HOME > Chowhound > Cookware >
Nov 28, 2009 01:48 PM

The myth of marble pastry boards

Why do people use marble boards for rolling out pastry? It is no colder than a wooden board. Marble boards feel colder because they conduct heat better than wood and thus facilitate heat transfer away from your hand. In fact, assuming your pastry dough is colder than your board, a marble board will warm up your pastry FASTER than a wooden board for the same reason. Heat can flow from the room temperature marble board into your pastry faster than it can from a wooden board.

If you want to use a marble board to keep your pastry cold, chill the board in the refrigerator beforehand. Some people already do this, but many don't.

If you're not going to chill your board, stick with wood.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I think i've seen some cooks go so far as to pour liquid nitrogen on a marble slab before use to render it cold. On iron chef america or something like that. Home cooks whose boards won't fit in their fridge could certainly use ice for a similar effect. But yeah, definitely cool your slab first if you want it to help keep your dough cold.

    1. It's not that hard to put a bag of ice on the marble either.

      The convenience of working on a board that's completely stable shouldn't be minimized. I was making rolls for Thanksgiving late on the night before. I'd been cooking for 3 days. I was certifiably exhausted. I had soft dough to shape into rolls, to butter and to place in the pan to rise. I was able to work almost effortlessly with one hand dry and the other sloppy with butter because my counter was at baking height and immoveable.

      I'm not saying if you don't have a marble or granite or soapstone or engineered stone or whatever counter you can't work on a wooden board. And I'm not saying anyone shouldn't be happy with what they've got. But I wouldn't go back for any amount of money.

      1. Actually, because it conducts thermal energy so well, marble IS superior. You are confusing insulating with conducting. Your logic sounds great! But the thing about a conductor is that it moves the energy that it's conducting... and heat energy very quickly dissipates within the marble. That is why it feels cold to the touch... it actually IS colder to your hand because that heat energy is moving into the marble.

        Wood is a good insulator, which means it keeps the heat right there at the surface. With marble, the heat quickly moves into the marble so that the entire mass of the slab has that energy. With wood, the heat energy stays right there at the surface - dissipating probably no more than a centimeter into the wood.

        You are VERY smart and I love seeing you use logic. Bravo!! It's just a misunderstanding.

        12 Replies
        1. re: ScienceNerdChef

          The OP was right.

          Room temperature marble feels colder than wood to your hand because it's a better conductor (I agree with you there, and I think the OP does as well)... AND because it's colder than your hand is. If it was warmer than your hand is (say 110 degrees) it would feel hotter than wood at the same temperature, again, because of better conduction.

          Hence the problem - a room temperature marble slab is likely warmer than, say, your pie dough. And because it's a good conductor, it would tend to heat up a pie dough more quickly than a surface with poorer conduction. Not a good thing.

          1. re: cowboyardee

            Marble has a greater thermal mass than wood. Think of a cast iron skillet vs a copper skillet. It takes much longer for the cast iron to get up to temperature than the copper.

            1. re: Rick

              I'm not sure I'm following you. Please elaborate.

            2. re: cowboyardee

              Being a good conductor does not mean it will heat something up faster. A cast iron skillet is a very poor conductor, a copper skillet is a great conductor. A hot cast iron skillet will put a great sear on something even though it's a poor conductor. Conduction here is being confused with thermal mass. A medium flame on your stove produces the same btus regardless of what pan yout use. The cast iron heats slowly, the copper heats fast, that's conductivity. Copper being a better conductor doesn't mean it will heat your food faster compared to an equally hot cast iron skillet, it just means the pan itself gets hotter quicker than the cast iron.

              A room temperature piece of wood is the same temperature as a room temperature piece of marble. A pound of feathers is not lighter than a pound of bricks.

              A marble slab is like a heat sink, it wants to absorb any excess heat.

              1. re: Rick

                "Being a good conductor does not mean it will heat something up faster"
                Assuming equal thermal mass and equal temperature (warmer than whatever you're heating), yes it does.

                Thermal mass can be important. A marble slab certainly has a lot of it. But heat conduction is just as relevant here. The fact of the matter is that a marble slab will warm up a cooler pastry more quickly than the OP's example of a wooden board. A simple experiment to demonstrate - turn your oven on to maybe 175 degrees. Place inside a large wooden log and a metal butterknife. Leave em for a few hours. The wood has more thermal mass than the knife. But if you heat em both up to 175 degrees, you can likely handle the wood with your bare hands for a couple seconds, while the metal knife will conduct heat fast enough to burn you.

                "A medium flame on your stove produces the same btus regardless of what pan yout use. The cast iron heats slowly, the copper heats fast, that's conductivity."
                Correct. But the analogy doesn't translate to the issue here. Both the marble and the wood in the OP are room temperature already. What matters is how fast they transfer their energy into pastry (conduction) and how much energy they have to transfer (thermal mass).

                Copper will actually brown something faster than cast iron given equal temperature and equal thermal mass. As searing goes, cast iron's main advantages are that it's cheap to buy a pan with a lot of [thermal] mass and that it can be heated to a very high temperature with no risk of damaging the pan.

