The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Into the Pot with You: Call for input on crust

RobertS's picture
RobertS

Into the Pot with You: Call for input on crust

Good Morning All:


There has been good discussion recently in the Sexy Baguette Forum about steaming. This is an appeal for those of you who have mastered steaming to weigh in, because I am confused after plowing through so many articles and posts on the topic.


I seem to recall Jim Lahey saying bread needs steam over 75 percent of its baking time. (Am I correct on this?) And in his pot bread recipe, however, his advised 30 min lid on, 15 minutes lid off formula translates to 66% steaming time. I don't want to to get hung up on numbers, but my experience is that under this 66/33 regime, the crusts of my pot breads are invariably excellent, but a bit too thick and tough to be called perfect---to my taste that is.


 As I mentioned in my Sexy Baguette postings, I have had nice success getting thinner, more flexible baguette crusts by doubling up on the water I use for steaming, and bringing down both the baking temperature (by 20 degrees, to 455 from 475) and the temperature of the water used for steaming (I now have settled on room temperature water as opposed to hot or even boiling water).


My question therefore is: if I wanted to get thinner, less tough crusts in my pot breads, what do I do? Help please.


For context, I am enclosing three pictures illustrating the results I get typically using a long cold ferment, minimal handling, and steady 500 degree temperatures, under the 30/15 minute regime.


PS: The eagle-eyed TFL-er may notice in the bottom picture that, barely discernible, are three different "layers" of dough. This came about because I threw three separate pieces of dough into the pot (don't ask why), one on top of another. The result, however,  shows how careless --slap-dash, even---you can be about "shaping" this type of bread, just as Lahey suggests in his earlier video.


Cold Fermented Pot Bread Slice


It takes an extra- sharp knife to cut through the bottom crust! But the crumb is grand.


Close-up of cold fermented Lahey Bread


I am pleased with the crumb structure.


Cold fermented Pot Bread


Here again, great crumb (If I do say so myself), but too thick & too tough in the crust.

amolitor's picture
amolitor

Steam is going to start being a lot less useful after the first few minutes. When you first put your loaves into the oven, they're cool enough (allegedly) to condense quite a lot of steam onto their surface. The surface gets wet, which enables/encourages some sugar-producing chemistry.


After 30 minutes of baking, the surface of the loaf is going to be fairly close to the air temperature, so you're not getting THAT effect any more. Possibly there are other effects, however. Preventing things from drying as quickly would certainly be one, but I have no sense of whether that's a good or bad effect.


 

RobertS's picture
RobertS

Good Morning:


Thank you for your comments addressed to my problem, and please excuse me for being late in responding to you.


I'm thinking that in Lahey's pot bread (which he said should be moisturized for 70-something percent of the time), moisture does play a role for quite a long time, and rightly so, because once the moisture is gone, lid on or off, the crust rapidly grows. I have noticed that at 30 minutes, when I take the lid off, the crust is a very pale yellowish brown, which tells me crust formation is in its beginning phase. Therefore, as you see in my reply to copyu (below), I agree with you that taking steps to retard that drying makes sense. Thus, my intention to go to regular oven instead of convection, and to decrease time that lid is off.


RobertS (Bob)

wwiiggggiinnss's picture
wwiiggggiinnss (not verified)

Enrich the dough by adding fat, such as butter or olive oil.


That'll soften it up.


As for these pot breads, I'm not sure there's much you can do technique-wise to reduce the concrete-like quality of the crusts.

wwiiggggiinnss's picture
wwiiggggiinnss (not verified)

You might also use a lower protein flour, but since I've never experimented in that direction, it's a guess. 

RobertS's picture
RobertS

Hi Wiggy:


Well, softer flour may work, but I am loathe to move away from my Robin Hood AP (13% protein) for many reasons.


But grazi for the idea. I am making a list of the possible ways to thin and soften crusts, and I believe softer flours will be on that list. Cmpleyely changing the topic, I just came across Berenbaum's list of factors influencing large holes in crumb. Very enlightening.


