The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Induction Cooktops

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chris319's picture
chris319

Induction Cooktops

I've been getting wonderful results baking my sourdough boules in a cast-iron dutch oven. Before baking I spray the boule with water, creating a great deal of steam when it heats up. The crust browns nicely. I put the boule in a silicone-rubber cake pan and this goes inside the dutch oven. After baking the boules release nicely.

My latest inspiration in my never-ending quest for energy-efficient baking is to use a single-burner induction cooktop with the dutch oven. Induction cooktops have a thermostat and operate in either "temperature" or "power" mode. I'm seeing mixed reviews about the ability of these things to regulate temperature, but these reviews are for more conventional cooking such as frying and sauteeing. I was wondering if anyone has had experience using an induction cooktop for any purpose, baking or not.

I'm not sure about the two modes. Supposedly the temperature mode is iffy. It would not be measuring the temperature inside the dutch oven. As I understand it, the power method simply applies a constant amount of power to the element and no temperature regulation is involved, which leads me to wonder how one would regulate the temperature for baking.

One option would be to forego the induction aspect and use a conventional stove burner as a conventional heat source.

Thoughts?

DavidEF's picture
DavidEF

Induction cooktops generally require that the cookware be compatible. So, you will most likely need a new dutch oven. I'm not aware of any cast-iron ware that are induction-friendly.

As far as whether it will work or not, I'm not able to help you there. I've never done it, or known anyone who has. But, why not try it yourself, if you have all the required equipment? you may be a pioneer in induction baking! It may be a superior way to bake, and we just don't know it! Hey, people roast coffee in popcorn poppers, why not bake bread on an induction cooktop?

chris319's picture
chris319

Induction cooking works by electromagnetism so you need ferrous vessels. This rules out aluminum, copper and glass. Stainless steel works. Cast iron (ferrous = iron) should work perfectly. The test is, if a magnet will stick to it, it will work.

As a right-now experiment I put my dutch oven on a burner on my electric stove.  It seems the temperature is regulated by dissipation rather than by cycling the heating element on and off as a thermostat would. I'm still fine tuning the burner setting/temperature.

chris319's picture
chris319

Here is my line of thinking. In a conventional electric oven, the bake (lower) element heats the air in the oven cavity which then heats the food if it is out in the open. Since I've fallen in love with my dutch oven for its steaming capability, the path is:

Bake element -> air -> dutch oven -> air/steam inside d.o. -> food.

Air is a poor conductor of heat so there is inefficiency in heating a large volume of air in the oven cavity.

On the stovetop the path is:

Burner -> dutch oven -> air/steam inside d.o. -> food.

So air, the poor heat conductor, has now been taken out of the path.

An induction burner should be even more efficient. The path would then be:

Dutch oven -> air/steam inside d.o. -> food.

Note that I have eliminated the induction burner from the path because an induction burner emits no heat. The electromagnetism heats the ferrous vessel directly, rather than transferring heat from the burner to the vessel. This is the path of the heat, not electricity usage. The real way to measure this is to use a watt meter and let it cook for an hour, but I don't know how to hook up a watt meter to an electric range. It is a 1960s-vintage Gaffers & Sattler range.

At a burner setting of 2 1/2 the dutch oven seems to have stabilized at around 425 degrees. I'm using a Taylor TruTemp oven thermometer and have found it extremely useful.

barryvabeach's picture
barryvabeach

Chris,  the only way anyone will find out if something new will work is to try it.  Love your experimenting, keep us posted.  

chris319's picture
chris319

I've picked out an induction cooktop which should be here Monday. Meantime, I'll be baking a boule tonight with the stovetop dutch oven.

I really like the steaming the d.o. does, but it weighs a ton and is too big for my toaster oven. The toaster oven is just right for biscuits and muffins.

Saving the planet one watt at a time :)

chris319's picture
chris319

My stovetop dutch oven experiment was a dismal failure. Despite taking precautionary measures, the heat remained concentrated in the bottom of the d.o. and the burnt-bottom bugaboo reared its ugly head again. Good thing I didn't spend money on an induction cooktop.

