The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Pullman Loaf in a Temperature Challenged Oven

Kashipan's picture

Pullman Loaf in a Temperature Challenged Oven

Hello all!  I haven't been here in ages, but I've got another Pullman loaf question or two for you.

I live in Japan where most of the ovens for the home are electric and tiny.  Not only that, but my particular oven is temperature challenged for some reason, so at the higher temps, it goes up to 210C and then jumps to 250C.  There's no in-between.  >_<  I've checked the manual, and there does not seem to be a way around this, and we can't afford an expensive new oven right now, so I have to learn to live with it.

The recipe I'm following, I actually found at this site from Rose Levy Berenbaum's book.  I love it, but the temp requirement is 425F (218C), so it's a bit higher than I can manage with this blasted oven.

To troubleshoot, my first loaf I tried baking at the high end of my oven's range, at 250C.  The loaf was fine, though it got a bit black at the top because the top of the Pullman pan is about 3 inches from the top of the oven, I'm guessing.

The next time (last night) I went with the lower temp, 210C.  I was a little worried after the first 30 minutes of baking when I removed the lid to see the loaf a bit sunken, but it didn't fall flat.  It baked up fine, though again, the top was a bit blackened.

The substitutions I made in the recipe (and I"m not sure if this will even matter, but I'm throwing them in just in case it'll help anyone figure out if I messed it up) were to use what is called powdered "skim milk" in Japan.  I think it's pretty much the same thing as powdered milk anywhere else, though.  I also reduced the salt to just a teaspoon, since the point of my making this sandwich bread is to try to have a lower sodium alternative to store bought for health reasons.  Would reducing the salt have made much of a difference?  I also ran out of butter for the second loaf, so used half butter and half vegetable shortening, since it's what I had around immediately.  The first loaf was all butter, though.

Do you think that tenting the loaf with foil during the interval when I've removed the lid from the loaf would be good enough in stopping the top from turning black?

Also, from your experience, which would be the lesser of the two evils?  The slightly lower oven temp. or the higher one?  One of the problems with Japanese ovens like these is that you lose a lot of heat the second you open the door for any reason, and it takes awhile to get back to the right temp. - so from the start the oven loses some heat due to the cold Pullman pan and loaf being put in there.  Since I've got to open it to remove the lid and possibly tent the thing mid-way through, it makes me wonder if I"m losing too much heat then, too.

Please let me know where you might err, and if the reduction in the salt makes a major difference in fluffiness.



Dragonbones's picture

I live in Japan where most of the ovens for the home are electric and tiny.  Not only that, but my particular oven is temperature challenged for some reason, so at the higher temps, it goes up to 210C and then jumps to 250C.

Hi Kashipan, we have the same problem in Taiwan. With these small ovens, btw, you do need to cover the top of the loaf with foil. But I don't understand the part of your post which I've bolded above. You mean it has discrete settings, like buttons, which don't allow for any setting between 211 and 249? Or is it a knob that clicks at 210 and 250, but if you try to set it between the two, it moves to one of the two by itself? What brand and model is it? One solution, perhaps not ideal, is to put an all-metal oven thermometer in the oven, and stay by the oven, turning it between the two settings to roughly approximate 218 (grab a stool and a good book).

I think most powdered milk is made from low-fat milk, so that sub should be ok. I don't think the problem is the salt or the fat type either.  I think the temp is your main concern. I'd probably start with the higher temp, using a thermometer in the oven like I said, and for sandwich loaves turn the heat down to 211 partway through, perhaps after 10 minutes,  and do still tent it with foil then. 

As for heat loss in general, one thing you could do is put a heat sink in the oven, like a pizza stone, or cast iron tray (I use a Lodge Double-Play Grill Griddle). That way you lose a bit less heat when you open the door. Another solution is skip the pullman lid and just let the top dome under foil, so you don't even open the door to remove the lid and tent it with foil.  Another is to better insulate your oven. Back when I had a cheapie that couldn't actually reach 250 (I think it maxed around 218) I kept sheets of corkboard atop it, and sometimes lined the inside of the glass door with foil, shiny side in.

Laurentius's picture

Hi Kashipan,

I too live in Japan, since I love cooking it was a priority to get a good gas oven, and now I've built a outdoor WFO(wood fired oven), which places me next door to heaven. Can you start your baking at 250 and reduce the temperature later? I wouldn't reduce the salt ratio, called for in the recipe, its much lower than whats in the commercial bread that you purchase. 

PaddyL's picture

Every week, I make a double loaf of cinnamon swirl sourdough bread in my 16" Pullman pan, and bake it at 350F., along with 2 separate loaves of oatmeal or ww sourdough bread in regular bread pans.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

bake?  Salt reduction can reduce the size of the loaf and speed fermentation.  One teaspoon salt for how much flour?

