The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Diagnosis desired please!

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GregS's picture
GregS

Diagnosis desired please!

This is Hamelman's Vermont Sourdough with Added Whole Wheat. It follows his recipe right down the line. I am totally thrown by the ghostly white crust. Note that the end slice shown is normally brown on the bottom and the grigne looks excellent.....but...

The loaf was risen overnight in a banneton dusted with rice flour. The oven was at 450 (as high as it goes). The loaf was steamed twice and baked on a preheated stone for a total of about 25 minutes.

While you are looking at this, any thoughts about the rising shown at the cut? It looks to me like the bottom (which was on top in the banneton) rose pretty well, but the top didn't get much expansion in the oven.

Thanks so much for any comments. I treasure the fine people on this blog and trust your experience. Also, Season's Greetings to all!

Greg

embth's picture
embth

When I have had bread that would not brown, it was over-proofed, so that is my first thought as I look at your results.

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Hi, Greg.

The very nice bloom you got argues against over-proofing, although that - or more likely over-fermentation - can cause a pale crust due to all the sugars having been eaten up by the yeast.

I think there are two things going on. One is it looks like there is some flour clinging to the crust which makes it look whiter. The more significant one is the low oven temperature. You really need a higher temperature to get good crust color - 460-480 dF. Sorry, but maybe you need a new oven.

David

GregS's picture
GregS

David,

Thank you for responding and thank you for your extremely instructive contributions to TFL. Happy New Year as well!

I'm working with a Breville countertop convection oven because electricity here in Hawaii costs nearly 57 cents per KWH. A day of baking in my "big" conventional oven makes a significant spike on my bill. At any rate, I have produced some decent loaves in this tiny oven. I have a firebrick stone that I can use in the bottom . The ghostly loaves are a recent thing, and I think Faith in Virginia (below) may have hit on something concerning humidity and steaming.

The Breville  has quartz-rod elements top and bottom. I am leery of cracking one with a water spray. I do  have small areas on the edge of the oven where I could put some sort of steam generator. I think that will be my next move.

I did another bake today with the same pale result. I added 1% diastatic malt to the dough, but it didn't show any noticeable difference. I also kept flour in the banneton and on the bench to a minimum. I'll keep chipping away at the problem.

Thanks again David

Greg Schultz

grind's picture
grind

Could be too much steam and its interaction with the surface flour.  In other words, the entire loaf is the same color as the nice part of the heel, but you just can't see it underneath the steamed flour.

 

ldavis47's picture
ldavis47

Greg

this is a nice looking bread except for the variation in crust color. I bake all my breads at 450 which is pretty standard for breads without fats, milk or sugar. I had to play around with the height of the shelf in the oven to even out the crust color. In your case you might move the shelf higher and bake longer. There is such a striking difference in color from the top and bottom, I would wonder if the top of the oven is cooler than the bottom, and if all the heating elements are working correctly. An oven thermometer hung at different heights might suggest the cause. 

Lloyd D.

Xenophon's picture
Xenophon

about 230 centigrade, the Maillard reactions that cause browning start at around 160-180 iirc.  Anyway, my crusts brown well even when baking between 190 and 220 centigrade.

But it's true that an oven that can get hotter is always better to have.  My main one only reaches about 235 centigrade on a good day, despite of course being sold as going up to 250.  I have a smaller sized one that goes all the way to 320 (measured with IR-thermometer) but there I can only bake one loaf at a time and forget about baguettes etc.

 

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

25 minutes at 450 is probably not enough time and temperature to brown the loaf as you desire.   Try baking for 35 minutes and also make certain that you preheat the stone for one hour.

Jeff

tchism's picture
tchism

I go along with the over fermenting and or over steaming or water sprayed on the crust before placing it in the oven.

embth's picture
embth

you just have to try again!  I bet the pale loaves tasted really good.   : )  

Faith in Virginia's picture
Faith in Virginia

I disagree with the above diagnosis...sorry guys. Looking at that thin white line that is present at the end cut of the crust.  I think your dough skin was way over dry.  Perhaps the banneton or the flour or the fridge in combination stole the moisture from the outer crust. 

When you scored the loaf was there a thick (almost leathery) skin?  That VT sourdough should be as soft as a baby's bottom and a thin skin.  Like slicing tissue paper not brown paper bag if you get the comparison. It should almost jiggle when fully proofed. 

None the less dry skin does not brown.

I would do the retard in the fridge in bulk then form and proof prior to baking.  But that's just me.

daria_m's picture
daria_m

Hi, Virginia, thank you for this advice, I have same problem as Greg and will try to do bulk retardation and then proof and bake. Do you think there is other way to keep bread moisture?

