Once upon a time, a group of friends gave me a very generous gift certificate to Sur La Table for my birthday. And one of the things I bought was a wooden peel, for moving loaves of bread and pizzas to and from my baking stone.
After the first time I spilled a homemade pizza on the floor of my oven, I gave it up as a bad job. And maybe cried.
See, the fresh dough is just too sticky, it grabs the peel and hangs on tight, leading to disasters such as my original pizza à la oven.
But I hate having tools in my kitchen that I rarely use, much less tools that I never use. (My kitchen just isn’t big enough to accommodate cool looking but unused things. That’s space wasted on things I could be using!) But I was loath to get rid of it since I’d spent a good thirty bucks on it.
I practiced with bread, since I make bread relatively frequently and the drama of a loaf of bread on the floor of my oven isn’t near as bad as that of a spilled pizza (although still tear-worthy).
Many, many fallen loaves of bread later, I mastered it.
1. Dust your pizza peel with cornmeal. Use at least a tablespoon, two if necessary. One should be sufficient though. And rub that cornmeal in well. Work it into the wood from edge to edge if you’re making pizza, the center will suffice for bread. But don’t use too much, or you’ll be dusting the inside of your oven with cornmeal and it will smoke. Start at a tablespoon. Don’t use more than two.
2. Place your shaped dough on the cornmeal coated peel. (I’m using pizza tonight, but it’s mostly the same for bread.) Moving pizza safely into the oven is harder, I recommend you start with bread. If you’re making pizza, add your sauce, cheese and toppings. If you’re making bread, cover it and let it proof until doubled.
3. Open up the oven and pull the rack with your baking stone out so it’s accessible. You don’t want to burn yourself.
4. (Important!) Holding the peel horizontal above your counter, shake it back and forth gentle, until the pizza/bread starts to move a little. Even with all that corn meal, it’ll stick a little, the horizontal shake loosens things up a bit. This is especially important for pizza to avoid spilling toppings all over the inside of your oven.
5. Place the far end of the pizza peel touching the far side of the baking stone and give it a very gentle shake to start the pizza sliding off. Once it hits the stone, the hot stone will grab the dough and keep it from moving. When you feel that happen, you can pull the peel back gently, leaving the pizza behind.
6. Your pizza/bread is now on the hot baking stone. I hope you like how it’s positioned, because there’s no moving it now! It’s stuck where it is until the bottom crust cooks, which releases it from the stone.
We’ll do pizza tomorrow. It’s one of our favorite meals.