Optimizing Your Home Oven For Bread

You’ve mixed your dough, let it ferment and rise, divided and shaped it, proofed it, and scored or otherwise finished it. It’s ready for the oven, where it will transform into bread.

To end up with a great loaf of bread, you will need to (1) safely and gently transfer the proofed dough into a very hot oven; (2) provide it with sufficient steam (if the bread requires a thin and crispy crust) and a constant, steady heat source; and, (3) last but not least, know how to determine when it is time to take the bread out of the oven. There are ways to evaluate the doneness of bread by the color of the crust, which we devote an entire lesson to in our Modernist Bread School. You can find this lesson in Course 2: Navigating Bread Making from Start to Finish.

The oven that you use to bake your bread will have a big impact on the result. In fact, the main difference between baking at home and baking in a professional bakery is the type of oven used. Professional bakers typically have deck ovens specifically designed for baking bread that get and stay hotter and include features like steam injection, the key to achieving a crust so thin and crisp it shatters when you break off a piece. We use such ovens in our research kitchen, but we also extensively tested all our recipes and techniques using our well-worn home oven, which produced fantastic-tasting loaves. We’ve developed simple tricks and techniques to improve your home oven.

BAKING IN HOME OVENS

Not every bread is meant to be baked in any kind of oven, and there is no universal oven that works well for every type of bread. It’s best to manage your baking expectations or learn ways to work around the oven you have.

The two most common home ovens are the convection oven and the conventional oven. A convection oven utilizes a fan to circulate hot air evenly throughout the oven, leading to faster and more uniform cooking. This efficient heat distribution reduces hot spots and ensures consistent browning and texture, although it can also make it slightly harder for breads to rise while baking. In contrast, a conventional home oven relies on radiant heat from top and bottom elements, resulting in potential hot and cold spots and longer cooking times.

Home ovens offer one big plus for baking bread: a convenient location. Pretty much every other feature of the ovens makes them an obstacle to greatness. For the most part, home ovens don’t get as hot as professional ovens, they don’t bake as evenly, their low thermal mass means they don’t absorb or radiate heat as efficiently, and they can’t produce steam.

That being said, you can bake quality bread in your home oven.

There are two main hurdles to baking excellent bread at home:

  1. Maintaining consistent temperature (home ovens are notorious for losing significant heat every time you open the door)
  2. Producing steam for the bread

HOW TO OPTIMIZE THE TEMPERATURE OF YOUR HOME OVEN

In order to supercharge the oven with heat energy and to eliminate as many temperature differentials (hot and cold spots) within the oven as possible, we recommend preheating your oven for at least an hour before loading it.

For an even bigger effect, put a baking stone or baking steel in the bottom third of the oven as you are preheating it. Doing so will increase the thermal mass of your oven. Both of them store heat well; a baking stone will release the heat more slowly than a baking steel and is a great choice to use in tandem with pan loaves like sandwich bread or focaccia. A baking steel will release its heat quickly; larger breads that require longer bake times may scorch if baked directly on it. If using a steel with a pan loaf, set the pan on the rack above the steel; don’t rest it on the steel.

We’ve got another blog post that covers this subject, which you can read here.

A final method for overcoming the big temperature dip that occurs when you load your loaves into the oven is to preheat the oven at a higher temperature than you will bake at. You’ll see this in the recipes for certain types of lean and enriched breads in this book, where what we call the “loading temperature” is typically 10% higher than the baking temperature. Preheat the oven at the loading temperature, and lower it to the baking temperature for the bake time.

CREATING STEAM IN A HOME OVEN

Generating steam in a home oven is difficult to do adequately, consistently, and safely. The biggest challenges are keeping the steam inside the oven and making enough of it to produce a shiny, crusty, and crispy loaf. Consider how the oven’s door makes up a significant part of the oven’s entire footprint. Opening the door makes a huge space from which steam can escape, just as it lets heat out in other baking endeavors.

While it’s possible to generate and maintain steam in a home oven, we highly recommend baking in covered pots, specifically cast-iron combination cookers, instead. They do not require the addition of steam to bake a beautiful loaf of bread since the enclosed area makes it possible for the dough to produce its own steam.

Steam is critical to the creation of the thin skin on the surface of the dough that is necessary for the formation of a crispy crust. But at a certain point, the surface needs to be allowed to dry, which means removing as much moisture as possible from the baking environment; that is achieved through venting. Whether you are using a combination cooker, a Dutch oven, or a pot fitted over a baking stone, about two-thirds of the way through the expected bake time, remove the lid or pot that is covering the bread. Once the bread is fully baked, crack open the oven door just a little (you can use a wine cork to prop it open), and let the oven vent for 3–5 minutes before evaluating the bread for doneness.

Our favorite way to create steam in a home oven happens to be the simplest: baking the dough in a cast-iron combination cooker. The results are amazing. You can learn more about this technique in Course 1: Getting Started with Bread Baking.

BEST BREADS FOR A CONVENTIONAL HOME OVEN

  • Pumpernickel
  • 100% rye
  • Pizza
  • Flatbread
  • Country-style
  • Sourdough
  • Free-form rye
  • Ancient grain
  • Whole-grain

Pan breads also work particularly well in the conventional home oven. In general, pan loaves are simpler to bake than free-form breads (any bread that’s baked without a pan) because once they’re shaped and placed in pans, the loaves don’t require any further turning, touching, or otherwise manipulating by hand. You can bake almost any bread in a pan, with the caveat that the crumb might be tighter because the dough can expand in only one direction: up. In addition to using loaf pans for enriched doughs such as brioche and sandwich bread, we’re big fans of using them to bake our master sourdough and the whole-grain breads.

BEST BREADS FOR THE CONVECTION OVEN

A convection oven can produce very good oven spring in enriched doughs because of the way its powerful fan circulates hot air throughout the oven’s cavity. It’s actually our favorite oven for baking enriched doughs.

  • Bagels
  • Bialys
  • Pretzels
  • Knäckebröd
  • Gluten-free
  • All enriched doughs
  • Brioche
  • Panettone
  • Challah
  • Sandwich bread

WORKABLE RECIPES

For the recipes below, we recommend preheating the oven with a baking stone for 45 minutes at a temperature that is 30–35° / 55–65° hotter than the recommended baking temperature.

Keep the fan speed as low as possible or off, or bake the dough in cast-iron cookers.

  • French lean
  • Sourdoughs
  • Country-style
  • Free-form rye
  • Ancient grain
  • 100% whole wheat

SPECIFIC TIPS FOR BAKING IN A CONVECTION OVEN

The temperature in a convection oven drops significantly when the door is opened, and it falls even further when steam is applied after the door is closed.

The powerful fan makes these ovens less than ideal for many lean doughs because the fan, even at its lowest speed, accelerates crust formation and thus can reduce the volume of the loaf because it is hard for the dough to expand when constrained by a hard crust.

To work around this, preheat the oven 30–35° / 55–65° hotter than for a typical bake, with the baking stone inside (we recommend baking steels only for pizzas and flatbreads because breads will scorch unless they are being baked in a combi oven). Set the fan to the highest speed so that the oven gets hot quickly. Shut the oven door after loading the dough, press the Steam button (assuming you have a model that produces steam), and turn the fan down to the lowest speed. Watch the temperature closely, and make sure to adjust it back to the recommended baking temperature as the oven recovers from the original drop. After 2 minutes, apply steam again. The steam helps prevent a hard crust from forming too quickly.

CONTINUE YOUR BAKING JOURNEY

Are you interested in learning more about baking bread? Explore our free Modernist Bread School courses delivered directly to your inbox!

Learn the essentials of baking bread, discover tips for baking with a busy schedule, understand pantry stocking, and more. Whether you’re a beginner or looking to enhance your skills, our courses cover a range of topics to elevate your bread-making experience. Sign up now for a delicious journey into the world of bread baking!

