The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Baking stone problems?

Djehuty's picture
Djehuty

Baking stone problems?

Greetings,


I'm new to this forum, and hoping I may find help here for a problem that is vexing me.  I've been learning the art of bread-making (with varying degrees of success) from Peter Reinhart's books, and I'm experiencing an odd (to me) problem with my hearth breads.  If I set the baking stone in the oven on the lowest level, the bottom of the bread burns before it's finished baking.  If I move the rack up one level, the top of the bread cooks too quickly, and either I get a fully-cooked loaf with a burned top or a loaf that looks great on top but is half-baked on the bottom.


I've checked the oven temperature, and it was seven degrees high; I compensated for this with no noticeable improvement.  I have noticed, though, that bread tends to bake quickly in this oven.  If a time range is given, the bread will almost always be finished by the minimum baking time, if not slightly sooner.


What should I do to save my bread?  Should I lower the oven temperature?  I tried that once, but the bread wound up with practically no crust.


 

Dwu3193's picture
Dwu3193

You might want to try preheating your stone for a shorter amount of time on the lower rack. That way, it won't be as hot when you bake your bread on it and it won't burn the bottom.

Djehuty's picture
Djehuty

I've been preheating for the full half hour the instructions suggested.  How far do you think I should cut that back?


If too much heat from the stone is the problem, should I also skip the instruction to preheat to 500 degrees before backing off to 450?


 

flournwater's picture
flournwater

I am a novice at bread baking but I believe I can offer some ideas for you to consider.


No matter how long you heat your stone it can never get any hotter than the temperature of your oven.  If you can get hold of an instant read (infra-red) surface temperature thermometer and use it to check the temperture of your stone that might give you a clue.  Another approach would be to slide your bread onto the stone with a piece of parchment paper between it and the stone.  Only other thing I could suggest to try is to reduce the oven temperature and increase the baking time.


Are you calling it "done" when the recipe's recommended baking time has expired or by internal temperature.  I use the internal temperature rule for everything and it's reduced my failure rate dramatically.  I also use the same procedure noted by Djehuty.  I never preheat my oven above the baking temperature.  I preheat it to the desired baking temperature and allow it to preheat a full thirty minutes prior to sliding the bread into the cavity.  The temperature rarely drops more than ten or fifteen degrees (the stone holds it pretty steady all by itself) and it returns to baking temperature within about two minutes.

bassopotamus's picture
bassopotamus

I got a little CDN instant digital thermometer, and I agree, it is the way to go for telling when bread is done. It was around 15 bucks, reads  quick, and seems much more accurate than the time estimates from recipies.

Djehuty's picture
Djehuty

Thanks, I'll have to try preheating only to the desired temperature.  I'd been wondering about that, but I'd also been afraid to skip a step considered so important by the author.


Regarding "done"-ness, I do use an instant-read digital thermometer to check.  That's one of the things that has surprised me about this oven.  For breads baked in loaf pans, if the recipe says 35-45 minutes baking time, the bread will register at or above the desired temperature after half an hour.  It's much the same for hearth breads, with the added fun of choosing which crust will be black.


Thanks again -- I'll give your suggestion a shot and see what happens.


 

ejm's picture
ejm

It sounds like the oven temperature is too high for your kitchen. Even though Reinhart is very specific with his instructions, it's still important to remember that the instructions are guidelines only (ie: they are not written in stone). Every kitchen is a little different. Perhaps the altitude is different in your kitchen than Reinhart's. Maybe your flour is different. And the air temperature and humidity. There are so many different factors.


Rather than baking for the time suggested by the book, use the instant-read thermometer to test for doneness and bake the bread til the desired internal temperature is reached - around 210F for hearth breads is my goal. (My mum always tested for doneness by using the unscientific method of knocking on the bottom of the loaf to hear if it sounded hollow and that always worked for her.) I would be inclined to put the stone on the middle shelf of the oven and make sure there is room on the margins of the stone for air to circulate.


