The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Side to side comparison of loaves baked in cold start v. preheated oven - Photos

bnom's picture

Side to side comparison of loaves baked in cold start v. preheated oven - Photos

I wanted to see what difference it would make to bake loaves from the same dough, one in a preheated oven and one starting off in a cold oven. In a previous post I mentioned that I had tried the cold oven technique using a cast iron pot. The resulting bread had a very light, shattery-type crust. It was an unusual loaf for me, but then again, the circumstances were not usual. We were at our cabin and I had no scale, no mixer, no sourdough.

Back home, I took advantage of my 1960 double oven to put the hot v. cold oven to the test. Because one oven is smaller, I used an oval Le Crueset for the loaf I started in a cold oven and a round Le Crueset for the loaf I started in an hour-preheated 500 degree oven (the pot was preheated too). I baked both until 205 degrees internal.

Cold/hot oven (hey it's a 50 yo stove)

A cold oven is supposed to produce a good oven spring but that didn't happen here. The cold oven loaf collapsed where scored. I've never had a loaf collapse on me before so I suspect it was the cold oven.  I don't think it was because of overproofing. After shaping, I only proofed it 35 minutes because I'd heard it was best to underproof if using a cold oven. I scored it about a 1/2 inch--same as the round loaf.

As As you can tell, the crumb is very open. The bottom crust is burnt.

The round loaf came out looking better. Decent oven spring. The crumb was more regular (not necessarily a plus) than the oval loaf--but that may be because of the shaping process.

Still and all, these loaves were pretty darn similar. Taste was the same. Both had a nicely carmelized, crispy/chewey crust. I'll probably keep playing with the cold oven technique (esp this summer), but if I'm baking for company, I'll stick with the more reliable hot oven method.

The next mystery I need to resolve is how I got that shattery/light crust in the loaf I made at the cabin. Any thoughts??

And now, I better clean the oven!


subfuscpersona's picture

...I will be very interested in your continued experiments.

Question 1: What is the hydration of your dough? (I assume the same dough recipe was used for both bakings - am I right?)

Question 2: I notice that the preheat oven test had a baking stone in the oven whereas the no-preheat oven test did not. Do you think that the inclusion of a baking stone in your preheat test could have influenced your results?

Your photos show that the no-preheat loaf had uneven holes (very large holes on the top of the loaf) whereas the preheat loaf had a much better structure. In addition, you note that the no-preheat loaf had a "burnt bottom crust" whereas (presumably) the preheat loaf did not.

Looking forward to your response... SF

bnom's picture

Same dough for both.  Roughly 68% hydration.

I don't know if the stone made a difference--it's always in my oven so I didn't think to take it out. 

You're right, the preheat loaf did not have a burnt bottom.

My next experiment will be with baquettes or batards - no cast iron pots. One on a preheated stone and the other on a baking sheet in a cold oven.  (And people wonder why I keep cooking on a 50 year old range . . .)

althetrainer's picture

Like SF, my first thought was the hydration level of your dough.  Cold oven always works for me because I bake sandwich breads in a loaf pan.  Hydration of my dough is high but with the support of a loaf pan it doesn't collaspe like your boule. 

Can't say I am surprised though.  If hydration is high, the dough in a cold oven will continue to rise (expand out sideways without support) until the heat is high enough to brown and harden the crust.  On the other hand, a preheated oven with temperature high enough to harden the crust immediately allows the boule to hold its shape.  Oven spring takes place and the expansion goes where the slashes are made.  So the results depend on whether the crust gets hardened faster than the dough can rise, or the other way around. If your oven takes 10 min or more to reach target temperature, large holes will form near the crust while the loaf continued to expand as oven temperature rises. 

Cold oven always works for my sandwich loaves.  But I haven't tried making a low hydration boule in cold oven so I can't say if it will work or not.  I am interested to see the results though if someone had done it. 



bnom's picture

Thanks Al.  That makes sense.  The bread was about 68 percent hydration.

RobynNZ's picture

Over the summer here I decided to try cold start and have used a very large roasting tin, which fits two 1kg boules or a couple of 500g batards etc, very successfully. I will continue with this method even though cooler days are coming, it works and I no longer subject my reliable but aging oven to great wafts of steam and I can place the loaves in it without risk of getting burnt. My loaves are much less likely to get mishapen as I now lower them gently into the cold tin without any sense of panic as was the case when I used to preheat the roasting tin. I do spray the roasting tin lid and round the sides of the tin too, before I put the loaves in, I don't spray the bottom now because I found the bottom crust was adversely affected. I remove the lid after about 18 min and then for final 10 minutes or so remove the tin and put the loaves on the large handmade (it's probably terracotta) pizza stone which lives in my oven (it has a lip and I balance the roasting tin on its edges) and leave the oven door ajar. I do turn the oven on just before I start my final preparations - final dough checks (i go for just underproofed) get parchment paper out, spray roasting tin, remove loaves from colanders/couche, slash, load tin etc. The roasting tin is quite thin and will take much less time to heat up than the Le Crueset.  

What was the difference in baking time? You say you don't think the cold one became overproofed but if it took a long time before the dough got up to baking temperature it may indeed have become overproofed. 

Was there anything you did differently compared to when you were at the cabin? One assumes the cast iron pot and the Le Crueset would be similar in their heating properties. What about the oven do you think the one at the cabin heated up more quickly than your double oven at home? 

I wonder if you misted them? If you didn't, that might be another experiment for you to try. Changing one thing at a time takes time, but makes for better data.

Also what do you think role loaf shape played? I'd be curious to see what would happen if you repeated the experiment with the round one cold this time. What was the shape at the cabin?

I'll be interested to hear how you get on.

Regards, Robyn

bnom's picture

Hi Robyn,

The cold oven loaf may have been overproofed but it would have happened in the oven, not before going in. I think Al may bo on to something for his explanation (above).

As far as the cabin conditions go--one factor could be elevation.  We're at 6500 feet.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

The rack on the left appears to also be lower to the coils than the right side.  Could this be the reason the left loaf burned?  It looks very low in the oven... much lower than the other pot.

I do have to admitt that panned loaves work better in a cold oven then free form.  I can't remember doing a free form loaf in a cold oven without some kind of shape, frying pan, wok, casserole to prevent the spreading out of the dough as it rises.  


bnom's picture

The racks were actually level - 6 inches off the bottom - but with the pizza stone  added an inch. 

I started it at 500 degrees and then turned it down to 450 once it was preheated--that may have been a mistake.

paulwendy's picture

Just finished another cold start experiment. A typical overnite fermented sourdough. it looks very good, Photos will follow shortly. Baked in a cold oven in cast iron pot covered for seventy minutes at 450 degrees. Removed lid and baked an additionall ten minutes at 425 degrees, it was light in color and I tried to get the crust a little darker. Dinner's almost ready and will let everyone know the results shortly. It looks like a success. Will update soon. Almost forgot, the crust shattered. The bottom feels crispy, it did not burn.


subfuscpersona's picture

...and hoping for photos

Thanks - SF