Ever wanted a cool-looking baking stone to go into your oven? They're wonderful for baking things, especially bread. I've found a way to get a cheaper, better one than you'll find at Bed Bath and Beyond.
Go to an Italian marble and granite importer or distributor, one that manufactures kitchen counter tops. Out in the stone yard, somewhere around all those gorgious giant slabs of mountainsides, you will find a pile of small pieces that were cut from kitchen counters to make the holes for the kitchen sinks. They are rectangular, with rounded corners, and tpically an inch or more thick. If you talk nicely to the salesperson, you might be able to buy one or two for 20 Canadian dollars or less each. My two cost $10 each. They are 15 x 17 x 1.2 inches, and weigh 28 pounds each. One side is rough and the other side is polished.
You will find that the kitchen sink hole slabs fit perfectly in your oven. If you get two, you'll have one to set on each wire rack. That way, you can bake a full oven of loaves.
With such huge stones, you need to preheat your oven for about an hour. I'm guessing it takes at least that long to bring them to 450 degrees, but I don't know for sure. One thing I do know is that if you set a loaf onto the cold stone, the bottom will not brown properly by the time the rest of the loaf is done.
After sprinkling the stone with a little buffer to keep it from sticking, you can set the dough directly on the stone. I use corn meal or coarsely ground rye for a buffer.
If you bake on the polished, shiney side of the stone (it is almost as smooth as glass), the dough will not stick to it, even without a buffer. I prefer using the shiney side because it is very easy to clean. Once the oven cools down, I can wipe it with a wet sponge to remove almost anything that drips onto it (like the egg-milk wash I brush onto the loaves during baking to make the tops shiney). I seldom need a spatula to loosen the baked-hard drops.
The rough side of the stone will more easily absorb moisture than will the shiney side. Although it is rough, it is still flat, and therefore, you can bake bread on that side too. I have done that a couple of times, using a buffer sprinkle both times without incident. However, I do not want to risk dropping egg-milk wash onto it because it would be too hard to remove, and eventually it would gum up the stone.
A conventional store-bought baking stone is porous on both sides, so it absorbs any and everything that gets on it. Oils, egg-milk washes, pie fillings, pizza toppings, cheeses, and so on, soak in and turn the surface black, building up a crust that is exceedingly hard to remove if you don't clean it religiously. It is only half an inch or less thick, so it does not retain the heat like a 1.25-inch-thick granite slab does.
I far prefer my granite slabs to the store-bought baking stones, for the following reasons:
1. I like having a choice of baking on the porous or polished surface.
2. The granit slabs retain heat much better, so you do not upset the baking process as much by opening the oven door to spritz the walls, change the placement of the loves, or brush the tops of the loaves with a wash.
3. The polished surfaces of the granite slabs are very easy to clean.
4. The granite slabs are gorgeous, much more aesthetically pleasing.
5. The polished surface of the cold granite slab is perfect for working fudge. The slab fits easily onto a refrigerator shelf for cooling it down, and it tends to hold the cool fairly well, certainly long enough to work a batch of buttery fudge.
Here's a question for the thermodynamics engineer. How long does it take to raise 56 pounds of 15 x 17 x 1.2-inch granite from 75F to 450F starting in a 75F 20 x 18 x 16.25-inch oven that normally takes 15 minutes to preheat to 450F?
Oven Dimensions = 20 x 18 x 16.25 = 5850 cubic inches = 95,864 cm3
Slab Dimensions = 15 x 17 x 1.2 = 306 cubic inches = 5014 cm3
Slab Weight = 28 pounds = 12.7 kg
Slab Density = 1.464 ounces per cubic inch = 2.533 g/cm3
Number of slabs = 2