 

Choosing the Right Wheat Flour for the Job

Flour is the fundamental building block of bread and pizza dough. At its most basic, flour is just pulverized grain. Recent research suggests that it may have been used for food since the Paleolithic Period! Flour is an ingredient far more complex than it may appear, made up of starch, protein, water, fats, and enzymes. There are many kinds of flour, made from wheat, almond, and other ingredients.

In terms of all-around performance, wheat is the best flour for bread and pizza dough. Its high-gluten content gives the dough structure; it has a distinctive flavor profile and the right starch for active fermentation. Wheat grain is made of three main parts: germ, bran, and endosperm. The vast majority of flour on the market is made from the endosperm, which is softer and whiter than the other two parts. Whole-grain flour is made with bran and germ as well.

The label on a bag of flour can include a lot of terms. Flour type (think bread flour, all-purpose flour, etc.) is most common among those terms, which may also include added ingredients and marketing buzzwords. The type of flour on the label will give you a rough approximation of a flour’s protein count—and we do mean rough. The protein content can vary wildly from brand to brand, so be sure to check the label.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the most common flour types to help you decide which is right for the type of dough that you’re making.

00 flour: Using 00 flour for pizza is popular, and we recommend it for our Neapolitan pizza. This Italian classification system establishes a minimum protein content for each grade: Tipo 00: ≥9%, Tipo 0: ≥11%, Tipo 1: ≥12%, Tipo 2: ≥12%, Integral: ≥12%

High-gluten bread flour: With 13% protein or more, this will make an even stronger dough than bread flour. It’s particularly good for breads and doughs mostly leavened with commercial yeast—like pizza dough, French Lean Bread, and bagels—as well as breads that require structure (such as enriched doughs, like Sablée Brioche).

Bread flour: The bread flours we typically use have 11%–13% protein, which develops a good structure and produces volume in finished breads and pizzas. It forms strong dough, making it useful for many varieties of bread. Our recipes for challah, Deep-dish pizza dough, direct thin crust pizza dough, Detroit-style pizza, and Portuguese sweet bread recommend bread flour.

AP flour: The protein content of all-purpose flour can vary from brand to brand; generally it’s 10%–11%. It’s not necessarily good for all purposes. In France, the classic baguette is traditionally made with all-purpose types of flours, and we like it for our thin-crust and deep-dish pizza doughs. Because protein content can vary wildly, we recommend making sure you know the protein content of your AP flour before making bread or pizza dough with it.

Pastry flour: As its name states, this flour is intended for pastry preparations, in which a low-gluten percentage is desired—for example, cookies, muffins, and pound cakes in which a short crumb versus a chewy crumb is the goal. We use it in combination with strong flours to make dough softer and easier to use (for stretching and shaping). We also use it in our pork cheek hum bao recipe. Its protein content is around 9%.

Cake flour: Typically under 9% protein, cake flour is most commonly used in very delicate baked-good preparations, such as sponge cakes, because it produces a crumbly texture that is uniform and fine. We found blending cake flour with bread flour works well for some of our thin-crust pizza doughs, such as the Brazilian Thin Crust.

Self-rising flour: This type of flour is not meant for yeast-raised breads or pizza doughs. You can make your own self-rising flour by combining any flour with 3% of its weight in baking powder. The protein content is usually around 8.5%.

You can learn much more about flour in Modernist Bread at Home, Modernist Bread, and Modernist Pizza. Subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on social media for more Modernist Cuisine techniques, recipes, and announcements.

Essential Baking Gear for Making Bread at Home

Welcome to our guide for essential tools for the home baker. Equipping yourself with the right tools is key to a successful baking experience. Our comprehensive guide below outlines our top essentials, explains their importance, provides tips on what to consider when shopping for them, and suggests recommended sources. Additionally, we’ll touch on some helpful but non-essential equipment that can enhance your home baking endeavors. This gear guide will be a valuable tool for anyone ready to dive right into Modernist Bread at Home.

THE BASICS

Baking Pans

Why it’s essential for the home baker: Simple metal loaf pans can be used for proofing as well as baking. They keep proofing dough in place so that it can be easily moved. Pans also mold proofing dough and help hold the shape.

Features to look for: You need to have a few basic pans in several sizes so that you can choose one that is appropriate for the bread you want to prepare. The dimensions of the pans we recommend below are the ones we most frequently use for our sandwich breads, brioche, and gluten-free breads. Although baking pans come in a variety of shapes, there’s generally no need to buy specialty pans unless you want to make a bread in its traditional shape. The material or thickness of the pans aren’t terribly important, but you will want a durable nonstick coating, which does make it easier to quickly remove hot loaves and reduce cleanup.

Price range: $10–$50

Start your search with:

Chicago Metallic Everyday Non-Stick Loaf Pan by Chicago Metallic Store

Aluminized Steel 1.25 lb Loaf Pan with non-stick Americoat coating (22.86 cm by 12.7 cm by 7 cm / 9 in  by 5 in  by 2.75 in) by USA Pans

USA Pan Bakeware Pullman Loaf Pan with Cover, Nonstick, & Quick Release Coating made from Aluminized Steel (13 x 4 inch) by USA Pan Store

Custom Baking Pans (for artisanal bakeries) by Lloyd Pans

Baskets

Why it’s essential for the home baker: Some of the most common items found in a bakery are wicker or cane baskets (bannetons or brotforms), which are used to hold and mold shaped pieces of dough during final proofing. The baskets are seasoned with flour, which, over time, serves as a nonstick surface.

Features to look for: Proofing baskets come in many different sizes and forms meant for specific shapes. It’s good to have go-to baskets for standard shapes like boule (round) and bâtard (oval), but you can also find baskets to mold dough into special shapes such as couronne bordelaise (a Bordeaux-style crown), triangle, double boule, and others.

Lining is another important consideration for choosing baskets. Some baskets have no lining and will imprint your dough with the pattern of the wicker; other versions are linen-lined. We recommend unlined baskets for doughs with a relatively firm consistency. Lined baskets work well for both high-hydration and drier doughs because the flour adheres to the linen and makes the dough easier to unmold. Baskets with removable linen covers are the most versatile options, giving you the benefits of both.

Price range: $15–$40

Start your search with:

10-inch Wicker Basket with Linen Liner (for 800 – 1000 g of dough) from San Francisco Baking Institute

8-inch Wicker Basket with Linen Liner (for 500 – 750 g of dough) from San Francisco Baking Institute

Coiled Basket (for 500 – 650 g of dough) from San Francisco Baking Institute

Cast Iron Cooker

Why it’s essential for the home baker:  Baking in a pot is hands down our favorite method for making bread in a home oven. The pot’s base and lid create a tightly enclosed environment for the proofed and scored dough. Cast iron absorbs heat well and retains it even better, helping to mitigate the temperature drop when you open the oven door.

Features to look for: When it comes to these pots, you don’t have to spend an exorbitant amount. We’ve tested a lot of cookware, but our favorite is the simple cast-iron combo cooker. You can bake extraordinary bread at home with this inexpensive, multipurpose pot. The cooker actually is a two-piece set that consists of a Dutch oven and a skillet that is repurposed as a lid. For bread, we use the skillet as the base and the Dutch oven as the lid, which makes transferring dough less complicated. We find that 800 g of dough fits perfectly in most three-quart cast-iron combination cookers.

Price range: $39

Start your search with:

Cast Iron Combination Cooker by Lodge

Plastic Tubs

Why it’s essential for the home baker: Storage is an important consideration for bakers, and clear plastic tubs are the storage bins of choice. Up for almost any stowage task, these bins come in a range of sizes; they make it easy to keep an eye on the contents inside; and they stack much like nesting dolls when they aren’t being used. Long rectangular storage boxes can be used to hold fermenting dough, while preferments, ingredients, and old dough are often stored in square versions. Tall tubs make great vessels when weighing large quantities of water—some can even transform into water bath containers when cooking sous vide. They can also make great improvised proofers!

Features to look for: Clear plastic bins with airtight lids are useful to have in a variety of sizes. The Cambro brand is so habitually used that the name is practically a generic term for the tubs in professional kitchens. Another kitchen vocabulary word to know is ‘lexan’, which is another name for the durable polycarbonate sheets that are often used to make commercial storage boxes, pans, and containers for food.

