The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Convection Ovens, time and flavor....

pincupot's picture

Convection Ovens, time and flavor....



I was a home baker and decided to find a job in a bakery to learn about professional baking.  Now I am employed at a restaurant as the baker - expected to fill the bread basket for a higher-end meal in the middle of nowhere (high end hear is probably not high-end in a city).  I usually make a country white loaf (a little whole wheat thrown in) and sometimes add rosemary and/or olives, etc.


OK - so we have ONLY Convection ovens and the air flow does not turn off, ever.  

I begin work at 7 am, Friday morning and work 5 days.  So.. my idea of good flavored bread from home baking was to retard the loaves overnight.  I don't work Thursday to make that happen Friday - and  there is no room in the fridge for bread.  So - I use a sourdough starter to try to add flavor but use yeast to get the rise in time for dinner. 


Any suggests in improving bread quality?  I have not been using steam in the convection ... someone mentioned brushing water onto the loaves before putting them in the oven.  Would this help the crust? 

Also - for taste quality I have already mentioned using a sourdough culture to add flavor.  I have been adjusting the yeast amounts to find the perfect amount to add without overpowering the sourdough flavor - if that is possible.  So far, I bake about 24 1.5 pound loaves (about 3 pounds starter, 9 pounds flour, down to 1 T + 1 tsp active yeast.) 


Which is another issue for me (and maybe it isn't an issue) - I am supplied with Active Yeast and so I must use hot water to wake up the yeast.  I do not add all hot water - usually just a percentage of the water is used to waken the yeast... but maybe I should insist on Instant?


Could someone in the professional world give me advice? 


I seek a thin, crunchy crust and nutty flavor.   


Thanks in advance!



Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

While convections ovens are not optimum, you can make decent bread in them.  Play with your time and temperature.


You didn't mention if you were making free form or pan loaves, which can change a lot.


Also, how your bread is stored will change the crust, as well a chef who insists on re-heating bread in a steam box as many will.


As a true sourdough lover, my suggestion is you drop the sourdough.  Sourdough is not a flavor additive.  Adding raisins and cinnamon gives you an instant raisin and cinnamon taste.  Making bread with sourdough takes time.  If you rush it by adding yeast, you don't give the sourdough enough time to work.  So, look into making good bread in other ways.


Straight dough, when done well, will produce a nice bread.  Poolish and biga will give a nice bread also.  And biga can add a nutty note.  You don't need to retard to get good taste.  Using old dough can help here also.  Old dough can be refrigerated for days.


Also, adding baking soda will, oddly enough, give a buttery taste.


How long do you have to produce your 24 loaves?  Are they all the same?  How long is the bread held before being served?


With a few more answers, I might have some more answers for you.



pincupot's picture


Thanks for responding to my post.

I have been baking free-form batards at around 1 pound each that is heated before serving, as you predicted. Half a loaf is served per table. THe bread is sliced halfway through to help the customers tear it, and a pesto in olive oil is set out for dipping. Currently I make both the loaves and grissini bread sticks to go in the basket and am thinking of adding a third type of bread. Because we serve this pesto oil for dipping, I am choosing not to make a 'flavored' bread to compete; although the grissini I make are flavored with either fennel or parmesean/black pepper depending on my mood.


The loaves are kept in a plastic bin covered with plastic wrap, though sometimes they wrap each loaf with plastic wrap.


As for mixing and baking times - I start mixing at around 7:30/8 AM and am usually baking at 2 PM. I do a 20-30 minute autolyse before adding salt to the dough. THe dough is pretty sticky when I place it in an oiled bin and stretch and fold twice, once after 50 minutes or so and then again in another 50 minutes. I then scale the dough, let it sit for about 15-20 minutes and then shape. Because I leave work at 3 PM, I just wait till I think it is the last minute and bake. Timing for me also depends on how busy I am with other tasks. I cannot go by a strict baking schedule because I bake both bread and desserts and I prepare breakfast and lunch for staff meals (the staff are seasonal employees that live and work on campus - I work at an outdoor center's casual/upscale restaurant and we are open for the public for dinner only but also serve the staff all three meals in a seperate dining area).


Still have yet to figure out time and temp in the convection ovens!


Like I said in my last post, I use the sourdough really as a poolish, I guess. I don't use it for leavening, just trying to use it for flavor since I don't have much time. Do you think if I mixed a poolish and kept that refrigerated instead of the sourdough it would add more flavor? Do you think I should use a biga instead? I can mix this up the night before and refrigerate it until morning when I use it, right? As your post says, I could also mix it on my last workday and refrigerate it on my days off and use it my next workday, right?


What percentage of baking soda is added for the buttery taste? Though I am searching for a nutty flavor, I would like to try the soda.


