The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Giving No-Preheat a Try

mountaindog's picture
mountaindog

Giving No-Preheat a Try

With warm weather and more time spent in the garden than in the kitchen these days, I finally decided to give the "no-preheat" method a try since ehanner, crumb bum, sourdough-guy, and many others seem to like the results and the ease (not to mention energy savings).

I must admit I have been very skeptical of this method, it goes so against the grain of how I have made bread my whole life - I couldn't bring myself to do it for the longest time after carefully making each batch of dough, not wanting to sacrifice it, and I was convinced people who liked this method didn't require a thick, crispy crust like my family does - maybe it works fine for sandwich loaves, but crusty, chewy hearth loaves? Bread is sacred to my French husband and not something to be trifled with (he often hovers about the kitchen while I'm baking to make sure I hear the oven alarm and don't ruin the precious bread...)

So this past weekend I made a double batch of both the Thom Leonard and the Columbia (both from Glezer's ABAA) and decided to try the Leonard as the no-preheat and compare it to the Columbia which I would do on the hot baking stone as usual. First, as I mentioned to Zolablue in another blog, this weekend's bake was different than any previous sourdough bake I've done since starting back in November in that with the warm weather and warm house temps (70-75F) my starter was incredibly active and I've never seen these same doughs rise as much in the same time period as they did this weekend, they nearly blew the lids right off the dough buckets I use.

So I was a little worried the dough would be over-proofed, but when I slashed the Thom Leonard loaves after flipping them out onto a cold parchment covered baking sheet they seemed to hold their shape well. I put them in the cold oven on the middle rack (baking stones removed) and turned the oven on to 425F to bake the whole time, no steam or mist (needless to say, my husband was probably more nervous than I was...). I kept the light on to watch, and I noticed the slashes opening up and the loaves spreading - and I thought "great, I'll end up with pancakes", so I was extremely surprised to check back about 10 min later to see the loaves had bloomed and rose up very high - good oven spring - I was impressed! I left them in for about 15 min. before I opened the oven and rotated the loaves, then let them get nice and brown for another 15-20 minutes. I took them out when they looked nice and brown and the internal temp was about 204 . The crust felt nice and hard as they always do when you first take them out of the oven, but I knew the real test would be once the loaves cooled and we could cut into them and taste them. I should also mention that I have a gas stove, so the oven pre-heated and reached 425F pretty quickly without the stones in there.

Results below: we were very pleasantly surprised at the oven spring and open crumb, and the crust was crispy, but thin. Still, I could live with that considering how easy this was to do, no waiting for the stone to heat up, no misting, etc.


For comparison, below in front are some Columbias that I baked on a hot stone that I let heat up to 500F after the oven was already hot from the previous bake, then turned down to 400F after misting first 2 minutes. No-preheat Leonards are in the back. I made these Columbias as very large 3 lb boules rather than the usual batards (I like this large shape as it seems to keep the bread fresh longer throughout the week with just the cut side wrapped partially in foil). These Columbias also had tremendous oven spring, height, and open crumb, in fact they had better height and more open crumb than the no-preheat Leonards, and they also had a very thick crisp crust, which we prefer over the thin.

That said, I am still very happy with the no-preheat results given how easy it is, and will continue to use this method throughout the hot weather when I'm using the oven less anyhow. So I tip my hat to Sourdough-guy, ehanner, crumb-bum, and others who use this method, I've learned much from your advice before, but on this particular one I was skeptical, I'll never doubt you again...

Still, in cooler weather we cook so much on the weekends in the oven that I prefer to keep the stones in place, and my husband definitely prefers the resulting thick crust. Here is a crumb shot of the Columbia baked on the hot stone.

Comments

Susan's picture
Susan

Thanks for taking the time to document this technique. Beautiful loaves!

Susan

Floydm's picture
Floydm

Beautiful loaves and nice photos. You have a lovely view.

ehanner's picture
ehanner

Mountaindog,

There is a trade off using no pre heat as you so artfully demonstrate. We actually prefer the thinner crust so it's a win, win.

It's always nice to get a peek of your wonderful views. Thank you.

Eric

crumb bum's picture
crumb bum

Hey MD

Glad you gave it a try and it worked for you.  I like Eric also prefer a thinner crust.  I know I was very skeptical of this method when I heard about it and it sat in the "back burner"  of my brain for at least a year.   I was nervous as heck after slashing and putting it in the oven.  It seemed to sit there and spread out a little.  At this point I am thinking I am sooooo stupid to try this, its an internet hoax of the worst kind.  10 minutes later I took it all back and have not looked back since.  If nothing else its great to have optional methods given lifes time demands.  I have been toying with the idea of baking a batch of no preheat and putting the bake stone in the oven (not under the bread ) so it preheats during the bake.  This way you could do two batches and not waste any electricity with preheating.