Price range: $9–$40

Start your search with:

Camwear Polycarbonate Food Storage Box (17.98 L / 4.75 gal) by Cambro

Camwear Polycarbonate Food Storage Box (33.12 L / 8.75 gal) by Cambro

Camwear Polycarbonate Square Plastic Food Container (in assorted sizes) by Cambro

Plastic Bags or Tarps

Why it’s essential for the home baker:  Plastic bags and tarps are essential tools for bakers. They’re used to cover dough to keep it from drying out as it rests on a worktable.

Features to look for: More likely than not, you already have suitable covers in your pantry. Clean trash bags work, however we prefer eco-friendly transparent compostable bags.

Price range: $5–$16

Start your search with:

Heavy Duty Compostable Trash Bags (in assorted sizes) by Stout

Thermometer

Why it’s essential for the home baker: Digital thermometers are indispensable tools, and any baker will benefit from having one in their pocket. Small changes in temperature can make all the difference in cooking and baking, which is why we measure it as accurately as possible. A good digital thermometer can be used to improvise a water bath to cook sous vide, and you can also calibrate your home oven with an oven-safe probe.

Features to look for: One of our favorite digital thermometers is the Thermapen Mk4. It’s extremely accurate, has a slender probe, and can connect to a Type K Thermocouple. Home bakers will also want a basic oven thermometer.

Price range: $5–$80

Start your search with:

Thermapen Mk4 by ThermoWorks

Commercial Stainless Steel Oven Monitoring Thermometer by Rubbermaid

Digital Scale

Why it’s essential for the home baker: This is the piece of equipment we recommend most emphatically for all bakers. If you have been measuring ingredients only by the cup and teaspoon, now is a great time to buy a good scale to begin applying more precision to your recipe measurements. Some high-capacity kitchen scales display baker’s percentages as well as grams, which is another benefit. A super-precise fine weight scale is the best way to measure tiny quantities of ingredients like yeast or salt.

Features to look for: Bakers should really have two scales: a relatively high-capacity kitchen scale and a fine weight pocket scale for measuring small quantities.

The standard scale should be accurate to one decimal place and should have the capacity to weigh double the amount of our standard recipes plus the weight of the mixing bowl. For larger quantities of dough, look for scales that can hold even more weight. The fine weight scale should be accurate to .01 g. If you don’t want to spend a lot, an inexpensive 200 g pocket-sized version will work just fine. All-purpose scales exist that will cover both these requirements, but they are expensive.

Price range: $15–$115

Start your search with:

Baker’s Kitchen Scale (8,000 g capacity) by My Weigh

Scout Pro Portable Electronic Balance (200 by .01 g) by Ohaus

Digital Gram Pocket Scale (200 by .01 g) by American Weigh Scale

Timers

Why it’s essential for the home baker: Baking bread is a time-intensive process that also requires time management skills. In addition to telling you when to remove your bread from the oven, digital timers will help you keep track of dough as it ferments and proofs, especially when you’re managing several doughs and kitchen tasks at a time.

Features to look for: Timers should be easy to use, with loud alarms that can be heard across a noisy bakery or from another room. Have several basic timers on hand for juggling tasks.

Price range: $10–$30

Start your search with:

Extra Big and Loud Timer by ThermoWorks

Bench Knife (bench scraper)

Why it’s essential for the home baker: A bench knife, also referred to as a bench scraper, is another inexpensive but invaluable tool highly recommended. Even though there are several options available for mechanically dividing dough, a bench knife and a scale work the best.

Features to look for: We prefer a sharp metal version for cleanly cutting dough, lifting sticky dough, and scraping dough residue off the table. Plastic ones will get the job done, but they can make cutting and scraping dough more difficult because they are generally thicker and less sharp than metal scrapers.

Price range: $10–$20

Start your search with:

Stainless Steel Dough Scraper with Polypropylene Handle by Dexter-Russell

Flexible Dough and Bowl Scrapers (set of four) by Prepatize

Lame

Why it’s essential for the home baker: Our go-to tool for scoring dough is a classic: the lame. A lame is a sharp razor blade held in place by a handle. The blades are cheap and can be replaced easily, which isn’t necessarily true of other cutting tools, such as a paring knife.

Features to look for: Lames come in several styles. Basic lame handles are often made from metal or plastic. Look for razor blades that are thin and flexible as many lames are designed to make the blade curve. Disposable versions have a blade that can’t be removed or sharpened. Professional bakers generally avoid disposable lames because they need to replace the lame blades often (usually at the end of the day). A wood-handled lame is an attractive showpiece with a heft that makes it easier for the blade to slice the dough. The drawback is that it can be pricey and can’t make a razor blade curve.

Price range: $6–$40

Start your search with:

Baker’s Blade Holder – with Handle from San Francisco Baking Institute

Professional Disposable Lame (pack of 5) by Scaritech

Hand-Crafted Walnut Wood-Handled Lame by Zatoba

Stainless Steel Double Edge Razor Blades by Personna

HELPFUL TOOLS TO HAVE

While not essential, certain tools can elevate your bread-making process, adding a touch of finesse to the experience. Take a look at our list of optional tools below, allowing you to explore and decide which ones align with your preferences for customizing your home kitchen and enhancing your baking setup.

Baking Steel and Baking Stone

Why we recommend it: A baking steel or stone is one of our favorite tools for making pizza and flatbreads, including naan and pita, and pan loaves. Steel provides enough thermal mass to replicate the environment of a wood-fired oven, allowing you to rapidly produce Neapolitan-style pizza in your own kitchen. We prefer using a stone to bake pan loaves and other breads because steel tends to scorch the bottom of larger loaves.

Price range: $50–$120

Start your search with:

Modernist Cuisine Special Edition Baking Steel by Baking Steel

Rectangular Baking Stone (35.56 cm by 41.91 cm by 1.27 cm / 14 in by 16 in by .5 in) by Old Stone Oven

Pastry Brushes

Why we recommend it: Any bakery or kitchen can benefit from having several pastry brushes. Reserve different brushes for specific purposes—for instance, designating one for cooking sugar and another for egg washes.

Features to look for: We like to use pastry brushes with natural or fine synthetic bristles over the thicker silicone brushes that leave track marks. Synthetic bristles are more hygienic and can be incredibly soft, which makes them a good choice for egg washing more delicate doughs. Art or home improvement stores often have great options—paintbrushes that meet these specifications can easily double as pastry brushes.

Price range: $6–$15

Start your search with:

2-Inch Flat Brush by Sana Fe Art Supply

2-Inch Flat Mottler Synthetic Paint Brush by Princeton Artists Brush Co.

Stand Mixer

Why we recommend it: We use a stand mixer for most home baking. A stand mixer is a small version of a planetary mixer that can comfortably sit on any work surface, occupying minimal space. They have the same mixing attachments as well—most come with a hook, paddle, and whip.

Stand mixers are incredibly versatile countertop tools. They can be used for much more than mixing, thanks to additional attachments that can use the spinning motor to sheet pasta dough, grind meat, mill grains into flour, chop vegetables, and even make ice cream.

Features to look for: A stand mixer can be a big investment, so look for models that have a strong motor, which is important for making drier doughs, and a broad range of speed settings, from very slow to very fast. A five-quart consumer stand mixer will work for home bakers who are making up to a kilo of dough—the minimum in most of our recipes—at a time. But beyond that, we find that these mixers tend to hop around the table and need more power. We recommend investing in a commercial stand mixer with a sturdy base if you plan to frequently make seven quarts of dough or more.

The Ankarsrum mixer is not very common, but we like using it for our gluten-free breads in particular and for mixing paste-like doughs, such as 100% rye breads. It has one arm that performs the mixing and another that scrapes the spinning bowl, making for a very efficient mix. The design makes it easy to pour ingredients in the bowl, which is unobstructed by the motor housing that most stand mixers have.

The flat solid base won’t dance around the counter, either.

