The Fresh Loaf

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Anova Precision Oven as bread baker: My Impressions

Another Girl's picture
Another Girl

Anova Precision Oven as bread baker: My Impressions

This is my first blog entry but not my first post. I thought it might be worthwhile to post my experience with the new Anova Precision Oven, which has been promoted, in part, as a steam oven suitable for bread baking. My review is pretty mixed, but after a dozen or more failed bakes, I’ve finally begun to see good results.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, the Anova Precision Oven is a combi (steam and convection) oven. It’s said to retain temp to within 0.5°F for sous vide-like cooking. The oven has many capabilities and, in my experience, some flaws, but I’ll limit my review to bread baking because A) this is bread bakers forum; and B) that’s about the only thing I’ve used it for. 

When I first got the oven, I thought I could follow the baking instructions from a recipe in much the same way I would bake a loaf in my old GE gas oven, except that I’d use a setting to steam the oven instead of pouring boiling water on old towels and lava rocks. Turns out that was a gross over-simplification and unless you’ve used a combi oven before, you might find the learning curve pretty steep. At least, I have.

BAKING

I’ve had a hard time getting bread right in this oven. I prefer darker crusts, but when baked in this oven, the crusts set and darken very fast – well before the interior of the loaves have time to fully bake. At this point, about 15 loaves have been baked in my Precision Oven, nearly all of them with dark exteriors and interiors that range from gummy to doughy. Anova’s Customer Service seems unable to provide meaningful guidance on how to *properly* bake bread in their oven. The app has few bread recipes and I’ve been unable to find any solid direction on how to migrate standard baking instructions to the steam oven. I’ve referred to a number of online resources (Anova Cusine app, some Facebook pages, and even a subreddit for combi oven users that seems to have a lot of Precision Oven users on it), but there’s no authoritative place to get meaningful guidance. I’ve found the app to be disorganized and not particularly helpful. Baking decent bread in the oven has, unfortunately, involved a lot of hit and miss experimentation.

The oven has some “limitations” that, in my impression, might contribute to less than ideal bread baking conditions:

  • The convection fans in the Anova oven are variable only under certain configurations; unfortunately they are not configurations you’d normally use for baking bread. If the rear heating element (recommended for bread baking) or steam (the whole reason for using the oven) is in use, the fan is locked on high 
  • The oven cavity is small, so the baking bread is mere inches away from the fan blowing intensely hot air onto it at full speed (it’s a countertop oven, so…)
  • Water/Steam conducts heat faster than air, so I would imagine that using the highest steam setting (100%, which is what the recipes on their app seem to recommend) intensifies the heat and accelerates the browning. (Most if not all of the recipes I’ve found on the app recommend 100% steam.) 
  • Using the bottom heating element in place of the rear element is a non-starter because the heat maxes out at 356°F
  • I have wondered if the water inside the loaf can’t evaporate quickly enough in the steam-saturated air to keep up with the fast-cooking crust

I could be entirely wrong about the effect of these items, but they do limit the baker’s control. Reducing the fan speed and switching to the bottom heat element were among the things I intuitively wanted to try in order to “fix” the overbrowning/underbaking problem, but they ended up not being viable solutions. That said, I have no scientific training and these are just my impressions. Hopefully those of you with more experience can correct me if I’m wrong. 

After reaching out to Anova Customer Service and waiting days for a reply, I was advised to reduce the oven temp (no direction as to how much) and tent the loaf if it appeared to be browning too fast. I already thought of tenting, but their marketing material promises “no hack”  bread baking and, frankly, fiddling with foil in the small, hot, and steamy oven cavity does not appeal to me. They also referred me to a Facebook page where some bakers were posting results with their own time and temperature combinations. Ultimately, it was the fb page and advice from everyday users like me that got my bakes in the ballpark. Based on other user experiences, I now reduce temperatures more than I’d have thought necessary (425°F) and dial the steam down to 70% – 75%. In this scenario, I turn the steam off after the crust sets and starts browning, but don’t vent it for another 5 minutes or so after that. Then I continue baking at the same temp without steam until done. This results in a dark brown crust and a tender, moist, but not under-baked, crumb. If you’re a person who prefers a lighter crust, you might have to resort to tenting. Over the next week, I’ll do more experiments with different hydrations and dough sizes (up to now I’ve been limiting my bakes to 700g). 