Happy baking!


Bob

RobertS's picture
RobertS

Hi Wiggy:


Yes, one way to go is the "alter the ingredients" approach, and fats definitely will soften crust. Many thanks for pointing this out.


Bob

copyu's picture
copyu

but, I'm assuming you're using a black cast iron dutch oven for your pot breads. Would that be right, sir?


If so, I think you might get better results with 'Pyrex' glass or 'Le Creuset' enamelled pots. I don't like enamelled pots much; also, they're usually so expensive, that I couldn't justify the purchase to use them, basically, as "camp ovens"...


My only experience was when I bought a STEEL dutch oven that had a pale grey coating inside and out. My crusts were thinner (too thin for me!) until after the 4th use or so, when the grey surface turned as black as the iron pots. I've read on several web-sites that 'paler' or more 'reflective' pots (such as stainless or chrome-plated steel reduces the amount/thickness of crust you can expect in a pot-baked bread. [Can someone else confirm this?]


That was my experience, anyway, with the 'new' dutch oven.


Personally, I love the look of your breads. I've been trying to make flute ancienne and your 'sexy baguettes' looked just the ticket, so I've been following your posts with interest


Best,


copyu


PS: I've used cold dutch ovens for rye breads, and hot, but not BLAZING HOT cast-iron dutch ovens with all-or-mostly white breads...[say 20 min in the oven at max temp (= 250°C for my oven)] That also reduced the crust thickness a little bit. It may be worth a try. copyu

RobertS's picture
RobertS

Good Morning!


I am thankful for your post, copyu.


No, I use Le Creuset-type pots --- ie: enamelled with cast iron core. Very, very heavy pots. I stay away from pure cast iron for the reasons you mention. I have one round and two oval-shaped and like them very much: easy to clean them up too.


Speaking of heat: I'm thinking I should change from all-convection cooking at 500F for pot breads, to regular oven for the duration at 500F, and also increase lid-on phase from 30 to 35 miuntes, and lower second bake to 10 (from 15) minutes. If that doesn't work, I will try lowering temp even further, and/or decreasing lid-off phase even further.


Why do I get the overly-thick (see photos), but especially overly-tough crusts? (Which you like).


Well, my thinking is my oven is too hot for too long with lid off, and also that there is little point driving out whatever residual moisture remains during lid-off phase, and so convection at that point makes no sense. Naturally, baking with convection during lid-on phase, by the same token, gives me additional heat (or rather, it gives more efficient heat), which I surely do not need.


Also, in separate experiment, I am going to add some fat and play with that variable on its own, following Wiggy"s suggestion (above). That should --in fact will---soften the crust. For that matter, a touch of honey should have similar effect.


Best wishes, copyu, amd thank you again for taking the time to post.


Bob


 

wwiiggggiinnss's picture
wwiiggggiinnss (not verified)

 

I'll suggest an alternative: Bake with cover on for 20, then cover off (and vent oven) for remainder at lower temp, say 450 F.

I never bake loaves for the duration at 500 F, always reducing to 425-475 F.

In my experience, more steam for longer = thicker crust, so I'm trying to think of a way to reduce steam.

I know you know this already, Robert, so for posterity: 

If you take two identical doughs and bake them under identical conditions, the only difference being one is steamed and the other is not, the steamed version will always have the thicker crust. 

 

RobertS's picture
RobertS

Good Morning Wiggy:


Well, I have a double batch of dough (54 oz of flour) that I'm going to "pot" today. I am going to use most of it for baguettes (6 loaves), but will try your alternative (above), both as regards temperature and 20-minute cover-on.


Shall report the result.


RobertS (Bob)

wwiiggggiinnss's picture
wwiiggggiinnss (not verified)

How'd she do, Robert? Still too thick?

wwiiggggiinnss's picture
wwiiggggiinnss (not verified)

Oops, I see the response below. Those are beautiful loaves. That baguette is perfection!

