Should my sourdough, once baked, be browned on the base? I don't have a proper stone to bake on. I'm using a terracotta tile. None of my loaves have been browned on the base. Is that normal?
The easy way to ensure you get a well browned bottom crust is to make sure your tiles are good and hot by thoroughly preheating them(along with the oven, of course).
I use a 5/8 inch stone, and bake mainly rolls, lately. I find I must preheat my stone for a good 25-30 minutes to ensure the bottoms are nicely browned. Some setups may well take even longer.
If the bottom is still not brown enough for you, you can preheat the tiles 50 to 75 degrees hotter than the recipe calls for, then turn the heat down when bread is loaded into the oven.
I'll try preheating longer and hotter and see what happens. Thanks. The bread is browning nicely, but almost seems doughy on the bottom which is very annoying. I'm baking tomorrow, so we'll see....
Your terracotta tile should be just fine - don't pay any attention to anyone who tries to tell you it's not "proper". (In fact it may even be better than a commercially available baking stone if it's thicker.) Finding the right terracotta tile is often so difficult these days that folks recommend against even trying ...but if you've already got one and it works, that's great!
Baking stones (including tiles) take a long time to heat up, and completely flummox the sensor in your oven. If you're using any kind of baking stone, when your oven tells you it's "preheated up to temperature", double or triple that time before putting the bread in to bake.
Also, if you follow the common practice of proofing your loaf on parchment paper then putting the whole thing in the oven parchment and all, arrange to slip the parchment paper back out after the loaf "sets" (10-15 minutes?) so the loaf sits directly on the stone for the rest of the bake. One of the big advantages of baking stones is they wick moisture out of the bottom crust so it's crispier. But parchment paper blocks moisture and negates this advantage of the stone. Parchment paper is so convenient eliminating it altogether seems too draconian; using it initially but removing it after the loaf "sets" is a good compromise.
My baking stone is only half an inch thick, and I need to preheat my oven at least 45 mins to get the nice brown bottom.
I usually preheat my oven for about an hour at the maximum heat, then do the steaming for the first 10 mins, then reduce the temperature to 235c for the rest of the bake.