"If at first you don't succeed ..."

barryvabeach's picture
barryvabeach

Chris, don't give up yet.  What would help is an insert that rises above the dutch oven that does not conduct heat very well.  A small ceramic plate might work - you would put that on the bottom of the DO, and put the dough on that.  Don't admit defeat this early.  

chris319's picture
chris319

Barry - I have two things which can be used as risers to lift the pan up off the floor of the d.o.. One is a pizza stand as used in pizzerias. It has two metal hoops separated by a couple of inches. The other is an inverted glass casserole lid. The glass knob rests on the bottom of the d.o., putting the lid itself an inch or so above the d.o. bottom.

chris319's picture
chris319

I found a roaster oven on clearance for $20 at my local Tar-zhay store.

The heating element is not exposed as it is in a toaster oven. It follows the perimeter of the vessel and is inside the metal case, thus, it is not exposed. It is not cavernous like a regular oven (not a large volume of empty space to heat).yet a muffin pan fits just fine in it. You could probably bake bâtards in this thing. The lid is domed so there is plenty of room for a loaf to rise. There are no heating elements which need to be removed.

In defiance of the manufacturer's instructions I am using it without the inner baking pan. I thus had to crank the temperature control down to 275 to achieve an interior temp of 425 degrees (I love my oven thermometer!). I use a silicone rubber cake pan so the food won't stick. A lot of heat seems to be lost with the inner baking pan in place so I don't use it.

The drawbacks are that the lid fits poorly and has two small vent holes, so it probably won't trap steam like the dutch oven does, and you have to use an oven thermometer to do an initial calibration of the temperature. I may look for another model without vent holes in the lid, or better, a glass lid. Oddly, I cannot find the wattage in the user manual, but I'm guessing it's in the neighborhood of 1,500 watts, much less than the 2,400 watts of my big oven. It is an 18-quart Oster.

So far it looks promising.

andychrist's picture
andychrist

Somehow I doubt this setup will be all that energy efficient, although I do applaud your objectives, Chris.  For one thing, there probably isn't enough room in a Dutch to get the bottom of a loaf far enough away from the intense heat source of the stove top to prevent it from scorching before the rest of it is done baking. So I think you'd have to proceed at a relatively low temperature, for starters, which kinda defeats the purpose of baking in a vessel.  The other thing is, a regular oven is insulated against heat loss; baking on an open stove top, heat will continually migrate up the sides of the Dutch and dissipate into the surrounding air.  And the lower and slower you bake, the greater the overall loss. Crockpots and bread machines are fairly energy efficient because they are insulated on the outside and are designed to radiate heat evenly within.

chris319's picture
chris319

There seems to be a tradeoff between the cavernous but insulated large ovens, and the compact uninsulated alternatives. In a roaster oven, I would think the proximity of the heating element to the food offsets the lack of insulation to some degree. That a roaster oven doesn't burn the bottoms is a huge win as far as I'm concerned. I have burnt-bottom problems in my big oven, too.

The real way to test the energy efficiency is to hook up a watt meter, but I don't know how to do this with a 240-volt built-in.

I was not aware that bread machines are insulated. Perhaps use one just for baking? Could one do biscuits and odd shapes and sizes?

The dutch oven is starting to look impractical. On a stove top, dissipation is how the temperature is regulated because there is no thermostat.

chris319's picture
chris319

West Bend's bread machine looks interesting. It has a "bake only" mode which skips all of the mixing and kneading steps and just bakes at the selected temperature for the designated time. making it essentially a small oven. The manual states a temperature of 390 F for the "dark" setting. Other machines simply give you light/medium/dark. Some machines have a bake only mode but the time is fixed at 60 minutes, and some don't let you adjust the temperature in the bake mode.

 

Hopefully it doesn't burn anything.

Antilope's picture
Antilope

Baking in A Regular Loaf Pan in a Zojirushi Bread Machine. Mine is a BB-PAC20 Virtuoso.

