The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Good oven

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chuppy's picture
chuppy

Good oven

Good evening to all!

 

Making bread is not a difficult task once you get used to the elements involved with making a good loaf. But what continues to perplex me is the tools we use to get to the destination of that loaf. For example, a person could mix by hand or they can invest in a stand mixer and spend upwards of $500.

So here is my question. What type of ovens are you familiar with and to your knowledge what is the most practical type when baking bread of different kinds? Do you have a favorite? Is there an oven that you have seen that would be an excellent choice to get the results needed to create the masterpeice loaf? The reason for my inquirey is to purchase a very nice oven in the next six weeks.

 

Thank you for your responses,

 

Chuppy

JavaGuy's picture
JavaGuy

My house came with a gas oven and it's the only one I've used for baking bread, but I would not recommend gas.

Water (or steam) is a byproduct of burning natural gas, so it doesn't seem to be able to produce a really crisp crust (At least, that's my excuse and I'm sticking with it :) ). And it doesn't produce enough steam so that you don't need steam injection.

If anyone has advice for baking in a gas oven, I would be glad to hear it.

cnlindon's picture
cnlindon

You might want to buy an oven thermometer to make sure that your oven is getting hot enough.  Sometimes ovens don't heat up to the temperature setting on the dial.  I have a gas oven and have had no problems with crisp crusts.

 

-Chad 

chuppy's picture
chuppy

Chad,

 

My crumb is always good from my experience, but I sometimes struggle with a good crust. Does the gas oven naturally produce the crispiness for you or do you also add steam?

Thanks, Jeff

cnlindon's picture
cnlindon

I do add steam...I use different methods, but taking a little boiling water (carefully) in a tea cup and throwing it on the floor of the oven seems to be the best. Just make sure you only use about 1/4 of a cup so it will evaporate. You don't want it to run down into the burners. You can also put a cast iron skillet (old one) in the bottom of the oven, and do the same.

I still use the spray bottle sometimes, but it just doesn't seem to give the burst of steam that I want.

There are many different ways to do it, and there are many threads on this website that address it. The main thing is to be careful, because steam burns fast.

 

-Chad

JERSK's picture
JERSK

    I have a gas oven and it works fine. I use a pizza stone and in restaurants have lined them with pizza stones. You can also use unglazed quarry tiles.They are less mass and don't take as long to heat as a pizza stone. They're also nearly impossible to find. I did find a cloche cheap at a yard sale. They normally cost $50.00 or more. This works great ,but can only cook one loaf at a time. I also built an earth oven which is far superior to any gas or electric oven. However, I live in Maine and cooking outdoors in the cold is impractical. It was kind of a practice oven and I plan to build a bigger one attached to my house. I may go with brick for various reasons, but I'm not sure. The difference between gas and electric home ranges is minimal if you use stones. A masonry oven is way better if you can swing it. It cost me about $2.00 to build my earth oven, but I have good clay on my property, access to sand and used old bricks for the oven floor. I wish I had bought new firebricks, which still would have kept the oven cost under $50.00. The $2.00 was for a door handle though I probably could have fashioned something.

sphealey's picture
sphealey

My assessment(*), based on my own experience, working in the kitchen and bath industry for a while, and attending the Kitchen & Bath Show for a few years:

For the home baker there are essentially three stove/oven choices:

1. Standard home range

2. Professional home range

3. Brick oven

 

(I will assume a range in this discussion - that is, a combined oven and cooktop. That is 95% of the US market and the option with the most choices. You can duplicate most of these choices with standalone components).

Standard Home Range

Availble from numerous manufactuers in various options and styles, ranging from $300 to $1200. Since 1980 prices have continuously declined in this market while number of features has increased, so there are many choices for any given budget. Essentially standard now is pilotless burners, electronic control, self-cleaning, and convection option.

Personally I would select a dual-fuel range (electric oven + gas cooktop) and I would try to find one where the electronics are as isolated as possible from the vent area to prevent destruction-by-steam. If there is an integrated vent fan easy access to this fan for repairs would be good too (ours has poor access and is starting to die...) Psudo-Viking look is common but doesn't buy you anything other than looks. Gas valves tend to be sticky and imprecise.

If you go this route, you might consider finding a small family-owned applicance store with a repair service and buying from them. It will cost 20% more than a discount store but it is probably better to invest that money in getting reliable advice and installation rather than useless marketing features. Order a 2nd set of racks with the stove because you will destroy them with baking stones, etc and it will be easier to get them when the unit is new.

Professional Home Range

The big names here are Viking and Wof. Kitchen Aid is less well-known in this market, and there are dozens of Viking clones available primarily from Korea. Prices from $2500-$7500 (and higher!)

There isn't much to be said here. You are buying heavy metal, high quality gas valves, smooth door operation, high BTU burners, and reputation (snobbishness?). People in the industry who have rep'd all three lines tell me they have a lot of respect for Wolf. I did play with the gas valves on about 20 of these designs at KBIS a year ago and Viking's are clearly the best(#) and I like Viking's corporate philosophy. Kitchen Aid is the only one I have found with steam injection which would be nice.