Da Crumb Bum

ehanner's picture
ehanner

Hi Crumb-Bum, I use a flat non-stick cookie sheet or a 1/2 sheet pan upside down to bake on with the "No Pre Heat" method. The 30 minutes it takes to bake the first batch isn't enough to get the stone up to temp in my oven and it would suck energy out of the air as you are baking. I leave the flat sheet pan in and keep baking. The second loaf will have a more normal looking crust.

 Eric

JMonkey's picture
JMonkey

Ok, I'll have to try this with the weekend Desem. You've convinced me, MountainDog. Excellent write-up.

bluezebra's picture
bluezebra

I just love this site! Seeing all of your results and reading your methodology helps me soooo much!

Thanks mountaindog!

jane's picture
jane

Beautiful breads and also background.

I always enjoy your post. I will go cold oven in summer but preheated oven in winter since my housemates love thick crust brea

weavershouse's picture
weavershouse

Those are beautiful breads. That last photo of the Columbia is awesome! Just perfect.  I don't know how you do it....all your breads are over the top.                                                                                           weavershouse

Paddyscake's picture
Paddyscake

 My question to you is : have you tried this for baking cakes, pies etc?

Thank you MD for taking the time to document and explain your testing !! Great pics! I'm going to give it a go.

browndog's picture
browndog

Do you mind if I share what my experience has been? I have never given more than a cursory nod to preheating for any of my baking, if I turn the oven on 10 minutes before loading that's a lot. Usually it takes about 5 minutes to appease my conscience, that is I feel like I've gained a little security for the baked goods while not wholy throwing over my green sensibilities. I do have a gas oven. Now in the interest of full disclosure I'll admit that the first batch of cookies never bakes as tidily as subsequent ones, they spread a bit more and definitely take maybe 5 minutes longer to color, but they're still perfectly nice cookies. If I'm baking a 'fussy' cake I would certainly preheat 10 minutes but that does seem ample, my cakes turn out fine generally and they bake within recipe time specs. (You know, I say certainly but I don't watch the clock, I just go for 'abouts' and it seems to work.) For the most part my pies bake at 425 degrees for 35-40 minutes, and I don't have over-browning issues at all, my crusts are usually 60/40 margarine/butter.

Paddyscake's picture
Paddyscake

I guess my oven heats pretty fast. For 350-375 it's ready in ten minutes, so the point is moot. I do want to try the cold oven start with my bread, but gee...it's hard to change a routine you've done forever. Every recipe you've ever seen says to preheat! I have found my secure comfort zone with sourdough...giving up my stone, steam and preheat is like Linus giving up his blanket!

mountaindog's picture
mountaindog

I like the Linus analogy, that is exactly how I felt when I resisited trying this method too!

Cooky's picture
Cooky

Paddyscake, in my experience, it is difficult to get the right results with the sweet pastry-type goodies without a pre-heated oven. They are generally more delicate batters, and seem to need that fast blast of heat when they go into the oven. Otherwise, I've found I get flat stuff when I want light and puffy or crunchy/crispy (as with cookies.)

 Luckily, sweet stuff does not require very hot ovens; usually 350 is plenty and most ovens will get there pretty fast.

 All this comes from simple kitchen experimenting. I'm betting there are pro-type bakers looking at this site who might be able to share some more substantial wisdom on this question. 

 

 

"I am not a cook. But I am sorta cooky."

zolablue's picture
zolablue

I am very interested to read about your results.  I also remain very skeptical of this method and am not sure I would be happy with the trade offs.  We also much prefer the thicker, crispy crusts.  However I am keeping an open mind and, like you, I will try this.

One of my questions about this method is just how much time are you saving.  I know it must vary but how much longer must you bake loaves of bread to ensure they are properly done?  Glezer says in ABAA that it is almost impossible (:o) to overbake an artisan loaf and basically when in doubt bake longer.  So in those cases, for those who are doing this for saving energy, I wonder what the savings is.  That is not my aim but more for the interest of planning (since I'm so bad at judging proper proof) and cooler kitchen during hot summer.

Also, I just baked two batches of Memo bread and started both with a cold oven.  But I was so afraid to know it was done and it baked so differently I ended up the first time baking at least an additional 5 minutes.  I think a bit more on the second batch I did yesterday.  So since my oven preheats in about 15 minutes and those bake in a loaf pan I'm not saving much and I felt the sides of the loaves were not quite properly baked being so much softer but that could be part of the crust issue.

You have baked my two most favorite of all sourdough loaves.  I love them both and yours are beautiful as usual, MD.  I absolutely love that you baked the Columbia in a larger boule and note that it keeps fresher longer.  I will definately do that next time so thanks a bunch for that tip.

