The Fresh Loaf

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Dag nabbit, what temp am I supposed to believe?

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Yumarama's picture
Yumarama

Dag nabbit, what temp am I supposed to believe?

So I've been pondering if my oven temp was WAYYY off what with recent pale loaves and little oven rise.

I at this very moment have THREE teperature gauges on the oven. The oven's electronic/digital thermostat (who knows how "electronic" the actual switches to turn the heat on and off are) is set to 475ºF and this is what I want; of course once it's set to that and the readout say it's been reached, that's precisely where it stays, even though we all KNOW oven temps go up and down a decent bit as the coil heats and turns off. I don't particularly trust this temp gauge but it is what's controlling the heater so I have to live with it.

However, I've also got a separate basic (and brand new) cheapy coil-type oven temp gauge hanging inside the oven and it's telling me the oven is standing at about 435-450ºF. Finally, I have an electronic temp gauge, the type you stick into food, on a cord plugged into a battery powered digital reader, this one says the oven is hovering in the 513 - 526ºF range.

So now I'm wondering which of these temps, each varying from the other by 25 to 75º (cheapo oven thermometer to digital), I should presume is closer to accurate.

How DOES one measure an oven's temp and be sure that what you're getting is in fact true? I stuck the digital's probe into boiling water, switched it to Celcius and it read exactly 100ºC, as expected. Can it be off by a lot when it gets up into the 450+F area or should I assume if it read water correctly, it is equally accurate at higher and lower temps?

I'm tired of making pale, undercooked loaves. Although the dogs like it plenty, I'd like to know that I'm doing things right and I can't tell if anything in the bread making process (recipe, handling, proofing, etc.) is working well if my questionable oven temp will botch everything up whether the loaves themseles are fine or not.

Any one have words of guidance on this? How do you know if your thermometer is actually telling you the truth or a barefaced liar bent on watching you char your goods?

How in heck did they make bread before the invention of the oven thermometer?!?! I bet they used magic.

EDIT: By the way, I made the bread and decided to assume the temp was somewhere in between the three different reading, so I turned the oven down a few and hoped for the best. Well, it was closer, probably by a lot, to the higer 500+ temp and the bread kinda burnt. Well, way over-browned anyway with some black parts on the bottom that needed scraping. So we ate one loaf in the next couple of hours. Gotta get rid of the evidence, right? The inside was quite yummy, the crumb very nice, the crust, well, rather hard and thick and over-toated tasting. Sorry, dogs, you don't get all mistake breads.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Hi there.

I've got a cheapie coil type thermometer, and tend to think they are the most sensitive in the 400° F range. An oven can be different temps at different places. I tend to hang the cheapie on the middle rack or sit it next to the bread.

Let's go over the basics:

Oven heating coils are normally on the bottom and on the top, hidden or seen. The Bottom can be very hot and heat rises. The "cool spot" is normally the middle of the oven. Measuring steam from the top of the oven can be very hot, steam is most offen underestimated but can cause nasty burns. Also consider the size of your pans and trays, heat should be circulating in the oven and not getting "trapped" under or above the loaves.

All of the gages could be correct. Thermostats are a pain in the bread buns. If you know where yours is located, it can be possible to trick it into kicking in quicker.

First time I observe an oven. I watch my bread carefully and notice just what my oven is doing, making notes, being prepared for dial corrections. The coil thermometer is my guide. Watch to see what temp. the thermostat kicks in, etc. At the end of the bake when simply knocking on the loaf could fail (like by heavy crumb with lots of nuts & seeds and roughage) I use the candy thermometer, point stuck into the middle the loaf. Placement of the loaf in the oven can also make a big difference, and depending on your particular oven, some ajustments should be tried.

If the loaf is done, but too pale for your tastes, just leave it in longer.

As far as "burnt" goes: Get that charred area grated off as soon as possible (use mitts) with a box grater or some such object. Or place the cooling loaf so the charred area is UP. That way the rising steam with take the burnt taste away from your loaf (and into the air) as opposed to through the loaf (and into the bread). In the oven: try to adjust by moving burning parts (please don't wait that long) into the "cool spot" of the oven. Top burning > move down. Bottom> move up.  Overall burning > lower oven temp by 25°F.   Overall pale > raise temp by 25°F.  or rotate the loaf away from any hot spots.  Remember each time you open the door, the thermostat with kick in and oven temps will drop and rise sharply. Do it too often, minutes can be added to the bake.

