As I have previously mentioned, I quite like shortbread, so over the years I have attempted to use the stoneware to create picture perfect shortbread (with a variety of normal and brown-butter recipes), all of which ended in disaster.
I tried a number of tricks: cooking it low and slow, making sure it cools completely (several hours) before removing, greasing the mould, but every time it came out in pieces and mostly stuck to the mould. Searching for advice, several people in the lower end of the product reviews experienced similar results (although several people gave 5-star reviews with claims of mould-glory) and one of the top results on google was an article about similar disastrous experiences using the same mould, I didn't have high hopes.
I am pleased to say though, that I have had a breakthrough.
There were lots of comments in the review section for the product saying it worked as-is, recommending shortening, or letting chill completely, which I can confirm absolutely did not work for me, however, one or two comments and some more careful searching lead me to the idea of seasoning it (much like when I got my pride-and-joy new cast iron skillet) - which suddenly made sense. Its a natural, porous material, which draws moisture our of the contents (which is one of the properties that makes stone an appropriate material for pizza stones - the other property being the heat retention, also much like cast iron) - seasoning, the act of heating oil or (non burning) fat above its "smoke point" creates a chemical reaction where by the oil bonds and forms a natural, breathable coating.
Much like a well aged, well used, cast iron pan can demonstrate incredible non-stick performance - due to long term use - the same applies to stoneware for baking wet foods - there is apparently a saying that goes
The worse it looks, the better it cooksThankfully, cast iron or stoneware, you don't need a lifetime of use before you start to see the best results - we can fast track the process by seasoning the pan. As it happens, seasoning pans is very satisfying.
Seasoning a pan is simple -
- Pre-heat your oven to as hot as it will go (it might smoke, so make sure you are ready to have windows/doors open)
- Apply oil (I used vegetable oil) to the pan, not a lot, just a light coat (trying to make sure there aren't bits of dust or paper debris from kitchen towels - as the stone can be fairly abrasive, and any debris is going to get sealed into the surface)
- Put the dish in the oven for around 30 minutes
- Take out, let it cool completely (this will take a while, remember what I mentioned about it stone retaining heat)
- Repeat the process two or three times (I find it quite addictive to repeat, as the results are such a delight)
The results should be clear - the colour will change fairly dramatically, and if you touch it (once its cooled down) it will be fairly smooth.
If you look at the colour in the starting photo, a kind of pale-greyish white, that is how my mould started out, and below is after three or so seasoning runs:
Isn't that a beautiful colour?
And here's the successful results:
(a success in as much that it came out, pattern in tact - however it was an iteration on my brown butter shortbread development, so still a work in progress)