The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Please help with French bread browning problem

tuziksmith's picture

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.


Dragonbones's picture

There are others here more qualified than me to answer you, but I can think of a few questions to ask you on the pale crust problem:

Have you confirmed your oven temperatures using a thermometer, to ensure it is getting hot enough?

How high or low in the oven are you placing the loaves?

How long is your ferment going for? Is it possible you're fermenting long enough for the sugars in the surface of the loaf to be depleted?

As for your exposed bottom element, have you considered putting a cast iron griddle atop it so it's not exposed? Once fully preheated, that will not only help stabilize the oven temp when you open the door, but it also makes a dandy surface for creating larger volumes of steam, which might also help with your browning. I'm referring to the following effect (from King Arthur Flour, quote supplied by LindyD at

Crust color is enhanced when steam is injected into the oven. This is because at the early stages of baking, there is a rapid increase in enzymatic activity on the surface of a loaf. These enzymes break down the starches in the dough into sugar-like compounds called dextrins, and other simple sugars called reducing sugars. Steaming the oven has a cooling effect on the dough, and this enables the enzymes to remain active for a longer period of time. This in turn contributes to crust browning through the Maillard reaction, and later through caramelization of the crust. In an unsteamed oven, the surface of the loaf quickly becomes too hot for these enzymes to function, and the resulting bread has a pale, lusterless crust.

You've got the oven stone, which should help, but you risk cracking it and getting the dough too wet if you dump the water or ice cubes on that directly; having a cast iron tray like the Lodge Logic Double Play grill/griddle on another shelf below it is ideal for this, IMO.

dghdctr's picture

The oven's perceived peculiarities are probably unrelated to the browning problem.  The solution is somewhere within what dragon suggests/describes.  I'd try the following first:

  • Use a large but shallow piece of cast iron cookware.  Maybe a 8-10 inch diameter or more, to maximize the super-hot mass that will be in direct contact with the water.  Locate it fairly near the oven door, on a shelf under your baking stone.  Preheat the oven, stone, and cast iron pan at least 60-90 minutes before baking.  Iron and stone take a long time to actually reach the right temp -- the thermostat is only measuring the air temp, not the temp of the stone.
  • Forget the ice cubes in favor of simple tap water to get an immediate, large cloud of steam -- use maybe half a cup or so.  Ice cubes won't deliver the steam quickly, so the loaves can form a dry skin before any of the enzymatic activity described above can take place.  Water produces a large steam cloud immediately, when you need it.
  • Have everything ready just before loading the loaf onto the stone (water, oven mitt, scoring device, whatever), so you don't have to leave the oven door open too long while loading and steaming.  Once you have plopped the loaf onto the stone, immediately toss the water onto the super-hot pan and quickly close the oven door.
  • Carefully crack open the oven door after 10-15 minutes to release any remaining steam.  After the loaf has begun to set and expansion has ceased, the edges of the loaf will start to brown a bit and the steam at that point will only delay further browning.  Set it free!

Hope that helps.  There are a number of threads here that discuss steaming/browning issues, and they are searchable with the box on the upper left.

--Dan DiMuzio


tuziksmith's picture

Hi Dragonbones! I must have not expressed myself clearly. I don't throw ice on the baking stone. My repairman said I can't place anything directly on the heating element because it is completely exposed. So I place the cast aluminum pan on the bottom shelf, and the baking stone goes on the 2nd shelf from the bottom. I usually throw 1/2 cup-1 cup of ice cubes into the cast aluminum pan, or pour boiling water. After initial 5 minutes (or when the slashes open) I spray the oven with water. I always keep the thermometer in the oven, so, yes, I keep an eye on the t, and it hasn't been a problem with the long preheat that I usually give. I don't have the Lodge skillet, but I don't know why aluminum pan wouldn't do the same job of holding the water or ice cubes for steam. I have a hunch that because the infra red broiler comes up periodically to maintail the temperature, it really makes the oven very dry no matter what, and the fan in the oven helps draw the moist air out. It cannot be disabled either.