For bread that has sugar in it, preheat the oven to 400F (for my oven, 15 minutes preheating is plenty). For bread that contains only flour, water, yeast and salt, preheat the oven to 425F. When you put  the bread in the oven immediately turn the temperature down by 25 degrees (for bread with sugar, bake at 375, for bread without sugar, bake at 400F) Turn the loaf around about 15 minutes into the baking to account for uneven oven heat. If it seems that the crust is getting too dark, turn the temperature down by 25F degrees.


Generally, I've found that at 400F, it takes about 30 minutes to bake a standard loaf of bread. If the loaf is larger than usual, it takes about 40 minutes. For my kitchen. I've baked bread in other kitchens (Mum's, my sister's, brother-in-law's, parents-in-law's) and each time have had to make small adjustments in the time that it takes for bread to bake.


-Elizabeth


P.S. You might also try some other books. Just to name a few of my favourites: "The Bread Bible" by Ruth Levy Beranbaum, "The Italian Baker" by Carol Field, "The Village Baker" by Joe Ortiz, "Artisan Baking Across America: The Breads, The Bakers, The Best Recipes" by Maggie Glezer, "Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book - A Guide to Whole-Grain Breadmaking" by Laurel Robertson, "Nancy Silverton's Breads from the la Brea Bakery" by Nancy Silverton

Djehuty's picture
Djehuty

I should be baking hearth breads at 375?  Won't that result in very soft, very pale bread?  And I'm fairly sure lifting the stone to the middle rack would turn the top of the bread to cinders.  When I put the rack with the stone on it one rung up from the bottom, the top browns too quickly.  With the rack in that position and the heat turned down to 435 (I was afraid the oven might be running 15 degrees or so hotter than it registers), last week I produced Italian loaves with very dark top crusts and pale yellow undersides.


I'm willing to give this a shot, but I really do like crusty bread, and I'd rather not lose that.


Thank you very much for the book recommendations.  I would have expanded my bread library, but I'm trying not to confuse myself too much. :)  That and it's hard to tell what's worth buying.  This list will definitely help!


 

ejm's picture
ejm

I'm suggesting that your oven is running hot. It might say 375F when it is actually going higher than that.


And no, I was trying to suggest 375F for hearth breads that contain sugar. 400F for hearth breads that do not contain sugar. If they are still getting too dark too soon, then lower the temperature by 25F degrees. I haven't had problems with producing loaves that are too light coloured and soft.


(Just before putting them in the oven, spray the loaves liberally with water. This helps to make for a very crusty bread.)


As for books, the public library is a great resource. Check out various books there first before buying. My rule of thumb is that if I feel compelled to renew the book, then it's one that I would like for my own library.


I'm not that familiar with the Reinhart recipes (I decided against buying his books because I found I didn't need to renew them when I borrowed them from the library,). Does he say 425F or 450F for baking temperature?


Again, baking temperature is not carved in stone. Keep playing with it til you get the right temperature for your oven.


Do try moving the stone up to the middle shelf. What bad thing can happen? It's not going to be worse than burnt bottoms.


-Elizabeth

Djehuty's picture
Djehuty

Thanks for clearing up the misunderstanding. :)


The oven does run hot, but only by seven degrees, so I set everything to five degrees lower than the recipe requires (the oven has a digital temperature setting, and goes in five-degree increments).


Reinhart's baking instructions say (for the last bread I burned) to preheat to 500 degrees, then reduce heat to 450 degrees for baking.  I tried reducing this to 435 once, and the bottom crust didn't cook fully (it wasn't raw, but it was very pale and soft), so I thought reducing it further might compound the problem.


I'd try moving the stone to the middle shelf, but wouldn't that just make things worse?  As it is, when I move the stone up one level, the top crust burns and the bottom is undercooked.  I may be wrong, but I think that moving it up an additional level would just push things farther in the other wrong direction.


Thank you for the advice about spraying the loaves with water.  I hadn't realized that would work that way.


 

ejm's picture
ejm

Preheating the oven to 500 sounds rather high and if that heat is causing the crust to burn (top or bottom) before the internal temperature of the bread is high enough, then the oven is definitely too hot.