Is your Pullman shiny reflective or dark/dull absorptive?  A darker pan bakes like a higher temp oven.  A shiny pan would reflect heat away and bake like a lower temp.  :)

Kashipan's picture

Thank you all so much for your replies!!  :D

I made another loaf today and went ahead and tented the thing with foil at the higher temperature and it worked out great!...Only problem this time is that it didn't rise as high as before.  It's been a cold, wet, rainy day today, and I had the windows open most of the day, particularly while the dough was rising.  It rose to just barely the top of the loaf pan, and I went ahead and baked it.  This time, it shrunk a bit, and by the end, it had actually failed to rise much more while baking, and I'm left with a much more dense loaf.  While it's still warm here, it's delicious because of the butter, but I don't know what made it not as fluffy this time.  

The changes I made this time were to cut out the cake flour and instead just use bread flour.  Could that be where the mistake might have been made?  Maybe I had made the right decision the first few times and made it about 1/4 cake flour after all....I'd love it if you have any ideas what might have made this loaf not fluff out as it should have been.  I also made sure to add more salt than I did the last few times, so I'm guessing that's NOT part of the problem if salt is helpful for rising?....

It's flatter than I'm used to, but it can still be used for sandwiches.  I only hope it doesn't harden and become nasty as it cools.

gary.turner's picture

A Pullman sandwich loaf is my go to, day in, day out bread. The object of the bread is to produce a nearly crust-less loaf with small regular alveoli. RLB's instructions get it wrong on two fronts (my opinion, your mileage may vary).

  • The dough should be well-developed. RLB mentions more development equals larger holes. Not true. Hole size is more related to the degree of punching down and the shaping method. See txfarmer's article on shreddably soft sandwich bread.
  • RLB calls for baking at 425℉/218℃ for one hour and removing the lid half way through. She says a dark, firm crust is essential to keep the loaf from collapsing. It is more likely excess yeast is causing the collapse. A more sane baking schedule is 350 to 375℉ / 176 to 190℃ for 40–45 minutes without removing the lid. Your 210℃ should be OK. Don't go an hour; that's likely way too long. Try 35–40 or so minutes. Use a thermometer to check a center temp of 200+℉/93+℃. The French term, pain de mie means bread of crumb, implying little or no crust.

Oh, don't even think about using cake flour. You need a strong gluten development.



Kashipan's picture

Hi Gary, thanks for the tips!  I'll try these adjustments for the next one, probably around Monday!  :)

Dragonbones's picture

It rose to just barely the top of the loaf pan, and I went ahead and baked it.

You haven't given any indication of the time, or the springiness of the dough when touched. On a cooler day, it will need a longer time to rise. Did you just go by the clock (a no-no) and give it your usual time despite it being cooler weather? Also, touch the top of the loaf with your finger, pressing in 1/2", halfway through the rise (so you have something to compare to), then again every 15 min. or so. If it springs back rapidly (like halfway through the rise), it is not proofed enough yet. When that spring-back slows a lot, later, and it has risen by 75%-85% or so, it's about ready.


FlourChild's picture

A few thoughts:

This recipe calls for an unbleached flour with about 10.5-11% protein, in the US this would be an unbleached All-Purpose.  Bread flour will make the crumb too firm/chewy and cake flour doesn't have enough flavor or protein to make this bread.  Perhaps you were using a blend of the two to mimic AP flour?

Your reduction of the salt to 1 tsp brings it to 1.6% of the flour by weight.  You should also reduce the yeast in tandem with reducing the salt, they go hand in hand since the salt content will have a profound effect on the speed of fermentation.

Temperature will also have a strong effect on the rate of fermentation, try to find a warm spot in your apartment (top of the fridge?) or consider setting up a proof box.  Sounds like your bread may have been underproofed on the cooler day.

RLB's goal with this bread was to emphasize a soft texture with the minimum amount of structure to still hold its shape.  To achieve this she uses a medium protein flour and adds butter early in the mix (before the water) to prevent too much gluten from forming.  She also uses a relatively high sugar and salt content, combined with lower hydration (64%) to further limit the amount of water available to form gluten (both sugar and salt attract water strongly).  She does say that for this flour and this recipe (which uses flour coated with butter in a lower available moisture dough), fully developing the gluten would create larger holes, but she does not imply that the same is true for all bread recipes.

FlourChild's picture

Re: your oven temp, with anything that has a delicate structure (as this bread does), it's probably better to go higher rather than lower on temp.   If you need to, putting foil over the top from the beginning of baking might provide additional protection against overbrowning.