The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Pale breads

KreGg's picture

Pale breads

So, I have had lots of trouble gettting my breads to brown. I hope someone can finally help me out.

I have read many books and posts here and other places, but I can't seem to get it good.

I have a gas oven that only heats from underneath, and I think this oven may be my biggest problem (and this was reassured after I went to a friend's place and baked on her electric oven and got more browning).


So to test things out, and get down to the root of my problems, I bought an oven thermometer and registered it.

For this bread, I followed the Ciabatta poolish recipe from Pete Reinhart's book.


So I put my oven to heat up to 280ºC (536ºF) with a steam pan inside, on the bottom. Waited 55 minutes and it was at 240ºC (464ºF). So as it seems, my oven is completely lying about what temperature it can reach.


After this, I put on my bread (no baking stone, as my cracked) and 1 cup of hot water inside the steam pan. Closed the door, waited 30 seconds and sprayed room temperature water on the walls of the oven. Closed the door, 30 more seconds and sprayed again. And another 30 seconds and one last spray.


After this, I checked the temperature inside the oven and it had dropped to 180ºC (356ºF)!!

The recipe called for baking for 10 minutes, before rotating the bread 180º.

In all of those 10 minutes (with the steam pan inside, and the water steaming) the temperature never rose above the 180ºC.


So after the initial 10 minutes, I took out the steam pan and rotated the loaf. The bread was still quite pale everywhere.

The temperature started to go back up and eventually reached 230ºC.


After about 15-20 minutes in, the bread was just starting to brown a bit on one side. So I decided to leave some 5-10 more minutes. 

After this, I thought it would not brown any more and I would only risk burning the bottom, and then took it out of the oven.

Anyway, this bread is the most brown I ever got out of this oven. Normally they are even more pale (probably because I had even lower temperatures?).


Here are the pictures from my bread. You can see one side is a bit brown (not at all ideal though), while the other is pretty much pale.

Side 1 (brownish):

Side 2 (pale):

Both sides:

Bottom (maybe, in the end, I could have even left more on the oven???):



May someone shed some light? Is it my oven the culprit of my problems and I won't ever achieve good results using it?

KreGg's picture

BTW, here are two pictures of breads I baked on electric ovens (two burners - 1 on top, 1 on the bottom) from friends of mine:

You can see better browning


isand66's picture

First....get another baking stone when you can as this will help retain the heat and give you better browning for sure.

Secondly, don't open the oven more than once for at least 15 minutes once you put the bread in the oven.  By opening it to spritz water you are letting out a lot of the heat.  Just pour one cup of boiling water in a heavy duty rimmed baking sheet on the bottom of your oven or try Sylvia's towel method which you can search on this site.

Are you baking the bread until the internal temp reaches 210 F? 

Another reasoning could be improper development of the dough but I think in your case that is not the issue.

KreGg's picture

isand66, thanks for the reply.

About the spritzing water, I just followed what was on Peter's book. So maybe I try just putting the cup of water on the sheet pan.

And the internal temperature of the bread... I took out my thermometer, stuck it to the middle of the bread... and no reading, the battery was dead :(

I will soon prepare another poolish for tomorrow, and buy new batteries tomorrow for my thermometer.

Then try the same recipe again without spritzing the water on the sides. 


PS: I checked Sylvia's method... but is it really safe to put towels inside the oven? (Sorry, just afraid of setting my whole kitchen on fire!)

Once I took out the sheet pan out of the oven, it was steaming quite good... so I think steam was in there.

GregS's picture

I had some big problems with browning. The remedy was to increase the steam and avoid opening the oven. Additionally, a "strong bake" has a crust that approaches dark brown. That just makes the crust crisper, it doesn't harden the interior. Go for just over 200 F as a final temperature.

Finally, if these tips don't work, try making a boule in a dutch oven. That process is almost foolproof, partly because it holds the steam in the pot.

Best of luck.


CatPoet's picture

If you oven doesnt hold temperatur, then you can have a  serious eletirc problem that can later cause house fire.

So I would get the oven fixed, most often it just the termostat that need to be  changed.

lepainSamidien's picture

I don't think the problem is that the heat is only coming from the bottom . . . I have baked in both electric and gas ovens, and the heat source for both--when the oven is set to BAKE--comes exclusively from the bottom. The top coils--or whatever the oven has--on an electric oven activate when it is set to broil, at least in older electric ovens. In the oven which I am using presently, I only get heat from the bottom and my loaves come out boasting of a darkness at which even the most devoted aficionados of bien cuit might balk. So it's probably not that.

