Yikes - my cuts opened up
Over the past few weeks I have been trying to "take it up a level." I had hit the wall on getting properly shaped and slashed naturally leavened loaves. LindyD's recent post http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/21045/fire-and-ice-great-oven-steam on  generating steam set off a lightbulb in my head. The symptoms I have been trying to cure are cuts that open a little and then seal over, and a split side. I had been convinced that this was caused by underproofing even though I was doing my best with the poke test, rise times and so on. When I read her post I started to wonder if I was having trouble with steam. I had been preheating a dry jelly roll pan on the base of the oven and pouring in cold water at the same time as loading the loaves. This sets off a cloud of steam and then the water continues to boil for around 15 minutes before it evaporates completely so I thought I was all set. But I do have a brand new gas oven and after reading Lindy's post, I began to suspect that it was efficiently venting out steam as fast as I could generate it. After surfing around a bit, I found the following excellent comment in a post on side splitting http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/10363/my-bread-keeps-quotsplittingquot-side#comment-54369 . So I surfed around some more for steaming methods that didn't involve going out and buying rocks and I found the following: http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/20162/oven-steaming-my-new-favorite-way  and I tried it and dramatic improvement. But it involved a little too much mucking around with steaming hot towels so I experimented some more and came up with a similar, but what seemed to me like a simpler and safer method. I placed some soaked towels into bread pans half filled with unheated tap water on each side of my stone half an hour before loading the loaves, and let them preheat with everything else. By the time I loaded the loaves, I got hit in the face with a cloud of steam. Then fifteen minutes later, I removed the bread pans (with a long tongs) and once again got hit in the face with a cloud of steam, so I figured that the oven had been steamy enough in the interim. The bottom line is the cuts opened, and the sides did not. In fact they opened too much. I have overdone it. Too much steam? Something else? By the way, this site is just fantastic. I would still be baking out of Clayton using speed em up 70s methods if it hadn't been for all of you.