Cornmeal and semolina under the dough will act like tiny ball bearing and help "lubricate" the movement of the dough. But some folks don't like the taste or texture of those. And whatever isn't directly under your baked goods might burn. If you're baking several items in sequence, the burned bits could end up under the new item going in.
Let's be honest. Even if you bake a lot, there are times when the dough is a little too slack or the bread has over-risen just a bit, and pizza peel maneuvers become difficult. The pizza ends up misshapen or the bread collapses a bit from too vigorous movement off the peel. Or your aim is bad and the baked item ends up partway off the stone, Or you place that first loaf of bread wrong and there's not enough space for the second loaf.
Using a peel takes confidence, but if you don't bake a lot, it's hard to gain that confidence. And some people are naturally clumsy. You can have all the confidence in the world, but a little gracefulness also helps.
Some people advocate using parchment paper under the pizza, but my recent tests show that it has some affect on the crispness of the crust. Baking sheets are fine for many breads, and for some styles of pizza. For others, it's not recommended. Pizza screens are another option.
But sometimes you just want naked dough directly on a hot stone.
When I first heard of the Super Peel, it seemed a little - silly - to me. Do we need another gadget? Well, if you don't already have a peel, it's not another gadget. So maybe it's not that bad. Or is it?
The concept of the Super Peel is that there's a loop of fabric that acts as a sort of conveyor belt that moves the dough on and off the peel. It takes a little practice to get the movement right for a smooth transition onto and off of the peel, but it's not a steep learning curve.
The first instinct is to move the conveyor-belt-thing to pull the dough up, but that tends to stretch the dough. If you move the peel under the dough while keeping your other hand (holding the conveyor-belt-thing) in the same place, the dough slides up onto the peel.
Moving the dough off of the peel and onto the stone is the opposite motion. Once you get the hang of it, it makes perfect sense and it gets easier.
I have to admit that I like the showmanship of getting a pizza off of a peel and having it emerge from the oven perfectly round. Then again, my overconfidence with a peel recently sent a perfectly good pizza into the ashes of a wood-fired oven, so I'm not nearly as flawless as I sometimes think I am.
Really, though, the benefit of the Super Peel isn't just that you can get the dough on and off the peel, but that you can do it slowly and gently. That's a huge benefit if you're dealing with a puffy loaf of bread that might be just a little bit fragile. And if your pizza is about the same size as your stone, you can place that pizza much more precisely with a lot less practice.
Is the Super Peel for everyone? No, obviously not. If you're moving pizzas around like an expert, there's no need to invest in this sort of peel. Like parchment paper and pizza screens, it's a bit of a crutch. But unlike the parchment and the pizza screen, this particular crutch doesn't affect the crispness of the crust.
AND NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!
The nice people at Super Peel have just now offered me a Cherry Super Peel Gift Set to one of my lucky readers. This sells for $76 on their website.
Two ways to win. First, leave a comment here telling me what, besides pizza or a standard loaf of bread, that you could use the Super Peel for. If you need some hints, check out the videos here.
For a second entry, follow Cookistry on Twitter (if you don't already) and tweet this:
@dbcurrie at @Cookistry is giving away a @superpeel. Enter here: http://cookistry.blogspot.com/2011/06/well-this-is-peel-ing-and-giveaway.html
The contest is over and the winner has been notified. Thanks for participating!