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gas fired oven for French bread?

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petercook's picture
petercook

gas fired oven for French bread?

I am having a problem creating the paper-thin, shatteringly brittle crust on my French bread and I'm beginning to suspect that the problem my be my oven. I have a regular home-style gas oven. I have no problem with other baked goods: cakes,muffins,rolls, etc. The oven will hold any temp I want (up to 500 F; 260 C) as long as I don't try to use steam, as in French bread. I have rigged a contraption that dumps water into a super hot cast iron frying pan and as soon as I put the proofed loaves into the oven, I dump the water. Presto, instant steam. But, when I do this the temp drops like a stone; from 500F to 375F in 4 min. There is no fan in the oven. I have tried all possible starting temps, with or without steam. In desperation I even tried James Beard"s recipe calling for a cold oven start with an un-proofed loaf. Question: Is it possible to get the thin brittle crust I want with my oven. I have tried evey conceivible variation: straight doughs and sponges, pate fermentee (old dough) poolishes, every possible hydration rate from 60-72%. I have used bread flour and A.P. flour. Less salt; more salt. Less yeast; more yeast. I have just made 68 different batches in the last 70 days and I am at my wits end. Can it be done at home? If so, how. Your thoughts on this matter would be much appreciated. Thanks

ehanner's picture
ehanner

The situation you are facing can be overcome by using a cover to bake under. There are round and oblong clay "la cloche" baking devices available that work well. You can also use a baking stone and place a bowl over the dough or a roasting pan to isolate the dough from the moist environment that the open gas flame creates. There will be no need to steam the oven. The water in the dough will provide all the steam needed for a good crisp crust.


Eric

jstreed1476's picture
jstreed1476

Using a cover is--along with broader use of stretch-and-fold techniques--the most satisfying change I've made in my baking process over the last year or so. It really does work, and you don't need hard-to-find, expensive stuff. Just a foil roasting pan will do the trick.


The upside of the foil bakeware, by the way, is that it isn't nearly as scary to handle as stainless steel, glass, or clay pieces that've been preheated to 500F. I use a large stainless steel bowl for boules, and it gets wicked-hot. If you go that route, heat it open-side up, so your hand isn't blasted with hot air as you lift it to place the bread on the stone.


And use a long, thin metal instrument like an icing spreader to lift it off after the initial steaming period. It'll put some space between your skin and the superheated steam that rolls out when lifting up the bowl.


I'm thinking of drilling a hole in the top of the bowl and doing the eyebolt+washers+nuts thing as a handle. Not sure my wife will approve, though.


Also, after the digital control unit of my oven went kerbunk--with a loud, bright spark as the tip-off--I've really cut down the steam tactics. The "magic bowl" thing is just as satisfying.

Frosty's picture
Frosty

Thanks for the info.  I've never tried the bowl trick.  How long do you leave it on for?  The entire bake?  Half way through?


I'm going to have to try this next time.


Thanks


Frosty

008cats's picture
008cats

I leave my cover on for 15 min steam; dough should be just starting to have some colour when you take it off. Temperature affects crust/colour; length of bake affects the crumb.


I too have a gas oven; it's too old to have any temperature readout on it, but I gave up trying to steam inside the oven because it wouldn't stay put -just immediately vented out.


If you find your dough isn't giving off enough steam for the enclosed area, you can spray mist the underside of the cover before putting it on. I find this helps my oven spring and ears.


I just ran across another method where a fellow drilled a hole in a roasting pan lid and used the nozzle of a clothes steamer to deliver steam. He made it look really easy.

sagharbormo's picture
sagharbormo

I can't imagine the contraption for the nozzle of a clothes steamer. Are there any pictures of this one might see? thanks

008cats's picture
008cats

There was a video... I'll try to find it, but I was all over the place that day...


Oh, okay! it was referenced on this site! Go to this link, and scroll down; the entire video shows scoring first, and then the steaming...


http://www.breadcetera.com/?p=85

ehanner's picture
ehanner

I have one of those steamers and it's just not necessary. Yes it does give a slight improvement in humidity but it isn't worth the trouble in my opinion.


I leave the cover on for 12 to 15 minutes depending on what kind of crust you want and how substantial the cover is. A thin aluminum roasting pan heats up more quickly than a heavier glass bowl for example. A little experimenting will show you the way.


Eric

flournwater's picture
flournwater

"I have rigged a contraption that dumps water into a super hot cast iron frying pan and as soon as I put the proofed loaves into the oven, I dump the water. Presto, instant steam. But, when I do this the temp drops like a stone; from 500F to 375F in 4 min."


