September 7th, 2021
In professional bakers’ ovens the bread is always laid on the floor of the oven. It is the best way to bake, having this type of powerful heat transferred directly into the bottom of the individual loaf or the metal tray of rolls or pastries (or whatever is being baked). Its name is conducted heat.
Usually the hearth of the baker’s oven is composed of masonry tiles, capable of storing a vast amount of heat. There used to be a whole industry of refractory tile makers, but with the decline of masonry ovens after the 1950’s now oven decks are likely to be tiled with pottery kiln shelves or a composite refractory material which imitates the properties of deep tiles.
The hot tiled floor gives a spectacular rise to the loaf, known as “oven spring”, and then it goes on to assure a steady and even bake. Above and surrounding the loaf will be radiated heat from all other oven surfaces.
The trouble with cooks’ ovens and common domestic ovens is that they are tinny little boxes with the goods to be baked perched on wire shelves, and the style of heat is convection, based on the circulation of hot air. There is a lack of solid hot surfaces. (The British slow combustion stove is better since they often have heavy tiling around the furnace, and they are built with solid cast-iron bodies.)
My advice to the home baker or chef is to place masonry tiles on the oven shelves, and give your tile(s) a good heating up period – perhaps 30 minutes would be required to get the tile(s) sufficiently hot. Whenever I mention this to students I am surprised how many announce they already have a “pizza stone”.
By baking on your hot tile you are emulating the pro baker, and in the circumstances you are overcoming the greatest weakness of your light-weight oven. On this extremely hot tile you can learn to place the loaf directly so that bottom heat and oven spring become features of your baking.
The tiles I sell at PANARY are 12mm pottery kiln shelves cut to the common dimensions of domestic ovens, as shown here.