PROOFING

I’ve also tried using the oven for proofing dough and maintaining starter. I did this only to see how it would go because the oven seems like overkill for this purpose, especially considering that I already have a Brod & Taylor proofing box. The oven is supposed to maintain temp within 0.5°F in sous vide mode and I found that the oven actually fluctuates between 5°F – 10°F above the set point. There are reports online from users who say the oven doesn’t maintain temp at the low end of the sous vide range, and this sounds like an example of that. It seems to perform better at higher temps. I reached out to Anova customer service on Feb 11 to see if they could help me understand that, but I have not yet heard back. However, when I used the probe thermometer to sous vide some steaks, they came out really good, better in my opinion than steaks I’ve cooked sous vide using a water bath circulator. 

I’d be most interested in comparing notes from any other users out there. 

Two weeks ago, I thought I would return the oven for sure, but now I’m leaning toward keeping it. If I didn’t already own one, I would probably hold out for a while though. Anova does seem to be making adjustments based on user feedback, so I would expect subsequent iterations of the oven to be better. And now that I’m getting used to it, I’m finding there is a lot to like about the oven. I just wish Anova had dedicated at least a little bit of energy to supporting the consumer market that may not be familiar with the more practical aspects of using it. 

As an aside, I’ve had some issues with the physical oven: the water tank bowed and Anova put me on a waiting list for a replacement. Also, the pan buckled at high heat and they promised to send a replacement for that, too.

Comments

M2's picture
M2

Your experiences re: using the Anova Precision Oven for baking bread is spot on.  I have used this oven to bake my sourdough bread for over 20 times now, and every time I bake, I need to watch it like a hawk, keep adjusting the temperature, putting foil over my loaf or extending the normal bake time due to the reason you mentioned: dark crust but uncooked interior.

 

Having the steam function is great, and I think my bread got way more blisters from this oven than the regular one.  However, like I said to my husband, I've learned so many tips and tricks from this forum on how to create steam in a home oven, so I can live without this one.

Michelle

FLBaker's picture
FLBaker

Have made 5  sourdough bakes thus far- all using 100% whole wheat and like others have struggled to prevent the bread from browning too quickly. I now tent from the get go and use 425 degrees and figure I'll become more proficient over time. Although I purchased this mainly for bread baking, I am learning how to use the oven steam function for other bakes. Found making muffins at 40% steam produced a much more superior texture than my gas oven ever did. Baked cod with steam was restaurant worthy according to DH. Moving on to experiment with other foods using the steam function. 

Agree that customer support is slow. And " I just wish Anova had dedicated at least a little bit of energy to supporting the consumer market that may not be familiar with the more practical aspects of using it". Yes, yes, yes. Most of us who bake are scientists at heart but when using this oven I feel like donning a lab coat as I search for the cure of correct temp and steam mix. It would surely help to have a better road map from Anova.

But being able to set up the baking sequence from my phone - you can program steps - such as how much steam, when to reduce steam percentage or temp changes for timed steps in a bake is very convenient. So, while not happy with the tenting or the learning curve or lack of uniform, adequate information, feel that the oven will be worth the price over time.

Nancy

Another Girl's picture
Another Girl

Thanks for sharing your experiences. Frustrating, isn’t it? My return window closes at the end of the month so I have to decide very soon. My old gas oven, unfortunately, doesn’t hold any steam no matter what hacks are employed, and I believe I’ve tried them all. Another option would be a dual fuel range but my old house would probably need an upgrade in electrical service for that.

425dF seems to be the magic number for bread and I believe reducing the steam helped a lot too. The crust still gets pretty dark and I’m personally okay with that, but I know many people prefer a blonder crust. I'll try tenting, too. I've used a number of baking surfaces with it and found the GrateGriddle (or something like that, made by a company called GrillGrate) to be more effective than the heavier stones and steels. It does require the lower 425dF oven temp, though. Now that I more or less made up my mind to keep it, I'll begin experimenting with it for family meals. I didn’t want to gunk up the interior in case I returned it.