I did not realize you have a gas oven.  I have one gas and one electric oven in my range.  I have noted that I get far less oven spring in my gas oven.  What does that mean, I wonder?  Perhaps I should not have steamed in that oven.  You certainly have no problems with bread baking in yours.  Oddly, once I baked a large batard of Columbia in my gas oven while the exact same loaf was baking in my electric oven.  The one in the gas oven came out a totally different looking loaf - even had a greenish cast.  LOL.  I have no idea why to this day. 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Cool that you have a gas and electric ovens side-by-side.  I can't remember pre-heating a gas oven for bread.  The gas oven that I last had was a American standard size and got hot quickly.  The last proof was only 15 minutes (rye)  and I let the oven do the rest but I did put in a pan for steam.  The loafs were about  1.5 to 2 kg and took one hour in the oven at about 200°c.  Not until I joined this site, did I raise my oven temp to 220°c (and more) and speed up my baking times.  My electric oven here is slow.   I find the lower temp does give a thicker crust.  I was visiting a friend's home and she put something into her cold convection oven using normal settings, then switched to convection, all the digital dials made an adjustment: the time was shortened, the temperature dropped, and the fan came on.   So what does that mean?  

And a totally different subject:  I asked my son to vacuum downstairs  while the vacuum was still plugged in and standing on the main floor.  After giving him instruction on which plug to use downstairs so that he could reach all the corners, I left the house.  I returned to find the vacuum still plugged in where I had left it and thus assumed he had only dragged the vacuum downstairs and too lazy to unplug it and reach every corner. Upon inspection, everything was clean.  My son then commented that he didn't have to unplug it to reach every corner.  The next time, I tried his method and I actually had more cable.   --Mini Oven

mountaindog's picture
mountaindog

Thanks everyone for all of your very thoughtful comments, much appreciated and I'm very glad if I can provide any useful tips along the way.

Paddyscake - no, I never tried this method before for anything else other than these breads, I have no idea how a cake would behave, but I may be afraid that it would dry out too much from the comparatively slow cooking ? Not sure...same for pies, I would guess you may have to cover the crust well with foil to keep it from getting overcooked or burnt by the time the filling is cooked through, but I really have no idea. Maybe someone else here knows. I think the advantage to doing bread this way is due to the yeast activity and how the slow preheat gives the yeasts a long slow warm-up to give off a lot more gas and get a good rise. Non-yeasted items, therefore, may not gain as much advantage from this method.

Zolablue - as far as time savings, I was pretty surprised at how fast the no-preheat loaves completely baked at 425F. I think my gas oven was preheated from a cold start in less than 10 minutes, I'll time it again this weekend to verify. Once preheated, the loaves baked for another 15 min. before rotating, then only about another 20-25 minutes or so until they were done. Total time of about 45-50 minutes.

With the baking stones in place (one on top, one on bottom), my gas oven takes about 25-30 minutes to preheat to 500F, then I would bake these same loaves at 400F for 40 minutes total (20 minutes - rotate- 20 more minutes), for a total oven heating time of 65-70 minutes.

So the no-preheat saves me anywhere from 15-25 minutes of oven time and fuel - not a huge savings considering I bake subsequent batches anyhow, but it does help if your loaves are proofed and ready to go in and you don't want to wait that extra 25 minutes to pre-heat. I'll do a more precise time tracking this weekend to verify how long the no-preheat takes compared to preheated stones for that particular recipe. I would think those using electric ovens would end up saving much more time and energy in not preheating than I do with my gas oven.

Paddyscake's picture
Paddyscake

re slow warm up increasing yeast activity. Thanks again!

crumb bum's picture
crumb bum

Hello Order of the Cold Oven

Just thought I would chime in on a few points regarding this method.  First of there is a bit of energy savings to be had using this method.  I think were the savings are really had is if you have one of those batches that the sourdough culture is taking its own sweet time and an hour of preheat later your loaf is still underproofed. If it takes another hour do you leave the oven on?  This takes some extra juice.  Bread is my passion though and if making great bread requires preheating I would not balk at using a few extra kilowatts.  Fact of the matter is this method works like a champ AND saves a bit of juice.  What I like most about it is I can wait until the perfect moment to turn on the oven and not have to plan or guess an hour before as to when the dough is proofed.  I also don't have to worry about where the kids are when I am loading the oven and tossing water for steam which is nice. 

I also think that there is a misconception that the crust is inferior.  This is simply not true.  It is slightly thinner but brown and blistery just like the preheated version.  As for crackly, my crusts crackle when cooling but soften after they cool.  I did not notice any difference in my breads on this point. When I bake using this method I put 1/2 cup of water spread around on the oven floor, put in slashed bread and turn to 525 for 15 minutes, I then turn down to 440 for rest of bake and then 10 minutes with door slightly ajar to bake out a little extra moisture.  This is a little different than MDogs method.  This could account for a different crust thickness?