Price range: $250–$900

Start your search with:

Original Stand Mixer AKM 6230 by Ankarsrum

Professional 5 Plus Series 5-Quart Stand Mixer by KitchenAid

Bench Brush

Why we recommend it: Messes are hard to avoid when you bake bread. A bench brush is a small investment, but it will help you to quickly clean surfaces between handling dough. These special hand brooms offer an easy way to sweep flour and bits of dough away from your work space.

Price range: $8–$20

Start your search with:

Wood Handle Counter Duster with Flagged Silver Polystyrene Bristles by Weiler

Water Spritzer

Why we recommend it: Bakers use spritzers to keep dough moist after it has been mixed. A light mist of water will prevent the dough’s surface from becoming tough and dry while it is exposed to air. The spritzer itself is basic, but remember to change the water in it at least once a week.

Features to look for: Although any spritzer is up for the task, clear bottles allow you to keep an eye on the liquid inside.

Price range: $7–$15

Start your search with:

Clear Plastic Spray Bottle by Soft ‘N Style

Couche

Why we recommend it: A couche is a swatch of plain linen cloth that sits between the dough and a flat surface; the cloth is creased to cradle the dough it holds. Couches absorb excess moisture from dough during the proofing process so that the board stays relatively dry, making it easier to slide the dough off surfaces and keeping portioned dough from touching other pieces or losing its shape as it expands.

Features to look for: You can purchase prepackaged options on many sites, however, we like to buy our couches by the yard to specifically suit our needs.

Price range: $15–$30

Start your search with:

Linen Couche (by the yard) from San Francisco Baking Institute

Flax Linen Baker’s Couche  by Breadtopia

Peels and Transfer Boards

Why we recommend it: Peels and paddles are used to transfer dough onto a baking surface.

Features to look for: A single average-sized paddle is sufficient for some bakers, but it’s also helpful to have larger peels if you plan on making large quantities of bread. Metal peels are better than wooden ones for flatbreads and pizzas because they are thinner and can easily slide under the crusts.

The transfer board is the best all-purpose piece of equipment you can use to transfer dough. They come in a number of shapes and sizes, but we use only the long thin ones that are intended for baguettes because they also work for practically any other dough shape.

Price range: $16-$70

Start your search with:

Super Peel in Polymer-Sealed White Ash by EXO

“Big 16” 16-Inch Super Peel with Aluminum Blade and Black Cherry Handle by EXO

Aluminum Pizza Peel with Wooden Handle (assorted sizes) by Kitchen Supply

Baguette Transfer Board by Breadtopia

Wooden Boards and Sheet Pans

Why we recommend it: In a bakery, wooden boards or the back of sheet pans are used for proofing dough, especially high-hydration doughs that are too wet to hold their shape. Both are lined with a floured couche to prevent the dough from spreading out.

Features to look for: After use, wooden boards must be dried out quickly and completely to decrease the risk of contamination and prevent warping. If you prefer sheet pans, it’s worth having full-size, half-size, and quarter-size sheet pans as well as wire racks that fit on top of them.

Price range: $10–$30

Start your search with:

Aluminum Full, Quarter, and Half Sheet Pans by Lloyd Pans

Poplar Wooden Proofing Board (45.72 by 66.04 cm / 18 by 26 in) by BakeDeco

Serrated Knives

Why we recommend it: Beyond a general-purpose chef’s knife and a paring knife, bakers will benefit from a few good serrated knives. A serrated paring knife is good for smaller items; a long version is best for cutting big pieces of bread; and an offset one is helpful for chopping chocolate and nuts. An electric knife, the sort typically used only for annual turkey carving, can get additional use when employed to slice bread. The serrated blade does all of the work, making it easy to carve off a perfect slice in a single motion.

Features to look for: Many serrated knives do a fine enough job of cutting bread without costing a lot of money. Just make sure the knife is very sharp and has long, pronounced teeth.

Price range: $18–$130

Start your search with:

High-Carbon Stainless Steel 10-inch Serrated Bread Knife with Walnut Handle by Chicago Cutlery

16 Gauge Stainless Steel 14-inch Serrated Bread Knife by Fat Daddio’s

Damascus Bread Knife by Kasumi

Stainless Steel Electric Knife with Wood Block by Cuisinart

SOME ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • Home proofer
  • Spoons and spatulas
  • Whisks
  • Piping bags and tips
    • For bread, these are mostly used for finishing and decorating purposes. Use disposable bags, as reusable ones are hard to clean and dry and are therefore prone to contamination. A set of basic stainless-steel tips in few sizes and shapes should be sufficient.
  • Cutting boards
    • Plastic boards have a reputation of being more sanitary, but wooden ones are fine so long as they are cleaned and properly dried. Also, have rubber grip mats (or a clean, damp kitchen towel) on hand to place under the board to keep it from sliding around when in use.

Are you interested in learning more about baking bread? Explore our free Modernist Bread School courses delivered directly to your inbox! Learn the essentials of baking bread, discover tips for baking with a busy schedule, understand pantry stocking, and more. Whether you’re a beginner or looking to enhance your skills, our courses cover a range of topics to elevate your bread-making experience. Sign up now for a delicious journey into the world of bread baking!

 

Modernist Bread School

We’ve been secretly kneading something special for you the past few months. To celebrate the release of Modernist Bread at Home, we are excited to offer you free bread school courses delivered straight to your inbox. Meet the Modernist Bread School—your gateway to mastering the art of bread making from the comfort of your own kitchen.

Our bread school is designed to cater to both novice bakers and those looking to refine their skills, offering courses that will help you make delicious home-baked loaves. Each lesson will provide invaluable tips, tricks, knowledge, and discoveries, collected and developed after years of extensive research, to enrich your bread-making journey.

If you already have a copy of Modernist Bread at Home, this bread school will serve as an excellent companion course. Don’t worry if you haven’t acquired the cookbook yet, you can still join us and glean valuable insights.

HOW IT WORKS

You’ll be able to sign up through the Modernist Bread School page on our website. Upon signing up, you’ll receive one lesson per day throughout the course, typically consisting of five to seven lessons.

Each course will provide recommended tips, insights from Modernist Bread at Home, and references to related recipes and blogs for further reading.

We’ll launch a new course each month. You can sign up for all of them or pick and choose what topics interest you the most.

EXPLORE OUR UPCOMING COURSES

We’re excited to announce that we’ll be launching a new course every month for the next few months, starting in early March. Stay tuned for a continuous stream of exciting learning opportunities.

  • Course 1: Getting Started with Bread Basics—Dive into essential tools, preparation techniques, and pantry stocking tips to kick-start your bread-making journey.
  • Course 2: Navigating Bread Making from Start to Finish—Learn the most crucial aspects of each step of the baking process.
  • Course 3: Fitting Bread into Busy Schedules—Learn how to manage your baking time effectively, even amid a hectic schedule.
  • Course 4: The Role of Different Bread Ingredients—Explore the scientific foundations of bread ingredients to refine your recipes and techniques.
  • Course 5: How to Start a Levain and Keep It Alive—Delve into the world of sourdough with essential strategies for crafting and maintaining your sourdough starter.
  • Course 6: Scoring and Shaping—Unravel the art of scoring and shaping bread to create beautifully crafted loaves.

Our first course, Getting Started with Bread Basics, is scheduled to launch March 11. Stay tuned!

Introducing Modernist Bread at Home—Your Guide to Exceptional Homemade Bread

Modernist Bread at Home cover photo

There is so much to be gained from baking your own bread. It’s both physically and mentally satisfying, an outlet for creativity and innovation, and just plain comforting (seriously, is there anything more comforting than warm homemade toast with butter?). That’s why we are thrilled to unveil our upcoming cookbook, Modernist Bread at Home—the ultimate guide for home bakers eager to create exceptional bread. You can order it now in North America through the Modernist Cuisine Shop and Amazon. French, German, Italian, and Spanish editions are now available in North America as well. It is also available to view and purchase at the Modernist Cuisine Gallery by Nathan Myhrvold locations.

