Baking Stones and Domes
All breads, rolls and pizzas benefit from a consistently high temperature right from the start of their bake. This lets the dough cook properly, to achieve a good oven spring (rise while baking) and great crust. Most domestic ovens struggle to get to and maintain a high enough temperature especially just after the dough is first placed into the oven as heat is lost through the open door and there is suddenly a load in the oven requiring heat.
Stones and domes are designed to help overcome the shortcomings of domestic ovens by storing heat while the oven warms up. They then help to keep the oven at a more constant temperature and to get the oven back to temperature quickly after the door has been opened. Further, they give bottom heat to the underside of the bake, giving a more all-round crust and better oven spring.
Baking stones keep heat in the oven and put heat into the baking dough. They come in several materials, all designed to hold heat. In general, the thinner stones are lighter and best for pizzas as they do not need quite so much heat for baking through. The thicker ones have a higher heat capacity (hold more heat) and so are good for baking bread.
Our thin stones come in ceramic (Superstone® which is a superior form of the commonplace pizza stone), available either round or rectangular and then our Welsh Baking Stone which is made from mild steel. This one is seasoned before first use and is good for pizzas and for use as a griddle.
The thicker stones, made from granite or refractory clay are for baking bread – but of course can happily bake pizzas too. The granite stones are heavy, absorbing lots of heat while the oven warms and so do a great job at baking the underside of your loaf. The refractory clay stone is about half the weight of the granite and round. Both do an excellent job – you just need to decide on the shape and material you prefer.
Bread and rolls benefit greatly from a steamy atmosphere, particularly during the first 15-20 minutes of baking while the dough rises and the crust forms, to get a crunchy crust with good colour. If using a stone, bread will bake much better with any oven fan switched off as it tends to dry the dough giving it a hard, leathery crust and works against good oven spring. Also, add a tray of hot water to the bottom of the oven during pre-heat to create steam. Turning off the fan may expose any unevenness of the oven so you may need to rotate your loaf halfway through baking.
Domes, like stones, give the dough being baked a more even and hotter baking temperature. What is more, the cover shields the dough from the oven fan if it cannot be disabled, evens out the oven (most are uneven) and most of all, traps the steam rising from the dough which gives an excellent crust and crumb.
The round ones are available in two styles, shallow base and deep lid and deep base and shallow lid. Some people really like the deep base type (Dutch oven or casserole) but we think that the shallow based La Cloche is better since it is very much easier to drop the risen dough into it without the risk of burning fingers or deflating the dough.
The La Cloche is used in a similar way to the stones, by heating with the oven. Then, when the oven is hot and the dough is ready to bake, the La Cloche is removed from the oven, the top removed and the dough placed on the base. The lid is then replaced and the La Cloche put back in the oven.
The La Cloche has an oblong version. This one is used slightly differently as the dough is proved in the baker and then placed with the lid on into the oven. It also gives an amazing crust.