If you believe the hype, you need a good baking stone in order to achieve a superior thin-crust pizza. I'm here to tell you I had one, used it, and got tired of lugging that clunker around my kitchen. When it cracked years ago, it was a blessing.
I was initially motivated to use a baking stone when I moved from New York City — the gold standard for excellent pizza — to a destination without really fantastic takeout pizza. I had to take matters into my own hands and start experimenting.
I bought a pizza stone and got busy. In order for it to work at its maximum best, a pizza stone comes with the recommendation to preheat it for about an hour or so — this way, it's super hot when the pizza hits it. Although I had the luxury of time (no small cranky and hungry mouths to feed yet), these were the days when I didn't meal plan and didn't always decide about pizza until the last minute. I couldn't consistently pull off the task of preheating it extensively beforehand, plus my husband and I have always been impatient eaters.
I owned the stone for a few years and used it regularly before it cracked. I didn't replace it because my favorite pizza dough recipe comes together in a relative jiffy, thanks to instant yeast and some other intrinsic factors, so I don't often have that hour or so of downtime while I wait for the dough to be ready.
But that's not even the real reason I never purchased a new stone. I found a better method that worked well with what I already had and didn't necessitate that cumbersome item. It involves the simplest of things: a rimless baking sheet.
My No-Stone Pizza Method
Here's how I use a baking sheet to make pizza:
- I roll out the dough on my pastry board into something resembling a rustic circle (the more irregular, the better, for homemade pizza) and slide it onto a rimless baking sheet sprinkled with either cornmeal or flour — whatever I can find. I prick it all over with a fork to prevent giant dough bubbles. Usually, I brush the surface with olive oil and some sea salt to provide a flavorful base.
- I par-bake the dough for about 3 to 5 minutes in an oven that's been preheating for at least 30 minutes, at 450°F (the hotter, the better) at least.
- When you can gently slip a metal spatula (the plastic ones don't seem well-suited to this task) underneath all sides of the pizza with relative ease, with no sticking and sagging in the middle, use the spatula to help guide it off the sheet and directly onto the wire oven rack.
- Close the oven door and set the timer for another 3 to 5 minutes (depending on the temperature and speed of your oven), at which point you should have a fairly crispy par-baked crust that's ready for its toppings.
- Slide the crust from the rack back to the baking sheet using the spatula, remove from the oven in order to top, and then bake in your usual way.
Pizza made this way will have no soggy bottom or saggy middle. Scout's honor. Maybe if I had gone completely gonzo with paraphernalia and purchased a pizza peel, I would have become more enamored of my stone. But as much as I love pizza, I dislike unitaskers even more, and my baking sheet works just fine.
What's your take on the pizza stone?