The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

My theory on abominable brains

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halfrice's picture
halfrice

My theory on abominable brains

You will know what I mean if you have made one. A typical one looks like this.

My oven is old and the gas flame is at the bottom towards the back of the oven. I bake my bread on the middle shelf on gas mark 7/8. My theory is that the top cooks much faster than the bottom (even with steam, spraying), hence when there is resistance at the top, the explosion will have to come from the bottom of the loaf where it is still soft. The bottom of my bread/pizza never browns as there is not enough bottom heat. I always have to turn my bread upside down for the last 10 mins. to brown the other side (unfortunately I can't do it with pizza). I use 4 terracota tiles but obviously this is nowhere good enough. Have I made the right diagnosis?

Nickisafoodie's picture
Nickisafoodie

I think the problem is the tiles: perhaps too thin to hold enough heat to properly brown the bottom.  A thicker baking stone say 5/8" min thickness, places on bottom third of oven, preheated at 475° for one hour would surely do the trick.   The heat produced will be stable due to the mass of the stone. The bottom will brown nicely.   Adjust oven temp 10 min after placing bread is in oven to where you want it to be (say 425°).  Steam several times first 10 minutes...  That will do the trick.  The cost of the stone is well worth it! 

halfrice's picture
halfrice

Yes I think the tiles are too thin, only half an inch and also small, I have to put 4 to make the baking space. I am looking out for one large piece and at least 3/4 inches thick. I found this but I can't find out how thick it is, also, not mad keen on the ridge surface.

Chuck's picture
Chuck

Even though it may sound counter-intuitive, what happens if you bake on a lower shelf? It sounds like the top part of your oven is a "hot spot", setting the top crust too soon before the rest. Maybe if you move your baking down a little, it will avoid the hot spot, the top crust won't set so fast, and the bottom crust won't be such a problem any more because it won't be so different from the top crust.

I use four tiles too. They work fine for me; I was initially very worried about where they come together and really wished for a single stone, but soon found the seams didn't affect the bread or the baking and having 4 parts isn't a problem at all. Biggest problem is the 4 files altogether are too big. If there's insufficient space between the front tiles and the oven door, all the heat will rise up in the back part of the oven, and the front tiles will never get up to temperature. Finding somebody with a diamond tile saw and paying them a few dollars to trim a couple tiles so the 4 fit in your oven with at least one inch of space on all four sides (including the door side) may be a good investment.

Regarding a new stone: a round stone may be preferable if you make pizzas too. But if you only make bread, I predict you'll soon come to really wish the stone were rectangular rather than round. If you're going to spend time and effort and money getting a new stone, get one you'll really like. (If new [never recycled] cordierite ceramic kiln shelves are readily available, they may make very good really thick baking stones. If you get one and the pottery salesman gives you all kinds of directions for "seasoning" the shelf, be polite and thankful and keep saying uh-hmm, but when you get home do not do any of it. Virtually no pottery salespeople understand that proper treatment when used for pottery is exactly the wrong thing to do for use as a baking stone; they truly think they're being helpful and giving you good advice. In particular do not sand or rub the surface.)

halfrice's picture
halfrice

I understand what you said. I did try to bake on a lower shelf and the result is in the pic above. There is definitely not enough heat. This is what my tiles look like:

  

Chuck's picture
Chuck

Thanks for the pic. My eyes aren't so good any more, but it looks to me as if your tiles hang over the front of your rack quite a bit. Is there at least an inch of space between the front edge of the tiles and the closed oven door? If not, it's quite possible that blocking the distribution of the heat in an oven can lead to pronounced hot and cold spots, and maybe even throw the thermostat way off. Sometimes it can even look like just plain not enough heat. I still wonder...