RobertS's picture
RobertS

Hi Wiggy:


I sometimes miss posts too, but not because of Floyd's programming. I am still learning the nuances of navigating this gorgeous site.


Thanks for the compiiment. The baguettes were extra tasty and the boule, thanks to you and others, was an improvement over my past efforts.


RobertS

copyu's picture
copyu

I've just had another thought, but it relates only to pot-baked breads...I hope this is not a repeat of suggestions you've already received


My very tiny ovens (one electric and one gas) both 'top out' at 250°C (about 480°F) and that may be the reason I'm getting results that I like. It's true that the crusts on my boules are a bit thicker than those from my favorite professional bakeries, but I'm also into a more 'rustic' and 'random' thing than most professional bakers in Japan. (For example, I often don't bother to score or 'slash' the boules, unless I want a particular effect, say, with black and white sesame-seed patterns on the loaves)


I've realized that, with the tiny size of my ovens, I'm losing so much heat when I open the door, that my initial baking temps are much LOWER than 480°F. I've checked the max temps with two oven thermometers (which just happen to agree with one another pretty well) and it seems that my 250°C max is probably closer to 475°F, even BEFORE I open the oven door...


My starting temps are probably closer to 450°F or even lower...Both of my ovens stop heating air immediately the door is opened. The explanation *might* be that simple! I'd guess it would take at least several minutes for the gas oven to get back up to 475°F, my target starting temperature. I can't leave the thermometers in the ovens permanently...these ovens are REALLY small! That means there can't be all that much objective measurement to go with my suggestions; only my "guesstimates"...sorry!


Hoping this is helpful, and suggesting you do NOT change your ingredients too drastically...I believe you're really onto something there, Bob! Try slightly lower start temps with your favorite formulae and see how you go, instead of messing with the formulae themselves


Best,


copyu


 

RobertS's picture
RobertS

Good Morning copyu:


Absolutely will move to lower temperatures  and for now leave ingredient list alone.


I really appreciate the information you gave me about your ovens. As for losing heat when door is opened, I have found, keeping a close eye on my two thermometers, that I lose the least amount of heat when I take out the hot pots and immediately put them on the stove top and close door. Then I pot the bread, open doors and quickly put pots back in. As opposed to opening door, sliding out rack, and putting dough into pots while door open.


Doing a pot today, so will let you know the details and the results using much lower temperatures. (Of course, the reason for my using high temps to this point was simply to follow Lahey's advice to the letter.)


Bake on!


RobertS (Bob)

copyu's picture
copyu

We're 'on the same page', so to speak, with our "oven-loading procedures" for pot-baked breads


I've been so careful, because I wasn't sure my ovens could ever reach Jim Lahey's temp recommendations. At first, I thought they might, because the digital 'gauges' on ovens are famously inaccurate, either plus-or-minus quite a few degrees. I thought 250°C just MIGHT be near enough to 500°F, but when measured, I found out they were a tad under 480°F, even with 40 minutes or so of pre-heating...


I know how good cast-iron is at retaining heat, but I also know, for sure, the limitations of my ovens, now. It may have actually helped, me, in a way!


Thanks again, and sincere best wishes,


copyu   

thespeidels's picture
thespeidels

I want to agree with you on the idea of a darker pot producing darker contents!! I use to bake my sandwich loaves in stainless pans, and the top of my crust was always darker than the part of the bread that was down in the pans!  I hated that!  I wanted a nice golden crust all over my loaves, so I switched to a darker non stainless pan, and I love the even golden crust that I am getting!  So if your crust is getting too dark, I would suggest cooking in something that is not so dark in color itself!  It's worth a try!!  Good Luck~

rayel's picture
rayel

Hi Bob, I am not experienced in steaming, just trying various ideas, as many out there have. I've been following with great interest your various tries re. steaming, timeing etc. One more idea is covering the preheated pot containing bread, 1st with a multi layered wet towel, then cover with preheated lid. My thinking is this would extend the steam duration and volume. One problem with that rig, is the obvious thermal shock to the porcelain. I know the pot is expensive, and am not sure the pot would survive. I like the towel idea enough to try it with something that has the mass, but not the porcelain.  Ray

RobertS's picture
RobertS

Oooooh! No way do you want to put a towel in the oven, no matter what pot you use. (And glass pots (even Pyrex) can shatter, according to recent posts, so I would stick to enamelled cast iron pots.)