To summerize, I don't do it to save electricity, The bread turns out great, it's a little safer in the kitchen, and you can wait until the very last minute to bake.  And best of all it's just a whole lot easier.  Don't get rid of your stone but do give this a try, just because the pros don't do this does not mean it does not work.  This thought held me back for quite a while before I took the jump.  To compare, who would have thought we could substitute 4 or 5 french folds for 10 to 15 minutes of kneading?

Da Crumb Bum 

 

mountaindog's picture
mountaindog

Hi Crumb Bum,

You make a good point - this method does not necessarily make an "inferior" crust at all, just a thinner one from my experience, but that may be because I did not do exactly what you just outlined above to get a thicker one. Anyhow, as other cold oven mavens have stated, they like the thinner crusts better anyhow (and easier on the teeth), so it really is a matter of personal preference, and I in no way meant to say that the thin crust was necessarily inferior, just that my family happens to like the thick better.

Question for you though: when you say above "When I bake using this method I put 1/2 cup of water spread around on the oven floor..." can you explain if you mean you literally pour the water right on the oven floor, or pour it into a sheet pan of some sort? I frankly have avoided the pouring of any water even when using a stone as I don't feel like bothering and risking scalding myself or ruining my oven in any way, preferring to just mist with a spray bottle instead the first few minutes if using a stone. But I'd like to see how you do it with the cold oven and maybe I'll try that to see if it makes my crusts thicker.

Good point too about having already preheated and your loaves are not proofed enough, I imagine that would help out a lot of people...so far I have not had that happen as I usually wait until they look like they are pretty much all the way proofed before I preheat anyhow, since it only takes about 30 minutes for my gas oven to get up to 500F even with 2 baking stones inside, but that just may be my oven for some reason.

crumb bum's picture
crumb bum

Hey MDog

First off I reread my post and I sounded a little defensive when talking about the differences in crust.  Sorry about that.  I think that "inferior" was a poor choice of wording.  The crust is different in my opinion in one way and that is the thickness.  The browning using the hot stone is further into the loaf.  The color and appearance otherwise is a wash.  I think that the loaf also seems to rise slightly different.  Look where the bottom meets the sides of the loaf.  I get a flatter bottom and a smaller curve up to the side than when I go hot stone.  Hope that makes sense. 

As for the water on the floor of the oven here is what I do.  I spread 1/2 cup or so of water around directly on the floor of the oven BEFORE I turn it on.  The reason I spread the water around is two fold.  If I were to put all of it in one spot it would make a puddle in the low spot that is not directly under an element.  By spreading it around I get it under elements and it seems to evaporate faster.  The window of my oven will be fully steamed over for the first 7 or 8 minutes doing this.  I also start my oven at 525 and lower after 15 minutes to 440. I am planning to try spraying the loaves with water before the bake and omit the 1/2 cup on floor of oven and see if the results are the same.

It sure is nice to see that the "Big Guns" of this site are trying this method and having good luck with it.  I know your write up will give this method the credibility it deserves.  It really is a great method that is not mentioned a whole lot in the bread baking world.

Da Crumb Bum  

crumb bum's picture
crumb bum

Hey XMA

It sounds as though you have a great and efficient system worked out already.  If I were you I would continue as usual.  If you wanted to try not preheating I suppose you could bake your bread first from cold as described above.  Then you could turn down to 350 crack the door for 10 minutes (I do this on all my breads to remove a little more moisture).  Then you could bake the rest of your goodies at this temp.  I'm not sure it would save a whole lot but your bread would be baking while the oven is heating.  This is also provided that you don't bake your other goods on your stone.  Hope this helps.

Da Crumb Bum 

ehanner's picture
ehanner

Da Crum Bumb,

When you say you crack the oven door open 1/8 inch, what do you use to accomplish this? I have been thinking about how I could do this as the concept seems like it would help give me a more crispy crust during the warmer weather seasons. I have been blocking my front vent in my electric oven with a towel for the first 9-10 minutes then after removing the towel I open the door for a few seconds to let the moist air escape. Still, I haven't been getting the nice crunchy crispy crusts I was getting during the winter Months.

Eric

bluezebra's picture
bluezebra

Of course that opens it more than the 1/8" specified by DCB but you might try using a stainless teaspoon or soupspoon or fork for that and I bet the opening would be about 1/8"!

 Necessity is the mother of invention you know! Or at least..."Never underestimate the powers of Aggie engineering!" ;)

crumb bum's picture
crumb bum

Hey Eric

I use a steel spoon for cracking open my door.  I need to find a better device for this, I'm scared one of my kids will see this "out of place item" and grab it. 

Question to you, how crispy are your normal crusts and finally how long do they stay crispy after baking?  My crusts seem to crackle when cooling but soften up by the next day.  This happens whether I use the traditional stone technique or the no pre heat.  Am I missing out on something?

Da Crumb Bum