The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

dull crust troubleshooting

love's picture

dull crust troubleshooting


As always I bow to your collective wisdom.


I have this ongoing issue with my bread. The picture shows an extreme example.


I always seem to end up with a pale and dull crust on top with zero caramelization. But I do get caramelized crust where the bread touches the cast iron. So you see, I get this 2 color effect. It happens with all my different doughs. I say this is an extreme example because for this bake I left my loaves in too long without my usual bottom heat shielding to see if I could get any browning at all on top, and though I did, it was a dark and dull browning, a burning rather than caramelization. The resulting crust is thick and chewy rather than being thin and crispy.


I think it might be related to insufficient steam or fermentation. Or not enough top heat from the oven. My standard baking setup is to use aluminum roasting pans as loose covers for the cast iron skillets in which the bread is baked. This method affords good oven spring and when the covers are removed, the breads are moist and steamy. But I suspect some negative impact on the crust from this method.

I have had crusty success using a different setup with a pizza stone and steel bowl as a cover. But I can only do one loaf at a time that way, which doubles my baking time.

I looked into Graniteware roasting pans but I want to zero in on the real issue before purchasing more gear.


Does anyone have any insight to provide here?

Thanks in advance.



dabrownman's picture

Spritz the loaves before going in and use Mega steam instead.  Lave rocks in a pan on the bottom,  Preheat wtih oven and put 2 C of tap water, not boiling water on the stones right when you close the door.  No more problems

love's picture

Thx DBM! Will try. Not sure what you mean by 2 C of tap water?

Filomatic's picture

Why cold water?  I guess it would produce more steam.  I use boiling water out of concern that cold water could lower the oven temperature.

tgrayson's picture

Is the cast iron preheated or not?

Seems likely that the shiny aluminum covering protects the bread from both radiant and convective heat. People that use cast iron bottoms usually have cast iron tops.

If you want a large covering for several loaves, your best bet is a hotel pan.

love's picture

It is preheated. 

Yes, surely a fitted top would be better. But I'm trying to "fight the good fight" in hopes of finding a baking solution that doesn't require buying more stuff :) We will see if I can avoid it with DBM's suggestion.


DanAyo's picture

Have you tried baking the breads on your preheated stone using the aluminum roasting pan as a steam cover?

Also, are you removing the aluminum cover from the cast iron half way through the bake?

This should be a simple fix.



love's picture

No. Why didn't I think of that?? It would be a sure tell. 

Yes, I do remove the cover and yet no top browning.



DesigningWoman's picture

do you use rice flour in your bannetons? Sometimes it's also a matter of dusting off the excess rice flour once you've turned your loaves out of their baskets before loading. 

Just my two cents…


love's picture

Yes, but the crust browns nicely under the rice flour where the dough touches the pan. So I think we can rule that out as a factor.

bikeprof's picture

The fact that you do get good color on the lower sections, and that you have had good results with the inverted bowl and pizza stone combo suggests it is not fermentation, but your baking setup.  There must be something going on with it, and the results suggest to me that the lack of a good seal (along with possible drafts - open the oven door much? or uneven oven heat...or an oven that vents a bit too well) might explain what we are seeing.  

A big part of the magic of the inverted bowl/combo cooker/dutch oven is from the sealed environment...

love's picture

Yes, I tend to agree. The thing about the aluminum roasters is that they really do not seal at all around a cast iron skillet, especially around the handle. Strangely, despite this, they do enable decent oven spring. (But they certainly can't hold any steam pressure, which is perhaps the key. Or, perhaps the oven spring effect comes from the heat shielding of the aluminum preventing heat from drying out the top crust, rather than from steam keeping it moist.)

Uneven oven heat seemed to be one part of the puzzle as well - browning was improved if I put a cookie sheet on the rack over top of the bread - but it's uncertain, as I have had so few successes with good crust.

The sealed environment seems to be a critical factor but I suspect that my oven heats only from the bottom which also affects things. For example I always have to lay down a cookie sheet on the rack below the bread-vessel or I get burnt bottoms. It's clear that where the bread touches the CI skillet, where moisture is sealed in and heat is directly conducted from black metal, the crust is deeply and richly colored, which as I see it really narrows us down to heat and moisture as factors.

My concern is that I purchase dutch ovens or some similar solution and then it turns out that due to the bottom heating, I still don't get top browning because of the height of the DO.

I will have to try some of the suggestions mentioned in this thread. Really appreciate the assistance from everyone!


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

before and during the bake. 

See if this thread gives you some kind ideas...

mohr's picture

I just had this problem and tried to troubleshoot it (and ended up here), but I also came across this blog post:

"If you over-steam your oven, water will actually accumulate on the loaves, preventing blisters from forming and leaving a matte and dull look to your loaves. One sign of this is if the flour on the outside of your loaves is turning yellow and not staying white it could actually be turning into a dough itself from the excess water caused by over-steaming."

It's possible that it's a combo of too much flour on the surface + steam turning the flour to dough! I believe this is what happened to me, as I went a bit wild with my spray bottle in the oven in hopes that I could coax an unruly loaf to rise. It did, but it's also as dull as yours. I hope this info can help in the future, if it applies to you!