You didn't say but I'm wondering if you're pouring boiling water into the oven or something colder.  The hotter the water, the less it will cool your oven.  What ever you put into the oven, whether it's your proofed loaf or  you steam producing agent, the oven temperature is going to drop.  The trick is to get it back up to baking temperatrue as quickly as possible.  That's why I typically heat my oven to a minimum of 550 degrees and allow it to remain at that temperature for at least half an hour before loading the oven so the entire oven cavity, including the wall surfaces, get hot enough to restore any loss in temperature suffered when the oven is loaded.


Even commercial ovens have to contend with the cooling effect of steam introduction.  Steam can never be hotter than 212 degrees at sea level (unless it's super heated steam held at an atmosphere other than sea level) and any time you introduce 212 degree steam into a 500 degree oven the temperature is going to be negatively affected.

petercook's picture
petercook

Hello All,


In answer to flournwater's question: Yes, I have been using warm tap water to create my steam. What I do is this: I took an old Pullman pan, poked a hole in the bottom (near one end) with a 16 penny nail. I pre-heat my oven for an hour. The cast iron fry pan is now, of course, super hot. I have my water ready, 2/3 c, and the Pullman pan on the counter. As soon as I put the loaves into the oven I then put one finger under the hole in the Pullman pan and pour in the water. I then quickly place the Pullman pan on the lowest shelf directly above the frying pan (of course I make sure that the hole is directly above the fry pan). Only a little of the water has hit the fry pan before I close the oven. Thus I get to keep nearly all of the steam. It sounds like a lot but the whole thing takes only 6-8 seconds.  So, you see. if I had boiling water in the Pullman pan I would burn the heck out of myself.


Eric: Excellent observation. The open gas flame causes it's own moisture. One of those things that causes me to slap the side of my head and say, Duh. why didn't I think of that? I also like the idea of baking the French bread under a cover. I assume that I would need some thing under the double baguette pan like maybe a sheet pan or lg stone and then cover the whole thing with my metal cover. This would be rather like an "oven within an oven". Would you suggest pulling the cover off, perhaps halfway thru the bake?  Thanks All

ehanner's picture
ehanner

Peter,


If you are using a shaped baguette pan then I would try laying a sheet of foil down under it and put the pan over. If you have a rimless baking sheet, that would work as well. You are looking for a seal between your cover and the base. I have used a stone bare, with parchment over and a sheet pan. All work well.


The person who taught all of us about the "Magic Bowl" or covered baking was Susan from San Diego. I recall she said that the first few times she liked to watch the bread grow using a 4 Liter glass Pyrex bowl. You have to be careful and it's a little cumbersome but it is fun to see the spring happen. Also, you can see when the dough starts to take on some color. When that happens the spring is done and the bowl has done it's job and can be removed. In general, that's about 15 minutes into the bake.


I have used the concept that a little longer under cover will protect the crust from being baked deeper and thicker, thus thinner and crispier. While a shorter time under will allow the crust to be baked harder, thicker and still crispy. All of this is with the understanding that at the end of the bake I prop the door open for at least 5 minutes to allow some moisture that is trapped in the crumb to migrate out, without softening the crust. Depending on the hydration of the dough, 10 minutes may be better.


You can see there are a lot of variables involved. I wouldn't say I have the procedure perfected but each step is important for arriving at a crispy French bread. If you do everything except prop the oven door open, your bread will be crispy hard for about 15 minutes and then it will soften up:>( Let us know how all this works for you.


Eric

petercook's picture
petercook

Hello Eric, I am not quite clear on what you meant when you said, "If you do everything except prop the door open your bread will be crispy hard for about 15 minutes and then it will soften up". Did you mean to say that the bread crust will soften and completely lose its crispiness? Or that the crust will lose its hardness and soften just a bit but still be crispy? Thank You

ehanner's picture
ehanner

All bread is hard to the touch just out of the oven. I wouldn't call it crisp, just hard. After it sets for 10-20 minutes cooling on a wire rack it begins to give up some moisture that is trapped inside in the crumb. For the first bit of time, it is still cooking and the crumb isn't set up yet. As it continues to cool, the moisture migrates to the surface and out to some extent. If you don't use a convection oven that helps the crust get dry during the last minutes in the oven, the crust will soften up and the bread will look good but when you pick it up it will feel soft. Larger loaves will become hard to cut due to being so soft.


If the bread is any bit under baked, the water content in the crumb will migrate to the crust and soften it up so it is not crispy at all. So, you need to make sure you bake to an internal temp of 205F and don't worry about over baking. When the bake is done, crack the door open with a spatula so the moisture can escape and dry the loaf out. The crust will be harder at first and may sing while it cools and cracks. When the moisture stabilizes you will still have a crispy crust. OK?


Eric