What do you think about using la Cloche baker? I wouldn't be able to bake baguettes in it, but would it help with moisture for French loaf?

I really appreciate your contribution. Thank you!

Elagins's picture

to get good browing in a home oven, your stone should be in the top third,  not near the bottom (heat rises).

also, why use ice cubes, which lower oven temp? better to use boiling water .... 

and finally, does your stone allow enough room around the sides to facilitate heat flow from the bottom to the top of the oven?

my oven has a bare bottom (electric) element and i've always steamed by just throwing a cup of boiling water directly onto the floor of the oven. it looks like hell, but works fine.

Stan Ginsberg

ehanner's picture

I'm going to take a slightly different tack on this issue. The above comments are all good advice but we don't know the basics yet. Please submit the recipe you are using and what your method and timing is. It would be helpful if we knew what flour you are using also. Can you post a photo of the pale bread you describe?

In your description of how you are baking, you are doing two things that create a low oven temperature. First by using ice as Dan said you don't get immediate burst of steam and the energy to first melt the ice then vaporize the water, cools the oven. Then opening the door to spray the dough releases heat from the oven. I suggest you add hot water once and keep the door closed for at least 20 minutes.

This all could be from the flour you are using and or the fermentation procedure you are using. I'm hoping you are using a name brand AP or Bread flour which is enriched and has malted flour blended. The fact that your brioche browns well tells me the issue is more likely in the dough. Many ovens use the broiler to aid in heat up but people are not aware of it since a conventional broiler coil doesn't get red hot usually

I have two suggestions to try while we wait for your recipe and method.

First, try spraying the dough lightly before loading and skipping the steaming all together. Once you load the dough, keep the door closed completely for 20 minutes. At that time you can rotate the loaf if needed to get even browning.

The next bake, using a brand name enriched bread or AP flour, be sure you ferment until you get a doubling in volume, then shape and proof in a warm room temp for 30 minutes only and bake as per above.

You asked about using a La Cloche baker. That would eliminate the need to steam totally. I don't think it is the answer to your browning issue. You could also try using a Stainless Steel bowl to cover the dough for the first 15-20 minutes.


logdrum's picture

One other possible culprit could be kneading the dough too long.



swtgran's picture

I had a post a week or so about the complete difference in my crust color and texture when I went from steaming the oven to putting a stainless bowl on my loaf for the first 20 minutes of my bake.

The crust went from a thick grayish brown to a beautiful golden, thinner crust.  I just couldn't believe the difference this little change in baking technique could make on the exact same recipe.

I rinsed the bowl, shook out the dripping water, and placed it over the bread without drying it completely inside.  It was wet enough in places to add moisture but not drip on my loaf.

I am a bowl convert!!!!

sortachef's picture

Several things:

I suspect you're not adding enough salt to your dough, and that it may be too dry. Try adding more water and more salt.

A cup of water, especially into an aluminum pan, is too much. I put about 3 ounces twice into cast iron.

Longer rising (ergo, less yeast if necessary) at a cooler temp will help, but working the gluten cloak around your finished loaf should finish the job.

Finally, if you follow every single step in Julia Child's recipe for French Baguettes in MTAFC II and still have this problem, your oven may be the culprit.



Andrew S's picture
Andrew S

First of all.

Could you submit  as much information as you can.

Amounts,  Times,  Temperatures.

To the gram,  To the minute,  To the degree.    Knowledge is power!

I would put money on your dough being over fermented and depleted though.  The description  ticks all the boxes for an over rippe dough.

Try some test bakes with a straigh ferment.  Something like


100    Srtong white flour

 62    Water

1.8    Salt

1.5    Fresh yeast

Mix to a final dough temperature of 22 Celsius.

Give 60 mins in bulk. (Alter your B.F.T. by 15 minute intervals for further test bakes)  Knock back and give another 30 mins.

Scale, initial mould and rest for 10 minutes to recover.  Give final mould and place in tins.