When you reduced the heat to 435 and got a pale crust on the bottom, was the internal temperature of the bread as high as Reinhart suggests? (I'm assuming he suggests an internal temperature for the baked bread.) For hearth loaves, I aim for between 200F and 210F.


If I were in your shoes, I would try putting the stone in the middle shelf and preheating the oven to 450 (personally I think 15 minutes of preheating is plenty) and immediately turning it down to 400 when you put the bread in the oven. Bake the bread for 15 minutes. Turn it around and bake it for another 15 minutes. Check the internal temperature. If it still hasn't reached somewhere between 200 and 210F, keep baking it for another 10 minutes. If the top crust looks like it's getting too dark, turn the oven down to 375F.  If the top crust looks fine, leave the temperature set where it is. If after another 10 minutes the bread still needs to bake more, turn the heat down another 25F degrees. (The stone will hold the original heat.)


OR you can try the same method of turning the heat down but leaving the stone on the bottom shelf. (But i really think this will still cause the bread to burn on the bottom.)


OR you can try a completely different recipe. There are lots of great recipes here on the fresh loaf.


In my oven, when I bake bread that has sugar in it (challah, cinnamon buns, etc.) I have to bake it on the very top shelf so that the bottoms don't burn.


Because every oven is different; every kitchen is different....


Good luck!


-Elizabeth

Djehuty's picture
Djehuty

The loaf baked at 435 reached an internal temperature of 200+ degrees (I didn't wait to see how high the thermometer would climb; it was slowing down at 201, and probably wouldn't have hit 205, so I let it go at that).  It was definitely fully cooked, it was only the bottom crust that was lacking.


I meant to bake another hearth loaf today,but forgot to set things up. Tomorrow I'll try not over-pre-heating; if that isn't enough I'll try moving the stone up by stages, then lowering the temperature.


The stone I'm using is this one.  It seems quite a bit better than the cheap pizza stones I bought at the grocery store a few years ago.


 

ejm's picture
ejm

One more thought...


How thick is your baking stone? If it is one of those thin round ones sold for making pizza, it may be that it is too thin and is causing the bread to burn on the bottom.


-Elizabeth

xaipete's picture
xaipete

I bought a new stone yesterday at Sur la Table. It is made by bestmfrs.com, is 5/8" thick, 14 x 16", and a lot heavier than any of the other stones I have owned over the years.


--Pamela


 

ejm's picture
ejm

Pamela, that sounds pretty much like the stone we have for baking bread. And you're right; it is pretty heavy.


We also have a round stone that fits perfectly into our barbecue. It is much thinner and smaller - only about 1/4" thick and 13" (34cm) in diameter and takes no time at all to heat through.


-Elizabeth

xaipete's picture
xaipete

I was thinking about using my 1/4 inch broken stone on the BBQ. Can you put it over a direct flame on a gas BBQ or are you using wood charcoal?


--Pamela

ejm's picture
ejm

We're using the pizza stone  in a gas barbecue.

xaipete's picture
xaipete

What have I got to lose? It's already broken into three pieces.


--Pamela

ejm's picture
ejm

i'm sure it will be fine, Pamela! As long as it's not too heavy for your barbecue.


-Elizabeth


P.S. My rectangular bread stone is broken into three pieces as well and I'm still using it in the oven (I just shove the pieces together).

xaipete's picture
xaipete

I got a new one for my oven because I wanted a bigger and thicker stone, not because it was broken. All of my stones, thus far, have broken. I'm hoping my new one will remain in one piece because it is so much thicker, but time will tell.


--Pamela


PS I'm excited to try my old stone on the BBQ. I rarely make pizzas in the summer because I don't want to have the oven on 500 degrees for an hour when it's 90 degrees outside.

Djehuty's picture
Djehuty

I baked a loaf of French bread today, with the stone on the lowest rack but only preheated to 450 for 15 minutes.  It was much improved, but I still had to get it off the baking stone with about ten minutes of baking time remaining.  Next time I'll try moving it up one level, and if that doesn't work I'll reduce the temperature.  Sooner or later I'll get it right.


