The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Inconsistent ear? (Same batch of dough!)

thursdaykay's picture
thursdaykay

Inconsistent ear? (Same batch of dough!)

 

For the life of me, I can't figure out why each time I make a batch of bread (I have three different recipes I make on rotation, two sourdough, one yeasted — happens to each one!), there are always 1-2 loaves that come out not like the others. Most loaves come out with a small but decent ear, but 1 or 2 will come out with an "abstract" shape (tall but pear-shaped or blob-shaped) and zero ear.

Photos are attached here!

Can anyone shed some light on this? Each loaf comes from the same batch of dough, has been handled the same, has been proofed and shaped the same, has been scored and baked the same (on a stone with steam, two loaves a stone, two stones in one oven, one cast iron pan with ice per stone so there are separate sources of steam on each level).

Thank you in advance!

 

SOURDOUGH

Bottom right loaf had no ear. Some loaves (not pictured here) came out "pear shaped" (large one end small on the other — really wild!) with zero ear.

 

WHOLE WHEAT SOURDOUGH

Oh boy. The top left and middle loaves were baked on the same top stone, with the same source of steam, so it boggles my mind how one came out with a beautiful ear, and the other came out tall and round but pretty abstract in shape, and zero ear! The right loaf was baked on the lower stone with its own source of steam.

BaniJP's picture
BaniJP

I guess your oven is the culprit, probably it has quite uneven heat spots and air circulation.

thursdaykay's picture
thursdaykay

That makes sense, but also a little bit of a bummer, since it's out of my control!

idaveindy's picture
idaveindy

If it's a convection (fan) oven, that explains everything.  

You would need to tent the loaves with aluminum foil, or use a cloche or an inverted pot/pan to cover them, or use a dutch oven or covered casserole dish, or big roaster pan sich as Graniteware.

If your oven has bottom heating elements, and they can be used without the fan, that might work.  Then turn on the top element for a little bit at the end to finish browning.

thursdaykay's picture
thursdaykay

It is a convection oven!

I've baked with a Dutch oven before, works like a charm, but as I am trying to bake up to 4 loaves at a time now there simply isn't any way to use it.

Will tenting with foil help to retain steam? Do I partially tent the loaves (to allow the steam coming from my cast iron pans to come in)?

idaveindy's picture
idaveindy

With  foil tents, I think you'd still need to steam.   Details are so specifc to the conditions/arrangement, that I can only recommend experimenting.

Can you use a bottom heating element with no fan?  Is that an option?

thursdaykay's picture
thursdaykay

Oh wait, now I'm not sure if my oven is convection or standard. The model is Magic Chef 59F-5TXW, and the manual doesn't say anything about "convection," but it does say "This unit is equipped with a fan which automatically turns on whenever the oven is set for cooking ... the fan will automatically turn off when the unit has cooled."

Sounds like convection to me? It is an old electrical unit though, nothing fancy.

If not steam — what else could be causing such a wide range of results in my loaves?

ciabatta's picture
ciabatta

Not convection based on the model. Most ovens are vented for whatever reason. That’s the fan noise you hear. You’ll probably have noticed that loaves cooked in certain parts of the oven cooks better than others. Uneven heat. Are you using a baking stone? That can help regulate hot spots a bit. Tent with foil over each loaf if you can. If your oven is continuously venting, Adding water to tray for steam may not work well. 

idaveindy's picture
idaveindy

Is this a "wall oven", or a conventional oven with a stove-top?

Lisa McCoy's picture
Lisa McCoy

I always keep a fan around while baking.

idaveindy's picture
idaveindy

I didn't pick up at first that the stones were on different racks.  

Maybe a photo, even if  dry run, not a real bake, could help.

If the stones are on different racks, then the lower one will be hotter because it is closer to the lower (bake) heating element.  and the pre-heated upper stone will radiate extra heat down to the tops of the loaves on the lower stone.

Also, are the edges of the stones and the steam pans at least 1" from walls and the door?  If not, that would affect circulation.

Two tier cooking with bare loaves (no closed DO/pot/vessel), with two stones, each on its own rack.... never heard of that in a home oven.  I can't picture in my mind how they would heat evenly.   Seems too crowded.

--

Also, ice robs a lot of heat.  That might cause uneven heating as much as circulation.  Boiling, or near boiling water, is usually used.  Just a cup, 8 fl ounces.

 

thursdaykay's picture
thursdaykay

Thanks for all your input! I really appreciate it.

The stones are 1" from the side walls, and maybe 0.5" from the door and back wall. I thought that the tight fit may affect circulation of steam, which is why I decided to have a separate source of steam per rack. Thoughts?

It is a very full oven when I bake 4 loaves at a time, but I just started selling bread in my neighborhood and needed to bake more than just 1-2 loaves at a time. Unfortunately the Rofco oven I want is on back order until October! So I am trying to make do with what I have the best I can.

Ice has been my go to, but I'll try boiling water my next bake (tomorrow morning) and see how that goes. Hopefully that will help a lot!

Photo of my crowded oven setup is attached here (pre-baked loaves for mockup, imagine the same setup mirrored on the bottom shelf). Any other tips would be most appreciated!

thursdaykay's picture
thursdaykay

Results from my morning bake... I used boiling water instead of ice, and it seemed to work much better (at least this time – time will tell)! Baked 2 loaves, one per shelf, no duds! The loaf on the bottom shelf got better oven spring, possibly because of have stones under and above it? The cast iron pans also evaporated almost all the water, which is amazing. When I used ice, there would be TONS of leftover water in my pans.

The only thing I am trying to figure out now is how to pour boiling water into my cast iron pans without it splashing everywhere/all over the stone...

I am hoping using boiling water will rid of me of all my abstract looking loaves!

idaveindy's picture
idaveindy

That looks more like 1/2" to 3/4"  clearance on the sides.  (Judging by the rungs on the rack as a guide/estimate.)

When measuring...  those little ledges on the  side walls upon which the rack sits, should be counted as the inner dimension, as they serve to block air flow.  

And the 1/2" front/back clearance could be a problem.

I've never done two tier bread baking. So I can't confirm whether that is part of the problem or not.  But, logically thinking it through,  the two stones are going to heat differently.

The online oven manual does say at least a full inch side clearance and front/back clearance.

I've read reports by people who make their own pizza steels, and they say an "average" of 1.75" clearance all around.  I just checked www.bakingstone.com, and couldn't find any clearance recommendation there.

 --

If the boiling water fixes everything when doing 4 loaves, that will be great.  otherwise, you might need to think about trimming the stones down a little.  

 

thursdaykay's picture
thursdaykay

Copy, thanks for all your feedback! Much appreciated. I know I am pushing it when crowding my oven with huge stones, 4 loaves, and cast iron pans. (I have a lot of finessing to do this summer while waiting for my new oven!)