The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Corn meal burning the bottom of my bread?

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Dowens8's picture
Dowens8

Corn meal burning the bottom of my bread?

I have. A question... Can it be the cornmeal burning the bottoms of my breads? I have. Been making a lot of BBA lately and the last few have had burned, inedible bottoms. It didn't happen during my first ciabatta, but the last few breads have been really dark and hard. Anyone help???? Last night I made pizza and used flour instead of cornmeal, and it didn't burn...

Chuck's picture
Chuck

Do you use a baking stone, or a pan, or ...?


Is the bottom crust significantly different than the rest of the crust?


How thick is the inedible crust (1/16 inch, 1/8 inch, 1/4 inch, etc.)?


How much cornmeal do you use for each bake?


How many loaves do you bake at a time?


Do you use parchment paper during either proofing or baking?


Is there a buildup of old cornmeal (now blackish) in your oven?


What temperature do you bake the loaves at?


If it didn't used to happen, the key question is what changed: different rack? moved baking stone up or down? different peel? different temperature? different flour? different steam arrangement?




If you can post a picture, a "crumb shot" would be really helpful.

Dowens8's picture
Dowens8

I am using a stone and yes the bottom is significantly different. It's about 1/16 and totally inedible. I am just using a sprinkling of cornmeal, sometimes parchment, sometimes not. I wipe off old cornmeal. I think it may be the oven temperature. The first bread i made started at 500, the others were 550. Yesterday when i made pizza, i used flour on the bottom, and it didn't burn, but the pizzas weren't in as long as breads.


Any advice is helpful, making struan in the AM and French loaf in the evening with beef burgandy. 

Chuck's picture
Chuck

Although cornmeal will blacken (and maybe even smoke) at 500-550, I doubt it's the reason for your bottom crust going awry. My guess is a "sprinkling" just plain isn't enough to make the bottom crust inedible. Cornmeal in the oven tends not to hydrate or otherwise interact chemically with the dough (which is what makes it slippery), so even having a bit of burnt cornmeal stuck to the crust won't significantly affect its texture.


Even in the worst case, I suspect all you'd get would be a slightly darker color and a hint of a "burnt corn" flavor. And if sometimes you proof the bread on parchment paper and put it in the oven that way, with the cornmeal between the baking stone and the parchment paper but not touching the dough at all, that just strengthens my guess that the cornmeal hasn't got anything to do with your crust.


I doubt the comparison with the pizza is meaningful here, because pizza is made and cooked so differently, especially the bottom.


My guess is your oven doesn't get to 550F very well so the bottom element stays on nearly all the time, and your baking stone is too low and absorbs too much of the heat from the bottom element. So what I'd try is either going back to 500F, or moving the rack with the baking stone up one notch, or both. (Also be sure there's at least an inch open between each side of your baking stone and the nearest wall of the oven, so air can flow freely around the baking stone on all sides.)


 


(Of course this is just one person's guess; others may have different analyses:-)

Dowens8's picture
Dowens8

Thanks for the advice. I do notice my oven is on almost the entire time at 550. I am going to move my stone up, keep it at 500, and use semolina flour. The breads have been really yummy and beautiful.

thumpergal's picture
thumpergal

I think I read on this forum, that Semolina Flour, instead of regular flour or cornmeal is a better choice. Maybe someone else will recall that recommendation. I can't remember what I was baking when I used the tip, but as I recall it worked pretty well. I think it was under some sandwich buns.


I found the Semolina (flour) at Whole Foods, and my Kroger Grocery store stocks it, I think in the regular flour and the health foods section. I think it was Bob's Red Mill brand. It also didn't contribute the hard crunch of burned cormeal.

holds99's picture
holds99

I do a considerable amount of baking and here's what works well for me.