My oven is very very hot but  for now I am not able to steam it well, so I never get so beautiful loaves with "ears" and shiny crust, I am searching for alternatives...

Have you ever tried proofing bread in humid environment? Does it fit for sourdough? 

Thank you again and sorry if you've seen these questions many times.

Faith in Virginia's picture
Faith in Virginia

If you must retard a formed loaf keep it wrapped in plastic (white trash bags work well).  Yes proofing in a humid environment works well for sourdough.  I have a proofing cabinet that has adjustable humidity.  That keeps me from having to cover everything in plastic.  

To get a nice loaf in  a home oven think about using a "DO" (Dutch Oven) It works well to use the steam from the dough close to the loaf during the initial part of the bake.  When I use the house oven to test a single loaf or two that is what I use.  

In the end its best if you can avoid doing any retardation plan and schedule your bake to where your yeasties are always running wide open.  With sourdough there are many things you can do to speed up or slow down the fermentation and proofing times.

Yesterday I tested two new loaves and planed to bake them in the DO I only have one DO so when I mixed up the dough one loaf got more levain then the other the difference in proofing times gave me enough time to get one in and out of the oven while the second was finishing up.   Things of that nature.

Hope that helps some

daria_m's picture
daria_m

Hi, Virginia, thank you for advice about DO. Definitely I will try it. Actually I am almost not using retardation as I am not able still to understand if dough is ready from the fridge, I am baking with sourdough only for 3 months and it's all other world then using industrial yeast...

GregS's picture
GregS

Interesting comment, Faith. What hydration is your typical loaf? I'm using Hamelman's straight out of the book. It produces a tacky, but manageable dough. Just after forming the loaves, I refrigerate them in closed plastic bags in their bannetons. The next morning, when they are dumped from the banneton, they don't spread much, and they are easier to slash than the unrefrigerated doughs I have dealt with.

Does this fit with your experience?

Faith in Virginia's picture
Faith in Virginia

If you are following that formula from the book then we are at the same hydration.  Although flour type and environmental factors in there and there is always the adjustments.  Yes I have retarded a formed loaf and I do agree with your assessment. 

But like I have said GregS  I have had crusts look exactly like yours in the picture (leather like) with the same browning issues. One I got it that way by over flowering the second was from not using plastic to cover.

Now to answer my question ...when you slashed that loaf was the skin thick? or was it very delicate??  If it's thick that that could be another reason why you don't get much spread and easier to slash out of the fridge.  Another point to look at in your picture you can see the part of the loaf that was touching the banneton...there is a distinct line around that loaf.  The bottom of that loaf (once the top in the banneton) has nice browning.

 

Mirko's picture
Mirko

25 min is way to short, I'm baking for at least 40 min. Longer baking time better taste and more color!

Mirko

GregS's picture
GregS

Thank you for replying Mirko.

What is your baking temperature? I bake at 450F. At 25 minutes the internal temperature of the bread is just over 200F. If I baked longer I fear the crust would burn.

GregS

gary.turner's picture
gary.turner

Is it anywhere near being burnt? You could stand to go a lot darker even in the darkest areas of your crust. A bold, robust color, nearly black at the cuts' edges to a full reddish brown in the protected areas bring out the best flavor.

Crumb temps of 190℉ or more might be considered done enough, but flavor continues to improve right up to 210℉ or more.

Don't worry about burning until you actually do so, and if you do burn the loaf, get the bread rasp out and eat it anyway; it will taste fine.

cheers,

gary

GregS's picture
GregS

Gary, that's a very good idea. I'm queuing up various suggestions for test bakings. Yours will certainly be among them. Thanks.

Greg

ajrosen's picture
ajrosen

i have been networking with the guy in town that has a very nice bakery and bread and a great 20 yr reputation in town He has been nice enuff to diagnose my attempts and even gives me his own starter to use. He bakes his bread at 425 for an hour however thats a commercial oven.Home ovens burns bread at 420 or higher and if ur not baking it for at least 40-45 mins that will always be an issue. i also used an oven stone and spent 50$ on it and it burned my lower part of or the lower edge of the loaf. If u want a really nice crust use the dutch oven ( sams has them or 40$) with the use of that one tool i make amazing sourdough anytime i make it that way. i also have noticed that my starter if left to rise at room temp it peters out. I bulk ferment the dough for no less than 12 -20 hrs then take it from there. A great resource for sourdough is Northwest Sourdough. she has ebooks on her site for 5$. Thats my take  good baking

daria_m's picture
daria_m

Hi, Greg, have you discovered something new about this issue? I have exactly the same problem and your post made me register finally account and do not stay anymore in silence.