I'm hoping you find solutions soon,

Mini O

Yumarama's picture
Yumarama

Woah, lots of info there, Min!

I will need to review much of it when I fire up the oven again.

At least I've got the starter issue and the recipe issue under control now so that take two variables out of the "what the heck happened" equation. I still have rising issues to contend with, in that I need proper baskets so I can avoid the dough sticking to makeshift towels and deflating badly.

But it's starting to turn into separate, obvious sections that are now working well or causing problems and not whirling into one big giant "bread fail" mess. So things are certainly improving. 

I'd still like to get a decent oven that heats at the temp - or even close to the temp - I set it at. No easy fix for that, unfortunately, short of winning even a small lottery. 

--------
Paul

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

It cracks me up, everytime,  when the thermometer reads exactly the same as the oven dial.  I think it's happened about twice in the last year!  Between heat kicking in and off, that needle jumps around all the time.  So... what does that mean?   It means that my oven could be better insulated and have a more expensive thermostat built in.  From my experiences with thermostats, I recon that half the price in manufacturing an oven is the price of the thermostat alone, maybe more.  The clue to sensitivity should be reflected in the number jumps on the dial, but that might not mean anything at all.

I've cooked and baked with lots of people and (love to soak it all up like a sponge) it's not uncommon when comparing or dishing out recipes, that one will say "I bake it at 375° but my oven is a little cool so maybe you should try 350° and come out about right."  or  "My oven runs hot."  or  "I would love a new oven, mine takes forever!"     Even instructions will say...turn the oven temp down when starts to brown on top.   or.... bake until golden brown  ..taking into account that all ovens run just a little differently.    So there you have it.  Not an exact science.  My husband invorms me that if a good oven is not properly hooked up with enough electrical power, it can also run slow or cool   or if an Area Electrical Grid is subject to "Brownouts."    

Now when I come to think if it, my mother would always calibrate her oven with an Angelfood cake.  The cake recipe (made from scratch) is sensitive to 25° F changes in oven temp.  The cake would be exactly done in so many minutes if the temp was correct.  Otherwise the only time she baked one was on a Birthday.  She would then add or subtract degrees with how long the cake would take. 

I hope you tried the mixture of rice and ap flour (1:4) on your cloth for proofing dough.  Works really well.  Sprinkle it on with a small sieve.  (tip: don't use sticky rice flour)  

Mini O

dougal's picture
dougal

Does anyone know anything about the old method of oven calibration by baking absolutely standardised sponge cakes and then interepreting the results seen in the finished cake?

cpmart's picture
cpmart

Read this neat trick somewhere, but don't remember the source.
Preheat the oven to 350 for 30 min, with rack in the middle.  Once preheated, fill a 2 c pyrex with 1 c 70 degree water and place it in the center of the rack.  After 15 min, swirl the water and take the temperature.  It should be 150 deg +/- 2 deg.
Don't know if this suggests that your oven will be accurate at temperatures other than 350, or if your oven will recover temperature appropriately after opening the door to put in your bread, but it is a starting point.
Chris

Windischgirl's picture
Windischgirl

Someone once explained to me that consulting two thermometers (or two clocks for that matter) is like consulting two economists: they will be sure to give you three opinions on what's happening ;-D

Windi

 

PS: that said, I also have two oven thermometers, plus whatever the knob itself is calibrated to...and I'm still confused! 

suave's picture
suave

Neither of the three are worth a damn in my opinion.  Here is the only thing you can trust:

Yumarama's picture
Yumarama

... if I could have found one. All the oven thermometers I saw at several kitchen gizmo sections in a few stores I checked were either the coil or digital type. Mind you, I do have a glass candy thermometer so I guess I could use that too, I just wasn't sure if it could stand to be completely heated up (the whole thing end to end, not just the tip). It's one of these:

I'd hate to see it explode and send mercury all over the oven.

