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Questions re marble pastry slab...

I'd like to get for my kitchen (and, yes, for actual baking purposes). I wanted to go to a marble-granite crafter near me who advertises low-cost counter remnants, rather than buy a pastry slab via retail. This is something I'd leave on the kitchen island. Three basic questions: 1) what's the smallest size I should consider, in order for it to be practical for a variety of baking related applications, 2) are there any varieties i should either avoid OR ask for--types that are better or worse in terms of durability, porosity or any other issues; and, 3) how thick should it be? TIA.

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  1. I would stay away from natural marble... I think granite is going to be harder and less porous and less susceptible to staining and scratching. But what do you mean "variety of baking-related applications"? I personally don't think marble/granite surfaces are very good or useful for baking/pastry. I can't think of a single pastry shop or production facility I've worked in where we used such surfaces -- wood (hardwood, maple) surfaces are generally much nicer for bread/pastry. We only used stone surfaces for candy/sugar work, and for chocolate-making. Otherwise wood is easier to clean and less sticky for anything involving doughs. And the heat/cold retaining qualities of stone can be good in some situations, but bad in others... wood is more neutral in this regard. So I'd think about what you want/need it for, and go with the size for that. I have a granite slab about 3/4" thick and 18"x24" that I use every once in a while for sugar/candy and chocolate at home. Otherwise I use my maple table for all dough (or even plastic cutting boards with plenty of flour for rolling tortillas and such on the counter).

    18 Replies
    1. re: paulsfinest

      For once I will disagree with PaulsFinest. I roll out on my granite counter top. I find it sticks less than wood, especially if dusted with flour. I also have a piece of granite I got by dumpster diving at a granite fabricators. I only use this if I need to chill it. You should also seal your granite pastry board. One reason is to stop it staining, but the main one is to form a smooth molecular bonded surface. The best sealants are the expensive VOC compounds, not the topical sealants.

      In terms of size PF's is great, but be aware that that lump of granite will weigh about 32 pounds.

      I would also recommend a Silpat for certain applications. That's the expensive silicon sheet that seems to work better than the cheap one. (I have both, but this is still just one person's opinion)

      1. re: Paulustrious

        How about quartz countertop? Am thinking of redoing kitchen counters and would like to install quartz but was going to go with a slab of marble for kneading dough.

        Should I skip marble slab and just use the quartz countertop?

        1. re: breadandcoffee

          I have never cooked on quartz, but I see no reason why not. You can always chill an area of your counter by leaving a few zip-lock bags of iced water on it.

          I also use my chilled lump of granite to serve things cold, such as salmon etc. It stays cool quite a long time.

          1. re: Paulustrious

            Thank you. I like your suggestion of using zip-lock bags.

        2. re: Paulustrious

          <<In terms of size PF's is great, but be aware that that lump of granite will weigh about 32 pounds.>>

          Yes. If I got a stone slab of some sort, it would move in once to its permanent home somewhere on my counters and stay there for the duration.

          I'm not crazy about Silpat, but I can't give you a good reason why. So, since I don't have a logical aversion to it--what types of things do you like to use it for?

          Re the sealants--VOCs are the substances we're trying to get OUT of housepaints, right? (Or do I have that backwards?) Are they toxic when wet, but okay when dried--that kind of thing?

          1. re: Normandie

            They give off gases as they 'dry' that the State of California says may give you cancer. Hence Ca is moving (has moved??) to a total ban in normal residential products.

            Unfortunately, these are the best products, although there has been some other penetrant sealers developed (I think) which are non VOCs. I use a mask when I use chemicals like these. Not one of the anti-flu things, but something that makes you look like one of those bit parts in a bar in a Star Trek movie.

            Silpat? Making fresh pasta, baking, rolling out, anything where something might stick.

            1. re: Paulustrious

              Hmmm...maybe what I'd do then is see if I can talk the fabricator into sealing it for me...except that, you need to redo it periodically, right?

              Oh...I forgot. Yes, I'd also like to be able to roll out pasta, too. I used to make my own, now and then, in a former house that had a section of butcher block that was nice for that. My island countertop is wood, hickory, but not end-cut butcher block...instead, the strip joined butcher block. I had imagined doing things like this on it, but there are a few joints that have slight gaps...very slight, but still, I'm not crazy about getting foodstuff in them. Hence, my interest in getting a slab of...something. Granite, I guess, thanks to your advice and pauls.

              1. re: Normandie

                If I was doing it one off I wouldn't bother. It's just that I deal with quite a few chemicals, including things such as cement dust.

