Crust at Last...........
Having struggled with my oven, my stone, steam and burned bottoms for some time, I finally got everything to come together today. The recipe is Vermont Sourdough from Jeffrey Hamelman’s Bread. The only change I made was to add 2 Tbs. raw wheat germ, a practice I adopted from Nancy Silverton. The bread was retarded overnight, having undergone a 1 hour final proof the day before in bannetons. I let them warm up for two hours in the morning, which was a little too much, as they deflated some when scored. Next time I will settle for one hour.
Having determined that my oven temp is about 20 degrees high (F) and that it will always burn the bottoms on conventional bake, I preheated to 420 (F) on convection before misting and slashing the loaves. I have found that I get cleaner scoring without drag if I mist the loaves about a minute before slashing with a very sharp German serrated paring knife reserved for this purpose.
Steam was provided by my new Steam Maker Bread Baker which I learned about from Steve at Bread Cetera. I applied steam for 12 seconds and baked at 420 convection for 15 minutes. When I removed the cover I found the loaves had recovered some of their collapse and the crust was translucent. I changed the oven setting to 420 Roast, which applies top and bottom heat simultaneously, without convection, which I feared would dry the crusts prematurely (thanks to David Snyder for this tip). This cured the burned bottom problem I had experienced with conventional bake. After 25 minutes more I turned off the oven and propped the door open for 6 minutes.
The crust is very crisp and I achieved rich carmelization (with its wonderful flavor) for the first time. I am quite pleased with the Steam Maker Bread Baker and the oven settings that brought everything together. I am satisfied with the crumb for a 65% hydration loaf, but will work on a more open crumb in future bakes.
I finally took the advice of so many authors and posters and picked a relatively straight forward recipe and baked it over and over, changing one thing at a time until I got it right. Now onward to seek a more open crumb and a decent batard.