Sunday, September 5, 2010

Kitchen Hack - Cheap Baking Stone

A visitor to this blog emailed me about what sort of baking stone I use in my oven. Truth is, I used to have a couple stones that I liked. A few were gifts, and I picked up a really heavy one at a garage sale. But time took their toll on them, and one by one, they broke.

I went shopping for a new one, but then I decided to go the cheap route and bought unglazed quarry tiles instead. I bought them at the local Home Depot, and they cost me about fifty cents each. The tiles are 6x6 inches, and at that size I figured that six would make a decent-sized grid - 12 x 18 inches. I bought a dozen so I could double-stack them, and if I wanted to I could divide them up so I could have six above and six below whatever I was baking.

I also figured that if I needed to replace a single tile, it was a heck of a lot less expensive than replacing a whole stone. I decided that I'd use the tiles for a while, and if I hated the idea, it wasn't a big expense.

I've been using them now for several months, and I discovered a couple little flaws with my cheap baking stone hack. First, because they're individual tiles, they can move around a bit if I'm being too aggressive with them. They don't move far, but they do jiggle apart a bit. Not really a huge deal, but a minor annoyance.

The second small issue is that they're sort of annoying to take out and put back in, if I need to do so. I don't do it often, but sometimes I need to rearrange the racks, and sometimes that extra bit of space makes a difference when I'm baking on all three racks. Bad enough when I remember to remove them before I preheat, but if I forget and have to pull them out when they're hot...not fun.

I thought about putting them on a baking sheet, but they don't fit in a standard half-sheet pan. I considered cutting them, but, eh, never got around it. Then I was at the local restaurant supply house looking for parchment sheets (and that's a whole other post) and I saw that they had 3/4 sheet pans. The owner explained that the full sheet pans are usually just a little large for home ovens, and that they 3/4 sheet pans are the biggest that most people can use.

The light bulb over my head turned on, and I went home to measure my quarry tiles and my oven. The next day I went back to pick up a brand new 3/4 baking sheet.

Just that little bit helps them grip each other.
And here's the great part. The stones were a little slippy in the oven, but when I laid the first layer top-down, they didn't slide on the pan as much as I expected. This left the ridges facing up, and I laid the next layer on top of that, slightly jogged upward and sideways so that the stones would interlock a bit with each other and that little bit seems to be enough for them to grab each other. And the weight of them seems to be enough to keep them from slipping around inside the pan at all.

I considered adding a third layer when I first bought the tiles, but my oven rack was already flexing from the weight of these twelve. I just weighed one tile and did some quick math, and figure that this is about 16 pounds, including the tray. Seemed heavier when I was lifting it. If this was a permanent fixture in my oven, I might consider that third layer, but for now, this is plenty.

When I was thinking about putting the tiles on this larger baking sheet, I thought about making an aluminum foil "snake" and running it around the outside edges to keep the tiles from moving, but it doesn't seem like that's going to be necessary. I've already taken the sheet out a couple times, and I haven't noticed any movement. And really, if the whole mass moves on the pan but they don't slip apart, that's fine.

If I do notice them slipping in the pan and it starts annoying me, I might arrange the bottom tiles with space between them, but filling the whole pan edge-to-edge. Then I'd put the top twelve as they are now so I'd have a solid top layer. I don't know how the air space would affect the heat retention and the evenness, but for right now, this looks good to me.

The other nice thing about having the stones on a tray with a lip is that if I'm being messy in the oven and something drips onto the stones, it can't go any further than the tray.

Between the quarry tiles and the tray, I spent just a little over $20. If this ultimately doesn't work out as a baking stone, the baking sheet isn't a loss. It would hold a lot of cookies at Christmas.


Anonymous said...

Golly Gee Whizz. I wonder who that might have been?

looloolooweez said...

Oh, what a great idea! I've been coveting a pizza stone lately, but it seems like such a big expense for something I'd use like 2 times a month. This might just work!

LindieLee said...

Great idea! As I get older there is less strength in my writs and getting heavy things in and out of the oven is now a concern. With the individual tiles it makes for easy moving and easier storing. Thank you for sharing!

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