Bake better bread. Line your oven with inexpensive clay tiles.

Cheap tiles make for great bread!

A 50$ cloche will almost mimic the effects of a 10k$ masonry oven.

bake better bread!

This is a really easy way to start making the bread you make at home a lot closer to the bread that is coming out of really good bakeries.

The best bread is made in heavy stone or masonry ovens. You could make one of those, or you could start of with something just a little bit easier!

Lining the bottom rack of your oven with heavy unglazed clay pavers, is a great way to simulate the environment of a masonry oven, and you will notice a dramatic difference when you do your next batch of homemade hearth bread with the use of these tiles in your oven.

There are three kinds of heat:

  1. Convection
  2. conduction
  3. radiation

and these tiles help out with all three.

What happens, generally, when you open the door and place in a large mass of relatively cool bread dough into an oven, is that the oven temperature drops down dramatically. Modern ovens are designed to be well insulated, but have almost no heat storage capabilities. This heat loss is bad for bread, as the first few minutes of the baking time will determine the rise you get out of your bread.

The heavy clay tiles act as a heat sink, and will slowly absorb and reradiate all the heat from the preheating period. What this means, is that your oven temperature will stabilize much more quickly with the addition of a hot massive object, like the clay tiles. That's the convection (hot air) benefit.

The conduction benefit works on the base of the crust. By placing your loaves directly onto the hot tiles, they will get the benefit of a great, even heat, and the base of the bread will be thick and crusty and delicious.

The radiant benefit is perhaps the most important of all. Heat moves by process of radiation (the heat you feel from the sun on a spring day), at different wavelengths, and these wavelengths penetrate further into the crust. Using a massive object in the oven to create a source of radiant heat, will better reproduce the thick and crispy crusts that are the hallmark of great hearth baked bread.

This is never really going to be as good as a masonry oven for baking, but it does take a step in the right direction, and it will make your bread better. These tiles can be picked for a couple of bucks, and are much cheaper than the "pizza stones" made specifically for ovens. They also tend to be thicker, and thereby a better source of radiant heat.

You will need to ensure that you give the tiles a sufficient pre heat, 45 min. to an hour. If you put the bread in the oven before the tiles are well heated, they will actually be robbing the open and the bread of heat, and can make things worse!

Making a hearth floor out these tiles will also produce fantastic, crispy crusted pizzas (the secret to pizza is too crank the heat!)

Try adding these to your oven, and see how much better your next batch of bread will be!

hearth bread!

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Comments 21 comments

Aphroditei profile image

Aphroditei 9 years ago

Thanks for this very well written hub John! Now I know why they end up stiff and chewy.~lol I will share this too with my mom. She will be so happy. Thank you again! (^^,)


John D Lee profile image

John D Lee 9 years ago Author

Thanks for the comment, and I'm more of a cook than a writer, so it's nice to hear that my words at least make sense!

I hope you get inspired to get in the kitchen and make some great homemeade bread.

Thanks,

John


Kelli 9 years ago

How do you use the stone for rolls? Once they rise, I don't think they are easy to move to the hot stone in the oven...or are they?? And, I couldn't preheat the stone while I am using it to hold the dough....

Thanks!


John D Lee profile image

John D Lee 9 years ago Author

Hi Kelli,

you won't be proofing the rolls on the stones. Preheat the tiles or stones in the oven, for at least 45 minutes, and then bake on these. You can either use a bakers peel (I use a cuttting board with some corn meal on it) to transfer the bread or rolls directly onto the stones, or you can just proof the rolls on a baking tray, and then put the tray onto the tiles in the oven.

It's not as hard as it seems to slide the proofed breads or rolls onto the stones. Make sure you use lots of corn meal or flour on your peel so that the breads will slide easily. Get them to the edge of the peel, and then just sort of jerk the peel out, and the breads will slide onto the hot stones. The technique is more commonly used for breads than for rolls, but will make for some pretty good crusty rolls as well.

Good luck,

John


Dan 8 years ago

This IS the key to making great bread. Check out the book "The Best Bread Ever by Charles Van Over." He is a big advocate of hot ovens, stones, etc, and also promotes simple breadmaking techniquies.


John D Lee profile image

John D Lee 8 years ago Author

Thanks for the tip Dan, I will check that book out.


cecelia 8 years ago

Hi John, Could you tell me how to make brat buns? The ones in the store are a little bigger and chewier than the hot dog buns. I've tried the water in the bottom of the oven and an egg wash like I do for my Italian bread but this is not the answer either. Is there something to add or delete from the recipe itself. I'm at a loss. Thanx


Euan 7 years ago

Dude, what you say is all good, but you might warn your readers about choosing tiles that don't have air bubbles and so won't explode when heated.


