Best cornmeal for pizza peel?
January 17, 2010 6:47 AM   Subscribe

What's the best kind of cornmeal to use on a pizza peel?

I am just beginning to bake bread directly on a baking stone, using a pizza peel to place the loaf on the stone. Should I be using some special kind of cornmeal to make this process easier? I am using the stone ground cornmeal that I use for cornbread, and it seems to take A LOT to get the dough not to stick to the peel (I'm using a sticky, no-knead dough). Then I have a very dusty loaf of bread when it's all over. Should I be using something with a larger, cleaner grain, like a polenta?
posted by krista_p to Food & Drink (22 answers total)
I think it's the sticky dough. I use regular cornmeal - Bob's Red Mill - and don't experience much of a problem. It may be that the no-knead dough is just too moist, and will absorb and dampen the cornmeal so much that you'll need a huge amount to prevent sticking.
posted by Miko at 7:27 AM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I actually haven't had much luck with any cornmeal! I find a little bit of parchment paper makes life much easier, especially with any sticky dough. For not-so-sticky doughs I find making the loaf/pizza crust on the counter, then moving quickly, picking it up with my hands and placing it on the peel and quickly putting it in the oven is best.
posted by cathoo at 7:28 AM on January 17, 2010

Use the cheapest cornmeal in the store. White or yellow. It doesn't matter. Honest.
The cornmeal is, basically, something for the dough to slide around on and to keep it from sticking to the peel. You don't need to waste good stoneground meal for that.

As an aside, and as opposed to a traditional wooden peel, I've had a lot of great luck using one of those cheap artist's canvas boards. The canvas texture aids in allowing the dough to slide. The addition of corn meal makes it work doubly well.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:37 AM on January 17, 2010

Cathoo, parchment paper is a fantastic idea! My family likes having "pizza night" where everyone makes their own pizza, and getting them to slide off of the peel using cornmeal is always... interesting.
posted by WowLookStars at 7:42 AM on January 17, 2010

I use semolina flour rather than cornmeal. It's not quite as gritty as cornmeal and does the job nicely. I keep it in a large rubbermaid bottle and shake it onto the peel. I use about a tablespoon and spread it around the peel with my hand.

As others have said, parchment paper works as well.
posted by bondcliff at 7:50 AM on January 17, 2010

There's also Super Peel.
posted by bondcliff at 7:51 AM on January 17, 2010

Parchment. I put my shaped loaf on a sheet of parchment for it's final proof. Right before putting it in the oven, I'll trim around the edges, so that there's not too much excess. Then it's easy peasy to slide the peel under the parchment and transfer the whole thing onto the baking stone. It also helps when you're taking the finished product out, no worries about a spot of dough that's cooked onto the stone.
posted by spinturtle at 7:58 AM on January 17, 2010

Try a mix of semolina flour and cornmeal.
posted by saffry at 8:02 AM on January 17, 2010

I haven't had that much luck with cornmeal and I'm not too fond of having little bits of corn on my bread. I use bran and find it works well (wheat is fine, but oat is even better). If you are proofing on the peel, then you are going to need quite a bit of whatever you are using to prevent sticking with a wet dough. While theoretically burnt flour will give an off-taste to the bottom of the crust, I wouldn't hesitate to rub a light layer of flour onto the peel and then put bran on top of that if sticking remains an issue. Some woods just don't play well with wet doughs and need a little flour.
posted by ssg at 8:08 AM on January 17, 2010

At the pizza place I work at, we use coarse ground cornmeal...likely the cheapest we can get. Just a data point.
posted by schyler523 at 8:24 AM on January 17, 2010

Parchment. Gotta use it. It's the perfect solution. I use it and also put some cornmeal under my pizzas for deliciousness purposes.
posted by ORthey at 8:38 AM on January 17, 2010

I've heard that semolina flour is more authentic, if you can find it. Check your grocery store's natural section, as a lot of the "natural" grain companies make it.

That said, I'm going to nth parchment paper. It's perfectly safe, and very easy. You don't need to add anything to the dough (which will make it taste gritty or add too much flour, making it dry), and it keeps your baking stone perfectly clean. It saves you time and gives you a better result, so I have to say forget tradition here. If you wanted tradition, you'd be using a wood-fired, 800 degree brick oven.