It’s hard to believe we released Modernist Bread nearly seven years ago. Since then, we’ve received a lot of feedback about creating a version of the book specifically for home bakers and have been quietly working on just that over the last few years. With years of dedicated research and meticulous experimentation, we’ve distilled the expertise of Modernist Bread into a comprehensive 420-page volume that streamlines the art and science of making bread at home.

Much like how Modernist Cuisine at Home is to Modernist Cuisine,this book is designed specifically for home bakers so that you can create extraordinary bread in the comfort of your own kitchen regardless of how much experience or time you have. You’ll discover delicious, easy-to-follow recipes, innovative yet practical techniques, helpful scientific insights, and useful visual guides. Everything has been tested (and retested over and over again) with our unique brand of rigor to ensure you’ll get great results with a home oven.

One of our biggest goals for Modernist Bread at Home was to make it as accessible as possible. We’ve worked hard to address the needs of home bakers as well as the realistic challenges that come with making bread, a time and labor-intensive food, in your own kitchen. We know, for example, that life easily gets in the way of making bread in the middle of the week. With that in mind, we developed time-saving tips and strategies, like freezing leftover levain so that you can use it as a flavor booster. The inactive levain can be added to direct doughs (doughs made with instant yeast), evoking sourdough flavor in much less time.

There are plenty of invaluable skills to master, bringing a new level of confidence to your baking every step of the way. With Modernist Bread at Home, you’ll learn how to make beautiful loaves of homemade bread that fit within your weekly schedule and have a depth of flavor beyond what you’ll find in the store—and you can proudly say that you’ve made it with your own hands. We’re incredibly proud of this cookbook, and hope that you’ll love it as much as we do.

Here’s a sneak peek into what you can expect from Modernist Bread at Home:

OVER 160 RECIPES

Modernist Bread at Home features over 160 extensively tested, easy-to-follow recipes that span the world of bread. You’ll learn how to make:

  • Rustic sourdoughs
  • Traditional French lean breads
  • Sandwich breads
  • Brioches
  • Ryes
  • Challah
  • Focaccia
  • Bagels
  • Bao
  • Gluten-free breads

Some highlights include our innovative recipes for Second-Change Sourdough, No-Knead Brioche, 100% High-Ryes, and gluten-free bagels.

EASY-TO-FOLLOW RECIPE FORMAT

Great care went into designing how the recipes are formatted in this book. The unique layout makes it easy to follow, understand, and prep for recipes. An illustrated tour breaks down the format and essential information before you get started.

Recipes of Modernist Bread at Home

INNOVATIVE, YET PRACTICAL TECHNIQUES

The techniques in this book were developed with home bakers of all experience levels in mind. Whether it’s new ways of utilizing tools already found in your kitchen, enhancing the flavor of bread with pressure-caramelized inclusions, or using our dough CPR method to rescue overproofed dough, there’s information that both well-seasoned home bakers and complete novices will find helpful. We even discovered ways to speed up bread making, as in our Second-Chance Sourdough or a more straightforward traditional French brioche, so that you can still have fresh bread even with a busy schedule.

Modernist Bread at Home

HELPFUL VISUAL GUIDES

Don’t know where to start? That’s okay. Modernist Bread at Home features helpful visual guides for:

  • Getting the most out of our recipe format
  • Planning how to fit bread making into your schedule
  • Choosing what bread to make based on your skill level, how much time you have, and what kind of bread you’d like to add to your repertoire
  • Essential gear for baking bread in a home kitchen. All the tools are easy for home bakers to find. The biggest recommended investment is a $40 cast-iron combination cooker that delivers spectacular results for crisp-crust breads
  • Step-by-step technique tutorials
  • Troubleshooting common issues throughout the bread-making process

172-PAGE WIRE-BOUND RECIPE MANUAL

To keep your hardcopy pristine, Modernist Bread at Home comes with a wire-bound recipe manual that contains all the recipes and reference tables.

Regardless of your baking experience, Modernist Bread at Home empowers you to create bread that’s beyond compare. We believe that bread making should be an accessible experience for everyone, and this book is your key to achieving just that.

Order your copy of Modernist Bread at Home today.


Presenting the Modernist Cuisine Bread School

We’ve got even more to be excited about. To kick off the release of Modernist Bread at Home we’re launching free bread school courses delivered straight to your inbox.

Tailored for home baking enthusiasts eager to refine their skills, our monthly courses are designed to complement the book and help you throughout the bread-making process. Our courses will cover beginner essentials for novice bakers, mastering the art of creating and nurturing a levain, making bread during a busy schedule, and much more – we’ve got it all covered.

Be the first to know when the Modernist Cuisine Bread School launches by following us on social media and subscribing to our monthly newsletter.

Common Mixing Dough Problems

Mixing dough for both bread and pizza can undoubtedly pose challenges, which can leave aspiring pizzaioli and bakers feeling discouraged. Dough that’s sticky, dried out, overmixed, or undermixed might seem disheartening at times. But remember, even seasoned pizzaioli and bakers have faced these hurdles. We say embrace the learning process and experiment with different techniques and recipes. Over time, you’ll develop a keen understanding of dough mixing and how to troubleshoot issues when they arise.

Mixing is an essential part of the dough process. Although gluten is a self-organizing protein, that doesn’t mean you can pour water on flour and walk away, hoping the dough will develop. You have to give it a little jump start to distribute the ingredients evenly. That jump start involves mixing. The most important function of mixing is to force the flour to hydrate, which unleashes a cascade of chemical reactions. Hydration, not kneading, is what allows the gluten network to develop.

Hydration can be accomplished slowly by simply combining the ingredients and allowing the flour to absorb the water over time, or faster by manipulating the dough by hand, or in minutes by machines. The faster the mix, the faster the hydration, the faster the dough develops. You can learn more about both in chapter 6 of Modernist Pizza.

Although combining a few ingredients seems like a simple thing, there are often still many challenges and problems that arise. Once you understand what not to do, you’ll also understand what sorts of things can go wrong.

Below, we cover some common mixing problems, why they happen, and how to fix them.

Undermixed Dough

Problem: Undermixed dough won’t fully hydrate because the water is unevenly distributed. Properly mixed dough should look homogenous, with no noticeable clumps of flour or pools of liquid.

Solution: Continue mixing to remedy this problem.

The Dough Has Dried Out

Problem: Dough exposed to air will begin to dry on the surface and form a skin. This reduces the extensibility (stretch) of the dough, forcing it to crack as it ferments or is manipulated.

Solution: To avoid this, keep the dough covered at all times. You can use a slightly damp kitchen towel, a plastic tarp, or even a large, clean plastic trash bag to protect your dough. If you’re using a plastic tub, cover it with a lid.

Climbing the Hook

Problem: Dough wrapping up the hook happens if the mixer is left unattended.

Solution: Be sure to keep an eye on the mixer so that you can stop the machine and push the dough down the hook, then continue mixing.

Overmixing

Problem: If you’ve overmixed your dough—that is, if you’ve gone beyond full gluten development but the dough hasn’t quite broken down—your dough might be salvaged.

Solution: For doughs raised with levain, simply let the dough relax for a long time in the refrigerator.

For yeast-raised doughs, it’s a little trickier because the yeast will continue to ferment the dough even in the refrigerator. (This will occur in a levain-based dough as well, but to a lesser extent.)

If the dough is overmixed to the point that it’s leaching water and has become ropy, try this method: mix a half batch of dough, minus the salt. Allow your dough to autolyze for 20 minutes, then add the salt. Add this new dough to the overmixed dough, mixing on low speed until just combined. Proceed with bulk fermentation (if applicable); it may take longer than planned. The final pizza won’t be exactly as you had mixed it correctly, but it will be close.

The Complete Disaster

The only remedy for some mixing errors is to simply start over. Luckily, dough ingredients are relatively inexpensive, and the mixing process is fast enough that you’ll probably still have time to make your pizza. Fatal errors like these usually stem from human fallibility: the pizza maker might have misread a measurement, transposed a number, or otherwise strayed from protocol. To avoid such mistakes, the first time you make a recipe, check off each step when you complete it. At the very least, this will show you later where you went wrong.