Maybe Anova should give ovens to a few of us to do their test bakes for them and write helpful hints for real world users. 

EDIT: I should add that I agree with Nancy about the convenience of using the app for staged cooks. I haven’t used that feature much because, like Michelle, I've been watching my bakes through the window and making adjustments on the fly. Now that I’m getting to the point where I can leave the kitchen when there's bread in the oven, I anticipate using that feature regularly. 

yozzause's picture
yozzause

 Hi AG, living in Australia i'm unfamiliar with these ovens but have used bench top  combi ovens, does your unit produce steam as in vapor form or does it rely on water drip feeding and turning to steam. I found with the Unox that i could start the oven at a higher temperature to offset the cooling effect of the water entering the chamber and stealing some of the oven heat in turning that into steam. Once i determined that the dough pieces had finished their spring and some colour was  starting i would dial back the temperature and cut off the steam / water. The Unox was also able to vent steam by a digital dial rather than opening the door.

 A point to remember is, and sorry we are on centigrade You might be baking at 210C but the water will be less than 100C (boiling point) when it becomes steam. Of course steam can be heated to much higher temperatures and even superheated where it has tremendous power as in steam engines, but for us it will be less than the oven temperature unless being heated from another source. Thats why steaming the oven has a cushioning effect when the dough piece meets the fierce heat of the oven allowing the surface of the dough to expand rapidly before it sets.

Is the temperature  reading correctly? 

kind regards Derek

Feedback to the oven maker should be able to suggest the merit of having a fan control, relatively easily fitted if it can be shown to be a distinct advantage.

I know the first time i used a large commercial combi oven in the restaurant kitchen when the old 2 door peel oven died just when i had stuff to bake. i was suprised by the force of the fan i thought it was going to blow the buns right off the tray, but they survived, The chefs shoed me that there was a control on that oven for the fan force!     

Another Girl's picture
Another Girl

Thank you very much for this, Derek.

The oven has an external water tank and relies on the drip method to create steam.  I admit to being confused about how to address from a practical standpoint what seems to be two "competing" factors – that steam effectively reduces the ambient temperature (because of the 150℃ differential in temperature between the air temp and the boiling point) and the fact that water/steam conducts heat much more efficiently than does air. I never thought to test the actual oven temp, but will pop an oven thermometer in there later today and get some readings. I'll update this post after I've done that.

In terms of baking process, I started out doing exactly as you suggest: starting the bake with high heat (482℉/250℃) and then, when the loaf seemed to have sprung up and was taking on color, turning off the steam and reducing temp. It wasn’t working, but I think that’s because the high fan was cooking the exterior way too fast. I am also beginning to think that I didn't reduce the oven temp nearly enough. I was dropping temps around 30℉-50℉, which would be 10℃ or less. Maybe I needed to take the temp lower that I thought.

Even considering the effects of steam, would it be incorrect to suspect that the fan is the biggest factor in the overcooked crust? I did ask Anova customer service about the fan, but they responded that the fans work they work and their variability can't be changed with software or firmware. Same thing for the low maximum temp (356℉/180℃) of the bottom heating element. I suspect that these kinds of baking requirements are peculiar to us bread makers and we represent a small enough portion of their user base for this not to be a priority.

After all this, I hope your point didn't fly right over my head, but it's possible... Apologies if I missed it! And thanks again.

yozzause's picture
yozzause

Hi AG i have had another thought when the catering college got these new UNOX baker top ovens i was a bit sceptical but can tell you i fell in love with them especially compared to the old 2 deck  oven which was very unreliable and took ages to heat up. The Unox and i think they are marketed as Cadco in the states heated up a 1 degree a second. i only had one occassion when i found their limit and that was when i filled the oven with trays  of Cinnamon Scrolls and the mass of cold dough was to much, but i was able to take half out to allow the airflow and put them in the second identical oven. The Chefs loved them as they could do steamed puddings etc. If you look up past posts from Varda and myself she  went for a Cadco when she was expanding her business   and has gone on to much bigger and better things.     i just found this but there are more

https://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/36032/my-new-cadco-ovenw