Besides, Ray, there are simple ways to increase steam, both quantity and duration.


RobertS

LindyD's picture
LindyD

Hi Robert,


Actually, a wet towel works very nicely.  See JoeV's blog where he introduced the approach.  He obtained very nice results with that technique.


During a recent review of Ciril Hitz' book on artisan breads, I noted that he too recommended using a wet towel to promote steam.


I've tried it, placing the wet rolled towel into a metal loaf pan, and it does do a nice job.

RobertS's picture
RobertS

Hi Lindy:


Yes, but what the member suggested was wrapping a double-layer of towel around the pot in which the bread is cooking, a la Lahey!!!! Besides, generating lots of steam isn't even a problem cooking with lidded pots. The only question is, how hot do you want your oven, and how long should the lid be n.


Using a towel and hot stones in a side pan seems to me a great idea for all breads not cooked in a pot, and not glazed. Joe's blog was tres interesting and I'm going to try it.


RobertS

rayel's picture
rayel

Hi again Bob. In my haste with my previous post, (my wife was urging me to go with her NOW),I dropped everything, and forgot the most important thing, to compliment you on your lovely bread, crust and lustrous crumb. Please forgive ommision. Ray

RobertS's picture
RobertS

Hi Ray:


I always enjoy receiving compliments. Thank you very much. And by the way, you did right to listen to your wife, especially when you hear the word NOW. :-) LOL


Bob

MickiColl's picture
MickiColl

what exactly is the purpose of adding vinegar to my bread dough ?


to what breads do I add it ? when and how much ?


I'm trying to find a way to imrove the texture (crumb ?) flavor and especially the crust. I always have the thick, tough "turtle shell" crust, so most of my bread ends up in the disposal ..


 


 


 


 ?


 

RobertS's picture
RobertS

Hi Micki:


The best thing I can suggest is to put the word "vinegar" into the search box on this site. I am sure you will get lots of info on why vinegar is used, beyond the obvious reason that you want to increase the acidity --- which promotes several good things when used in timely and proper manner.


RobertS

mimifix's picture
mimifix

Greetings!


I add approx one tablespoon of vinegar per loaf during warm weather to inhibit mold. It goes in with the initial water; but on occasion when I've forgotten to add it early, I simply cussed and poured it in while kneading. It was a little messy but cussing helps.


You can also add large quantities to your dough (half water, half vinegar) for an authentic faux sourdough.    :)


Mimi

RobertS's picture
RobertS




Good Morning (especially to Wiggy):


Yesterday I completed my Wiggy-inspired pot bread crust experiment.


Robin Hood All-Purpose Flour 100% (54 oz.)


Table salt 2%


Instant yeast .7%


Ice Water 78%


Hand-mixed till flour well-absorbed


18.5 hrs in fridge, with 3 S&F's in tub every 20 minutes over first hour in fridge


7.75 hrs warming and fermenting out of fridge


Divided for pot loaf (27.5 oz piece) and six baguettes. Rested pot dough 20 min in oiled bowl.


Baked 20 minutes (down from usual 30 minutes), lid-on in pre-heated regular oven mode (not usual convection bake) @ 410F-420F (not usual 500F)


Continued baking 25 minutes lid-off in regular oven mode (not usual 15 minutes) with temperature slowly rising from 420F to 440F (not usual convection oven @ 500F)


The result? A markedly lighter-coloured crust than usua; somewhat crispy (crispiness not a descriptor of prior pot loaves, except for loaves I have made with additives such as sundried Tomatoes, Cheese and Olives); noticeably less tough than usual; somewhat thinner than usual. Taste as good as usual.


