The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Football loaves.. not domed. What's up with that?

Mike E's picture
Mike E

Football loaves.. not domed. What's up with that?

Hey all!

I'm working with sourdough, having recently gotten into it. My luck changed for the better these past few weeks and I'm doing fairly well, but my loaves aren't coming out quite the right shape, I think. I'm forming all round boules, but instead of a nice dome shape, they're all stretching out tight and puffing up.. sort of lifting the whole loaf off the baking stone and standing up on a small pedestal, almost. These loaves look a lot like ufo's or footballs now, instead of domed boules. I think it might have something to do with my slashing tech. not enabling them to rise up and outward.. instead, it keeps the skin tight and makes them puff up all around, equally. Do you think that's it? I'm really sort of nervous when it comes to scoring.. i'm afraid to really cut in there.. I hardly make more than a large scratch, and I know that's wrong.. but in any case, do you think that's the issue with my loaf shape, or two separate things?

LindyD's picture

Hi Mike. 

It could be your shaping technique or your placement of the cuts.  Hard to tell without seeing a photo of the bread.  On the positive side, sounds like you have a healthy sourdough culture!

Since you're apprehensive about scoring, here's a helpful tutorial.

dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Mike.

As Lindy said, a photo or two would help us advise you.

From your "word picture," I suspect a conspiracy of 3 factors: Under-proofing with exuberant oven spring, a very hot baking stone (which is generally a good thing) and, possibly, a problem with scoring. These are listed in probable order of importance.

Can you post a photo of your problem loaves?


Mike E's picture
Mike E

Here we are.. not the best, but I nabbed some shots with the iSight camera.. what do you think?

Football loaf #1

And one more view here:

So, there's no opening on the top of the loaf from my slices, if you can even see them there slightly in the top photo.. and it's got that weird, oval-ish shape to it which you can clearly see in the lower photo. I've got a dough in bulk ferment as I type that should be baking tonight.. what do you all think?



dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Mike.

Thanks for posting the photos. From the appearance, I'd stick with my comments above.


Mike E's picture
Mike E


I'm using the "finger poke" method to determine if the dough is ready to bake or not. If it springs right back, I let it go.. if it stays indented for a bit, I heat the oven and bake it. I usually preheat the oven for a minimal amount of time.. till the oven light goes off and says the temp is right, and my oven thermometer indicates the oven is actually correct. I'm not sure it's the baking stone, is what I mean.. which only leaves the scoring aspect. I hope to test that theory in a few hours. I'll report back..

dghdctr's picture


Just based upon looks, I'd say the crust formed too soon.

See how pale (generally) your crust color is, even allowing for the darker splotches?  Assuming you baked at a high temperature, that would probably result from insufficient moisture in the oven cavity during the first 5-10 minutes of baking.

If there's not enough moisture, the outside of the loaf forms a hard, inflexible skin too rapidly.  The loaf rises up like a pillow because it is then like a balloon with a skin that won't stretch.  Also, since the skin likely formed before the starches were sufficiently gelatinized, there won't be as much conversion of those starches to sugar, and that results in the relatively poor coloration.

There are threads on this site that address how best to introduce steam into your oven at the start of the baking cycle.  Just be sure to briefly (and carefully) vent the steam from the oven by cracking open the door about ten minutes after loading the oven.  Then finish the bake in a completely dry oven.

Hope that helps.

--Dan DiMuzio

will slick's picture
will slick

The exact result you were tring for, looks like a nice loaf of bread to me.

Yerffej's picture

I would add a comment about scoring.  Get brave and score that loaf!!! 

You are apparently having good success all the way around and need just a bit of fine tuning.  Following Dan's comments about crust forming too soon....When you proof the loaf is it covered or open to the air?  The crust could be drying too much at that point in addition to being in an oven without steam.

Be brave with scoring as it will all be part of your bread education and lead to better and better bread.


p.s. there are many past threads on scoring with good info

Mike E's picture
Mike E

OK, thanks for the pointers folks.. 

As far as this loaf goes, I was trying the ol' metal pan in the back of the oven with ice cubes trick on it. All of my previous efforts, I used a spritzer bottle to spray inside just before loading by a few minutes, as I loaded the dough, and then a couple minutes after.. all my loaves seem to have turned out the same, regardless of which method I use. When using ice cubes, I'd put in like, two.. then two more as I loaded the dough.. I think, overall, that's more water total than I got in there with the spritzer. I don't feel my crust is as nice as I've had in other breads.. I think it's lacking, I'm just not sure how to handle it right now. I'll have to poke around a bit more.