OK, just checked mine and it goes up to only 400 which would still be OK to tell me how far off the oven is if I were to set it at 350. And assuming the oven stat doesn't go way crazy at higher temps.

--------
Paul

LindyD's picture
LindyD

 

That is, if you're in the U.S.

http://fantes.com/thermometers.html#oven

Windischgirl's picture
Windischgirl

Hey Lindy, thanks for mentioning Fante's.  They're local to me and probably have the odds and ends I'm looking for.

Why didn't I think of that?!

Windi 

 

Philadelphia PA

Yumarama's picture
Yumarama

The Great White North. So the search must continue.

--------
Paul

Yumarama's picture
Yumarama

Made another batch, still with the same recipe (except halved, didn't need to burn FOUR loaves again) and this time set the oven to around 425 - recipe wants 475 then turn ed down to 450 once the loaves are in.

Well, even at 425 and reducing to 400, I'm getting some burning as you can see here:


(click for bigger pic)

Now other than the oven temp yet needing to be confirmed and hopefully adjusted, I am still having issues with shaping/rising and getting the loaves to bulk up instead of out. And trying to proof them in a way that getting them out of [whatever, couche, banneton] and into the oven doesn't cause major deflating. So rice flour is on the shopping list.

All in all, still a work in progress to get a first non-problematic sourdough loaf out.

--------
Paul

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Hi, Paul. 

From that photo and your comment on it, I wonder if you might need to adjust your expectations regarding crust color. If you cruise this site or look at any of the current crop of "artisan baking" books, I think you will find that these breads are usually baked to a much darker color than the usual American store-bought bread.  

The darker crust is more flavorful and has a better chewing quality. It's a good thing! 

David

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Sorry, don't see burnt. I see colour! And crumb! Perfect!

A-m-a-z-i-n-g what you can do with your contraption!  

OK, no kidding around.  Go over to Yahoo Q and get into the section on electrical or DIY, and  have the name of your oven handy.  There are some talented electricians that hang around there and may be able to solve your thermostat problem.  You might have to mess with oven guts but you can handle it, right? 

Meanwhile, use an oven rack and anchor a piece of alu foil to it so it doesn't fly around & leave plenty of space around the sides for heat to circulate.  Shinny side toward your loaf.  Place it between upper coils and your loaf.   Hey maybe your lower coils are out ... that might explain all the overheating at top of the oven.... Got any electrician friends that can check it over?

Mini O

Yumarama's picture
Yumarama

Now please note that I didn't say they were burned, I said I was getting some burning - several spots on there are black (mostly this was in the slashed sections for some strange reason). The colour IS nice overall, for certain, but this was a loaf pulled out with 10 minutes left on the timer on a 27 - 30 minute bake time. Much closer to this suggested time and there would have been definite burned areas and overall overbrowned crust - I know, this is precisely what happened on the last batch.

The problem isn't the bread, it's still the oven. I shouldn't have had to pull it out at the 20 minute mark just as it was starting to show signs of burning when it's supposed to be in there for 27 to 30. At this stage I was supposed to take the bread and spin it but I didn't get to do that. There were a couple of black spots, I checked the inside temp (a bit more than 205) and called it done with a third of the bake time remaining.

And I'd bet with a lower temp - or more accurately, a more accurate temp - even those burn spots wouldn't happen at the full 30 minute bake time since the heat wouldn't be so extreme.

So I'm on the hunt for a liquid oven thermometer and not gonna make another loaf until I have a better idea of what this oven is doing.

And I also nearly destroyed a cake I was making for a client - I set the oven at 325 (it should be 350) and still the edges of the cake overcooked while the center was nowhere near done. And when it was finally cooked, the middle had collapsed.

I want to toss this damn contraption, baking on the barbeque would probably be more reliable.

--------
Paul

Windischgirl's picture
Windischgirl

I belong to a professional listserv that has strict rules regarding what can and cannot be posted, so I get a little anxious about posting something off limits...FloydM, please let me know if I've misbehaved by posting the following info!

Re: applicance issues--I can recommend the website for Samurai Appliance Repairman for troubleshooting your oven problem.  If you google it, it should be the first hit.  There are pages regarding what to do (and when to toss the thing) as well as a forum.  (I take it the webmaster was an early SNL fan).

