There’s been a burn ban in effect for a week here at Chez Bullhog. The air hangs heavy, and in small towns out towards the mountains woodstove smoke escapes chimneys only to spread flat in the air. No outdoor fires; no firing up the oven today. It’s the perfect kind of day for second best: indoor baking in an oven lined with quarry tiles.
Quarry tiles are unglazed ceramic tiles. They’re laughably low-tech and simple to use, but are extremely effective in getting the bottom of a free-standing loaf of bread to be rounded instead of flat, and in getting the crust to be, well, crustier. You can buy quarry tiles at your local tile store for about a buck apiece. If you buy six and put them in a 3×2 pattern on the center rack, you will instantly convert your oven to be better suited to baking. For best results, you’ll need to preheat your oven for a good half hour.
I slip bread or pizzas directly onto the tiles with a wooden peel. For baguettes, I use three long pieces of mat board, so that I can slip the unwieldy loaves into my oven sideways. I’ve also had good success baking panned rolls and even casseroles on the quarry tiles, which come out more evenly cooked when baked this way. Recently, I heard a conversation with a cookie afficianado, who used quarry tiles for her prize-winning cookies.
Here’s a straightforward recipe for whole wheat bread that we bake directly on quarry tiles. My family loves it and I hope you do, too!
Whole Wheat Bread baked on Quarry Tiles
Makes one big 2 ¼ pound loaf
2 cups whole wheat flour
(Bob’s Red Mill or similar)
2 cups unbleached bread flour
(Pendleton Mills or similar)
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 ½ teaspoons dry yeast
1 ¾ cups water at 100º f
1 Tablespoon Canola oil for greasing bowl
Extra flour for kneading and finishing
Make the dough: Put the dry ingredient into a bread bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the water. Using the handle of a wooden spoon, mix to incorporate.
Knead the dough: Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured counter, and knead vigorously for 8 to 10 minutes. Bring the edges of the dough in to the center several times toward the end to develop the gluten.
First rise: Sprinkle canola oil into a clean bowl, put the dough into it and then turn so that the oiled part is up. Cover bowl, and put into a warm place to let double in size. This will mean 2 hours at 80º or 3 hours at 70º.
Second rise: Punch the dough down and let rise for a further 2 hours at room temperature.
Shape loaf and final rise: On the counter, deflate the largest bubbles from the dough turn its edges under to make a loaf, and let sit for 10 minutes to dry. Coat the crevices of a banneton with whole wheat flour (if you’re aiming for the crust as shown in the photo), or rub flour into a cloth napkin and lay it into a round basket about 11” across. Sprinkle whole wheat flour onto the loaf, put rounded side down in the basket or banneton,cover with a cloth and let proof for an hour.
Bake the loaf: Preheat your oven lined with quarry tiles for at least half an hour at 450º. When the oven is hot, turn the banneton or basket over onto a floured paddle and slip the proofed loaf directly onto the hot tile. Bake for 15 minutes at 450º, then lower the temperature to 400º and bake for a further 40 minutes.
Cool on a rack for half an hour before digging in.
The underside of the quarry tiles may be sharp. Handle them carefully.
You can stack the quarry tiles 2-deep with excellent results.
You can use a pizza stone instead of quarry tiles if you like with similar results.