The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Quaint Old Oven: Baking Sourdough in an Antique?

jey13's picture
jey13

Quaint Old Oven: Baking Sourdough in an Antique?

I own a beautiful, refurbished A/B Battle Creek Oven. Meaning it stand on a legs and is probably from the 1920's. Such ovens were created with very small ovens (18"deep, 14" wide, 11" high) meant to retain a lot of heat--all of which come from gas jets below. The result, as I discovered after several failures, is that at the usual recommend temp for preheating an oven for sourdough (500°) makes my oven too hot. The dough crusts before the bread has had a chance to rise (lots of flat bread). I have to preheat and bake at 450° to get any oven spring.

I was recently advised that I should also think of baking on a baking stone, as baking the bread in a Dutch oven may not be optimal in such an oven--one small and meant to retain heat. 

Does anyone else bake sourdough bread in a similar oven? Or have info on baking in an oven like mine? Would appreciate any help you could give me to make sure my bread "springs" as it ought. And yes, I understand that this may also involve a pan of water for steam and such. 

barryvabeach's picture
barryvabeach

First, what a great looking range-  it looks like it is brand new, not 100 years old.  I don't have a similar stove, though most gas stoves are pretty similar in that they are well vented.  I would definitely try a Dutch Oven - it is a great help in that as much steam as you can introduce in a gas oven, it usually is vented out quite quickly.  As to temps, you might want to start a little lower and see what that does for oven spring.   You should be able to find one that will fit,  I have a combi oven which is smaller than yours, and a DO fits fine.  A combo cooker may also fit, and it is easier to load the loaf in a combo cooker than a DO.  https://smile.amazon.com/Pre-Seasoned-3-Quart-Cookware-Stovetop-Induction/dp/B076PR8LT5/ref=sr_1_1_sspa?ascsubtag=1ba00-01000-a0047-win10-other-smile-us000-gatwy-feature-SEARC&keywords=lodge+combo+cooker&qid=1565740865&s=gateway&sr=8-1-spons&psc=1&spLa=ZW5jcnlwdGVkUXVhbGlmaWVyPUEzTlA2Qlk3REdKU01BJmVuY3J5cHRlZElkPUEwODM4NDQ4MTg2RUNMNEZJQ0FOSiZlbmNyeXB0ZWRBZElkPUEwMzQxMTY1MUozVTcxUUU2STQyWSZ3aWRnZXROYW1lPXNwX2F0ZiZhY3Rpb249Y2xpY2tSZWRpcmVjdCZkb05vdExvZ0NsaWNrPXRydWU=

 

jey13's picture
jey13

The place I got it from specializes in restoring old stoves. Walking through their show room is quite a jaw-dropping experience. Old stoves are like old cars, amazing works of art as well as amazing devices.  

Thanks for your ideas. I actually have been using a combo cooker and it does seem to work if it’s preheated (along with he oven) to 450. But my friend who took a baking class was told that bread in an oven like mine might not do as well in a combo-cooker/Dutch oven as said ovens are very narrow (not a lot of air circulation) and retain a lot of heat. Which means that combo-cookers get hotter and burn off the steam faster. Less steam, less oven spring.

I’m going to make an attempt at baking a loaf on either a stone or on the cast iron pan and adding in boiling water below “method” of baking up sourdough and see what happens. What I was wondering with my question here was whether anyone else had a range like mine and knew what the original owners of these ranges knew...how best to bake bread in them ;-) 

BreadLee's picture
BreadLee

That's one of the coolest ovens I've ever seen.  Enjoy that thing.  Wow.  

jey13's picture
jey13

I’ve had this range for a while now and in addition to being beautiful, it has does a fine job cooking and baking. It did have to be modified as originally it had no temperature control on the oven, and everything had to be lit by turning on the gas and striking a match (yikes!). The restorers were able to make sure both oven and burners could be lit without a match and that the oven has a knob for temp control...so I don’t burn the cookies. :-)

Of course, there are trade-offs. The burners are tight and if there’s a big pot or pan on one, then it’s hard to fit on more. And it’s missing amenities like an oven light, an automatic timer that shuts off the oven. Also, heat only comes from below, and heats up my small kitchen quite a lot. But one learns how to work with these and even make good use of them. I’m just hoping someone here can give me tips on the best way to use it for sourdough baking.

BobBoule's picture
BobBoule

It seems odd that the cpm cooker is not working correctly and that people are telling you that dutch ovens don't work well in that environment and it is also odd the your dough is crusting over so quickly.

What I would check:

Use a high hydration dough, in my old over I use two run 75% to 85% doughs and they worked fine

I used to use a dutch oven in my old oven and it worked perfectly fine, I just predated the dutch oven to 500º F and used an 80% hydration dough. I quickly removed the screamingly hot dutch oven, got he dough into it and put the lid on and out it back into the 500ºF very quickly (but very safely) then cloys etch door immediately. Now I dropped the temperature down to 450º F and baled for the required time.

I always got good rise so I think that you should be able to do to as well.