                The top-of-the-line sealants are supposed to last for 25 years, but I would consider redoing it every 5 to 10 depending on things like usage and light exposure. (I don't really know what causes degradation of those sealants. I haven't been doing it for 25 years.)

        3. re: paulsfinest

          Thank you, pauls and Paul, for the answers. I saw them on the day I posted, got interrupted, meant to come back, forgot.

          pauls, to answer your question, the one thing I pretty much know I would NOT be doing would be chocolate/candy work, with the one exception that once in a blue moon I'll melt some chocolate to make some bark. But never in a quantity that half-sheet pan doesn't accommodate me.

          So, generally, I mean, rolling out pie and cookie doughs, kneading bread doughs, and I have a nascent interest in puff pastry, but so far I've made that, like...once.

          So....you think 18 x 24 inches would be big enough (whatever the material turns out to be) for most of these applications?

          1. re: Normandie

            Well, if you're dong doughs and such, have you also considered a kneading board? You can probably buy, make, or have a handy friend make you one cheap and as big as you want/need for your needs and kitchen. And you can move it and store it if that might be useful for you. Again, REALLY depends on your kitchen and storage (do you have some place to put it?). Just google "kneading board" and you'll find lots of examples, lots of sizes/prices. Something to think about.

            You can even set it down on your dining room table or wherever else that might be better/easier than a kitchen counter (because they're lower). I do most of my kneading and rolling for bread, doughs and laminated stuff (croissants, puff pastry) on my maple dining room table since the batches I do at home (6 x 600g loaves of bread, 20 croissants...) would be too large to knead and roll on a 18x24" piece of anything... and it's nice to have more space to divide doughs and stuff like that (and the board can help contain the flour if it has back/side edges). You can use a couple of spring clamps to help keep a board from moving around on the table or counter (and/or damp towels). Also, I find that cutting on wood is better... if you start cutting doughs on stone you're going to ruin the edge on your knife or dough cutters, and stone/marble can scratch... I put plenty of scratches and nicks with knives and scrapers in the marble surface we worked on at a chocolate production facility I worked at. Well, again, just my personal preferences, but of course you can make anything work! The key is just to find a system and tools that works for your situation and budget and way of working :-) It's why I just have a knee-jerk reaction against books and catalogues selling expensive and often impractical "one size fits all" solutions... a cheap small wooden Ikea table top can be all you need. Better to spend money on good quality butter :-)

            Or maybe you could simply look at fixing up your current island surface (sealing the cracks and top)?

            Oh, and I like Silpats for some baking situations, but I find them a bit small and too much trouble for most rolling situations (and again, you can't cut on them!). Big ones for rolling can also get pretty expensive. And for some baking situations they promote a lot of spread compared to parchment paper, and they insulate the bottom more (both sometimes good, sometimes not... you have to experiment and find what you like for your oven and recipes).

            Well, my 2-cents... to each his own...

            Paul

            1. re: paulsfinest

              <<Well, if you're dong doughs>>

              Yes, at my age I do have that problem.

              1. re: paulsfinest

                Are you trying to get me killed, pauls? Do you know what my husband would do to me if I started doing stuff like that on his baby (the dining room table)? ;-) :-D

                The island surface doesn't have cracks. They're joints. I did think about filling them; they are small and that wouldn't take much. But I'm not sure if I'm *supposed* to leave them, to accommodate humidity variations during the year?

                I also have a farmhouse table in the kitchen, so I do have plenty of surface area. Because it's painted, I wouldn't do anything right on it (both because I don't know what the paint contains AND because I wouldn't want to mar the design); however, the kneading board that you suggest there might be the answer. Now that you mention it, of course you're right that cutting on wood would certainly be better for my knives that cutting on hard stone. I should have thought of that, but then, that's why I talk to you guys. :-) I agree with your comment re what's available through catalogues...I've gotten some good cookware through catalogs and online sites, but otherwise, I find they sell an awful lot of "single-use" gadgets that take up too much space and do too little not very well at inflated prices. It's amazing the number of tasks I can get done just with my chef's knife without buying five bulky one-trick ponies to do those tasks.

                Um...when I put the counters in (we built the house), I started out looking for granite or marble counters, but just couldn't decide on the color/pattern at the time. I decided it would be better to get the house built, live in it and work in the kitchen for a while, see what the lighting was like, before choosing that particular high-cost item. So, temporarily, I went with 12" square industrial (grade 5) ceramic tiles. It's actually quite nice. What was done as a stopgap has turned out to be very practical, comfortable to live with in and pleasantly neutral in a colorful kitchen. The installers butted the edges up, so there's hardly any mortar showing, and because they are grade 5, I can put anything hot off the cooktop right onto it, and can get any spills or gunk (even paint) right off it. The tiles have a matt finish and actually look like stone. But as small as they are, the mortar joints ARE there, so it's not really a surface I can roll out pastry doughs on. Hence my quest.

