The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Cooking levained: from cold or from hot oven?

nicodvb's picture

Cooking levained: from cold or from hot oven?


I read that generally it's recommended to cook levained products when the oven is hot, but I'm beginning to wonder if it's always the best approach: more often than not I notice very little oven spring when I begin cooking bread and cakes when the oven is hot, while starting from a cold oven the spring is higher.

I have the feeling that during the heating phase the yeasts receive a boost.

Can someone explain the underlying theory, please?




KenK's picture

I intend to try starting a sourdough boule, cold from the refrigerator, in a cold oven.

As an additon to nicodvb's questions; any ideas on the difference it would make in my gas oven which seems to heat up slower and more evenly than an electric oven?

bnom's picture

Please post photos if you do.  It never occurred to me to put breads into a cold oven, I'm really interested to how well that works.

Barbara Krauss's picture
Barbara Krauss

Ed Wood recommends the cold oven start with sourdoughs, saying the oven spring is more pronounced.  I can see how this would work with something like a cloche or a cast iron pot, but I'm wondering how it would work with a baking stone.  Has anyone ever tried that? My stone is rather thick, and I think the oven wouldn't even be up to temp by the time the recommended baking time had expired. 

bethel's picture

after reading this discussion I decided to try the cold oven start to bake a semolina sourdough boule using my baking stone. It turned out great! It was quite a wet dough, at first it spread a bit, but after about 15 minutes it stopped spreading and started rising. I thought the crust would be hard and thick, but it was delicate and crispy. Then I tried throwing cold dough from the fridge straight in a cold oven, after shaping quickly, that wasn't so great, still a perfectly acceptable and tasty bread, but a bit denser than I like.

A couple of things though- I didnt use cornmeal under the cold dough batch, big mistake, it stuck and I'm still having trouble getting that crust of cooked dough off the stone.

Also, I'm experimenting with slashing it at different times during baking. When I slashed it at the start, the slashed part would harden along with the rest of the crust as the oven heated, and there was no more room for expansion, and then the loaf broke open along the edge where it touched the stone. I'm wondering whether spraying the loaf with water a couple of times at the beginning would stop that hard skin forming too early.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

If you get more rise in a cold oven, then perhaps the dough is underproofed when its put into a hot oven.  Continue to work with the cold oven, it works for you and is more economical! 

Renee72's picture

More often than not, I will start my sandwich loaves out in a cold oven.  I usually get taller loaves when I do it that way.  I have started artisan free form loaves in a cold oven, but I find if the dough is really wet, they can spread out a bit more than I like before it's hot enough to raise the bread. 


Doughtagnan's picture

I cook sourdough loaves from cold all the time but as I bake in a large iron casserole it helps to keep the bread from spreading out too much. Usually I whack the oven on full and bake for 45mins then take the lid off for 3-5mins or so to finish browning. Cheers, Steve

maddy bondi's picture
maddy bondi

Yes about 6 months ago I started to put my breads into a cold oven, and it really increased oven spring. I thought this was 'naughty' but now I see I'm not alone.

It really comes down to how active your starter is, its age, the weather, humidity, type of flour you're using, but I can generalise that the 'wetter' your bread (ie the less flour you put in, and the less you knead it), the more the gentle heating up of the oven from cold to hot with the bread in it will benefit rising.

Thomas Mc's picture
Thomas Mc

I usually start with a cold oven. I think you only need to preheat the oven if you rise a high hydration dough in a brotform, so the crust can set up quickly and the loaf doesn't lose its shape. For lower hydration dough or when baked in a pan, you definitely get better oven spring starting with a cold oven, and you waste a lot less energy, and heat up the house less.

ehanner's picture

Nico, This is a post I wrote back in 2007 when I first discovered that some of the old standard methods needed to be re thought. Personally I think there is a misunderstanding about why there is an oven spring.

The fact that covered baking works at all with no steaming was what first made me wonder. I routinely bake on a sheet pan from a cold oven and get great results. Yes you do get a harder crust bottom using a pre heated stone, but at what cost?

I encourage you to experiment and see for yourself what is necessary to bake without wasting a ton of energy pre heating a stone that cools off as soon as the dough is loaded.


drwatkins's picture

great post thanks

Mebake's picture


As Mini pointed out, the dough needs to be underproofed inorder to baked it in a cold oven, but the virtues of a hot oven surpass those of the cold on for many reasons:

A) Hot surface boosts yeast at the end of fermentation faster than cold surface at the early fermentation.

B) You utilize steam, which is vital to form the color, crust and crumb you seek.

C) You get to bake slack dough without having to worry about them spreading about your oven.

D) Cuts open much more nicely, which contributes to better oven spring and appealing visual result.

E) you get to bake from the fridge after overnight retardation, which is not possible with a cold oven.

F) You get to know exactly when your bread is ready for baking when it is near the end of fermentation by poking it, while with a cold oven you may have to guess that.

G) Almost all bakers in the world from ancient times, bake with a hot oven.

and many more..

However, if you are willing to risk all those advantages inorder to reduce your Bill, and you have what it takes to bake consistantly good result, then i don't see why you shouldn't.

One piece of advice: If you choose to bake in a hot oven, then bake multiple loaves to make the whole process feasible for you.



cryobear's picture

For the past year I have been starting cold, but not in an oven.  In the jungle, it's too hot to cook inside, so we do all our cooking outside.  One day my electric oven failed, and I had friends coming for a party. I took the dough from the fridg, cut it in 6 pieceses and just put it in the loaf pans. I put them in the BBQ to proof with the lid closed, and when they were up to the top of the pans I lit the burners.  They came out great, but a little burnt on the bottoms.  Next time I added 3/4 in. clay tiles.  They still burnt.  Next time I did tiles and put the loaf pans on 1/2 in cooling racks.  They came out even colored all around and great.  At the current price of propane and electricity here in Hawaii (highest in the nation) it helps as well as tastes great.  I do put a thermometer in the bread and take it out at 200 f and it's nicely done.  With the thermometer, I can keep an eye on the bread while I'm cooking the chicken or steaks at the same time.  Yes they do cross flavor some what, but so what.  Also, by starting cold with the lid down, you have a lot of moisture traped in there for about 15 minutes while the tiles and BBQ dry out.  HEY! It works for me......



BTW I forgot to add that it takes about the same amount of time as preheating the BBQ to cook Hamburgers (1 hour max), so you do save energy and MONEY.

hanseata's picture

Khalid, I absolutely agree with you. Especially if you bake commercially and need reliable baking times, experimenting with a cold oven is not an option for me.

Though I know that you don't have to preheat your oven for baking cakes or gratins - you just calculate 10 minutes more of baking -  I do not see how this would work for as well for breads. 

I understand that from an environmental and financial point of view it seems desirable to abbreviate the times the oven is on. But my environmental conscience is appeased by the knowledge that home baked bread without all the chemical additives is definitely "greener" than factory produced loaves.

And the electrical bill? I bake twice every week, three loads of different breads, with preheating the oven (overall baking time is about 2 1/2 hrs.) I compared my electrical bills before I took up selling breads to the ones after - there's was no really noticeable difference!