seems to have made the pizza peeling easier. If the spillage is cheese or something I have to occasionally scrape the stone smooth, but to this day I can detect no off flavors.
Have you ever inspected the cooking surface of a commercial pizza oven? Looks anything but grease free.
I too can vouch for the use of parchment paper, heretical or not. Another bonus is the easier handling (easy to pull the pizza out). I am a firm believer in the use of multi-purpose tools, and find that a combination of parchment paper and an upside down cookie-sheet works like a pretty good pizza peel.
Just make sure you dont leave the sheet of paper too long and dangling over the flame (as I did once!).
BTW, for the pizza stone, I just bought four 6-inch quarry tiles (unglazed) from my local home depot. Costs less than $5 I think.
Once again, not a pure solution but effective. I bought pizza screens at a Smart and Final in California. Pizza screens are thin, cheap metal disks that seem to be maid of the thick screen/grate material found on the bottom of screen doors. I make the pizza on the screen and place it on the stone. After a few minutes, when the crust has set, I slip the paddle between the pizza and the screen and then put the pizza directly on the stone. This also eliminates the floor or cornmeal mess. Since they were so cheap at $3 each I bought several. This allows me to make the pizzas in advance when I'm having a large party.
While I usually just use a piece of parchment or even foil, I do put my pie tins on the stone. Sometimes I even put a fruit pie on a sheet pan and the sheet pan on the stone. Guess what. It still works. I think the bit about having to have the dough directly on the stone is a bit of romanticism. But even if there is a slight diminishment of effect, it still makes a much better pie crust than placing it on the rack higher in the oven.
Also, I'm sure it's been said, but I'll repeat it that the oven should be preheated for 20-30 minutes more after it reaches temperature so that the stone becomes thoroughly hot.