                I'm going to take into account your reminder re wood and look around the Web at photos of pastry chefs' set-ups and see how I might adapt that here... TY for your ear and good observations.

                1. re: Normandie

                  Ha ha, yes, my father saw me "working" on the maple dining room table that he helped build and he freaked out... hey, I LIVE here you know, it's not a museum piece ;-) I had to remind him of the time he drilled through onto our dining room table when we were kids...
                  These are your typical pastry/baking work tables... good old maple top on a stable base... all rugged and easy to clean and sanitary, and the top can be sanded and refinished over the years:
                  http://www.doyon.qc.ca/html/en/produc...

                  1. re: paulsfinest

                    I know I shouldn't laugh at the destruction of your family's property, but...tee hee...drilled through the dining room table? Ooooooops! What did your mother do?

                    When I look at the link you put up for me (and also because you had mentioned IKEA before), I "inherited" from a BIL this...IKEA work station that's maybe 3 feet square--big enough for the recipes I want to do...a nice maple butcher block top, stainless bottom shelf, rail with hooks for utensils, and on wheels. It actually would be an ideal configuration for what I want, but...I haven't used it since we moved into this house. So, it was in the basement for several years, and now it's up in the cat's room (an extra BR that she has taken over and made her sanctuary from the dogs). There's a serious question here; bear with me. The butcher block, on which I'd rolled the doughs, etc., is unfinished. Do you think it would really be possible, through sanding or whatever, to clean it and make it sanitary enough to put food directly on, after it was in a dusty, humid basement for a long time and after the cat may have walked and done heavens-knows-what on it? (She's a wannabe acrobat.) It doesn't *look* dirty or stained, but...I dunno.... Suggestions?

              2. re: Normandie

                i have an 18x36" slab over top of a cabinet/island and it's open on either end.... i've gotta say that i would have liked it if it were more like 24" wide because i'll notice that i'll get pretty close to the edge or nearly over the edge sometimes. this mostly applies to soba noodle making and crackers. i imagine this might also happen with cookie dough but significantly less likely with kneading.

                but that's me and i can be a bit messy.

                1. re: pinstripeprincess

                  You can be a bit messy, huh? Hey! We're twins--separated at birth! ;-D

                  Do you mean the slab you have is 36" wide, left to right, and 18" deep, front to back, or do I have that backwards, princess? What material is it?

                  1. re: Normandie

                    it's 18" wide and 36" length... i have a habit of width x length x height but am not actually sure if that's the standard way to describe things. mind you, it's on its own cabinet of the same dimensions and that cabinet is on locking casters so the direction with regard to use is arbitrary since i'll spin it around depending on what i'm doing. also just to add more information (useless or not), this cabinet is only about 31" in height... i'm short and this makes a huge difference.

                    it's marble (though i doubt of very high quality) and much like one of the pauls i got mine at a "boneyard" and had them cut it, it cost me all of $35 and i didn't have to do any work besides lugging it home. it's actually white with a slender vein of yellow and a section of light grey. it has been lightly etched by a few drops of various things and a some small scratches but remains a nice white... i'm unafraid of patina on it anyway. beyond basic baking work (i don't go so far as to make my own puff pastry) it has doubled as a buffet, plating line, bar, etc for just over 2 years now and isn't looking all that worse for wear.

                    while i quite like it and i think it releases dough perfectly, it mostly aesthetically works for me. i can't disagree that a good flouring of any surface will do wonders. i think if you went the wood route i would just make sure to have a surface that won't be used by anything else (to prevent inconsistencies via dents or nicks) and to sand it down really smooth and give it some good oiling. but back to your main question... i think i would have preferred a 24x24 slab instead, it's as far as my reach really goes and gives me a little extra width to work with so flour isn't all over my floor.

              3. re: paulsfinest

                Whoops - forgot to say that I agree with PaulsFinest about staying away from natural marble, and also light coloured granites.

                Normandie, 24 x 16 is big enough for just about anything except pasta. And then flour on just about any surface is good enough.

              4. I find my well-seasoned pastry cloth works just fine. It was cheap, it's lightweight, easy to store, and not off-gassing VOC's.

                But it is pretty low-tech!