Please help with French bread browning problem
I am a new user but have been lurking for a long time. Over the years, I have learned more from this forum than from all the books on bread baking combined that I own.
I have a "little" problem that I can't seem to solve on my own, though. I have a Dacor 36" Dual Fuel Epicurean range. I have had it for about 10 years. My Dacor oven has two unfortunate design flaws: exposed bottom heating element and gas infrared broiler that is used to aid the bottom element during preheating cycle to heat up the oven quicker (cannot be disabled). Because of that, I cannot bake in the oven any bread that is required to go into a cold oven. Second, the breads, mostly fat free and sugar free, like Sourdough French or ordinary French baguettes, don't acquire this nice golden reddish color like I see on a lot of pictures here and in the books. The crust is usually very dry, pale light brown color, and looks like slightly burned parchment paper.
I always bake on the baking stone giving the stove a nice long preheating time (45 minutes to 1 hour). I throw a cup of ice in the cast aluminum skillet for steam or spray the oven with water. I tried all three cycles (bake, convection bake, pure convection). I tried very high temperatures, tried to lower temperatures. Nothing seems to make a difference. The crust is just too brittle and very pale. I don't want to think that solving this problem will involve a purchase of a new super expensive range, but I am at the rope's end as to how achieve the desired crust color and texture in breads that don't use fats or sugar in them. Breads brushed with olive oil don't get too browned either. I don't have this problem with brioche type doughs at all.
If there is anybody on this forum who has the same kind of oven (with infrared gas broiler that is used during preheating cycle and to maintain the temperature during baking), please share your experience and advice.
Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated! Thanks.