On the good news side, the loaf that I did while posting those above-pictures, I scored the tar out of.. and those opened up nicely! I can't comment on the proper crust color much though, as I burned the top pretty good 'cause I made an oval shape with it and, apparently, those cook sooner and subsequently burn faster than a boule does.<sigh> If it's not one thing, It's another.. ;) I think I'll go back to round loaves till I get my technique solid.. 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

When using ice cubes, I'd put in like, two.. then two more as I loaded the dough.

Try using a whole cup of cubes!  Or better yet boil up a cup of water in the pan on the stove and then put it into the oven as you put in the dough.  Wet the surface of the loaf before slashing with wet hands while you're poking around.   Have no fear, you'll figure it out!


dghdctr's picture


If you give us a bit more info, I might be able to make a few guesses as to what might help you.

What's the weight of the loaf?  Describe your oven set-up a bit more (how many shelves, where they're located in the oven, etc).  What oven temperature are you using?

With regard to your steam set-up, try moving a very heavy pan (like an iron skillet that you don't need for anything else) to a location that's just inside the oven -- not in the back -- and just below the shelf with the stone.  When you have loaded the scored loaf in the pre-heated oven, toss about a half cup of hot water (not so hot as to scald yourself) into the pan.  Close the oven door immediately.  Vent the steam after 10 minutes.

Ice cubes are too slow, and using boiling water is too dangerous.  You need a very large quantity of steam almost immediately upon inserting the loaves.  Moderately hot tap water can help you do that.

IMHO, you're not pre-heating your oven enough.  With a stone, especially -- but even without one -- you need at least an hour to be certain the oven walls are very hot.  From your description, it seems you might be putting your comparatively cool dough into a barely heated oven and on a too-cool stone.  The thermostat tells you the oven's air temperature, but not the temperature of the massive walls, the stone, and the door.  They (especially the stone) take longer to get hot.  If the air inside is at the right temp, but the oven's walls and the stone aren't , then when you open the door to the oven most of your hot air exits, and the oven will need too long to get back to the desired temp.

I'm not sure if you own Jeffrey Hamelman's book on bread baking, but it has good explanations, and I think you'd find it helpful.  I understand your wanting to conserve energy or save money, but if your biggest priority is low energy use, you'll be limiting how good your bread can be.

Ovens do require a lot of energy to pre-heat.  Once they're hot, though, the temp isn't so expensive to maintain.  If you bake several loads of bread in just a couple of hours, instead of just one or two loaves, then you haven't wasted the energy required to pre-heat the oven.  Freeze what you don't need right away. 

--Dan DiMuzio

Mike E's picture
Mike E

Some quick answers to your queries: I'm doing 1.5 lb loaves pretty much always for these.. I have an electric oven that I double check the temp on using a seperate oven thermo. I've taken all the shelves out except one, and moved it so it holds the loaf in the center of the thing. I've been baking at a reccomended temp of 460, since that's what most books and such reccomend. I do have Bread by J. Hamelmal right now, as I've checked it out of the library.. I've read it cover to cover and foud it to be the best resource I've read yet. Really nice book. I tried the iron skillet thing once, but it's my favorite pan for eggs, and the water in the pan trick is killing my seasoning, so I was looking for alternatives.. thus the tin loaf pan idea. I admit, I probably do not heat the stove up long enough.. I always wait till the light goes off indicating proper temp, and hold off as much as I can after that.. but never an hour or more.

You think I should go for higher tem than that to bake, and maybe turn it down after a few minutes? Go bck to the spritzer trick, or just keep using the pan and hot water instead of ice cubes? I'm gona be mixing up a new dough tonight if time permits, so hopefully I'll be able to test these ideas out tomorrow night as I bake...

pmccool's picture

1. It appears that the scores on the loaf pictured were almost perpendicular to the long axis of the loaf.  Scoring more nearly parallel to the long axis on a batard shape like that will help guide the expansion up and out, while maintaining the integrity of the loaf's shape.  If you haven't already, click on the Handbook link at the top of the page.  It contains some very helpful information about scoring, as well as other topics.

2. Steaming really tears up the seasoning on a cast iron skillet, doesn't it?  If you have one of those enameled broiler pans that usually accompany a stove, try using that for your steam pan.  It's got a lot of surface area, so the water can flash to steam quickly, particularly if the water is already heated.  And if your water source has a lot of dissolved minerals, you can usually wipe out the residue easily with a damp cloth or sponge after the pan has cooled.

Keep working at it.  You'll get there.


bakinbuff's picture

If you want a better crust, have you considered trying a dutch over, or other covering?  I found putting a round glass lidded casserole dish on the baking stone and letting it get hot with the oven, then turning my boule into it instantly changed my crust for the better.  For free form loaves I bake directly on the stone, I cover with a large glass bowl (which I preheated with the oven, don't want to put a cold bowl on a hot stone!).  Might be worth a try, because it means you don't need any steam in the oven (the moisture in the bread trapped under the cover provides all the steam you need).