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Weekend Sourdough - Pre-heat comparisons & Baking Steel

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Maine18's picture
Maine18

Weekend Sourdough - Pre-heat comparisons & Baking Steel

I have been reading a bit about the various ways in which home bakers use a cast iron combo cooker to produce some spectacular loaves, and was struck by the posts by people who skip the "pre heat" step (either for safety or fuel efficiency purposes), and seem to see no issue in the final bake.  Given it would seem much easier to work with a room temperature combo cooker vs a 500 degree version, I wanted to do a side by side comparison to see if there was much of a difference in the finished product.

 

On Saturday morning, I mixed a levain from my usual starter for a larger batch of bread – enough for 4 loaves – with the intention of baking them Sunday evening.  The formula is very close to the Tartine country loaf, though it has a relatively high hydration (81%).  I shaped two boules and two batards (the later I still find tricky with such a wet dough).

 

I pre-heated the oven to 500 degrees and loaded it with the baking steel and one of the combo cookers for 45 minutes.   I then loaded both boules into the combo cookers straight from the fridge -- one hot, one room temp – slashed, and put in the oven, lowering the temperature to 475. 

After 20 minutes, I removed both lids and baked for about 20 more minutes.  The difference was interesting and noticeable.  The loaf in the pre-heated combo cooker had more desirable oven spring and gringes, with a shape/form I have come to expect from this recipe.  The loaf from the room temperature combo cooker seemed to have expanded more slowly in the cooker (as expected?), with no gringe, though it did have about the same expansion and height as the loaf pre-heated cooker. 

 

I haven’t cut open the loaves just yet so can’t compare the crumb, but all in all, I prefer the loaf from the pre-heated cooker, so will likely stick with this method.

With the remaining dough (still in the fridge), I baked the final two batards on the baking steel at 460 degrees, steamed for the first 15 minutes, and then 30 more minutes until it hit the color and internal temp I was shooting for.  Despite the shaky shaping, both batards seemed to pop more than the boules.  I’ll report back on any differences in the crumb when I crack them open later this week.

 

Comments

Julie McLeod's picture
Julie McLeod

Very interesting comparison.  I'm glad you posted this.  I've gotten slack about preheating my combo cooker since I've read so many people use a cold dutch oven.  Now I usually just put it in the oven while the oven preheats, then put the dough perhaps 10 minutes after that.  I have been noticing some difference in the oven spring compared to when I used to preheat the dutch oven for 20-30 minutes @ 500 º but didn't know if it could be attributed to the temperature of the dutch oven or some other factor.  I will go back to the longer preheat and see if I notice an improvement.  Thanks again.

Maine18's picture
Maine18

Glad you liked the post.  I may dabble with a few more comparisons, but like you, I think I'll largely stick to a good pre-heat going forward.

Cheers!

BobS's picture
BobS

Fantastic loaves Maine18. 

When I took a course that used commercial deck ovens, the instructor pointed out that the bread needs, and the oven generates, steam *immediately* after the loaves are loaded. and it lasts only a very short time. A cold cooker can't provide the heat the bread needs right at the beginning.

As a result, I've been steaming for a much shorter time; 5-7 minutes instead of twenty with the same or better results. 

Maine18's picture
Maine18

Thanks for the note.  Interesting to hear you've cut the steaming time so far down -- do you bake within a dutch oven/combo cooker, or with a baking stone? Does that impact the thickness of the crust with a longer dry bake?  

BobS's picture
BobS

I don't think the crust is thicker. Unfortunately I have not been too scientific as I have also changed the temperature regimen At the same time. My notes say:

  • Preheat to 500
  • 10 minutes, maybe less with steam @460 
  • 10 more minutes @ 460
  • 20 minutes @ 445 convect (420 actual)

This is for 750g boules/bâtards on a stone. I use the towel steaming method. After stumbling on this regimen, I poked around on TFL and saw dabrownman does a similar thing.  This yield a dark, crackly crust. 

BTW, dmsnyder has a good post on steam here: http://www.thefreshloaf.com/comment/257861#comment-257861

Maine18's picture
Maine18

I like this routine -- looks pretty consistent, too, with some of the Tartine 3 methods I've been reading out.  Appreciate the notes!

Song Of The Baker's picture
Song Of The Baker

Very nice loaves!  Looks like it was a Tartine themed bake in both our homes.

Happy baking.

John

Maine18's picture
Maine18

Indeed, not a bad winter weekend :)

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

In a cold DO you need add time to the covered bake to compensate for it warming so slowly to get the outcome as a hot DO.  For me it is about 10 minutes for the aluminum DO and near 20 minutes for the CI DO which is much heavier and takes longer to heat.  You get better results from a cold DO that way then your example but it won't be quite as good as a hot DO from my experience either.

!t's fun to bake in a cold DO starting from a cold oven too but then you add way more time to the covered part.

Maine18's picture
Maine18

Thanks for the tips -- makes sense, and I figured that it would take more time in the room temp cast iron pan, but wanted to start off with just one variable at a time to see the result :).  I will surely dabble some more, and will give your recommendation of +20 min covered the cast iron a go next time around.  Cheers!

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

so check it a15 minutes the first time just in case......