2014 September 26      Food,   Pizza     


Introduction


Like many home pizza bakers, I had a round pizza stone that finally cracked in two.  It could have been thermal shock from the "accidental calzone incident".  (We won't get into that right now.)  Regardless of the cause, I needed a new stone.

That's where the Emile Henry rectangular baking stone comes in.

A Quick Note


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In This Article


Material

Some Specs

Outgassing?

Durability

Baking Characteristics

Handle Clearance

Non-Stick

Summary



Material


First, you should know it's not really a "stone" at all.  It's a stoneware ceramic, fired out of Burgundy clay (that's Burgundy, France, not burgundy the color.)

The glaze is also ceramic.   I'm happy to learn the red glaze does not utilize lead or cadmium.



Some Specs


Dimensions:  14 x 18 inches
List Price:  $60
Made in:  France
Material:  Ceramic stoneware
Maximum Rated Temperature:  750 Fahrenheit
Surface:  Glazed red or black
Thickness:   12.7 mm or about 1/2 inch
Weight:   9 lbs  (4.1 kg)



Outgassing and Nonstick Surfaces


The baking stone's glazed coating is not organic or carbon-based.  It simply couldn't be, because organic bonds generally cannot withstand the heat of a broiler.   While your oven temperature might say 500 Fahrenheit, something directly underneath the broiler could be much hotter.  This puts it well into the recognized danger zone for PTFE or other nonstick coatings. 

For broiler use, it has to be a ceramic glaze.  There's really nothing to burn off.

Yes, traditional nonstick surfaces can outgas harmful products such as perfluoroisobutene.  I actually have an electric pizza maker that I won't use because it smells like ammonia when it gets hot.   Certainly either of these compounds could kill your pet birds.

Ceramic-glazed stoneware is different.  It's not a regular non-stick surface.  It's mineral-based.  The kinds of temperatures to melt ceramic glaze are even hotter than you'd achieve with a broiler.  We're talking about 1600 to 2000 Fahrenheit for normal ceramics.  

If your pet birds died, the culprit is probably not the glaze.  In fact, it's unlikely to be the stone at all.

It's probably your oven.

Here's the most likely scenario, by far.  Any carbon-based residue in your oven can generate carbon monoxide gas (CO) when the oven is brought to a useful temperature.  There is air inside the oven, but not enough to ensure complete conversion to CO2.   Thus, you'd get CO.

This could happen whether you've got a pizza stone in there or not. 

Birds, or at least some bird species, are very susceptible to CO.  This is where we get the phrase "canary in a coal mine".  

Cornmeal, flour, cheese, oil, or any other food remnants could provide enough carbon to generate CO.  This is why it's a good idea to keep the inside of your oven clean.



Just To Make Sure


Before making the first pizza, I heated the Emile Henry baking stone a couple of times at maximum oven temp (with broiler).  I blasted this thing with heat for two hours each time.

There was no blackening of the stone that I could see.  There's simply not enough charrable matter in or on the stone.  That can change as you bake for a while.  If you have oil or flour from a previous pizza, and it's in the stone surface, then yes... it could turn into carbon monoxide.  But as I said, that could happen with any oven or any pizza stone.  

Here's another reason why the glaze would have to be ceramic.  The manufacturer states that you can even cut the pizza or bread directly on this stone.  That's not your typical nonstick surface. 




Durability


Because this is ceramic, it's possible to break it with thermal shock.   I haven't broken mine, but here's something to remember:  it doesn't matter how good your pizza stone is.   If you want it to last the longest, the heat-up and cool-down times should be extremely slow.  How slow?  Remove the pizza from the hot stone using your peel.  Then close the oven door and turn off the oven.  Let it sit that way until the oven is cool.

Taking a hot stone out of the oven and setting it on the cool stove top could be enough to break it.  No matter what brand you use.

What actually cracks your typical "pizza stone" might be something you never expected:  having the very hot stone out in the air too long.  If you heat a pizza stone slowly and let it cool down slowly, it should last for years.  

The manufacturer touts this stone as being good for a barbecue grill, and probably it is good for that.  I'm just telling you how to make a ceramic stone last longer.  The basic idea is very simple.  Long, even periods of heat-up and cool-down are best if you want stoneware to last the longest.   (And next time your mother-in-law shows up, don't let her near that pizza stone.)

The Emile Henry baking stone seems more robustly-made than your average pizza stone.   Yes, you probably could use this on your barbecue grill, but I bought mine for the single purpose of pizza-making in a home oven

For that purpose, I'd say it's plenty durable.



Baking Characteristics


Is it any good for making homemade pizza?  That was my main question. 

Given those shorter bake times that many of us want for pizza, the performance of a stone is going to be even more critical.

In my oven-- with a cheap, round stone-- I could get cook times of 2:10.  That includes opening the oven door a couple times during heating.

With the Emile Henry stone, opening the oven door a couple times led to much longer bake times.  The pizza was still outstanding, but the cook time would jump from 2:10 to (say) 2:45 or 2:50.

I set the timer for 2:10 and decided not to open the oven door at all, until that timer went off.  It worked.  Actually, the pizza was probably done at two minutes even. 

Two minutes in a home oven.  Your oven may or may not be able to match this feat (in my pizza book I talk about this subject in detail).  However, the Emile Henry baking stone should be compatible with the shortest pizza bake times your oven can offer.



The underside of this pizza browned nicely in just two minutes or so.  (Recipe and cooking method from my pizza e-book.)  Of course, the results will depend on how you have your oven configured (rack heights, temperatures, etc). The Emil Henry baking stone can provide good browning and crispy crust in the fast baking methods as well as the slower (6-10 minute) ones.


Handle Clearance

The definition of a "wide" peel depends on your background.  Commercial pizza bakers deal in 18-inch pies routinely;  obviously, this wouldn't work for that.

For home ovens, I consider 14-inch-wide pizza peels to be about the right size.  These allow handling of pizzas that are 13.5 inches across, which is what I'm usually making.  Sometimes I'll stretch them out to 14 inches, in which case they go right to the edges of the peel.

The handles on the Emile Henry rectangular stone will easily clear a 14-inch pizza peel.



Non-Stick

The "micro-crazed" ceramic glaze is supposed to give the stone a non-stick quality.  I really don't know how or why;  there seems to be some pretty specialized materials science going on here. What I do know is that it seems to work. Quite likely, it also allows some moisture to be drawn into the stone temporarily. (When cooking pizza dough, this is a good thing.)

Normally I dust the surface of a generic pizza stone with corn meal prior to heating (yep, that makes a lot of smoke).  However, I didn't find this necessary at all with the Emile Henry. 

As long as you do your part and shuffle the pizza onto that surface from your peel, the Emile Henry baking stone should be glad to give back the pizza when it's done. 




         



Summary

The Emile Henry rectangular baking stone is surprisingly good.  I'd actually go out of my way to buy one.  In fact, if this one breaks for any reason, I'd probably get another Emile Henry again.  Given the number of choices out there, that's saying something.

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