I have a gas range, really the low end of the models--no window, no oven light--and yet I find the heat is pretty even.  It does run about 25F higher so I tweak the knob setting.

Hang in there, Paul! 

 

Paula F

Philadelphia PA

LindyD's picture
LindyD

Your crust is lovely - nice and dark. But as you don't like the darker marks, I wonder if you have hot spots in your oven. Have you tried rotating the loaves midway through the bake? Also, have you tried lowering your oven rack?

Could be that some component of your oven is failing. Perhaps the oven manufacturer has a website and you could inquire there?

I can understand your frustration. My old oven had no insulation and one temp: 550F. I regulated the temperature by opening the door and kept an instant read thermometer handy. Thank goodness those days are over.

Marni's picture
Marni

I also think your loaves look great!  But I do sympathize with your problem.  Unfortunately I think it is a problem with many ovens.  I didn't see how old your oven is, but getting a new one might not be the answer.  I've had three (two of the same brand- Bosch) and I still need to rotate everything 180 degrees and from the lower or upper racks.  The oven is electric and it happens in both the top and bottom ovens and when I use the convection.  No getting around it.

Marni

Yumarama's picture
Yumarama

Hi Marni,

It's a basic GE, not exactly bottom of the line but definitely not high end line at all - I think we paid about $500 for it around 7-8 years ago.

Fancy, innit?

As for switching the loaves around, that is what I was doing when I figured they were already done even though they had another 10 minutes to go and were already showing small but definite signs of burning.

Well, nothing to be done at this point about it other than eat the evidence (the bread's very good) and make sure to get a good thermometer before trying another batch so I can at least judge HOW far off it is and try to compensate for it.

And from there, try to work on proofing, shaping and slashing.

So... just in case I win a lottery and can get a new stove: are gas ovens any better? Or is it irrelevant because the thermostats are what controls (or fails to) the oven temp either way?

--------
Paul

Oldcampcook's picture
Oldcampcook

I just purchased a GE gas range when my old one went out. It is one of the cheapest ones they make.  No frills.

The oven dial is off 25 degrees at every setting - so I use my trusty spiral oven thermometer.

I also get burn marks or even black on the loaves at the extreme sides of the oven because of the way the vents are placed to circulate the air. And I do rotate my loaves top to bottom, side to side, half way through the baking time.

I can only bake properly in the middle of the oven, two loaves at a time. I still rotate these loaves, out of habit.

Temperature seems to be stable throughout the cooking time, though.

Marni's picture
Marni

I think the problem comes from the heating element in some electric ovens.  The element is on the top in mine and anything that is on top gets overly browned and the lower foods remain light and even undercooked. From what I've read, electric ovens are supposed to heat the most evenly, but then there's mine. Maybe there is an oven with surround heat.  I'm going to look into it.

Oldcampcook, I think you have pointed out the same type of problem with the gas oven.

I'm thinking if a few thermometers were placed around the interior of an oven, they would give different readings.  Just a guess.

One repairman I had look at my last oven said that any thermometer I can buy would not be as accurate as the type he used and that is why I was getting a low reading.  (But that didn't explain why foods took longer to cook!)

Marni

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Marni, I think you have upper and lower elements, it's the broiler element  (it's optional) that you can see.  What's on your settings dial?

Mini O

Marni's picture
Marni

Mini O,

You're partially right about the heating elements, the lower ones are covered.  (One of the reasons I chose this oven!)  Both are used in the baking setting, but I believe the covering on the lower ones helps to dissipate the heat some.  Maybe the fan blows unevenly too.  The broiler setting uses those upper coils too, but differently.

Marni

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

A good friend of mine was having trouble with her oven.  So the two of us just sat there and went over the manual.  I read, she answered and commented.  Went through the parts list... "2 baking trays" .....  "No, one." ....."So, where's the 2nd one?"   .... "Never had one."  ....So we went looking into the oven and very sneaky like, it was on the bottom of the oven, looking just like the bottom.  Pulled it out, and the oven has been working beautifully since! 

Just a thought.

Mini O