The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Uneven browning on my sourdough loaves

Tam1024's picture

Uneven browning on my sourdough loaves

I have been baking with sourdough for about 3 years now and have managed to make well structured and yummy bread.  However, I cannot seem to get pretty well browned loaves like I see in most of your pictures.  Mine come out spotted and unevenly browned.  I usually use steam five minutes apart for the first 15 minutes of baking.  What could be causing this?  Does anyone have an answer?


cranbo's picture

If your loaves are spotted (like a cheetah), it's likely that you're overfermenting your dough. That means there are few sugars left for caramelization to take place. Don't let your dough rise as long before baking it. Read about the "poke test" to determine when a bread is ready to bake; it should expand to no more than about 175% of the final shaped dough size.  

The steam shouldn't hurt it at all; a lot of people steam here and have evenly brown crust. Steaming really just aids in oven spring and crust texture, less so for browning. 

What temperatures do you bake your sourdoughs at? Higher temps (400-450F) will give you substantial browning.

And have you tried baking your bread in a cast iron (or enameled) dutch oven? Like many others, I have found that this helps contribute to even baking, and the self-steaming helps generate wonderful oven spring. 

fermento's picture

In my case, I get spotted crust if I forget to shield the loaf from the top element in the oven. 

On the top shelf I put a tray large enough to shield the loaf from the direct heat from the top element. 

Doc.Dough's picture

I think Cranbo has nailed it. If a higher oven temperature and a slightly shorter total fermentation time don't get you where you want to be, try adding a little milk or malt. Five-carbon sugars seem to enhance the Maillard reaction that is the basis for browning. As a last resort brush the loaf with unsweetened condensed milk just before it goes into the oven.  Because browning increases the emisivity of the crust, the oven delivers more heat energy to those places that have begun to take on some color.  Thus anyplace that is short of residual sugar but begins to brown because it is backed by a bubble will tend to get darker and create the mottled/spotted appearance.

Michael-UK's picture


I'm new here, so please be gentle with me!

I'm pitching in on this thread because like Tam1024, I too have hit problems with a spotted crust!

My admittedly only 4th attempt at baguettes (wild starter) was as spotty as the 3rd, despite a very much shorter fermentation time and a very hot oven.  The starter was fed about three hours before in each case, and doubled like a good 'un.  Here is what I did:

3rd attempt: fermentation overnight in the fridge and then 2 hours at room temp 21C,

4th attempt: fermentation for 2 1/2 hours at room temp 21C, 

In both cases, shaping and final proofing 45 mins, bake on stone 20 mins 450F, boiling water into a tray very fast to make steam at 0, 5 and 10 mins.

The shorter fermentation did not seem to reduce the spotted crust at all - it was much the same.  I am wondering if my shaping is at fault? The surface tension that I have managed so far is pathetic as I can tell when I make the slashes - it is like trawling through the North Sea.

 Anyway, below is a photo of my 4th ever attempt at baguettes from a wild sourdough starter - any advice greatfully received.




Maverick's picture

I am not nearly as much of an expert as other's that will hopefully chime in, but my first thought is that these need to be cooked longer. They look a little pale to me. I thikn the color of the darker spots is closer to how far I would cook them. That really doesn't answer the spotting question, but maybe a longer bake will even things out??? Like I said, I am not a baguette expert.

One more thing (since you are asking for advice on these loaves)... Your slashes need to be more vertical. They go across the bread too much. This is especially apparent in the bottom one. As you can see, this has made the loaf wider where the slashes are more horizontal. Still look great for so few attempts. I am still working on getting my slashing right as well. What are you using to make the slashes? The top loaf has the best slashes on the right side. I would say the second to last slash on the right side of the top loaf is what you need to aim for. Hard to tell from this angle, but that is how it looks to me. I don't know if I can explain it right... but if you were to look down at the loaf and picture it divided into three equal strips down the length of the loaf, all slashes should remain in the middle third. They run almost parallel to the bread.

Hope that helps a little.

Michael-UK's picture

Thanks Maverick for your reply and encouragement!

OK I will give longer cooking a go and see if things even out.

For my slashes, I am using a little yellow plastic gringette designed for the job, but yes, I need more practice at that.  I think that the shaping is also very much at fault because as I said, there was very little surface tension on top when I came to make the slashes, even though they had doubled in size.

What an amazing taste you get with the sourdough starter though - I was totally unprepared for that!  I've been making bread with instant yeast in a breadmaker for years, but this is something so amazingly different isn't it.


Maverick's picture

Baguettes are one of the more difficult things to make. They are so simple in their ingredients, yet so complex in their shaping. Sourdough makes it all that much more difficult, but all that more delicious as you noticed. It is amazing the difference scoring can make. For what its worth, I found refrigeration to sometimes cause blistering depending on the process. There is nothing wrong with that. Shoot some pictures of your next loaves. I'd be interested to see.

By the way, try some bread without using the breadmaker. You would be surprised the difference in taste. Plus the bread machine recipes often call for too much yeast. Bread machines can be good for mixing, kneading, and proofing but I don't like the way they bake.