Conclusion: Though crumb remained same as usual, which means really tasty, the crust improved, and I have no doubt it did so because my previous temperatures were too high, especially considering I previously used a heat-efficient all-convection bake (and so, a more prolonged cooking time than even Lahey recommended. In other words, all along I should have been cooking about 15% shorter times than Lahey recommends). Will use regular oven and lower temperatures in future, and in next experiment, will go back to usual 30 min lid-on/14 lid-off and observe results before deciding whether future bakes' lid-on/off times ought to be altered, along with temperature, from Lahey's recommendations. Pictures follow:



3 L'Ancienne Baguettes using same dough as pot boule in background. Yummers!!! Boule slice (below) also yummers, per usual.



New, improved boule


 


 



And finally, the baguette sliced open/


 

wwiiggggiinnss's picture
wwiiggggiinnss (not verified)

...that 30 minutes with lid on will concrete-ize the crust.


If it doesn't, I owe you a dozen bagels! :D


{steam:bread = mortar:bricks}

RobertS's picture
RobertS

Hey Wiggy:


Bet is on, but payoff should be a couple of baguettes since I am not a bagel fan. Of course, by the time your baguettes reach me, they will be concrete. :-)


RobertS


I can't send you messages, it seems, but since you've posted in this thread, let me take the opportunity to thank you (and others) for convincing me to lower mt pot bread temps significantly. I really should tell Lahey about this, but need several more experiments to nail this issue down. The first being controlling for lid/on-off time.


 

wwiiggggiinnss's picture
wwiiggggiinnss (not verified)

Baguettes it is.


Alas, be forewarned, I sent 4 baguettes to a gourmand up in Alaska (3 days in transit).


To my best baguettes, his response, "They smell lovely. I'm sure they'll make great croutons!"


!!!


 

rayel's picture
rayel

Hi Bob, I feel a clarification is in order, re. my proposed steaming method. What I should have stated is to put a wet towel over the opening of the pot, and not around it. Then cover with preheated lid. I agree that the dough's emitted moisture capture is working, to a degree, but whether it is enough, can only be proven when more moisture is tried and compared.  Ray

RobertS's picture
RobertS

Good Afternoon Ray:


Ah, this is quite different. What I worry about is that portion of the towel outside the pot catching fire----not being exposed to any moisture source, as it would not be. And that problem, if it is a problem, would have been dramatically greater if the towel were wrapped around the pot.


I agree that the issue is: how much moisture is enough, and for how long. And another question is, does steam form inside the pot? And is steam, as opposed to mere moisture, really necessary?


However, I think that we can get enough moisture to surround and be on the dough surface in the pot, by manipulating the lid, time and temp, without needing to use a towel.


For sure, more extensive testing is needed, as you you suggest Ray. Already I think it is clear Lahey's recommended temperatures are way too high, though this finding is still confounded with "lid time" in my experiment.


Bake on!


Bob

rayel's picture
rayel

Hi Bob, I think the moisture, is turning to steam at those temperatures, However little there might be. The small space/enclosure, is why it works at all, in my opinion. I think commercial deck ovens are a relatively small space, considering  their shallow height. They introduce an abbundace of steam, seeing how much comes out of the oven, after the steam injection. That is why I believe more moisture would work better, as the loaf soon runs out, or at least it's escape route dries up. I don't have a cast iron pot, at least not yet. I have tried another way to achieve my goal, an un-preheated pan and wok cover. Yes we purchased an electric wok (what a joke) a million years ago. Mabey a 220V  might have worked as a wok. Anyhow, I have achieved some success with the lid part, after swapping the plastic knob at the top with a metal one. Having seen the magic bowl idea, a short leap. Recently, i tried to enhance the steaming/moisture effect, by adding wet paper toweling around the loaf, then covering with the wok lid. I think it worked a bit better than the cover alone. The dried paper faired pretty well, considering it spent some time out in the open heat, uncovered. I wasn't ready to waste a tea towel quite yet. I am sure you know why. (chuckling) Regards, Ray