Eventually, have you used rice flour to dust your loaf or banetton? I am pretty sure, that it's not about over proofing (mine was proofed for little time (no cold retardation) and gave good oven spring, and is not about cold oven, my oven goes till almost 280 C and i use oven thermometer. But for now I am not able to create good steam((

My guess is humidity. Where i live in the winter is very dry, with 24 C inside the kitchen and 35-40% of humidity, if i use couche or  banetton and dust it with flour, mostly rice, always same picture.  Probably flour is taking humidity from the boule's surface... At least you have nice slash!

There were similar post of TFL and someone suggested that the reason can be also weak sourdough starter, but yesterday I've just done two panettone and all went very well. 

Thank you,

daria

GregS's picture
GregS

Hi, Daria,  I baked again just this morning with essentially the same results-good bread, bad crust. I think you are probably right about the oven steaming and humidity. I live in Hawaii, where it is now "Winter" and the temperatures drop as low as 60F :-) Right now, the relative humidity is 62%, pretty dry for this place.

I bake in a countertop Breville convection oven, which certainly introduces some variations, but until the recent white crust episodes, I have gotten good results. I use a baking stone and I mist the interior of the oven once or twice with a spray bottle just before putting the loaf in.

I did include diastatic malt powder equal to 1% of the flour weight in today's loaves, but I can't see much difference from the first albino loaves.

I think I will concentrate on steaming for the next attempt. I have a large stainless bowl I can invert over the loaf for the early part of the bake, so I think I will try that next. Perhaps at some point I will purchase a casserole that will fit my small oven and try baking in that. Several TFL'ers have posted about success with that method..

daria_m's picture
daria_m

Hi, Greg, thank you for answering. Well, Hawaii is definitely not a dry place:) I am living in Moscow in small apartment and here we have very strong central heating that dries air incredibly, outside is 0 C now (32F) and it's also a kind of dry. Some month I spend in Italy and there, near the sea, all seems to be full of water, for example you can leave piece of bread uncovered for two days and it will stay moist, instead here it dries in few hours.I've tried too to use spray bottle and it doesn't work for me. Unfortunately even hot pan with boiling water doesn't work, as i don't have a rack in my oven, so I bake on heavy baking tray turned upside-down. Even I put water down it doesn't reach the bread. Now Dutch Oven seems to be a solution, also because I've baked for years no-knead bread in a pot and it was just fine.If your oven has convection, it dries out things faster, as hot air ventilate all the moist, maybe it can be a chance to lower the temperature.I've baked semolina bread yesterday with around 70% of hydration, without retardation and before banana sourdough bread, with retardation of 8 hours already shaped. "Banettons" had cotton tissue in (I don't have banetton made of wood) and were in plastic bags, but as Virginia said the seam-side that was up in banetton and then went down for baking seemed to be more humid than upper part. My problem is oven and also the fact that I don't bake same bread consistently, so no experiments are actually done, as given data  is always different (bread dough).(Forgive me my mistakes in English, I am not native-speaker and write in English very rare)Happy New Year to you and all TFL members. Thank you for keeping this great community!

suave's picture
suave

What do you mean by "steamed twice"?  I am asking because your crust has a classic look of unsteamed bread.

GregS's picture
GregS

Aloha Suave,

Part of my answer is in my previous reply to "Daria", just above. Because of my small countertop convection oven, it is hard to include any steaming apparatus. I use a fine spray bottle to spray mist into the oven just before the loaf goes in. Sometimes, I will open the door during the first fifteen or so minutes and spray again. A complication is the exposed quartz rod heating elements. I don't want to hit them with too much water. I have produced very good loaves in this oven, but I think Daria may have hit on something as far as the low humidity at this time of year.

Hope that answers your question. I'll keep plugging along. Thanks for commenting.

suave's picture
suave

Spraying does not work well to begin with and if you use convection it works even worse. 

If you spray before the loaf goes in, then all the steam is lost during the loading.  You need to spray before closing the door.

Spraying works best if done 2-3 times during first 5 minutes or so.

If you are spraying in enough water ambient humidity is irrelevant.

 

Here's a bread baked without steam on purpose.  Shiny part is bottom, dull is top. 

 

dosco's picture
dosco

I agree with Dave Snyder ... looks like flour sticking to the crust. (with the higher hydration breads I have to use lots of flour and get the same sort of problem).

I often do a wash with half-and-half ... seems to "clean up" the excess flour and also helps the crust brown. Egg wash presumably would do the same.