You can also try baking pizza in a cast iron skillet. Take the hot skillet to where your dough is, put the dough on, and then put it in the oven. Much easier than messing with a peel, but you don't have as much space.
posted by mccarty.tim at 8:52 AM on January 17, 2010

As an anecdotal data point, I have had excellent results with the cheapest cornmeal I've been able to find in the store. Use the same stuff to make cornbread, too.
posted by malthas at 9:06 AM on January 17, 2010

After one pizza peel disaster too many I began parbaking my crusts before adding the toppings. It sidesteps problems with dough sticking to the peel, and it makes a better pizza overall because the crust doesn't get soggy from the ingredients piled on top of it.

I swab a pizza pan with olive oil & sprinkle with corn meal (helps with non-stickiness, but also adds nice texture), stretch the dough out and put the pan in the oven for a couple of minutes, letting the crust bake until I see the barest hint of browning.

Then I take the crust out, remove it from the pan (even if it sticks a little bit, it's nothing compared with trying to get raw dough covered with sauce & cheese off of a peel without destroying it) put it on the peel, add toppings, and slide it directly onto the pizza stone.

I'm glad I coincidentally bought pizza ingredients this morning, because this thread is seriously making me want pizza.
posted by usonian at 9:24 AM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding parbaking for pizza crust. After final rollout of pizza dough, put it on a cold stone, put it in the oven for 5-7 minutes, then plop the crust onto the back of a cookie sheet and put the stone back in the oven. After assembling the pizza on the crust, the stone is now nicely hot and the pizza slides nicely onto it.

For doing breads, yes parchment paper.
posted by yesster at 11:11 AM on January 17, 2010

As someone who makes a lot of gourmet pizzas at home, semolina is the only way to go. I've tried cornmeal in the past and it's slightly sticky and has a very strong tendency to burn and scorch, which gives the pizza off-flavors, so I'd not recommend it.
posted by crapmatic at 12:10 PM on January 17, 2010

In contrast to many of the posters above, just about any type of cornmeal has worked for me, but finer grained types contribute less texture to the end result. I don't tend to bake very sticky doughs directly on the stone, though. (One tip that may help if you aren't already doing it is to shake the dough on the peel right after you put it on, to make sure it isn't sticking and loosen it up if it is -- then when you go to get it off the peel in the oven it is more likely to work.)
posted by advil at 12:45 PM on January 17, 2010

I think these suggestions are great for more traditional pizza dough, but I'd be really surprised if anything but parchment paper will work for no-knead dough. (I'm assuming it's almost as wet as the no knead bread dough a la Lahey/Bittman.)
posted by kestrel251 at 12:56 PM on January 17, 2010

Semolina. Also: practice. You will have a few disasters along the way, but it gets easier with practice.

However, if you're using one of the popular no-knead recipes, your dough is just going to be sticky because those recipes tend to be 85-90% hydrated. For pizza dough a hydration of 70-75% will come out better and be much easier for you to handle. You can still use long development as with no-knead, and it will come out fine. I do this all the time.

Do not parbake as it will dry out the crust. You want high temperature and short cook time. Also preheat your stone for a good 40 minutes.
posted by alopez at 2:57 PM on January 17, 2010

I just made two pizzas tonight with no-knead type dough, the peasant boule dough from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. I don't use cornmeal at all; just flour. The exterior of the dough already has to be dusted with enough flour so that I can shape it, so it's not that much extra.

I do this as a test: Dust the entire surface of the peel with some flour and ensure that you can make the dough slide around on it a bit, just so it moves a quarter-inch or so (jiggle it gently for proof). If it sticks and doesn't slide, carefully lift up the dough and sprinkle more flour under it. Repeat until you achieve the slide (scrape off any bits that have stuck before adding extra flour), then slide the dough onto the stone, while jiggling the peel enough to encourage sliding.

When putting dough into the oven, if you start with the edge of the peel at the back of the stone, you just need the front edge of the dough to make contact with the back part of the stone, then you can slowly, while slightly wiggling it, retract the peel out from underneath the dough.

Good luck, and enjoy your bread.
posted by mneekadon at 4:11 PM on January 17, 2010

Do not parbake as it will dry out the crust. You want high temperature and short cook time.

I should have qualified my statement about parbaking: your mileage (and doneness preference) may vary the last 2 ovens I've used to make pizza only get up to 550ºF, and have found that the crust actually trends towards underdone without parbaking. Short & hot is definitely the name of the game, but 550 is 200-250º short of a real pizza oven.
posted by usonian at 7:34 PM on January 17, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks so much for all of your suggestions! Indeed it is the combination of a wet, sticky dough and proofing on the peel that is causing the problem. It sounds like parchment is the best solution in this case. I will keep the other tips in mind for pizza night.
posted by krista_p at 8:53 AM on January 18, 2010

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