The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

trials and triumphs

Gedunkleberg's picture
Gedunkleberg

trials and triumphs

I haven't posted anything in over a month, but don't think I haven't been busy in the kitchen! The last time you heard from me, I was recovering from my first encounter with ciabatta. Since then, I have tried ciabatta for a second time, and with much greater success. What made the difference was flouring the counter heavily, as well as using flexible cutting boards to lift the risen dough off the counter and then slide the proofed loaves onto the baking sheet (I still don't have a baking stone). The shaping went better (thanks to step-by-step pictures on kyleskitchen.net), and I got some very nice, large holes in the finished product. I was quite pleased with myself, but there is still much work to be done.

One problem that I am consistently having with lean breads is crust color. I never seem to be able to achieve a nice deep brown. This may have something to do with another problem that has been plaguing me, which has to do with temperature. I always preheat the oven (mine is gas) for about a half hour, and I have a thermometer in the oven as well. But even when I follow a recipe to the letter, my loaves always seem to get too hot in the middle after a shorter bake time than the recipe calls for. I don't know what to do other than to always bake at a lower temperature.

I am also having trouble with scoring. I have only tried it twice (both times on the French bread recipe from BBA), but my results have been poor. The first time, I used a lame that I bought from a Viking store. I had a lot of difficulty slicing through the dough, so I can only conclude that my lame is lame. The second time, I tried a serrated knife, which worked much better. However, I can't seem to score the proofed dough without deflating it quite a bit. Also, the slashes don't "bloom" the way they are supposed to when baked. I am slicing fairly deep, but perhaps my slashes are too long or too horizontal. Or perhaps I am deflating the loaves too much and not achieving proper oven spring? I don't know, but I will try again.

One recipe that I had none of these problems with is the recipe for Portuguese sweet bread from BBA. No scoring needed, and the egg wash ensured a very deep brown crust...plus it was delicious. It's perfect for breakfast or a snack (with or without butter), especially alongside a nice juicy peach and some Greek yogurt drizzled with honey. Yum. I substituted orange and lemon zests for the orange and lemon extracts, because I didn't want to shell out the extra cash. The substitution worked well. I will definitely make this recipe again soon.

Comments

Joe Fisher's picture
Joe Fisher

I always preheat the oven (mine is gas) for about a half hour, and I have a thermometer in the oven as well. But even when I follow a recipe to the letter, my loaves always seem to get too hot in the middle after a shorter bake time than the recipe calls for. I don't know what to do other than to always bake at a lower temperature.

How do you know they're too hot in the middle? Using an instant-read thermometer? I do. I have the kind you can leave in the oven. After they start to get good and brown, I'll find a hole in the crust somewhere, and poke it with the probe and just leave it in there and close the door. I can set the alarm for 185-205 (depending on the bread) and just walk away. No thumping required :)

One thing you can try is moving the loaves around in the oven, or putting a sheet pan on a rack just above the loaves. This will reflect radiant heat back onto the loaves, and should help them brown.

Getting a stone will probably help, as well. It should transfer a lot of heat by direct conduction into the outside of the loaf. I use a Fibrament stone, and am quite happy with it.

I am also having trouble with scoring...However, I can't seem to score the proofed dough without deflating it quite a bit.

The lame will only be lame if it's dull ;) Either way, I find it much more effective to take multiple light slashes than one deep slash. Even with a fresh double-edged razor, I get a lot of pulling and dog ears when I make one deep slash.
I'll usually make a very light slash to open the surface, then take two or three more cuts to the depth I want. I've been going about 1/4" deep, but am going to increase that, since I've had some blowouts lately due to crazy oven spring. See below.
Also, the slashes don't "bloom" the way they are supposed to when baked. I am slicing fairly deep, but perhaps my slashes are too long or too horizontal. Or perhaps I am deflating the loaves too much and not achieving proper oven spring?
Are you using a steam pan on the floor of your oven? I use an old aluminum catering tray, and just leave it on the floor of the oven all the time. After everything's good n' hot, I set a cup of water in the microwave for a minute. While it's cooking, I slide the loaves onto the stone or put the pans in the oven. Then the hot water goes in the steam pan, and close the door. I get an instant burst of steam that way. After 30 seconds, I use a squeeze bottle - like the kind ketchup comes in at a BBQ - and squirt a stream of water at the walls and floor of the oven - being very careful not to squirt my stone! I repeat this twice more, and I get all the oven spring you could ask for. Look at how open the slashes are on these - you can see my steam tray in the bottom.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

One recipe that I had none of these problems with is the recipe for Portuguese sweet bread from BBA. No scoring needed, and the egg wash ensured a very deep brown crust...plus it was delicious.
This recipe is fantastic!! I can't wait to try it again. A little butter, and you're in heaven :)

Oh, and incidentally, these were baked on sheet pans; not a stone:

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So you don't need a stone for great results, but it'll definitely help with a good crust.

Hope this helps,

-Joe

Gedunkleberg's picture
Gedunkleberg

Wow, thanks for taking the time to give me such great advice, Joe!