Many thanks for the good advice! :)


 

Peregrining's picture
Peregrining

Just my 2 cents worth, but are you using a convention oven, if so you might try turning off the fan.

baltochef's picture
baltochef

In my opinion, convection ovens (with the fan running) are detrimental to baking hearth breads..The entire concept of hearth breads is dependent upon radiant heat with only the natural convection movements within the oven to creat air currents that move the heat around..It has been my experience that speeding up the natural convection currents within an oven by the use of a fan(s) leads to more problems than good..At the very least the use of fans in an oven practically demands that very close attention be paid to the breads throughout the entire baking process so as to not overbake them..This close attention that must be paid more, or less, eliminates being able to walk away from the baking process for anything more than a few minutes at a time..


 


As has already been pointed out, the absolute best way (read most accurate & dependable) for the average baker to test for doneness is to use an instant read thermometer to test the temperature of a loaf in its exact center..If one is baking breads all of the time, then other methods such as the "thump" method are perfectly acceptable..Although for most of my life I used the thump method to determine the doneness of my baked bread, I willing swithched to a Thermapen digital thermometer over a decade ago; and have never looked back..Its near instantaneous readout, coupled with its accuracy, has saved me on more than one occasion from over baking, and under baking breads..


Bruce

Djehuty's picture
Djehuty

Nope, this definitely is not a convection oven.  But I'm glad you posted this -- I didn't realize convection ovens were bad for baking bread.  Now I know to stay away from them in the future.


 

ques2008's picture
ques2008

Correct me if I wrong, but when you use an oven stone, shouldn't you also be misting?  Maybe I'm off track here, but Peter Reinhart's advice for those breads that bake on oven stones - he says to spray some water twice during the process. ???


I bought an oven stone for future use, but I'm still baking bread as a beginner.  I bought it for when I feel I'm ready to go for the hearth breads.

ejm's picture
ejm

I'm not wild about spraying water into my ancient electric oven so I like to spray the loaves liberally with water just before putting them onto the stone in the oven.


Other people put a broiling pan on the shelf below the stone and fill it with water as the oven is preheating. This creates a nice steamy atmosphere in the oven and when the water boils away, the pan isn't ruined (because it's designed for being empty in the oven)


Another argument against spraying water into the oven is that having the oven door open can drastically reduce the heat in the oven (as much as 50F) The stone will help to keep the heat constant but still the oven may have to work overtime.


And one more argument against spraying water into a hot oven is the possibility of causing the glass on the oven door and/or the oven light to break.


-Elizabeth

Djehuty's picture
Djehuty

I've been using both a pan of water and misting the oven.  I was using an old pie pan (but now I need to get another, it's well and truly deceased) with a bit of water in it, and also giving the sides of the oven a shot or two with a spray-bottle of water.  I used both in order to minimize the heat loss, as this way I only open the oven once, very briefly, after putting in the bread.  I only use about half a cup of water in the pie tin, so I don't wind up soaking the bread.


To protect the oven, I put a towel over the oven glass, and aim away from the oven light.  Are there other dangers to the oven from doing this?


I hadn't tried spraying the bread directly because everything I'd read about spraying unbaked bread with water suggested this was a way to eliminate crust (or the skin that can form as it proofs).  Rather silly of me not to make the connection.  If spraying the oven is indeed dangerous, I'll gladly switch to this method.


 

ejm's picture
ejm

I don't know if there are other dangers than to the glass door and light.  But I'm too lazy to be putting a towel over the glass in order to spray the oven. I also worry that leaving the door open that long will really reduce the oven heat. (same reason I don't like to throw ice cubes onto a broiling pan as some people suggest)


I spray the loaves JUST before they go in the oven (hadn't heard anything about skin forming or that it might eliminate crust). The crust on our bread is lovely. Nice and crisp and golden brown.


-Elizabeth

ejm's picture
ejm

Take a look at this very informative post about how much time is required to preheat new ovens in the thread entitled "Checking One's Oven For Proper Temperature Calibration"


-Elizabeth