1. Don't heat your oven to a temp greater than 500 deg. F, even if you're using a stone.  There's no need for the higher temperature, as you will get optimal oven spring and baking results at 500 deg.  Use a good blast of steam during the first 10-12 minutes of baking (oven spring period) to ensure the scored dough crust remains soft and pliable during the initial oven spring period period of the baking cycle.  After 10-12 minutes slightly crack the oven door for a few seconds to allow the steam to escape.  Turn your loaves at the half way point in the baking cycle.  If the tops of the loaves are getting too brown before the internal temp. reaches 205-209 deg. F,  loosely cover the tops of the loaves with aluminum foil to deflect the heat away from the tops of the loaves in the oven.


2. I use a baking stone that covers the entire surface of the oven rack.  I bought two thick square shaped baking stones and had one of them cut (Home Depot with a ceramic water saw - $1.00 per cut) to fit tightly adjacent to the full size stone to cover the entire surface of the oven rack with stone.  I typically use parchment lined baking pans generously dusted with semolina on the preheated oven stones.  In my experience, at the 500 deg. temp. semolina won't burn the bottoms of your loaves.  The hydration in the dough keeps the semolina moist enough to eliminate burning/scorching.  The semolina acts as a insulator on the bottom of the loaves and remains unscorched.  After removing your loaves from the oven and allowing them to cool to room temp. on wire racks, take a stiff brush and brush off the excess semolina from the bottom of the loaves.  You may notice that the semolina adjacent to the loaves on the parchement will have turned  brown, but not the semolina under the loaves, which acts as insulation to the intense heat produced by the lower heating element in your oven.  This is true at high temp. when using parchement lined baking pans dusted with semolina on a baking stone.


3.  On the other hand, in my experience, corn meal apparently has a lower kindling temerature than semolina and will burn at high oven temps, even underneath the loaves, which can cause scorching/burning on the bottom crust of the loaves.


4. I agree with Chuck re: keeping your baking stone away from the bottom of the oven and on a rack located in the center of the oven.  The closer the stone is to the bottom heating element, which goes on and off maintianing constant oven temp. during the baking cycle.  The more heat the stone absorbs the greater the chance of burning or scorching the bottoms of your loaves.


5.  Bottom line - Set your oven temp. no higher than 500 deg. F., use steam during the initial baking cycle (oven spring) and use semolina, not cornmeal, for the bottoms of the loaves and I think you will have your scorching problem resolved.


Howard

Kitchen Barbarian's picture
Kitchen Barbarian

Get super parchment or reusable parchment and dispense with the cornmeal and whatnot altogether.  It's a silicon sheet (thin and flexible like paper) that you can use over and over and over again.  Oven safe up to 500F.  I pull it out after the loaf or pizza has set up, but you can leave it in the entire time if you want.  I've been using mine for 6 months and it shows no sign of degradation.


Increasing the temp to 550 is probably the cause of your burned bottom crust.  What extra effect were you hoping for going that high?  Most home ovens aren't really safe to operate at that high a temp.


I know there are purists out there who think the only "right" way to bake is in a wood-fired 750F oven lined with hand made bricks and what not, but in reality home bakers (and even most professional bakers) throughout history have not baked in this way.  We can make wonderful bread without burning the place down in our regular home ovens!

Dowens8's picture
Dowens8

Wow, thank you everyone for the great advice. I am going to use a combination of all the advice. I'll keep it at 500, move my rack up a bit, and use semolina flour. I just bought some because I made pasta the other day ( which was amazing). I did buy a silpat the other day, and I used that for my 100% whole wheat hearth. That crust burned too :( but the bread itself was really good:)

ssor's picture
ssor

I started baking bread in 1958 in a small oven in a gas range in the little house trailer that we lived in. I doubt that the oven was ever heated above 375 -400 and I produced very acceptable plain white bread. I still bake in a gas oven and often at higher temperatures.


With an electric stove you get an awful lot of infrared heat from the exposed heating elements and in essence you end up broiling the bottons of the loaves. Doubling the stones with a small spacer between them would make for more uniform heating.

Dowens8's picture
Dowens8

Doubling up the stones is a good idea. Thanks

ssor's picture
ssor

a fine baking stone. Some of the cement board used for ceramic tile backer would work if you first fired it in an empty oven to drive off any unpleasant odors.