GregS's picture
GregS

I baked again today, with a purposeful effort to minimize flour on my moderately hydrated dough. No dice. I still got ghostly-looking loaves. Great oven spring, good taste, etc., but I'm still in the albino phase.

The wash sounds interesting, I'll have to tr y it. Thanks for commenting.

Faith in Virginia's picture
Faith in Virginia

Perhaps you should try a loaf without retarding and look just for browning.  Then you will know for sure if it's oven/steam issue or retarding issue.  Then take your troubleshooting in that direction. 

The definition of crazy is doing the same thing more then once the same way and expecting different results :-)

GregS's picture
GregS

Sounds like a good idea. I'll try that.

Crazy Greg ;-)

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

I see that I should have been at bit more emphatic with my first post on this subject which was:

25 minutes at 450 is probably not enough time and temperature to brown the loaf as you desire.   Try baking for 35 minutes and also make certain that you preheat the stone for one hour.

Greg,  Your temperature is right but your time is too short.  Bake the loaf longer until the crust is brown.  It WILL brown with a longer bake.

Jeff

GregS's picture
GregS

Happy New Year, Jeff.

I get your point. I think I have usually been concerned with the internal temperature. When my instant thermometer hits 102F or so, I feel like baking longer might dry out the loaf. I will certainly try out what you suggest. Another 10 minutes shouldn't shrivel up the loaf ;-)

Greg

DWGregor's picture
DWGregor

I wanted to comment on this discussion as I too am baking bread, and everything else, on a Breville countertop oven, and have been for about a year, which is roughly how long I've been lurking TFL.  The bread baking performance level of regular contributors being vastly superior to my own, I've had nothing to contribute until now.  I ended up with the Breville for an oven because our existing household oven needed repairs.  I rarely used it however, because I am appalled at how inefficient regular ovens are at producing heat and keeping where it is needed.  An internet search turned up nothing that claimed to improve on this general failure.  The Breville  oven received generally excellent reviews, perhaps because of its automatic sending features that even out heat application where needed.  At any rate, it has performed better than any other oven I've used for everything from popovers to roast chicken with the single exception of bread.  This isn't quite fair however, as I am comparing it, in this case, to my oversized wood fired bread oven.  The later I only rarely use due to its overcapacity, huge wood usage , 5 hour heating time, and somewhat inconsistent temperatures.   No doubt, however, that when it is on target, it delivers superlative results.  The Breville oven has produced good to very good bread results for me but not to compare to the hotter and more radiative heat of a WFO or the modifications to standard household ovens, such as DSnyder outlines.   The distance from the bottom rack of the Breville to the top heating element is about 5 and a half inches, leaving room only for a thin stone.  I've yet to have a loaf rise up into the top element, but I've come close, with no ill effect to the bread, other than a slightly scorched ear.  I have never experienced poor browning.  On the contrary, color has been good in the rich browns.  Sometimes, baking times are substantially less in this oven than those given in recipes.  I routinely check at 15% less time than suggested and that often proves sufficient.  So Greg, you may benefit from longer baking time, but I wouldn't count on it.  I think the lack of color is from one of the other causes suggested.   Also, I have been using the slide out cleaning tray at the bottom of the oven as a steaming assist.  This tray gets hot during the oven preheat and half a cup of boiling water added to the tray just after the bread has been loaded, evaporates and fills the oven with steam without opening the door.  It's not super hot down there, so additional shots of water don't sizzle as much, but this still must add some steam.  Also, I assume you know about turning off the convection fan at the start of the bake.

 

In short, I'm pretty happy with this countertop oven for turning out a couple of small or medium loaves at a time.  It may not be up to the exceptional "110%" achievements of many TFL posters but I think it's holding up its end of the quality potential spectrum better than I am.

GregS's picture
GregS

Thank you for your thoughtful, informative message. I'm very pleased with my Breville, particularly since the cost of electricity in Hawaii approaches 50 cents per KWH. I've hesitated to put water on the cleaning tray for fear of permanently warping it, but I think your idea of using boiling water might offset that concern. You say you use half a cup. Do you steam more than once? For how long during the bake?

I will try the longer bake. I've been obsessed with the internal temperature of the loaf (via instant thermometer). Once it goes over 200F I've been taking it out. Next time I bake, I'll go by crust color and see what happens to internal temperature.

Again, my appreciation for your reply,

GregS

ElPanadero's picture
ElPanadero

My guess is that you're losing loads of heat everytime you open up that door to try and spray water in there which I kind of assume isn't that quick as you're worried about hitting the heating elements.  Combine that heat loss with the fact you only baked for 25mins and for me that's reason enough for the top of the loaf to be under baked.  The bottom is ok because of the baking stone which will retain it's heat even when you open the oven door.  Most loaves I make in my conventional fan oven are in there for 35-40 mins.   I usually upturn the loaf for the final 5mins to help brown the underside a little more even though I use a pizza stone.