Proove until correct volume,  45 mins in warm room.  Bake as usual

See what kind of crust you end with.

Long, multi stage processes can be very hard to control and you may be ending up with a spent dough.  I have been left with not so nice loves more than once.  When you bake, a note book and pen should be not far away.  When you hit a seam of manna, you want to be able to reproduce it, dont you?

Any queries, please get in touch

Andrew S.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Your oven is just fine, it's the dough and/or method.  Something there.  I'm also sure you can use a cold oven, the trick would be to cover the loaf in the beginning of the bake. 


tuziksmith's picture

Hi all,

I am a bit overwhelmed with such a chorus of different suggestions. After I studied all the responses to my post, I agree with several posters who ask for the exact recipes I used. The first one comes from KA flour website:

I followed the recipe presicely. I used KA All-Purpose Flour.

The 2nd recipe I recently used is this one: (links to pictures at the bottom of this post). I buy Bart's brioche and baguette flours from his web store and I tried his baguette recipe. He formulated both flours in cooperation with bakers and labs both here and in France. As you can see, I am not using high gluten or bread flour (although KA AP has a higher protein content than your ordinary all purpose flour or French Type55 flour which has 10% protein content. Both are hard wheat, I believe). KA recipe calls for very little kneading, whereas the second recipe calls for full development of gluten by kneading for a total of close to 20 minutes in the mixer. Bart's recipe uses fresh cake yeast. I have Bosch Universal which I use for all recipes except no knead recipes (high hydration). For my last recipe (it was KA recipe) I tried to follow it precisely and kneaded it for about 5 minutes in my Bosch because it has about 66% hydration which is not falling into the category of no-knead doughs, in my opinion. high hydration dough turns out better in my oven only if there is fat present in the recipe, like in some pizza or focaccia doughs.

As for playing around with different ways to provide steam, I think I tried all of the methods suggested here at one time or another over the last 10 years. Same goes for positioning of the baking stone. I tried placing the stone on all but the top rach. It didn't seem to make any difference.

When asking my question I was hoping that somebody on this forum might have the same oven as I do. I talked to Dacor people about the problem. They have discontinued completely the range I have specifically because of the problems with this combination: gas infrared broiler used in conjunction with regular bake mode for preheating and for maintaining the t.

After having read all of the above contributions and having tried (before, not today!) many of the tricks suggested here, I am inclined to try something that would alter what my oven is doing, i.e. removes moisture too quickly. I've read that some people recommend La Cloche to be placed in the cold oven for preheat. Since the gas IR broiler is used for quick preheat in my oven, do you think the heat will crack a La Cloche bread baker? Right now I have just a regular baking stone from The Pampered Chef. I haven't used it on the upper rack, so I don't know if it will crack or not with high heat from the broiler if placed closer to it. My oven instruction specifically says food and pots cannot be place in the cold oven because the IR broiler gets too hot during the preheat. I guess I could experiment with cheaper quarry tiles before spending money on La Cloche. Does anyone know at what temperatures La Cloches are fired? 2. My 2nd choice would be to buy two Fibrament stones, one for the upper shelf, one for the lower shelf. I know those will withstand the IR broiler heat. But some reviews about Fibrament's bad fumes at higher temperatures are scary. I don't know if placing two stones in the oven will solve the problem, although I could bake bread longer at lower t to minimize rapid loss of steam. Anyway the big question remains: what to do to try and keep the steam a bit longer in the oven. Do you think, baking at lower temperatures on the baking stone might help? Or is La Cloche (or two aluminum pots) my only hope? I won't be able to bake my baguettes, though :((

I couldn't upload the pictures from either my phone or from my computer because the files are too big. Unfortunately, I don't know how to resize them to fit the size required by TFL. I'll study it and will upload if it works out.