If you have the money, why not? They come in standard sizes, are in fact very well-built, and should last through to your great-grandchildren's day. I would still get dual fuel and order a 2nd set of racks.

Brick Oven

If your primary interest is baking bread, pizza, and similar stuff and you have the money for a professional home unit another option would be to buy a standard range for inside and build a brick oven outside. Total cost should be about the same although of course the local laws, environment, and availability of wood must allow this. Standard ranges in the $500 zone are pretty darn good so why not spend your money on the best baking possible? I also saw a self-contained indoor brick oven certified for home use at KBIS but it started around $15,000.

HTH

sPh

(*) Applies to the US and possibly Canada

(#) The gas valve thing really bugs me: I have industrial supply catalogs on my desk and know for a fact that good valves only cost a little more than bad ones. On a $1200 range would it kill them to spend $2 more to put in decent valves? Especially since the valve is what the cook uses and notices most about the range.

chuppy's picture
chuppy

sph,

I love the look of the viking or wolf stand alone steves. They are every home cook and bakers dream to own. So for example if I wanted to invest $2500 in a stove that would meet all of my needs for at least 5-10 years, would ebay grant me my wish to purchase the wolf or viking at a discounted rate? Or should I invest in a localy owned appliance store and depend on their advice?

In the end trhe real question is how much do I really need to spend in order to bake a wonderul loaf of bread?

If there were 3 stoves in the $2500 price range, what would be your best recomendation?

 

Thank you, Chuppy

sphealey's picture
sphealey

I have bought a lot of stuff on eBay, but personally I would not buy a lump of iron that weighs 400-600 lbs (190 - 270 kg) from an eBay auction. Especially because I might then have trouble getting service from an authorized rep. Your milage may vary.

One of my siblings and spouse, both very good cooks (although not bakers as much as I have encouraged them), installed a Viking about a year ago and they are very happy with it. But I don't have that kind of money ;-(.

I can't advise you, but personally at that budget I would find a family-owned appliance store to talk to, buy the standard range they recommend (after telling them about the steam), and putting the rest toward a mud or brick oven.  Or a trip to Vermont to take a class with Jeffrey Hamelman.

sPh

chuppy's picture
chuppy

That is very true about shipping a stove as large as a commercial oven. I think your point is well made about shipping.

I was going to mention something in my lasy entry about taking a class at the french culinary institute in chicago. I am only 100 miles from Chitown. Or maybe take part of the budgeted amount for my stove and invest in a trip to Vermoint.

There is a good chance that an oven is only going to be as good as the person operating it. Thanks for the advice sph!

Chuppy

breadnerd's picture
breadnerd

I bake with a gas oven at home, with a fibrament stone in the bottom. I've had no real trouble baking with gas--perfectly happy with my crusts, etc. We actually switched to gas because we really dislike electric stovetops. We just have a conventional oven--I couldn't justify spending 10 times more for a glamourous looking professional range--and that's not counting the ventilation system you'd need to add. I cook more than most folks I know (from scratch, bake all our bread, do canning etc) and still don't really see a need for a big viking range--plus it won't fit in my house! :)

I've baked professionally, and the viking style ovens below the range are no more suited to bread baking than regular stoves IMO. I did train at school with a really nice german steam-injected deck oven. I've heard they make tiny ones for homes--that would be my fantasy if money was no object! I might consider the dual-fuel option next time around--sounds like a good idea but they weren't an option when we were looking last time.

Oh and I have a woodfired mud oven out back. It's a fun way to play with artisan bread, and less investment than most deck ovens--it probably cost as much as a standard range in materials, though I count it mostly as entertainment and landscaping in my budget :)

KipperCat's picture
KipperCat

For anyone buying a new range, I urge you to take a look at induction cooktops before you make your purchase. They are every bit as responsive as gas when it comes to turning the heat up or down under a pan. They are an utter breeze for cleanup as the burners themselves don't heat. In fact, you can cook on extremely high heat with a paper towel between the burner and the pan! As with gas, there is a difference between the low end ($) and high end ($$), but the low end induction cooktops are still pretty good. I have a 36" DeDetriech and absolutely love it - large burners, roaring high heats, and delicate simmers. There's even a timer on every burner, so I can have 5 things going at once, and the burners will shut off and beep to tell me they're doing so. :~D

I didn't even want to consider induction when planning my kitchen, as they are more expensive than a standard glass top. At almost the last minute, we went to a showroom to see an induction unit in operation. It took us about 2 minutes to decide it was worth every penny - even replacing some of the just installed cabinets.

The only thing I would do differently now is to raise my oven up another foot. It's installed under the counter. At the time I rarely used the oven, so didn't mind the placement. As far as I know, nobody yet makes a range with an induction cooktop, that's why we split the cooktop and oven.

If you want more info on induction cooktops, I suggest the Appliance Forum on Garden Web.

http://ths.gardenweb.com/forums/appl/

 

Oh, and as for eBay, there are a few appliance dealers who have pickup in several cities. I remember one with a warehouse in Dallas. I'm not sure the prices were a lot better than a good sale if you can time your purchase to take advantage of one.