Fretting about burning my bread was one of my earliest failings.  Then I realised that the bread can take a lot more baking than I would have imagined and I get a better bake, better crust and better flavour now that I leave them for 35mins.

Also, as per DWGregor above, I don't spray, I use a roasting tray in the bottom of the oven which is preheated and chuck in a cup of water just after the loaves go in which produces nice steam/vapour.   Bare in mind that you can't see some water vapour (as opposed to steam) so don't think that just because it doesn't look misty through that oven window that it isn't steamy in there.

Definitely, for an experiment that will set your mind at rest bake a loaf for 35mins without opening the oven door at any stage and then do another for 40mins.   I'll bet neither burn and both will look and taste great.  They'll just have different crust thicknesses.  GL and happy baking !

GregS's picture
GregS

Thank you Panadero. I have two loaves retarding right now. I'll give them the "brown or else" treatment tomorrow. I'll report back if anything worthwhile happens.

GregS

Bakingmadtoo's picture
Bakingmadtoo

Hi Greg, strangely I have just been reading about this problem in Maggie Glezer's Artisan Baking Across America book. I am not sure it will be your answer, because you have already tried the solution she offers, and of course your problem may have a different cause to begin with. 

I don't know if I am allowed to quote from the book directly, I don't want to infringe any copy right, so I will para phrase what she says.

Speaking of the ingredient, diastatic malt on page 4, she says it may be needed to correct problems with flour, adding that most large national mills add it to their flour, but smaller mills, especially organic ones don't always. She says that 'You will know you have this problem if your bread has a pale crust despite adequate baking' and says other signs to look for are 'sluggish fermentation and a smaller- than-normal size'.

She recommends to start by adding half a teaspoon of diastatic malt per cup of flour, but if the bread is still very pale to double the amount. She adds the caution that if you add too much the crumb will be 'damp and gooey'.

So, if your crumb was not 'damp and gooey' after adding the malt, perhaps it would be worth trying a little more?

DWGregor's picture
DWGregor

Hi Greg;

 

Well, its tomorrow and I hope you have experienced baking results that clarify your problem with whitish crusts.  I got the tape measure out and measured the interior volume of my Breville and compared it to our regular household oven  Volume of the household oven is 7.45 times the volume of the Breville in cubic inches. That's a big reason why it reduces your power bill and preheats in only three minutes.  I wrote that I use half a cup of boiling water placed on the bottom slide out tray for steaming.  It may take only half that.  Even so that would be about twice as much potential steam per area as in a regular size oven dosed with one cup of water.  I do make one or two further additions of water but those don't sizzle away as fast, so I don't use as much water.  I did find that I could fashion a steaming vessel from one of those one use aluminum pans and fit it on top of the bottom tray between the two lower heating elements.  The disadvantage of this is that it required removing the hot baking stone in order to fill with water and then repositioning the stone before loading the bread.  Felt like too much open door time.

I took another look at the photo you submitted and note that the area of the loaf that has opened up is browning nicely, unlike the original crust area that had flour contact during proofing.  Further, the loaf has opened up very well [I'm jealous] indicating that temperatures aren't too far off. If your Breville is cooking other things well and in the expected amount of time, I don't think that oven temps and bake times are the main problem. More likely something causing proofing flour to react strangely.  You've got a lot of people guessing so do let us know what you find out.

 

I think something is going on other than bake time and temperature.  I have recently made two batches of  Vermont Sourdough and the crust color was very close to that posted by Susan {Norwhich sourdough}, even though I was limited to 450 degrees instead of 475.  I made the Polish Honey Bread recently posted on TFL using the recommended 350 degree temperature and got a very much darker brown crust than the medium tan pictured in the post.  In your original picture, the part of the loaf that opened up during the bake, and thus was not floured, has browned

daria_m's picture
daria_m

Hi again, Greg, 5 days ago I've baked large boule that had bulk retardation of 24h and yesterday I've baked two loaves of seeded sourdough from Susan Wild Yeast blog, that is without retardation. In both cases I've sprayed bread directly with water before loading in the oven and sprayed again 2 times during first 10 min of bake. I had no more problem with pale crust, and got finally better slash-opening. If it's not steam, probably it's what dmsnyder says: over-fermentation. For sure there is a chemical reason why part of the boule in contact with proofing basket and flour ferment faster than one without.