How do you know they're too hot in the middle? Using an instant-read thermometer?

Like yours, my thermometer is the kind you can leave in the oven, but I have been too lazy to try that yet :) I usually just pop the loaf out of the oven when it's maybe 2/3 of the way through the bake time and stick the probe diagonally through the bottom of the loaf. Even my enriched breads are consistently reading over 200 degrees well before the suggested bake time has elapsed. Maybe I should test my thermometer on some boiling water just to make sure it isn't defective. I will also try sticking the probe through the top of the loaf and leaving it there the next time around.

One thing you can try is moving the loaves around in the oven, or putting a sheet pan on a rack just above the loaves. This will reflect radiant heat back onto the loaves, and should help them brown.

I will definitely try that...thanks!

Are you using a steam pan on the floor of your oven?

I think I used a steam pan the first time I made French bread but not the second time. I used the spray bottle technique both times, though. I will be more vigilant about this in the future, because I really want those beautiful slash marks! What I generally end up with are more like ridges than ears, because the slashes are opening but not springing upward...if that makes sense. I can't wait to get back in the kitchen this weekend!

Joe Fisher's picture
Joe Fisher

What I generally end up with are more like ridges than ears, because the slashes are opening but not springing upward...if that makes sense

Check out the loaf on the left:
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Look familiar? Those slashes aren't deep enough, and not undercut enough. To get a good 'ear', it's important to undercut the slash. In other words, don't cut straight down into the loaf, but in at an angle to create a sort of flap. This will open up into the lovely ear you're after.

-Joe

Gedunkleberg's picture
Gedunkleberg

My loaves didn't really turn out like that...it's more like the slashes turned into big chasms when the loaves were baked. I think the slashes were deep enough, but you're probably right that I did not cut into the dough at enough of an angle.

Paddyscake's picture
Paddyscake

I think what Gedunk is trying to explain is how my slash marks look in my pic
posted of Father's Day "Daily Bread". I do not have a stone yet and I believe
my loaves come out that way because I haven't used a stone. I do start at 500 deg
with a pan of hot water in the oven 10 minutes before I put the loaf in. There's
plenty of steam by then.

JMonkey's picture
JMonkey

I'm definitely no expert on slashing the loaves, but a couple of tips I've learned:

1) You may be overproofing the bread: When my shaped loaves have risen too high, they often deflate, as you said, when I slash them. The solution is to catch them earlier, before they overproof.

2) You may need more surface tension while shaping: Make sure that the surface of your loaf is tight when shaping. Don't be afraid to use that "iron hand" in the velvet glove to seal and tighten. I know I'm going to get a good bloom when I cut the loaf (with a few light strokes, as Joe described) and it starts to expand, even before I put it in the oven.

Hope that helps a bit!

Gedunkleberg's picture
Gedunkleberg

I think you might be right on both counts:

1) My loaves seem to proof relatively quickly...probably because it's summer, I live in the South, and I don't have air conditioning :) I haven't really paid much attention to this before (I'm a bad, bad girl), but I will from now on. I don't want any more bread that looks like it's been sqashed!
2) I'm always afraid of deflating the dough too much when I shape it, so you're probably right...though I have been working on it!

JMonkey's picture
JMonkey

I hear you. I grew up in Atlanta, and it's unbearably hot. If you've got a cellar, I'd try that. It'll probably be 10 degrees cooler or so, and that can make a pretty big difference.

Don't worry too much about deflating the dough. So long as you don't squash it wholesale, you're firm but gentle with shaping and then press down really hard when you're sealing, you'll probably be OK.

Joe Fisher's picture
Joe Fisher

Excellent advice here. I'll quote it again:

You may need more surface tension while shaping: Make sure that the surface of your loaf is tight when shaping.

Very important to a good crust.

-Joe

sphealey's picture
sphealey

One of the key points I picked up from the King Arthur video was that once the dough forms a nice smooth surface on top (often during the 1st rising, but almost always during the 2nd rising) /that surface should become the top crust of the bread/. So for all future turns, risings, shaping, etc work to keep that surface smooth and unbroken.
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I try to minimize the amount of flour that I put on the dough (since I dislike not-incorporated-but-baked flour taste), but if the smooth surface looks at all moist I sprinkle a very little all-purpose flour on it and gently rub it around before taking the doughball out of the rising container. For the turns, I put a small amount of flour on my counter (see below) and then put the smooth side down. When I finish the turn the seam will be on the top and the smooth side on the bottom; I turn it over before putting it back in the rising container.
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For shaping the loaf I have started working directly on my Swanstone countertop without using any extra flour. I am finding that surface has the perfect balance of smoothness and tooth to hold the dough while I shape it without adding more flour. Again, the smooth side goes face down on the counter and becomes the top side of the crust.
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sPh

Gedunkleberg's picture
Gedunkleberg

That's a good tip. I had never really thought about it that way before. Thanks for passing on the wisdom!