During the hot days of summer I didn't want to bake in the regular oven, but I wanted to bake in a 9 x 5 loaf pan. My toaster oven always bakes the top of the loaf too dark or burns it by the time the interior is done. I had used the Zojirushi Virtuoso bread machine's manual dough cycle to knead the dough. Then I put the sourdough in a regular loaf pan to rise, in the regular off oven. I was making sourdough sandwich bread. Now it was ready to bake, but I didn't want to heat up the house with the conventional oven.
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It looked like a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan would fit in the Zo bread machine with the Zo's mixing/bread basket removed.
I ran a manual bake cycle for 70 minutes. Placed the 9 x 5 loaf pan of sourdough in the bottom of the Zo. The loaf pan rested on the square raised fixture that surrounds the posts that spin the mixing paddles. Those posts are so short, they didn't touch the bottom of the loaf pan. It sat there perfectly as if it were made for a 9 x 5 loaf pan. The heating element surrounded the loaf pan perfectly. I put the loaf pan in the Zo and ran the manual bake cycle. It stated out cold, not preheated.
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70 minutes later, I have a perfect loaf a bread, baked in a regular 9 x 5 loaf pan in the bottom of the Zo. The top is nicely browned. The loaf is a regular shape, not a bread machine shape. Best of all, my house didn't heat up.
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So that's another use for the Zo bread machine. In addition to mixing the dough, it can bake a regular 9 x 5 inch loaf pan of bread. The next time, I let it rise in the regular loaf pan in the Zo. Actually the top rim of the loaf pan is 9 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches. In the Zo BB-PAC20 Virtuoso there is about an inch of clearance on all the side walls from the loaf pan.
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I've baked several loaves by this method and it's worked great each time. I now let the dough rise in the loaf pan, while it's sitting in the the closed, off, bread machine, in addition to baking in the bread machine.

chris319's picture
chris319

Interesting.

Do you think a muffin pan would fit in the Zo? I'll measure my pan and post the dimensions anon, but I think it is 11" in length.

I take note of the fact that people don't complain about bread machines burning their bread, but I've had a devil of a time with conventional ovens burning the bottoms of things. My stovetop dutch oven arrangement burnt the bottoms of things pretty badly.

Whenever I want to do a quick bake test I get a small can of Pillsbury biscuits and I have results without the fuss of making up a loaf of bread dough.

Antilope's picture
Antilope

pan fits into the Zo is 9.5 x 5.5 inches square. The depth is 8 inches, 9 inches deep if you include the hollow in the lid. Just enough for a regular 1 1/2 lb loaf pan.

 

chris319's picture
chris319

Thanks for measuring it.

My 6-cup muffin pan is 11" x 7 1/8", just a bit too big. You had the right idea using the loaf pan.

chris319's picture
chris319

I finally got an induction cooktop.

It was a great idea in theory. Practice is a different story.

I used it with my cast iron dutch oven. You can't get any more ferrous than iron. The first thing to do was to put an oven thermometer in it. On the highest heat setting it got up to 375 F and it took bloody forever to get there. It wouldn't go above 375 no matter how long I waited. According to the manual it's supposed to get up to 525 F. I don't know how they arrived at that temperature.

Someone on amazon.com measured the power draw at around 1,300 watts. It seems to me that a lot of energy gets pissed away waiting for the cooking vessel to come up to temperature.

An induction cooktop may be OK for frying eggs but I consider it useless for baking.

The roaster oven performs quite  well, in fact a little too well. I'm having the opposite problem from the one I used to have. I baked a loaf in it last night and the bottom, rather than burning or being too dark, was actually a little pale. Now that's a switch! I elevated the baking pan a couple of inches using a pizza stand and the tops and bottoms came out evenly. I'm pleased with this solution.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

but did you heat up the pot empty?  Or did you have water in it with the thermometer?  Water boils at 212°F 

"An induction cooktop may be OK for frying eggs but I consider it useless for baking."  

Logo, all cooktops are designed for cooking, and ovens are designed for baking.

chris319's picture
chris319

Empty.

Logo, all cooktops are designed for cooking, and ovens are designed for baking.

This was a dutch oven being heated by a cooktop.

One of the early uses of dutch ovens was to heat them with coals and embers from a fire. That's still how some campers use them. Lots of people bake bread in dutch ovens. They keep the steam in.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

is still a cooking vessel.  Most of us use our DO inside an oven due to the problems of heat distribution on a cooking surface (heating only the bottoms.)  If used in a campfire or in coals, heat can be distributed up the sides.  If insulation is placed on top of the vessel or coals, the effect of an oven then is realised.  

So to set a DO onto an induction cook top (bottom) and expect it to be an oven is surely doomed... but it does establish a starting point.  Some improvement can be made by adding insulation to the lid.  Try a folded cotton towel over a sheet of reflective foil works wonderfully and not a fire hazzard.  Again the old conception of too much heat will burn the bottoms hints to a needed reduction in temperature.  Also what about steaming first and then browning?  Most cookware is not designed to be heated empty and poor distribution of heat can result in physical damage to said cookware.  

