The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book comments on cold oven baking

Rosalie's picture

Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book comments on cold oven baking

I decided to give serious study to my good bread books, and Laurel's floated to the top.

My favored place for proofing is in my gas oven, which I turn on until it just barely registers a temperature rise; then I turn on the oven light, and it maintains a temperature of 80-90 degrees.  Of course, I don't do this when I want a slow rise, but my kitchen is typically 60-65 degrees, so this is great for the final rise or when I'm in a hurry.

On page 408 (1984 edition; I think it's the same in the revised edition), she addresses this issue:  "Halfway through the final rise, the time comes when you have to preheat the oven.  The bread's inside:  what to do?"   She then lists four options, the first of which is, "Set the nearly risen loaves in a draft-free place, turn on the oven, and don't worry about it."  That's what I do.  The second option is to float the loaf pans in a dishpan of warm water (covered, of course); the fourth utilizes a heating pad or a hot-water bottle.

But the third option caught my attention.  People have talked quite a bit about baking in an un-preheated oven.  I baked a bread once that specified cold oven - I think it was called Cuban Bread.  Laurel (and her friends) say that you can leave the loaves in place and turn on the oven when the loaves are about three-quarters risen (depending on how long your oven takes to heat up - sooner if your oven heats slowly).  She calls this "a daredevil technique" that won't work for breads that require a higher initial temperature for oven rise.  She adds that it works better for recipes that include milk or a lot of sweetener.  (And she cautions you to remove plastic and other materials that don't do well in a hot oven.  I've long since learned to look in the oven before turning it on.)

How does this jive with all you breadbakers' experience?


Cooky's picture

Inspired by the experiments of folks on this board who hate the idea of wasting all that pre-heat energy, I have tried the cold-oven start on a number of lean loaves (Floyd's dailly bread and no-knead recipes) and had remarkably good results. The only time I was not so happy was with a sourdough batch; I didn't get quite enough oven spring and the color was sorta blah.

 Otherwise, I have put the loaves in when barely fully proofed, turned on the heat to 425 and let it go. You may have to add 5 minutes or so to baking time to get the results you want. This works especially well I found when cooking in a covered pot, no-knead style.

I think you give up a little bit in terms of super-crunchy crust, but nothing intolerable.


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

subfuscpersona's picture

My loaf pan breads get more oven spring baking in a cold start oven. Experimentation taught me to reduce the final proofing time and always to *slash the loaves prior to the cold start* . Without slashing, the final loaf often sank somewhat as it cooled. I also remove the loaves from the pans after they're baked and *return them to the turned-off oven directly on the rack* for 5-10 minutes while the oven cools. I am still experimenting with how long and whether the oven door should be shut or slightly propped open. You need to find that sweet spot so that there is not too much moisture left in the final loaf when it cools on a rack outside the oven.

After 5 miserable failures with freeform bread baked on a cookie sheet in a cold start oven I have temporarily abandoned this approach for higher hydration (65% and up) breads. It does work for other posters here but there's some technique or approach I haven't mastered yet.

How quickly your oven heats to the required temperature may be a factor. Home ovens vary so much (gas vs electric is only the beginning!) so it takes experimentation to find what works best for your breads and your oven.

browndog's picture

yes, it seems probable that this is a guestion of how fast your oven heats and how proofed your loaves are. My lean loaves go in to a gas oven that's been on for 5 minutes or so, probably no warmer than 300 degrees. My 'enhanced' loaves, whether freefrorm or pan, invariably go into a cold oven, and bake within 40-50 minutes. I don't need to 'touch up' the crust with any extra out-of-pan time unless I used my clay bread pan. My loaves do best if they are getting puffy and light but still eager, so to speak.

subfuscpersona's picture

I use Pyrex loaf pans - maybe that's why it needs a little extra out-of-pan time. Also, my loaf breads are typically made with 30-50% whole grain flour (amount of whole grain flour depends on my choice "du jour" of what grain to mill for the dough).

browndog's picture

yes, my glass pans produce a softer bottom crust, too, and sometimes I set those loaves on the rack a while. I've been using metal or going nekkid so much lately I didn't think about that. I've got this lovely clay pan that barely even colors the bottom crust, I hardly ever use it because of that.

leemid's picture

I have baked many a loaf bread in an oven not preheated with no discernable difference. I just added on a couple of minutes to the time. Need I mention that this non-preheated method won't work if you are using a baking stone?


TomBrooklyn's picture

Yes Lee,  I think  mention of that might be needed.

Danni3ll3's picture

I think that a lot of these posters are no longer around....