I know you know this, but sometimes the most expensive, hyped thing isn’t the best tool for the job. I learned this once again in our new guide to pizza stones and steels
, written by Lesley Stockton. I first heard about baking steels when they came out about seven years ago, during the ascent of science-y cooking writing and Kickstarter. Pizza obsessives raved
I’m always attracted to the shiny, new, harder-to-get option—won’t it last longer and be better?
Not always. I’m glad I read through Lesley’s guide before getting one. No question, the baking steel excels at pizza. But I make a lot more bread than I do pizza, and for the right versatility-to-excellence ratio, I’m going with her pick, the FibraMent-D Home Oven Baking Stone
(which can be cut to fit in my little oven).
Lesley was surprised to learn that, besides the stone’s thickness, it was the stone’s surface texture that seemed to improve browning. And the proprietary ceramic mix of the FibraMent was rougher than the more standard cordierite ceramic. “FibraMent isn’t cordierite, and they won’t say exactly what it is,” she said.
She compared ceramic stones with The Original Baking Steel, ⅜-inch
(still an also-great pick). If you are an avid pizzaiolo, steel will give you the charred, puffy crust you find at serious pizza places with roaring wood fires. But, as our kitchen editor Marguerite Preston told me, it’s a one-trick pony. That intense heat will blacken the bottoms of bread loaves and pastries. Also, this thing is 23 pounds! Moving it from shelf to shelf would add more wear and tear on my arms than I want for a dish I rarely cook.
Finally, three tips:
1. All pizza dough recipes
(registration required) have pretty much the same few ingredients, but Lesley told me that the secret to puffier and chewier pizzas is diastatic malt powder
; that is the oomph I’ve been missing in homemade dough.
2. Get your dough to room temp, maybe even warmer, for a stretching that stays put.
3. If you want to impress people, make the Franny’s clam pizza recipe
—a total stunner and easy-peasy, despite how complex it tastes. (RIP Franny’s, formerly my favorite pizza restaurant in Brooklyn; at least we still have its cookbook