 For now here's a link to my pictures on Photobucket:

and the crumb  These are the baguettes I made from Bart's flour at (don't tell Bart, I don't think these baguettes should represent his products). This is Brioche loaf

That's it for now. Suggestions on baguettes are most welcome. Again, thanks for all who jumped to help!

tuziksmith's picture

I forgot to ask all those who pitched in to share with me information about their ovens: electric or gas; broiler: electric or gas IR? If the broiler is gas IR, is it used in preheating? Can it be disabled so the oven is preheated with the electric element only? Share pictures of your baguettes, too, if you have them.


Andrew S's picture
Andrew S

Infa red broiler (grill to us Brits)  Should cool quickly after preheat so not an issue with a long preheat for your stone.  Long preheat should even things out. fine and you should not need to do any crazy manipulations  If your oven is all electric, the chamber should be easy to fill with steam.  your pictures show an even bake.


I would NOT TRY TO BAKE FROM COLD.  If it was controllable, and workable, commercial bakeries would do it and save millions in firing up costs

Your bread does not look too pasty really.

Do some tests and take lots of notes.


Go right back to basics


Andrew S

tuziksmith's picture

Hi Andrew,

I will try and do a test bake with pencil and a pad in hand. The temperature fluctuates wildly, though, (+- 80 degrees F!) with every opening of the door, no matter what cycle I use. That's why I think using a clay baker and/or two baking stones that can withstand high heat from the broiler will be my next step. As for overproofing the dough, I usually plan ahead and very seldom overproof. But overproof is not a huge problem with recipes using instant yeast. I've noticed definite problems when sourdough is overproofed. When my schedule interferes with my baking schedule, I just put the dough in the refrigerator before it reaches its peak. Unfortunately, the pictures of baguette do not convey how the loaves actually looked and felt. They felt very brittle and dry to the touch.  There is no deep brown red color at all. Before my Dacor I had a very basic wall oven that baked beautiful French breads. Oh, well, I'll keep trying different things. What do you think of the crumb? To me, it's a bit too tight, should be more open and irregular for baguettes, shouldn't it? Thanks for your input.

ehanner's picture

Ok, now I understand the situation. The flour you are using is as I suspected the source of your problems. I bought a bag of the B&D Baguette flour when Chef Bart first posted her last year for a test of the product. I found it unacceptable for the intended use. I know all about the claims of many commercial customers. B&D has taken some generic wheat flour and blended it with his own concoction of enzymes and additives to modify it for performance purposes and marketing his specialized products. I couldn't get a decent loaf out of it and tossed the balance.

My suggestion to you, if you really want to make good bread, buy yourself a bag of brand name All Purpose flour (King Arthur or Gen Mills) for example and tell Bart this isn't working out so well. There is no reason why your oven won't work just fine if you use good products. Sorry.


tuziksmith's picture


I don't think Bart's baguette flour is anything special, not worth extra money for shipping, that's for sure, but his Brioche mix is simply outstanding. As for the King Arthur AP flour, my result was even worse than with Bart's flour. I tried to add diastatic malt to it, ascorbic acid, you name it. I never had these problems with French breads in my old oven. I just lost my patience after many years of repairs on the Dacor oven and many failed French bread loaves. Other breads turn out fine, though, can't complain.


sortachef's picture

Sounds like you're zeroing in on the problem. The reason I said to go with a tried and true baguette recipe is that then you have a constant from which to troubleshoot. These baguettes were made from Julia Child's excellent baguette recipe in MTAFC II with plain old unbleached flour. My oven is a Wolf, all gas, and these were baked on quarry tiles.

Hope this helps. Good luck and Flame on!


tuziksmith's picture

Hey, Sortachef! These are gorgeous! They look like what I'm trying to achieve. In fact, Bart (from BDFlour) said he prefers all gas oven for bread baking. Have you always had gas ovens? Are they tricky to adjust to after electrical ones? Would you please post the recipe for these baguettes?

So, it's all gas oven? Do you have a gas broiler in it? Does it kick in for preheat as well? Is the t maintained with the heat coming from the bottom only once the oven has reached the set t? Since gas ovens don't need extra steam, you probably don't use any clay bakers, do you?

Beautiful breads! I am drooling.