Most importantly, don’t get discouraged during your baking journey. Mixing dough does not come without challenges, even though it may seem that combining four ingredients is a simple thing to do. Learning to mix dough can be a journey of trial and improvement. You’re enhancing your skills and knowledge every time you make pizza or bread. Even if it doesn’t come out the way you’d hoped, it’s a chance to improve your technique; every attempt brings you closer to consistently making outstanding doughs.

Try out some of our recipes below:

As always, please share your homemade pizzas and bread with us on social media! Let us know if any of these tips helped save your own dough.

Adapting Pizza Sauces from Soups and Non-Pizza Sauces

Pizza sauces don’t have to stick to the confines of tradition. For example, Bolognese and chutney don’t usually spring to mind when you are thinking about the sauce that you want to put on your pizza, but we found that soups and non-pizza sauces can be adapted really well for this purpose (you might just need to adjust their consistency). There are three basic consistencies we are looking for in pizza sauces: thin, semi-thick, and thick (you can learn more about this in Modernist Pizza vol. 2:242).

To adapt soups and non-pizza sauces successfully, the key is knowing what style you intend to use them for and adjusting their viscosity accordingly. Thin sauces, as found on Neapolitan pizza, are used for pizzas baked at high temperatures. The excess liquid evaporates in a few seconds, leaving a smooth sauce that is still moist but does not puddle. Semi-thick sauces are (obviously) thicker than thin sauces but still easily spreadable. These are used for most pizzas that bake at temperatures between 260°C and 315°C / 500°F and 600°F, like New York, artisan, and Brazilian thin-crust pizzas. Thick sauces hold their shape when they are spooned or spread onto a surface and do not flow. These sauces are usually applied after baking for pizzas like Detroit-style and deep-dish.

But why bother going through the effort of crafting alternative sauces in the first place? Adapting sauces offers the ability to maximize pantry and fridge resources, prevent food waste, and make great sauce, even if you’re short on time. Those with dietary restrictions can enjoy the freedom of tailoring sauces to their needs. Furthermore, mastering the art of adapting custom pizza sauces can also spark culinary innovation, making it possible to create something fascinating and new for the daring culinary explorer.

Below are some fun ideas for adapting sauces and soups and what you can do to make the appropriate adjustments.

adapting pizza sauces

Oil-based sauce

If it’s too thin, reduce the amount of oil. You can always add more at the end if needed. To thicken pesto, try emulsifying it. Oil-based sauces can be applied before or after baking.

Pasta sauces

Some sauces, such as Bolognese, vodka sauce, and puttanesca, can be used as is on medium-crust pizza like New York or artisan. Thicker sauces work on deep-dish or Detroit-style if applied after baking. If the sauce is too thick, you can thin it with heavy cream, water, stock, or wine. These sauces can be applied both before and after baking.

Artisan pizza with puttanesca sauce. The recipe can be found in Modernist Pizza 2:271.

Starchy soups

The consistency of soups such as potato, clam chowder, gumbo, and cream-based will likely work well as a pizza sauce. If the soup is roux-thickened, consider replacing the flour with other thickeners to obtain the best flavor possible. These starchy sauces are best applied before baking.

Vegetable or fruit soups

Thicken with xanthan gum or Wondra flour if the soup is too thin. Alternatively, reduce in a saucepot over medium heat to evaporate moisture and thicken to sauce consistency. This kind of sauce is best applied before baking.

Vegetable or fruit purees

For a thick puree, add more liquid (water, heavy cream, or stock). For a thin puree, thicken with xanthan gum or by reduction. This sauce is best applied to the pizza before baking.

Neapolitan pizza with canned pumpkin puree (diluted with 50% water), fresh mozzarella, and basil.

Curries

Curry can refer to a sauce or an actual stew. Both work well on a pizza, one as a sauce and the other as a sauce-plus topping. Most curries of both types are thick enough to use as is, but if you find it to be too thin, you can thicken it by reduction or by adding tapioca maltodextrin (start with 3%, and check as you go before adding more). This curry sauce is best applied before baking.

Stocks, jus, or consommé

These are often too watery to add as a sauce on a pizza directly, but they can be thickened by a reduction in a saucepot to an extent or with Wondra flour (start with 2%), xanthan gum, or propylene glycol alginate (PGA). Since these are relatively loose, it is best to apply them as a flavoring component rather than as the main sauce. This sauce is best to apply before baking as a moderate drizzle over toppings.

Heat-stable emulsions, such as hollandaise or béarnaise

If the sauce is too thick, add clarified butter or ghee. Our base recipe for hollandaise works with all styles of pizza. This sauce can be added before, during, or after baking.

New York square pizza with hollandaise sauce, pizza cheese and artichokes.

Non-heat-stable emulsions, such as vinaigrette and beurre blanc

You can emulsify these with xanthan gum or propylene glycol alginate (PGA). Use the emulsions sparingly as a condiment, not in the same quantities you would use a tomato sauce. This sauce can be used before baking for invincible vinaigrette (see Modernist Pizza vol. 2:266) or after baking for the other sauces.

Mayonnaise or aioli

You can use these as is, but don’t use as much of them as you would a tomato sauce. It should be applied after baking (it won’t separate while hot, but do not put it on before baking, because the high temperature of the oven will break the emulsion).

Brazilian thin-crust pizza with shrimp, pesto, and mayonnaise. This recipe can be found in Modernist Pizza 2:262

Jams, jellies, and marmalades

These can be loosened by stirring them with a little water or fruit juice. Alternatively, they can be left as is and used as a topping by spooning them. Try before or after baking.

Chutneys

Chutney is usually very chunky and doesn’t act as a real sauce; it is better to think of it as a topping or condiment. However, you can puree chutney and adjust the consistency by thinning it with water or other liquids if you want to use it as a sauce. Try before baking if pureeing or after baking.

New York pizza with store-bought mango chutney and pizza cheese.

If you want more information, we also recommend looking at the soup sauce experiment that we did in Modernist Pizza vol. 2:249. There, you can learn more about how we tested a number of products, from ponzu to curries to cream of corn soup. On page 256, you can also find more outside-the-box pizza experiments to help inspire your next pizza creation. In addition to this, you can also learn more about improving tomato sauces on our blog.

Our team would love to see your improvised sauces and the pizzas you’ve created, so please tag us in your social media posts if you end up experimenting with these techniques.

Are you interested in learning more Modernist Cuisine tips and tricks? Subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on social media for more techniques, recipes, and announcements.

Making Homemade Mozzarella

Why would you make fresh homemade mozzarella rather than buy it premade? One reason might be that you can’t get it (or you can’t get a product of the quality that you want). Another is that you want to do something different on your pizzas. We think that it’s fun to make cheese and it lets you experience that ingredient on a whole new level. Once you do start making it, that gives you an opportunity to create something very different that you can’t buy, such as our infused mozzarella.

In this guide, we’ll cover some basic mozzarella making principles so that you can give it a try.

Making Mozzarella

Making homemade mozzarella.

Mozzarella curd is produced when milk is cultured, heated, and acidified, either through fermentation with lactic acid bacteria (LAB) cultures or directly with citric acid. Then rennet is added to cause coagulation. The pH will fall and, once it reaches a pH of 5.3–5.1 (see page Volume 2 page 292), the curd may immediately be stretched into mozzarella (known as the filature step). The tangled mass of casein complexes that forms the curd is steeped in a bath of very hot whey or water.

After a short period of time, the curds are kneaded and the stretching begins, which forms the curd into a soft, elastic, stringy texture. As we were experimenting and developing our mozzarella recipes, we asked ourselves a series of questions. Is stretching mozzarella curd worth the effort? Does balling the resulting cheese matter? Can we simply bake mozzarella curd on a pizza? Our experiments led to several interesting conclusions.

