The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Baking Sourdough in a commercial rotary oven at 320

arlo's picture

Baking Sourdough in a commercial rotary oven at 320

At work, I bake muffins, cookies, softcrust sandwich loaves, some foccacias and so on. But I never bake sourdough. With my interest in sourdough and my active baking at home (3 to 4 loaves a week), I confronted my boss and asked if it was a possibility, he replied of course and that it could be my responsibility to lead the way. Whoa...I guess I am up to the challenge : )

The challenge was a bit more than I expected, I was using a very large commercial rotary oven that heats to 320 and finishes sandwich style soft loaves in about 40 minutes. I had no problem baking the sandwich bread, but I knew sourdough typically baked at a bit higher temp. So I had to work around that, the biggest challenge yet I thought. Since I had baked in steam injected ovens meant for hard crust breads at another bakery for a little bit, I wasn't really used to, or knew where to start for such an assignment with this style of oven.

But I began my passionate assignment, I started off by attempting Hamelman's 'Vermont Sourdough' at work last week, I have had great success with this at home so I didn't fear I would mess up the recipe at all while baking in a small batch (4 loaves) to give it a shot in the oven at work. In short, everything went well in the mixing stages and so on. When it was time to load the loaves in the oven, I scored them, sprayed the top of 2 of the loaves and slid them in and baked for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, they did of course 'spring', reached an enternal temp of over 200, but the crust was lack luster, pale, pathetic white, and of course soft, which was ok, but even the sprayed loaves did not receive a touch of color. Really disapointing and to be honest, I knew no one would buy one. Luckily it was a test run in my free time one afternoon.

So my next attempt later that week was again the VSD, this time I went through the ropes again, scored the bread, sprayed them lightly and then sprayed them every lap around (1 minute 32 seconds) for about five laps then let them bake for 35 minutes uninterupted. The results, still pale white loaves of bread.

So heres my conundrum, is it possible to bake sourdough and achieve good color at low temp in a large commercial oven geared for sandwich loaves? Should I try and add honey perhaps to achieve darkening of the crust? Or should I leave the loaves in for a longer time hopefully inducing the coloring of the crust? This oven is really powerful so I am just worried about burning the loaves if they are in too long. Though I am unsure if that is even a possbility though...Hmmm..


Anyone have experience with this topic? Any help would be appreciated : )

dghdctr's picture

I assume by 320 degrees you mean degrees F, and not degrees C, right?

Unless your rotary oven is malfunctioning, it should be able to have its temperature turned up or down like any other commercial oven.  Is this oven just not able to get any hotter, or are you trying to use the same temp you use for your sandwich loaves out of convenience?

Your sandwich loaves may have some sugar already in them, as well as butter, eggs, or milk.  Any of those ingredients will cause browning to accelerate somewhat, so a fairly low oven temp is normal for baking that sort of dough.  I will say, though, that for a 1.5 to 2 pound loaf, that still seems a little low.  350F is more typical for that range in lightly enriched loaves.  But your oven has its own personality, and you like the pan breads as they are, so I can't be certain that you're using a too-low temp.

Caramelization (browning) won't happen as easily on the crust of a hearth loaf like baguettes or boules unless you bake at a higher temp and use steam to allow more conversion from starch to sugar at the loaf surface.

Whether you use sourdough or manufactured yeast (or both) to leaven your bread, the process of caramelization isn't impacted dramatically.

You could certainly add sugar or honey to your dough at maybe 3-4% to encourage browning without sweetening the dough very much.  That isn't a traditionally French, Italian, or SF sourdough technique, but if that doesn't concern you, go ahead and see if you like it.

If you can raise the temp on your oven, then by mixing and shaping your hearth bread (proofing on sheet pans) after an extra half hour elapses, as the last batch of the day, you can have time to turn up the heat to 400-450F before the last batch goes in the oven.

Spray the loaves heavily with water after scoring them, and then load your trays in the oven.  They won't look as nice as they do when they're baked in a steam-injected deck oven, but they can be quite acceptable, and you can avoid toying too much with your sourdough formula.

--Dan DiMuzio