Thanks again for your reply! When I return to work on Wednesday, I will mix a biga for Thursday's bread, unless you suggest differently. Right now I am in the learning/testing phase. I told all of my friends that if they want to dine on good bread, wait at least 2 months to allow me time to perfect my loaves!


Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

Since the bread is being stored in plastic bags and reheated before being served in a steam thing, there's no point in worrying about the crust.  It would be better by far to cool the loaves, put them on baking sheets as tightly as they can be packed without crushing, and then loosely cover them with plastic wrap or an oil cloth (which has the advantage of being reuseable.)  Then just cut and serve without reheating.  This would be easier and deliver better quality bread.  However, some people just love warm bread.  Even if it's soggy crap.  Instead of good bread at room temperature.  Still, you might suggest it to the powers that be as a cost saving step.  No bags or bagging, no steaming or heating.


If your restaurant is an Italian style, you could also do focaccia.  You can do a whole pan of it and just slice out servings.  Very fast, very easy.  And very good.  Still skip the steam re-heating.  The Italian baker book has a number of focaccia recipes.


The amount of soda was around 1% or less.


I'd skip the sourdough and use a biga.  You just don't have enough time to effectively use sourdough.  I wouldn't refrigerate the biga, except for the time you have days off.  Let the biga rise overnight at room temperature and then use it.  It won't go bad, actively fermenting things rarely do.


Even though you bake the focaccia in a sheet pan, let it cool out of the pan and on a rack.


Hope that helps,




pincupot's picture

Thanks again, Mike, for your comments and professional advice.

I have thought about adding focaccia to the bread basket.  We are not an Italian restaurant but a pseudo-gourmet Southern-style restaurant.  Fried green tomatoes with crab cakes and tomato confit is on the menu, as is local trout and a poblano stuffed with rattatoui (sp?) and served with a tomatillo salsa.  As you can see - there is no real cultural food statement.

 Therefore, I have also thought of adding a type of southern biscuit to the basket - maybe one with chives and roasted red pepper or something.  


Anyway, I will try the biga idea and put the sourdough to rest for a while to see the difference.  I may then add a bit of soda to see what changes.


I will try to let you know how it comes out.  I don't log on much, but when I do - I learn sooooo much!!

Thanks again. 


plevee12's picture


After ruining 2 domestic ovens baking bread with steam - my current kitchen oven has non-functioning light & thermostat & the door stays closed only with the help of a tension bar propped between it and the kitchen island -I bought a used half size commercial convection oven - 2 speed fan but no non-convection option.

I've had major problems with crust quality since I got this oven - the fan evacuates the steam & sets the crust too quickly, oven spring is reduced & the crust isn't as good as with a straight oven.

I recently saw a blog on YouTube by an Australian who calls himself Dom. He suggests preheating the oven and baking stone to 500F or  as high as it will go, putting in the bread and boiling water, turning the oven OFF for ten minutes and then turning it back on to the recommended temperature to complete the baking time. My oven is generally at ~400F after the ten minutes. It's a bit of a fiddle but does improve things some.

pincupot's picture

Hey Patsy,

Thanks so much for that hint --- I will try shutting the oven off.

So far, I have decided to use Jeffery Hammelman's Country Loaf recipe from his book. The flavor is better than what I was getting, and I do have oven spring. The crust is not crusty enough, though, and it seems it gets tough faster than the inside gets done, just as you mentioned in your post. So... I will try the method you propose.

THanks again!@!!


plevee12's picture


Hi Pincupot, the idea isn't mine. You can see more detail if you go to YouTube & search "oven steaming technique".

It's a big improvement but still not as good as a regular oven. I've been bugging bloggers for other solutions but the only alternative seems to be baking in a covered container - a dutch oven or La Cloche equivalent. 

mcs's picture


Hey there. Sorry I'm a little late in chiming in here, but thanks to the above post, I just found this thread. In relation to your Hamelman reference, I have a couple of comments. For a pseudo sourdough, I use my rye starter instead of straight rye flour in the 'country loaf' for a little extra flavor and tang in the biga(20g for a 3 loaf recipe), in addition to a little bit of whole wheat flour. Just as a reference, with his multigrain in a regular oven I cook it at 425 for 42 minutes. With my convection (Blodgett Zephaire and Mark V), I cook the same bread at 350 (actual oven temperature) for 35 minutes. For steaming I use twice as much water when using the convection.
Another option for your restaurant bread is small loaves (we used to do 8oz mini ovals). They are perfect served with a dinner for 2 and can be reheated wrapped in foil and thrown into the oven while other food is being cooked. Also if you need to, you can make up bunches, freeze them and they can thaw and reheat them in foil. People love having 'their own loaf'.
Hope this helps some.