It does seem, as has been suggested elsewhere, that you're opening the oven door too much. Also, if your oven runs low--as many tend to do--then just crank that sucker up ALL the way and see where it takes you. I'm a firm believer in starting with a rocket-hot oven and a rocket-hot baking stone (also, definitely pick up one of these, as its indispensable!!!), sometimes even pushing the thermometer well past the 550 F mark (~290 C) for entry, and lowering the temp from there.

Just keep on trying, and keep us posted!

aroma's picture

... by a reputable maker (certainly not a cheap one) and it's thermostat is sometimes 40 deg C low!!!!   I take no notice of the display now and just use a cheap oven thermometer.  

aroma's picture

That's touch screens for you - oh, and big fingers!!!

Have fun

CatPoet's picture

But if the thermostat is faulity, you can get it changed, I got mine changed on guarentee and now it works wonders.

aroma's picture

... had the service engineer out and he declared that it was within spec!!  Honestly, one of the best ovens I ever had was a cheap gas-fired one - all this sophistication adds little to what is basically just a hot box.  It looks good with all the flashing lights but...........


CatPoet's picture

I have an Eletrolux  electric oven,  takes  20 minutes to heat up but now with the thermostat change and the seal around the  door, it  keeps it heat perfectly.

dabrownman's picture

with a kitchen towel rolled up in it (Sylvia's Steam and I use 2 of them).  Do not put it in the oven until it has reached your required preset temperature of 280C - it won't get there otherwise.  Once it hits temperature then put the pan in on the bottom rack and let it heat for 15 more minutes until the steam is billowing.  Since you don't have a stone, nest 2 or 3 of your jelly roll pan together and turn them over and use them as your 'baking stone'

Once the bread goes in don't open the door at all for 15 minutes until the steam comes out.  You can then turn the oven down to a more reasonable baking temperature of 230 F to finish it up.

Happy baking with gas

KreGg's picture

Thanks for everyone who posted here and is helping me solve this.

I have my preferment going on and will add the rest of the ingredients in a few hours. Rise and then bake it later at night.

I will try ther towel method and not open the oven door to spritz the water on the walls.



KreGg's picture

Okay, so I finally finished baking my breads.

And using the tips above I finally got my FIRST EVER bread that had some browning to it!!


I found my broken stone, put the pieces all together and used it.

Well I made lots of mistakes still... I forgot to score it before baking, I took it out without checking the internal temperature, I had a horrendous technique to put the dough on the stone...

But I have to say I'm happy, as it was a BIG improvement.


I used the towel method for steam and seems it worked quite okay. The temperature never went below 200ºC (392ºF) :)


Well, no more talking, here the pictures:

I call it the boomerang bread (I had problems loading it on the stone, and it crooked)   Bottom (it isn't smooth... have to practice better): Crumb:
KreGg's picture

Looking at the breads the community here bakes, mine is the ugly duck, but the little crust development gave me hope again.


After baking that first one above, I still had too much dough left, and did not have the space in the small stone that I have to bake many "baguettes".

So I just took the extra dough, shaped into a ball and baked it like this.

Here is what I got:


PS: I had a HUGE oven spring with this one... it actually rose to touch the ceiling of my oven... maybe because for this one I remembered to score it (even if it was a pathetic job at it! Knife dragged, tried again, dragged more... haha)

I checked the internal temperature with a probe thermometer and it registered 206ºF. That's when I took it out.


The hole at the left was me trying to turn the bread 180º to bake evenly (but the crust was still quite soft... stupid me!):


cerevisiae's picture

Nice crust color!

dabrownman's picture

color is coming back!  I like to final proof on parchment on a peel if free form or in a basket that is upended on parchment on a peel.   If you don't have a peel just use a piece of cardboard or a cutting board or the back of a jelly roll pan.  The parchment and dough slide off together easily and make transferring to the oven a snap with no high jinx.  You bread looks great and will only get better from here on.

Happy baking

KreGg's picture

Thanks for the incentive everyone :)

I was going to shape in the parchment paper and just slide the dough with the parchment paper onto the stone. But as I reached for the parchment paper... bleh, I had ran out of it :(

I guess #2 on my list to get better at is mise en place!!