Tips on potential upgrades for better sourdough results
I run a restaurant in Portugal with the current set up for sourdough bread baking:
– Unox Convection Oven XEVC-0711-EPRM (7 trays) with stainless steel baking sheets (no baking stones)
– Ankarsrum Assistent Mixer
– Komo Duett 200 mill
All grains are milled in-house on a daily basis. For our sourdough bread, we use 'barbela', an ancient variety of wheat known to have a much lower gluten content. All flour is sifted, with an extraction rate of around 90%. We don't autolyse, since from our experience the dough seemed to deteriorate right away, becoming really slack. So flour, water, salt and levain are mixed all together in the beginning. Currently, hydration is at around 75% and we bulk ferment for about 4 hours, proofing overnight in the fridge.
Right now we're baking 9-12 loaves per day, scaled at 815 g before shaping.
Some issues we're facing:
- The Ankarsrum can't really handle more than 5 kg of dough, which means we always need to run two batches of the same dough every day. We feel like this is becoming a cumbersome task (due to repetition), so I'd love to get feedback on this. Is this routine something common to a lot of bakers (split same dough mixing in two or more batches)? Or do most bakers at this level just get a bigger mixer to avoid this? I'd obviously be happy to get a bigger mixer, but this is not the ideal moment for new investments.
- Our Unox convection oven is driving us crazy. If we bake at 200ºC or above, the dough surface will dry too soon, not allowing for a good oven spring. If we go at 190ºC or less, we get a better oven spring but the crust will come out poor. In both cases, the bottoms are always coming out soft and quite often cracked – probably due to baking on baking sheets (with Teflon-like liners) or to the fact that the dough surface has dried too soon. Also, after a couple of hours, the crust becomes soft, as if the bread had been sitting on the counter for a day or two. What have we tried so far:
- Pre-heat the baking sheets prior to loading the loaves. Didn't really seem to make a difference. I even took a baking steel from home to test it with the Unox, but the results weren't exactly much better.
- Cover the loaves with a sheet pan turned upside down to counter the airflow generated by the fan (it's always at the minimum setting, but we can't really switch it off). Didn't make a difference.
- Place a pan on the bottom of the oven and fill it with boiling water upon loading the loaves. Helps with oven spring, but probably too much (softer crust in the end). Tried this with both 0% and 100% humidity, with similar outcomes.
I know that convection ovens (with an always-on fan) aren't really ideal for bread baking, but this is becoming more and more frustrating every day. We can't really get consistently good results, even when nailing everything else (starter activity, mixing, shaping, etc.). Is there someone working with the same type of oven who can give us tips on how to improve this? (In case you're wondering, the oven was already at the restaurant when we came in)
We have analysed several options:
– Getting a proper oven for bread baking. The Rofco B40 would be the main candidate, though it's a costly investment. Are there alternatives to Rofco you would recommend (knowing we're based in Europe)? Space is limited in our kitchen and the Unox is needed for other tasks, so a deck oven isn't really feasible.
– Fitting 3/4 custom-made baking stones to fit our Unox (and help with the broken bottoms)
– Trying to sell the Ankarsrum for a good price and buy a commercial mixer
Any other suggestions?
All input is appreciated! Thanks.