By the way, although the 'shut off the oven technique' is often used to help set meringues and delicate stuff in a convection, be aware that unlike regular ovens, convections not only are made to be used with the fan on, but are supposed to be vented for at least 5 minutes after using them (fan on, door open).  Just a warning since those are expensive buggers.

Henry's picture



I once worked in a restaurant making breads and desserts just

as you are now.

We had two stacked convection ovens, loading 12 loaves

at a time (or was it sixteen?) per oven.

Fan would always stay on but that was okay.

Weekends called for about 200 loaves on a Saturday

and 200 for a Sunday so it took a while to bake.

I did have access to a walk in fridge to store a starter and there were times when,

just for fun I would overnight ferment shaped loaves that were made straight dough

and other times where I would overnight bulk ferment straight dough.

Here are my suggestions to make your life easier.


Either go with fresh or instant. Save yourself the step of hydrating traditional



As Mike and others suggest, drop the sourdough. Way too much work and difficult

to properly maintain in a kitchen environment.  Most cooks I’ve dealt with

know little if anything of baking and they just might drag your sourdough outside to sit on the bin while having a smoke…and then leave it outside!


I’m not clear on what fridge space you have but straight dough, fermented overnight

in a fridge, either shaped or bulk can be pretty good.

If you don’t have fridge space, then make a room temperature starter but mark it appropriately; a picture of skull and crossbones …”Don’t touch”!!! and have chef 

put fear into his team. That’s what I’m doing right at the moment with my stuff;

skull and crossbones and so far, no cook has dared go near.


Here are a few snaps of:

Italian Bread with some added olive oil, shaped the width of a pan, so it will bake 12 per convection oven load if there’s a pan of water on the bottom, or 16 loaves if no water for steam.

French bread proofed and ready for the oven.

I slash the loaves, then mist with very hot tap water from a spray bottle.

I have also baked restaurant breads without the water pan on the bottom,

to give me more oven capacity, but I would suggest you at least spray the loaves with water before the bake.

Everyone will tell you that spraying loaves actually cools down the dough in the oven

and that’s probably true, but if you can’t steam, I would spray.

And because the pan and pouring hot water method is a poor attempt at creating

a steam environment, I would spray as well.

Remember, this is a convection oven.

Also a picture of focaccia sheets made as straight dough and fermented overnight in the fridge.

Smeared with a little bit of pureed roasted garlic, topped with herbs, caramelized onions, thinly sliced tomato, salt, fresh ground pepper and paprika.

I made them full sheet but you’ll notice the bottom pieces are half sheet, mostly cause I got tired of rolling out full sheets of dough.

It does sound like you’re well on the way to restaurant satisfaction.

Happy baking


 Italian CasaItalian Casacooling focacciacooling focaccia
ehanner's picture

Thanks for you informative posts here. It's fun to see some professional grade work up close and personal. The Focaccia with onions and herbs/tomatoes looks terrific.

Tell me if you will, what is the best way to caramelize onions in your scale? I have tried roasting them in a covered pan and stirring now and then and also slowly simmering in a heavy pan covered. The pan roasting method needs to be watched constantly and the heavy pan seems to be harder to get the brown full flavor. Any suggestions?


Henry's picture




I caramelize my onions in a frying pan as per enclosed photo. The snap was taken prematurely; I would give them a little more colour.

Here’s a link to a site I came across that takes you through the caramel process.


Pretty straight forward, the trick is to stir on occasion and “keep your eye on your fried” onions.

In a professional kitchen, I’ve noticed that onions get caramelized quickly at higher heat by cooks as they multi task… mostly because of time constraints, yet the onions are constantly being watched.

 I tend to go the nice and easy route; lower heat, longer time.

One of my favourite home snacks is a half sheet of straight dough foccacia fermented overnight, liberally brushed with olive oil. To this I add chopped tomatoes, tons of caramelized onions, roasted garlic, fresh rosemary, a bit of sea salt, coarse ground pepper and then it’s all complimented by liters (or gallons) of locally brewed beer.

Don’t kiss the girls afterwards as you’re bound to make them cry.


caramelizecaramelizefavourite snackfavourite snack

ehanner's picture


Make them cry indeed! Your snack looks quite nice! What I was trying to get to is browning up enough onions to make that rack of Focaccia above or serve them on sausages or burgers all afternoon. Onions being 90% water get smaller the better they get. So I guess maybe a 10# bag all sliced up, would only work in a stock pot at first?


Henry's picture


Ten pounds! Thats a lot of onions unless you're thinking of inviting the whole

neighborhod over.

I used two large onions for the four focaccia sheets.

If you want to carmalize 4500 grams, well then yes, go with

the pot.