The first is that we highly recommend stretching mozzarella curd. We recommend limiting the stretching to two to three times, however, since overstretching can result in a tougher texture. As soon as a nice sheen has developed from stretching, your mozzarella is ready to use. Seasoned, drained curd can be used on pizza instead of mozzarella, but you need to manage your expectations. Baking the unstretched curd will moderately increase browning (this browning may bother some pizzaioli more than others) and the result will lack the nice stringy pull typically desired on a pizza. Furthermore, curds aren’t commonly seasoned with salt, so they can be very bland. Could we troubleshoot both of these problems? Our procedure for brining the curd (see page 325 of volume 2 of Modernist Pizza) can mitigate the browning issue and improve the flavor.

Storing Mozzarella

Making homemade mozzarella - storing it

We recommend brine for storing your own homemade mozzarella, which is included in our mozzarella recipe. Just make sure to drain it overnight before baking or you’ll get a soupy pizza. Additionally, brining will give your cheese shelf stability by inhibiting bacterial growth.

If you don’t want to wait 12 hours to drain your mozzarella, you can instead try to vacuum drain it, which involves placing your cut mozzarella onto a liquid-absorbing pad (like the absorbent pads packed with a cut of meat), vacuum-packaging the bag, and then pulling a full vacuum. The pressure from sealing the cheese will push out the moisture and the meat pad absorbs the liquid coming off the cheese. You can then store your mozzarella under refrigeration until you are ready to bake (but not beyond its original expiration date). The cheese bakes exactly like traditionally cut and drained fresh mozzarella and the best part is that this method can easily be scaled up to large quantities of cheese.

Eager to make your own mozzarella? The full recipe awaits you in our Paprika-Infused Fior Di Latte Mozzarella post. Just a friendly tip: if you’re aiming for a classic, plain mozzarella, skip the additional paprika infusion step. You can also find the full recipe (and many more) on page 297 in volume 2 of Modernist Pizza.

As you embark on your mozzarella-making journey, we’d love to be part of your experience. Don’t forget to share your creations on social media and tag us. Your culinary adventures matter to us!

Optimizing Your Home Oven with a Baking Steel

Making pizza at home is incredibly fun—but it can also be a challenging endeavor. If you’re a home pizza maker, the only thing standing between you and pizza greatness is your oven. Home ovens unfortunately aren’t optimized for making most styles of pizza. For example, if your intent is to bake Neapolitan pizza, you’re not going to get true Naples-style results in a home oven. It just doesn’t have enough juice to reach the super-high temperatures you need. There are some appliances that can do that and some small outdoor units that can get ripping hot; however, they might not be in everyone’s budget, especially if you’re just starting to make your own pizza. On top of that, safely transferring a prepped, unbaked pizza into a hot oven can be a harrowing exercise.


Don’t worry—you can make fantastic pizza at home, with your own oven. Keep reading to learn about the science of how pizza bakes and how you can get the most out of your home oven using a baking steel.

Understanding Your Oven

Baking a pizza is all about the transfer of heat energy from the oven to the dough, causing a delicious transformation. The water in the dough turns into steam, expanding bubbles created by yeast fermentation, resulting in that sought-after “oven spring.” Meanwhile, proteins in the dough unravel and create a stretchy web inside the crust, while starch on the surface turns into a crisp “starch glass,” giving you that satisfying crunch in your pizza crust.

Not every oven is good for every type of pizza. The pizza deck oven is the most versatile and is recommended for all our styles except Neapolitan. Thin-crust and medium-crust pizzas, like Neapolitan or New York–style, rely heavily on infrared light for baking. Traditional wood-burning ovens are masters of this technique, with their high, asymmetric heat. Ovens that are not specifically designed to bake pizzas can present some challenges to the pizza maker. Most home ovens use air temperature as their primary heat source, which can create a challenge for the home pizza maker.

Pizza ovens have a hearth floor that gets extremely hot and retains a substantial amount of heat when it is preheated. So when you put a pizza on it, there’s significant heat transfer from conduction. In a traditional pizza oven, the ambient temperature of the air is vastly higher and air makes much less of a contribution (see Modernist Pizza, vol. 1, page 354).

By contrast, home ovens work by heating the air within the oven. Because home ovens operate at temperatures that are hundreds of degrees colder than a pizza oven, heat transfer from the air is important. If a home oven has convection heat, the oven has a fan that blows the heat around the oven. This speeds up the cooking time, but it can set the pizza crust too quickly and contribute to a reduction in volume. When you load the pizza into a home oven and close the door, the oven will take some time to recover. Combi and convection ovens will take less time to do so since the circulating hot air makes the oven come up to temperature faster than in a still oven.

Additionally, a home oven doesn’t have a floor like a pizza oven, and the thin metal walls don’t help the situation because they don’t hold enough heat. We tried using a baking stone to mimic the hearth of a pizza oven. The problem is that the stone in a pizza oven is much thicker and gets much hotter, so even though the material is the same, using a baking stone isn’t that great at improving the performance of a non–pizza oven.

Here’s where a baking steel comes in. It can seriously transform your oven’s performance. Providing a direct heat source to the bottom of the pizza and getting the oven as hot as possible are two of the most important factors to improving your home oven—regardless of pizza style. Thin-crust and medium-crust pizzas need the high heat for their crust development, but even pan-baked pizzas benefit from the heat in order to achieve a crispy bottom crust.

How to Use Your Baking Steel to Maximize Your Oven’s Performance

The best way to try to replicate the floor of a pizza oven in a non–pizza oven is to preheat your oven with a baking steel or baking stone for 10–20 minutes (home ovens benefit from a 30-minute preheat). For most pizza styles, we recommend you place the steel on a shelf 10 cm / 4 in from the broiler in combi, convection, or still electric or gas ovens. (Be sure to check the individual recipes for specific recommendations.)

For home ovens, you can preheat the oven 15°C / 25°F higher than the recipe’s baking temperature calls for, if your oven allows it. This is so the temperature drop from opening the oven door isn’t so dramatic. Make sure that after you close the door and the oven returns to the desired temperature, you set it to the correct temperature in the recipe.

Sometimes, we recommend turning on the broiler at some point during baking (see the individual recipes for specific recommendations). Make sure that your oven is calibrated and that you use an oven thermometer to verify the temperature of the oven (see Modernist Pizza, vol. 1, page 392).

You can also stack two baking steels on top of each other to retain and radiate heat more evenly. Or you can separate them and cook more pizzas at the same time. If you are making pizzas frequently in these ovens, it might be worth investing in two steels. Keep in mind, however, that some oven racks can’t support the weight of two steels and the racks can bend and fall in the oven. Most baking steels won’t fit exactly on the shelves of a combi or convection oven, so you might consider getting custom-cut steel if you make pizza often. We recommend 1.25 cm / ½-in thick-cut steel or 2.5 cm / 1-in thick-cut aluminum.

We recommend using a pizza screen or parchment paper to safely transfer uncooked, floor-baked pizzas onto preheated steel. If you go the parchment-paper route, cut a piece of parchment paper slightly larger than your pizza prior to shaping your dough. For a 30 cm / 12 in or 35 cm / 14 in pizza, cut a 38 cm / 15 in round or square piece. From there, shape your dough and place it on the parchment paper or screen. If you are using a screen, be sure to coat it with a light layer of cooking spray and shape the dough on a generously floured surface. Apply the sauce, cheese, and toppings. Transfer the pizza, parchment paper included, onto a peel or the back of an upside-down sheet pan or cookie sheet. Then carefully slide the pizza onto the hot steel in the oven.

Baking Steels vs. Baking Stones and Cast-Iron Skillets

The next best thing to a baking steel is a baking stone. This functions in much the same way but doesn’t retain heat as well as the steel. You can use untreated paving tiles to replicate a baking stone, but you’ll likely need to put a grid of them in your oven to create an area large enough to bake a pizza on, which can be unwieldy. Paving tiles fit nicely in toaster ovens and can be used to improve pizzas that you bake or reheat in them.