Have you seen this?

http://in.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20120330091315AAkyXpc

chris319's picture
chris319

Andychrist made an excellent point about heat loss with uninsulated cooking vessels. I found a Black & Decker bread machine, again on clearance at the local Target. It has a plastic case and is well insulated, remaining cool to the touch during baking.

Naturally the first thing I did was to put an oven thermometer in it and put it in the "bake-only" mode. There is a "crust color" (temperature) setting which can be light, medium or dark, but it is not active in the bake-only mode. You have one temperature in bake-only and that's it, take it or leave it. After 45 minutes the temperature inside was just barely over 350 degrees F. Much to my surprise, despite the case being well insulated, there was a great deal of heat leakage from an unexpected source: the vent holes in the lid. I could feel a lot of heat escaping by putting my hand over these holes.

I then tried baking some biscuit dough and it was back to the old bugaboo of too-dark bottoms. The heating element encircles the loaf pan but only at the lower end. If they located the heating element higher up it might help this problem. An obvious workaround would be to bake with the thing on its side, keeping the dough away from the heating element at the bottom. The problem is, it is such an irregularly-shaped device, there is no way to lay it on one side and have it be stable on the counter top. Conclusion: it is not a tool for serious bakers. Some people may like theirs and that's great. I did not test the mixing and kneading functions.

I think I've been around the block in this quest for baking that's a) more energy efficient than a big oven, and b) bakes evenly from top to bottom. My favorite by far is definitely the roaster oven with the food slightly elevated. It comes up to temperature very quickly so there are some energy savings there, in addition to drawing less power and having a smaller volume of space to heat up.

My Oster roaster has small vent holes in the lid which I plugged up with a couple of machine screws, nuts and washers (what guy doesn't have a box full of assorted screws, nuts and washers he'll likely never use?). Oster makes a combination roaster oven "smoker" with an adjustable vent which I'm told can be closed if you want to keep steam inside while baking. The downside is that it's ugly red.

chris319's picture
chris319

Try a folded towel over a sheet of reflective foil.

Fire hazard. A towel is flammable.

Most cookware is not designed to be heated empty and poor distribution of heat can result in physical damage to said cookware.

On the conventional stovetop the burner setting was 2 1/2 which is quite low (maximum is 10) to keep it at 425 degrees. The induction cooktop never got that hot. There was no damage to the dutch oven. As I explained, it didn't work in practice. It gets an A+++ for innovative thinking but failed on proof of concept. As I have explained, turning the temperature down doesn't solve the issue of heat distribution. If the heat is concentrated on the bottom, the bottoms will be dark and the tops pale no matter the temperature.

I suppose one could open up a roaster oven and stuff it with fiberglass insulation.

The remaining bit of uncharted territory is a halogen oven. Somebody said the light from a halogen oven was so bright it was as if a UFO had landed in the kitchen.

Antilope's picture
Antilope

 

Methane (natural gas) flame in air, 1950 °C / 3542 °F *

Large Electric burners 1,472 °F to 1,652 °F, set on High **

Small Electric Burners 932 °F to 1,112 °F , set on High **

 

* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gas_burner

** http://www.ehow.com/info_12177147_surface-temperature-top-electric-range.html

How hot is the induction burner surface or pan bottom?

chris319's picture
chris319

Large Electric burners 1,472 °F to 1,652 °F, set on High

The burner was on a setting of 2.5 out of 10. My guess is .25 of those temps or 368 to 413 degrees. The temp inside the dutch oven was measured and maintained at 425 F, not too far from the 413 degrees calculated above. The d.o. kept getting warmer until the temp stabilized through dissipation. Once up to temp it was pretty stable.

The induction cooktop/d.o. combination never got past 375 F inside. Despite the ads, the surface of the cooktop was uncomfortably warm when the d.o. was removed. The heat of the d.o. bottom heated the cooktop surface.

Both the induction cooktop and bread machine used in these tests went back to their respective retailers.

The roaster oven dial has to be set to 275 degrees to maintain an interior temp of 425 F. Clearly the dial is miscalibrated, no big deal.