Interestingly i have just thislast week been in contact with Dablues via PM  when she asked for the fig scroll dough recipe and although the above post dates back to 2013 could prove of interest i also picked up on mention of "deflector plates"  Just use the search and put in Varda you will get hours of interesting dialog   you can also check out yozzause / derek some interesting stuff too over the years

kind regards Derek

Another Girl's picture
Another Girl

Derek, I'm so grateful for your experience and assistance! I found many steam-related posts on TFL, but never having heard of Cadco, I don't think I've seen those particular ones. I'm sure I missed others, too. I will look up the posts you referenced. Interesting that you mentioned deflector plates. I was wondering if such a thing existed and figured I'd have to ask my husband to doctor something up for me. It sounds better than messing around with foil. 

Thanks for the tips, much appreciated!

–AG

headupinclouds's picture
headupinclouds

Thanks for this detailed write-up. I have a couple of questions.

  • How is the insulation and door seal in this oven? (I realize this is difficult to answer quantitatively, but I'm curious about any high-level impressions.)
  • How fast is the preheat? (Do you have the baking steel?)

I've started looking into countertop ovens to make bread baking in our small NYC apartment more feasible throughout the late spring to early fall period.  Our current cheap and leaky gas oven heats up our apartment considerably by the time temperatures stabilize to 450-500F (the baking stone and DO/Challenger exacerbate this).  While space is limited, I have started thinking about countertop options that would be better insulated for the small volume required to bake a single loaf of bread.  I was originally looking at the Rofco B5, which seems to have excellent insulation and would appear to last a lifetime, but the Anova Precision seems like an interesting option that might get more overall use for general baking, although I don't expect the same kind of longevity or degree of insulation -- especially given the full glass door on the Anova.  I haven't seen any quantitative measures to help compare the insulation properties of these ovens, so I was curious about general impressions.

 

Another Girl's picture
Another Girl

Apologies for my tardiness. I haven't checked this thread in a week or so. I have never noticed any steam leaking out of the oven chamber. and the seal seems strong for now. (Initially, I thought I noticed some steam accumulating between the glass panes in the door, but Customer Service told me that would stop and it did.) I'm less sure about its long-term durability, but I expect it to last a while. The build quality is decent, not great. I always open and close the door with one hand on the door handle and one hand on the oven, mainly because the display is on the handle and I don't want to loosen any of that wiring, but also to minimize overall impact. I feel like it wouldn't take a lot of careless door slamming to make the housing a little shaky. The oven heats quickly, but it also loses heat very quickly when you open the door.

I have a generic steel purchased from eBay that is made specifically to fit as a shelf inside the APO. I also have the 10" x10" Mini Griddle make by Baking Steel, a generic pizza stone, a Fibrament stone, and the bottom of a Challenger pan. Out of all those, the bottom of the challenger pan worked best for me. My breads were not baking through with the steels and stones and the bottoms of the loaves always came out very blonde. Right or wrong, I attributed this to poor air/heat circulation beneath the baking surface. Based on some posts at #anovafoodnerds fam on Facebook, I bought a GrillGrate Griddle that works better for me. However, I can't attribute the results solely to the baking surface because I reduced the oven temp and steam settings at the same time I started using the GrillGrate Griddle. I've never tried the "new" oven settings with the heavier baking surfaces I'd used previously. The GrillGrate Griddle with the adjusted settings worked, so I stuck with it. After 3 months of test bakes, I guess I had enough experiments for a while, haha!

I would love to own a Rofco, but I'm sure it has a learning curve too. The APO does a very nice job with family meals, too. For $600, I don't feel like any money was wasted, but I also don't think it's quite the bread bakers dream it has been marketed as being.

headupinclouds's picture
headupinclouds

Thanks for the follow-up.  I'm going to think about this a little longer and have another couple of months before I have to stop baking in the apartment.  I baked much of last summer in the Waring 1/4 size oven we have in our small summer cabin and was surprised how well it did with hearth loaves.  It has a solid build but I didn't get the impression the insulation was particularly good.  I might temporarily relocate that for some test bakes to start with.