Keep experimenting and good luck!

barryvabeach's picture
barryvabeach

Jay13,  I agree with Bob, there is no reason that I can think of that would cause a combo cooker not to work great in your oven.  my friend who took a baking class was told that bread in an oven like mine might not do as well in a combo-cooker/Dutch oven as said ovens are very narrow (not a lot of air circulation) and retain a lot of heat. Which means that combo-cookers get hotter and burn off the steam faster. Less steam, less oven spring.

It is possible that your friend misheard, or a teacher mispoke.  I have cooked in ovens much smaller than yours, in a combo cooker or equivalent, without having a problem.  I agree that it is possible that 450 on your oven is actually higher than 450 ,  that is true of most ovens - and is why many suggest you use an oven thermometer to determine the temperature.  OTOH, when the combo cooker lid is on, there is no place for the steam to go, so the size of the overall oven should not play into it.  In my experience, the size of the loaf to the size of the combo cooker is the most important factor.  If the loaf nearly fills the combo cooker, it works great - if the loaf is a small fraction of the DO or combo cooker, the results are not as good.  

 

jey13's picture
jey13

I think I didn't explain clearly enough.

(1) I have an oven thermometer and my temperatures are correct.

(2) I've been using a combo cooker. I am HAPPY with it, and I want to keep using it. However.... Whenever I set it at 500 the bread falls flat. It might have a little dome, but clearly only a quarter of the way there. When I set the oven to 450, I've gotten much better results, leading me to believe that at 500 my oven does too good a job with bread in a combo cooker—from what I can tell, it crusts over too fast, inhibiting the rise of the bread. I needs more gentle heat to rise to its full height before it crusts.

So far, 450 has gotten me one, single, VERY GOOD bread, exactly as ordered, and one pretty good loaf, but not as amazing as that first one. 

(3) I am using a 68% hydration dough. The first dough I tried baking was 78% and it was a mess. It was like trying to shape mud. I got the same, muddy results four times in a row with this recipe. I was told by two experienced sourdough bread bakers (including the creator of the recipe) to notch it down to 68%. This did the trick as I was able to handle the dough, create better gluten, and bake it with some success—with GREAT success in at least once instance.

My aim is to find out if there's anything else I can do to get more consistently good results. That means exploring each part of what I'm doing. Including baking in this unique oven.  

I just tried steam in the oven, no combo cooker, and got a very interesting result. The instructions were to let the pan of boiling water steam with the bread in the oven for 15 minutes, then remove the pan. When I removed the pan, to my disappointment, the bread looked flat. But when I took it out of the oven I found it had puffed up—unfortunately, I didn't score it well and it blew-out through the bottom. It kind of looks like a stuffed pita bread and it seems to be very dense and heavy (haven't cut it open yet).

So. The question was: will steam from a pan on the bottom work better than the combo cooker? Answer seems to be: Not really. 

Back to the combo cooker. The point is: My oven is very old school, and I just want to know if others who have similarly old school ovens know any tricks to baking sourdough bread in such an oven. Am I overlooking anything that could help me bake better? If not, then...not, but I thought it important to ask. After all, If there was a trick to your oven, to help make your sourdough better, wouldn't you want to know it? 

barryvabeach's picture
barryvabeach

Jey,  I am not an expert in thermodynamics, but in general, there are several ways that heat is transmitted to a loaf, conduction, convection, radiation being the principal three. https://www.webstaurantstore.com/blog/postdetails.cfm?post=976    IMO,  I don't think the age of the oven will have any impact on the 3.  The size of the oven will have an impact only to the extent that you will get more radiant energy transmitted to the combo cooker since it is closer to the walls of the oven.  That it is gas generally means it will be more vented than an electric oven, which suggests that steam will dissipate quicker than in a more tightly sealed oven.   There is nothing wrong with your suggestion that 500 degrees is too hot, and baking at 450 can likely give you a better result.  You may want to change the temp even lower and see if you are happy with the result.  IMO, the principal thing to change is the ratio of the size of the loaf to the combo cooker, since that will maximize the humidity in the cooker. Keep increasing the size of the loaf until when it springs it hits the sides and top of the combo cooker, then decrease the size 10 to 15% and see if you are happy.  In addition, remember that oven spring is greatly impacted by when you put it in the oven - if it is overproofed, you will get little to no spring, if too far underproofed, you won't get the full oven spring that you would if you put it in at exactly the right stage. ( which is extremely difficult for us home bakers - we don't get enough repetitions to master that)

jey13's picture
jey13

That was very comprehensive. Thank you very much. I never thought to increase the size of the loaf to maximize the humidity. And you're absolutely right that many of my loaves fell flat because of over/under proofing, especially at the beginning. It took me a while to finally handle dough that was "right" and know how very wrong other doughs had been, but even at the start I could tell they weren't looking anything like the "right" doughs I saw in videos. 

Which is to say, I don't blame the oven for all my flat loaves, not even for half of them. Just the last few before I turned down the temp. I'll try notching down the temp even more to see what happens, and, after that, notching up the loaf size. 

And I do want to try increasing hydration now that I know more about how the dough should turn out. I've just got some "PTSD" from those first tries and don't want to return to that frustration. I do understand that extra hydration requires a lot more stretches and rests to make it work. 

As for repetition to master the "exactly right..." Hah! I know you're absolutely right, as I don't work in a bakery or make bread daily, but I sure feel like I am....weekly bread baking is beginning to add up. :-D