Another great alternative to using a baking steel is making pizza in a cast-iron skillet or griddle, either in the oven or on a stovetop. You want to use something that is flat, shallow, and large enough to cook your pizza. We prefer round cast-iron skillets to rectangular griddles, but either will do (round cast-iron griddles with handles, similar to what sizzling fajitas are served on, work well). Be sure to preheat the cast iron to the temperature indicated in the recipe before making your pizza.

While cast-iron skillets provide consistent bottom heat to the pizza, they aren’t capable of giving you top heat. We like to use them in conjunction with a heat gun for the stovetop or a high-heat broiler in the oven to bake the cheese and toppings to the perfect doneness. We tried using a blowtorch to brown the top of the pizza, but it was less successful than the heat gun. The other benefit to using cast-iron skillets is that they are multipurpose. As a last resort, you can preheat a stack of three or four upside-down sheet pans to try to provide extra bottom heat to the pizza as it bakes.

Baking Steel Maintenance

Keep in mind that you need to maintain your baking steel (in much the same way as cast iron). Before using the baking steel, season it with oil and burn it off. Don’t wash your baking steel. If something gets crusted on it, scrub it with salt to clean it. Rub the steel with coats of oil in between uses so that it doesn’t rust. Using a pizza screen (see Modernist Pizza, vol. 1, page 388) makes it easier to load the pizza into the oven. Be sure to coat the screen with spray oil before using. Remove the pizza from the screen a couple of minutes after it goes into the oven so that the bottom of the pizza can brown properly. Slide a peel in between the pizza and the screen and then take the screen out of the oven with tongs or a kitchen towel.

If you want to master the art of pizza making, it’s important to have an understanding of how pizza bakes and how to work with your particular oven. While home ovens may present challenges, a baking steel can be a game changer. Whether you choose a steel, stone, or cast iron, these tools will help you achieve that perfect pizza crust, turning your home kitchen into a pizzeria. So shape that dough, top it with your favorite ingredients, and let your optimized oven work its magic!

Baking steels aren’t limited to just the oven—unleash the full potential of your new equipment with these five additional uses. Be sure to also check out our Pizza Gear Guide for more valuable recommendations on pizza-making equipment.

Improving Pizza Sauce

A large tomato, often used in tomato sauce.

You can make pizza without cheese. You can make it without toppings. But to many, pizza is not pizza without some kind of sauce on top, which is why learning to improve your tomato sauce can seriously elevate your pizza. Here, you’ll discover quick and easy ways to elevate the flavor profiles of your tomato pizza sauces, whether you’re starting from scratch or want to punch up store-bought options.

The role of sauce in pizza making extends beyond its general culinary purposes of adding moisture and flavor. The nature of the sauce—including its liquid content, placement on the dough or around the toppings, and when it’s added to the pizza—can significantly influence the final outcome of both the pizza and its toppings.

For instance, sauce plays a protective role for the center of thin-crust and medium-crust pizzas, preventing their expansion and bubbling during baking. It also acts as a heat sink, its temperature limited to 100°C / 212°F until all water evaporates. This property shields delicate toppings from the oven’s high heat, making it a practical choice to cover ingredients like clams before baking.

The sauce’s liquid content is a key factor linked to pizza type, affecting baking time and temperature. Neapolitan pizza, baked at extreme heat, features a wet sauce that rapidly evaporates, forming a smooth, pulpy topping by the end of baking. On the other end, New York pizza requires a less watery sauce to avoid sogginess, given its lower temp and longer baking process. Temperature is also vital during saucing; applying cold sauce to dough can lower its temperature and affect baking time, potentially leading to issues like a gel layer. Room-temperature tempering for two hours is advised, while in specific cases like Detroit-style and deep-dish pizzas, heated sauce application post-baking is preferred. In essence, the intricate interplay between sauce consistency, temperature, and pizza type highlights how sauces on pizzas go beyond conventional culinary roles, acting as essential elements in achieving diverse textures and flavors across various pizza styles.

IMPROVING YOUR PIZZA SAUCE

Although there are many kinds of pizza sauce, the most common kind is tomato, which is what we’ll be focusing on in this post. 

Pizzaioli commonly equate sauce with tomatoes, linking the strength of the sauce to the quality of the tomato. Chefs approach sauce differently, believing in enhancing flavors and equilibrium by introducing diverse elements to their sauces—a culinary dichotomy evident in Neapolitan pizza makers versus pasta chefs who create intricate sauces. The former uses canned, crushed tomatoes, while the latter create elaborate concoctions from many ingredients. One school of thought advocates adjusting sauces with salt, sugar, or acids in order to maintain consistency, while the other says to only use top-tier tomatoes. But it’s not always possible to use fresh ingredients all year round, which is why we think it’s important to know what ingredients to use to improve your tomato sauces.  

Tomato sauce usually has some general characteristics: acid, sweetness, and umami (savoriness). These characteristics can be bumped up or, depending on the application, used to correct a flaw or enhance flavors to get a particular result. You can view it as adjusting to improve a sauce that isn’t perfect or as a chance to make your own creation.

Even though tomatoes have a good amount of naturally occurring umami in them, they can be lacking in flavor, especially if they are out of season or were harvested when they were not quite ripe. We typically recommend that you season your sauce with salt and/or dried oregano, but you can also attain some complex flavor profiles with other flavorings. Add the following (either on their own or in combination; if using a combination, don’t use as much as we recommend for a single addition). For example, if there are two additions, divide the amount for each by two; if there are three additions, divide by three, and so on.

IMPROVING ACIDITY

Most tomato sauces are somewhat acidic, but sometimes they can be flat. Use these ingredients to liven up your tomato sauce (adding salt helps too). Try 1% to 2% of

  • vinegar (white, champagne, red wine, white wine, and/or balsamic),
  • lime juice, or
  • lemon juice.

UMAMI INGREDIENTS

  • 0.4%–0.6% MSG: There is an assumption surrounding MSG that it’s unsafe, but we can assure you this is false. In fact, MSG is a principal ingredient in tomatoes.
  • 1.5%–2.5% anchovy oil: The more you add, the more anchovy-like the sauce will get. Whether that is a good or bad thing is up to you.
  • 1%–2% mushroom powder: We recommend shiitake or porcini. You won’t taste the mushrooms, but they will contribute a savory note.
  • 0.5%–1% soy sauce: Use sparingly.
  • 2%–3% Worcestershire sauce: Use sparingly.
  • 2%–3% fish sauce: Use sparingly.

BOOSTING THE TOMATO FLAVOR

  • 7–8 tomato leaves per kilo: Tomato leaves in small amounts can provide a very intense tomato taste. Some people believe that they are poisonous, but we can assure you they are not. Stir into the sauce and allow to sit for at least 3–4 hours to flavor.
  • 8%–10% tomato paste: Even the smallest amount of tomato paste is typically too much for most preparations. Use what you need, and freeze the rest flat in a zip-top bag so that you can break off pieces of it as you need it.
  • 3%–4% freeze-dried tomatoes: If you cannot find these, use sun-dried tomatoes, which have a slightly different taste and texture, but will add the desired tomato flavor.

SWEETENING INGREDIENTS

Try any of these ingredients at 1%–4%. This percentage is wide because it is up to you how much to use, whether you want to sweeten the sauce or tame its acidity. Add 1 gram or 1/4 teaspoon at a time and taste:

  • sugar,
  • agave syrup, or
  • honey, or hot honey.

COMPLEMENTARY FLAVORS

  • A1 steak sauce as needed. While you don’t necessarily want the pizza sauce to taste like steak sauce, A1 and other steak sauces have flavoring ingredients that work really well with pizza sauce, such as vinegar, tomato puree, garlic, onions, and celery seed.
  • 5–6 fresh basil leaves per kilo
  • Spicy ingredients (crushed red pepper flakes, commercial hot sauces, fresh chilis, dried chilis, chipotle peppers, cayenne, yuzu kosho, gochujang, sriracha)

Our team would love to see your improved sauces and the pizzas you’ve created, so please tag us in your social media posts if you end up experimenting with these techniques.

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