                Likewise, a steel or aluminum pizza 'stone' of adequate thickness will cook the underside of a pizza in significantly less time than a traditional pizza stone regardless of the stone's mass (again, assuming the same temperature). This is because of enhanced conduction.

                "A marble slab is like a heat sink, it wants to absorb any excess heat."
                Only if it is cooler than the subject in question. If marble is warmer than the subject in question, the marble will warm it up instead.

                1. re: cowboyardee

                  I guess I'll just take my chemistry degree with me to bed. Enjoy your wooden pastry board.

                  1. re: Rick

                    You got corrected by an English major. Just to rub it in, in the event that you realize where you're wrong.

                    (btw - marble is a fine surface for pastry, and better than wood. I don't mean to claim otherwise. But if you want it to cool whatever you're working with, you've got to cool the marble down first)

                    1. re: cowboyardee

                      Sorry for the misunderstanding, I was implying you and I are getting nowhere. I was not implying that I got corrected.

                      1. re: Rick

                        It was a joke, Rick. I understand that we are both convinced we're right.

                        If you're curious enough, I'm sure I could come up with an experiment to prove the matter decisively. Pour equal amounts of 40 degree F water into a marble bowl and a wooden one (both at room temp, both similar shapes) and measure the temperature change in both after 10 minutes. That would work... right? Or even just melting two identical ice cubes on a wooden surface vs a marble one. I only wish I could bet you 50 bucks on the outcome.

                        1. re: cowboyardee

                          Dang, I just clicked over to this to read a few benefits of a marble board. Well, this science class has certainly been a treat! And you both appear to be in favor of marble for my pie crust. Double win. My expectations were exceeded, and I can't wait to regale the sales person with the fact that I'm buying it due to its thermal mass but will use ice due to its heat conductivity. Do I pass the test? Thanks, guys! Lol

                          1. re: cowboyardee

                            You'd win. I put an ice cube on a wood cutting board and another on a granite counter. After 10 minutes, there was still a piece of ice on the board and only a puddle on the counter.

                  2. re: Rick

                    So if marble "wants to absorb" heat, the longer you keep your dough in contact with it, the colder it will get, right? Eventually absolute zero perhaps?

                    Actually, heat will flow from the warmer to the cooler object. Various factors dictate how rapidly that happens, but basic thermodynamics tell you this is true. If the dough is colder than room temp, any room-temp object in contact with it will tend to make it warmer. If the object has a relatively porous surface like wood, the heat transfer will be relatively inefficient. If smooth like marble, heat transfer will be more efficient. If the object is, like marble, relatively dense, that will also favor heat transfer. So if you have a piece of dough that is cooler than room temp, and you want it to stay cool, wood is a better surface from the point of view of temperature.

              2. "If you want to use a marble board to keep your pastry cold, chill the board in the refrigerator beforehand. Some people already do this, but many don't.

                If you're not going to chill your board, stick with wood."

                This is the real point here. The discussion below seems to emphasize that. I don't have a proper wooden board. I mostly make pastry in the winter when I can leave the board out for an hour or two in the snow...

                1. The marble feels colder because it is at room temperature and a good conductor of heat, so it is absorbing heat from your hand. The marble does not "want to absorb heat" but rather to transfer heat. It will move heat from one object in contact to another until all three have the same temperature, moving it from warmer to cooler. Basically, the marble is "trying" to equalize the temperature of your hand and its own temperature, but because your body is creating heat and the room is presumably colder than your body, the heat only moves one direction and the marble board cannot equalize it. A wooden board also at room temperature doesn't feel as cold because it is not a good conductor, so it is not "trying" as hard to pull heat from your hand. In that case, if the pastry is at room temperature, and both boards are also at room temperature, then neither the marble nor the wood will make much difference. If the pastry is colder than the boards, then the marble board will warm it faster, because the marble will be absorbing heat from the room and "trying" to bring the pastry to the same temperature; the wood will not, and because it is a poor conductor, it will actually insulate the part of the pastry that is in contact with its surface by keeping away the air that is warmer. However, the OP was correct in saying that a marble board that is chilled first will work better, because the cold board will "try" to heat up to the same temperature as its surroundings, so it will absorb heat from anything in contact with it, including the pastry, which will lower the temperature of the pastry. A wooden board that is chilled first will do the same, but at a much slower rate. It will need to be chilled much longer to get it to the lower temperature and it will chill the pastry much more slowly because it will absorb heat much more slowly. A chilled wooden board will heat up much more slowly, so it may actually keep your pastry from warming up as quickly as a marble one would. It makes me think that for a dough needing to be worked longer, like for pasta, a chilled wooden board may be best. I will have to try that. And you also have to consider the surface that the board is on, because a marble or granite (or quartz, stone, Corian, etc) counter will also conduct heat to the board, and so cause a chilled marble board to warm up faster than a wooden board or a wooden counter. Ideally, I would want a board composed of both marble and wood, chilled before use, with the wood side placed on my granite counter as an insulator, and the dough worked on the marble side. (FWIW, degree in Fine Art)