John D Lee profile image

John D Lee 7 years ago Author

Hi Euan,

I have always used baked terra cotta floor tiles, and have never had any problems (and I've been through a lot of them!) I do find that they tend to break after a while (Of course this is in daily all day use) but have never had any explosions (fingers crossed haha). I think if you stick with tiles that look like the ones in the photo above, you'll be fine.

John


mg 7 years ago

Do I need to look for anything in particular in the tiles... I know that some have lime added to them, so I have been afraid to use them. Where are you buying your tiles? Thanks I have really enjoyed your info!!


John D Lee profile image

John D Lee 7 years ago Author

Hi MG,

I've never heard of any problems with using unglazed terra cotta tiles. Glazed tiles can have some nasty stuff though. If it's something you're worried about, you can always use a little parchement paper on your stones for hearth baking.


Nancy Swaim 6 years ago

Hi- I love to bake and love to work with clay. I want to make my own hearth tiles. I am thinking of using clay that is for stoneware, making slabs that are about 1/2" thick, and making 4 of these that will cover a space roughly 1" smaller than my oven rack. I will probably put some design into the tiles so that the bottom crust of my loaves will pick up some of the design elements. Any thoughts about the relative pros and cons of this?


John D Lee profile image

John D Lee 6 years ago Author

Hi Nancy,

Well, first off, I am no expert on the manufacture of tiles - so I'll leave all answers pertaining to the production to someone more knowledgeable than I. I would say that I think you may want to consider tiles that are a little bit thicker. They take a little longer to heat up in the oven but retain a lot more heat and will provide a better oven spring. The ones I use are about an inch in thickness.

The designs sound nice!


Nancy Swaim 6 years ago

Thanks for the suggestion about building a thicker tile. I have sent a similar question to Amaco, a manufacturer of clay for potters. My first loaves of "artisinal" bread just came from the oven. I used preheated pottery bowls to bake in. I think because I was baking at midnight that I rushed the final rising after I shaped the loaves but they still look pretty fine; )


Inna 6 years ago

Do you keep the tiles in the oven when you are not using them? Can you place roasting pans, cookie sheets, etc with other food right on the tiles? If yes, do they affect the cooking time/temperature of other foods? I roast a lot of vegetables and am trying to figure out if I will need to take the tiles out every time I want to use the oven for something other than making bread. Thanks so much!


John D Lee profile image

John D Lee 6 years ago Author

Hi Inna

I generally leave them in, but you will need to preheat your oven for longer if, no matter what you're cooking, if you keep them in there! You can certainly place pans on them, but some foods, like cookies, might do better when on a rack, and not on a hot 'hearth' like floor, whereas roasted veggies should be great on the tiles. It depends!

In general, having something hot and massive in an oven will slightly speed cooking times due to the increased radiant energy in the oven.(although the total time is usually slower if you count the preheat).

Foods that are cooked directly on the hot tiles will also usually cook a little quicker than they would on a rack.


lindro 5 years ago

I have been an avid bread baker for 40 years. I am using a pizza stone right now but plan to pick up tiles so I can bake all the loaves at one time on the clay (I usually do 3).

I've found the best crusts are made using a steaming process in a very hot oven. I place a 10 inch heavy cast iron pan on the top level and heat the oven to 500 degrees. After I place my bread into the oven, I pour a cup of hot water into the pan, then shut the door for 30 seconds. Then I open the door and spray water on the sides and bottom of the oven. I do this a total of three times every 30 seconds.

Then I turn the oven down to 450 and let it go for 15 minutes. At that time, I turn the bread if it's browning more on one side or cover it with an aluminum foil "hat" if it's getting too dark. Usually another 5- 10 minutes is enough to get the interior temp to about 200 degrees.

This steaming process does amazing things for bread. Bigger loaves. Heartier crust.


John D Lee profile image

John D Lee 5 years ago Author

Lindro - could not agree more about the benefits of heavy steam - night and day difference. Thanks very much for your comment and expertise.


hamilton 5 years ago

Steam and Stone are essential to get great instead of good results.


LongTimeMother profile image

LongTimeMother 3 years ago from Australia

I bake a lot of bread in my solar oven. Now that winter is on the way, I'll try your clay tile idea.

Voted up. Thank you.


GetitScene profile image

GetitScene 3 years ago from The High Seas

I've been exploring ways to make a clay oven for my boat so this was particularly interesting to me. Thank you!

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