The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Pale and dry looking bread

ehanner's picture

Pale and dry looking bread

Last weekend I had a chance to show my Sister how to bake with a natural levain. She asked if I would bring some starter when we came to visit so I brought a batch of Pain Au Levain mixed per SteveB's post a while back. It has 90 grams of rye in the flour mix and I like the combination.

I built the levain the night before we left and the dough on that morning, mixing by hand. I had a chance to fold it after about 1 hour of fermenting and then it went into the cooler for the 3 hour drive. When we arrived, I placed the dough on the counter to warm back to room temp and folded again. It was showing signs of developing gluten but hadn't doubled yet.

At around 4 PM I shaped and left it to proof for 45 minutes. It was slashed and brushed with water and baked in a gas oven at 460 for 30 minutes. The spring was OK but the crust looked pale and maybe gray instead of the usual orange brown caramelized tone I usually get. It was the first time I have used a gas oven for bread.

So I am wondering if anyone who uses gas to bake in has had a similar experience? I didn't steam as I didn't have anything preheated to pour the water inn and I didn't want to toss water into the floor of my Sisters oven. LOL

I suppose it could be I just let this ferment so long that the sugars were consumed, hence the pale crust. Any takers on this?

The other reason I'm concerned about the gas possibility is that I am thinking about replacing my gas cook-top and electric wall oven with a gas stove/oven combination.

Thanks in advance.



MaryinHammondsport's picture

Eric, I have a gas wall oven, and I haven't had this problem at those temperatures. I usually get a rich brown crust, and depending on the recipe, I have gotten the reddish brown one you are used to.

However, I'll recommend you talk to some other folks before replacing your electric oven with a gas one. I hate mine for bread baking, because I strongly suspect that my temperature control problems are caused by steaming. I may be wrong, but if it didn't involve running a 220 volt lime a long way from the breaker box to the kitchen, I would replace that gas oven with an electric this winter. I'ml still thinking about it, as a matter of fact!

We both need to ask around some, I guess.



Elagins's picture

and was the thermometer/thermostat accurate? It seems to me that one of the problems with gas is that the temp can be very spotty. also, how long did you preheat? and how high up in the oven was the bread?

Stan Ginsberg

RobynNZ's picture

Was just reading the following and remembered your query. Another angle for you to consider perhaps. While the whole article is very illuminating, scroll down to the excellent demo pictures in part 2, to quickly understand his commentary on proving.

LindyD's picture

Hi Eric...

I think lack of steam was the culprit, not the fact you used a gas oven.

King Arthur Flour sums it up pretty well in their fact sheet on water (in the professional section):



The other way in which water has an effect on bread is in the form of steam that is injected into the oven at the time of loading. Anyone who bakes with a steam-injected oven knows the virtues of steam. Proper steaming has a profound effect on bread for a number of reasons. It promotes a rich color to the crust, a surface shine on the loaf, and also increases the volume of the bread.

Crust color is enhanced when steam is injected into the oven. This is because at the early stages of baking, there is a rapid increase in enzymatic activity on the surface of a loaf. These enzymes break down the starches in the dough into sugar-like compounds called dextrins, and other simple sugars called reducing sugars. Steaming the oven has a cooling effect on the dough, and this enables the enzymes to remain active for a longer period of time. This in turn contributes to crust browning through the Maillard reaction, and later through caramelization of the crust. In an unsteamed oven, the surface of the loaf quickly becomes too hot for these enzymes to function, and the resulting bread has a pale, lusterless crust.

A properly steamed oven promotes a crust with a good sheen to it. This is because steam at the initial stages of baking provides moisture that gelatinizes the starches on the surface of the loaf. The starches swell and become glossy, giving us a shining crust. In an oven without steam, the crust undergoes a process called pyrolisis. Instead of gelatinizing, the starches, and the crust of the bread, remain dull.

A bake of thirty minutes seems a bit short, but then, I'm not familiar with the formula you used.

BTW, I have a free standing natural gas stove and love it.   The oven heats quickly and evenly, and the one nice thing about gas is that you can still cook even if the power fails.


Yerffej's picture


I have used both gas and electric home ovens for baking.  In all cases I have had quarry tiles and/or a baking stone in the oven.  I first used electric ovens and then switched to gas, I always preheat for one hour. 

Electric ovens have more horsepower and can return to temperature quickly after the door is opened, gas takes much longer to come back to temperature.  Electric works quite well for bread and is easy to steam as it does not require abundant fresh air to operate.  When I switched to gas I had to make adjustments over time to compensate for the large oven vent and the lesser power.  I added a large cast iron pan to the bottom of the oven as a vessel for steaming.  In the electric oven I just used the oven floor.  The cast iron pan preheats to 550° F along with the rest of the oven and holds heat a plenty for adequate steam in a gas oven.  Without it I found it diffiult to get much effect from my steaming attempts.  Now I add about 4 ounces of water to the pan 30 seconds prior to putting the loaf in the oven and then I immediately add another 8 ounces of water after putting in the loaf.

I always preheat to 550° F and this is probably the most essential part of using gas.  A gas oven heated to 450° F or so is going to lose a lot of heat when you put the loaf in and then take a long time to recover.  This is not a problem if the oven is already at 550° F.  I wait two minutes after putting the loaf in and then reduce to the temperature to 460° F.  Because of the oven mass including a layer of quarry tile, a pizza stone, and the large cast iron pan, the oven cools down quite slowly.  These procedures have led to beautiful golden crusts instead of the pale gray that you described.  That is the very same pale gray that I experienced prior to making the changes described here.

When first switching to gas I was a bit unhappy with the oven.  Having made the adjustments that I have I am now quite statisfied with the gas oven and would not hesitate to get gas again.

I hope this helps,