FLBaker's picture
FLBaker

I did order the baking steel that is now manufactured for this oven - will receive sometime this month.  Will also use it in my main gas oven and the smaller size/weight should make it easier to handle.

As far as how long it takes to preheat - I can say it is at least twice as fast as my Samsung gas oven. Samsung  oven is so slow  to heat up - it is about 4 years old -that I can get caught up doing other things while I wait -  not so much  with the Anova. Maybe company has some specs on this.

The question about the door is a good one. Haven't had a problem with it and steam doesn't leak out around the door. Kitchen also doesn't heat up using the Anova.

Don't think you can compare this oven to a Rofco. The Anova is a compact car with some bells and whistles built for a small family while the Rofco is an off-road 4 wheel drive for a full house. IMHO 

The company did send me a much nicer than expected replacement pan and a new water tank that I had not requested. Still like the oven a lot. Still experimenting with steam/temp/time.

FLBaker's picture
FLBaker

I did order the baking steel that is now manufactured for this oven - will receive sometime this month.  Will also use it in my main gas oven and the smaller size/weight should make it easier to handle.

As far as how long it takes to preheat - I can say it is at least twice as fast as my Samsung gas oven. Samsung  oven is so slow  to heat up - it is about 4 years old -that I can get caught up doing other things while I wait -  not so much  with the Anova. Maybe company has some specs on this.

The question about the door is a good one. Haven't had a problem with it and steam doesn't leak out around the door. Kitchen also doesn't heat up using the Anova.

Don't think you can compare this oven to a Rofco. The Anova is a compact car with some bells and whistles built for a small family while the Rofco is an off-road 4 wheel drive for a full house. IMHO 

The company did send me a much nicer than expected replacement pan and a new water tank that I had not requested. Still like the oven a lot. Still experimenting with steam/temp/time.

headupinclouds's picture
headupinclouds

Thank you for your response.  Your input is helpful.  I realize they are quite different animals, although the Rofco B5 and Anova Precision actually share a similar outer volume, with different layouts.

Anova Precision:

Exterior (W,D,H): 22.4 x 17.7 x 14.1 in

Rofco B5:

Exterior (WxDxH) 14.6 x 23.6 x 17.3 in

I'm sure both will reduce heat in our apartment, by virtual of their smaller volumes and tighter seals alone.  The Rofco B5 literature explicitly boasts about insulation:

Structurally, the Rofco oven gets its form and strength from a robust stainless steel cabinet, and a half-ton of extra stone mass is now replaced by the marvel of rock wool insulation. Made by spinning fibers from molten minerals, rock wool resists temperatures of over 2000° F. (hotter than your Rofco will get!) and has great insulating efficiency. Thick, high density rock wool insulation board fills the walls and door of the Rofco oven, keeping heat contained in the thick stone baking surfaces of the oven where it works its wonders on your bread and other baked goods.

It is also 3x the cost of the AP.

day1's picture
day1

I had similar issues in dialing in the bake, although I do like dark crusts I quickly found that taking 30-50 degrees off "normal" cooking temps with the rear convection led to more desirable results.

My remaining problem is getting the loaves to give a decent ear on the score.  I have been using 100% steam and will now experiment with reduced steam.  As an experiment I used a cast iron dutch oven on my last bake without any steam and the ear was back.  So it doesn't seem like I magically lost the shaping formula when the Anova showed up.

I think the oven is extremely good at cooking things like fish and worked beautifully on high-adjunct dinner rolls and hamburger buns.  It is very fast to heat up and therefore uses less energy which is a good thing.  

I ordered a FibraMent baking stone which I am happy with.  You can custom fit it to something like 1/2” x 11 1/4” x 14 ⅞  with one cut (or maybe they offer a standard one by now, I've had it since December).  I may order the steel though.

The oven occasionally gets confused if you change the program manually midstream, so you do need to watch it.  It also fell off my wi-fi once.  The shelves are flimsy and the pan they ship with it is only useful for descaling as it will pretzel like crazy under high heat.  Other than that I am happy with the oven and use it just about every day.

I'll report back if I get my ears back!