First bake in new gas oven / getting the crust just right
Hi everyone! I've been baking artisan/sourdough bread for a little over 5 years now, but my wife and I just moved into our first house, which the seller was nice enough to put a brand new gas range/oven in. Previously I had done all my baking in electric ovens, so I read several posts on TFL about gas ovens and was a bit intimidated by the difficulties that they can present. Luckily, I was able to apply the tips y'all provided and get pretty good results on my first try, so this post is a big thank you to everyone here! That said, it isn't quite perfect yet, so I would like some feedback to see what I can do differently.
My old setup in the electric oven was this:
- a custom baking steel made by a welder friend to leave about 1" of space around the edges of the oven, placed on a rack on the third slot from the bottom
- an aluminum baking pan (~9"×13") filled with lava rocks on a rack on the bottom slot
- preheat oven to 500°F for 1 hr before loading loaves
- immediately before loading loaves, plug vent below controls with a cotton towel
- after loading loaves, squirt water liberally onto lava rocks with an old honey bottle, then close oven door and reduce temp to 350°F
- bake with steam for 20 minutes, then release steam, increase temp to 425°F, and bake for another 30 minutes
When I'm only baking 2 loaves at a time, the crust comes out really crispy, but I've started selling at a farmers market and the reason I got the custom baking steel was to fit 4 loaves in the oven at the same time. When I bake 4 loaves, even though I get good color the crusts are very soft, and bend without any sound rather than cracking. In addition to testing my ability to steam the gas oven, I wanted to a) bring back the crispy crust, and b) see if I could reduce the total bake time to 40 minutes so that it doesn't take as long to bake for the market.
When I did my first bake in the gas oven, this was the setup:
- I usually bake sourdough, but for convenience with this test I used commercial yeast - I will be testing a bigger batch with sourdough in the next few days
- same baking steel in the same position
- switched aluminum pan for 10" cast iron skillet, which fits fewer lava rocks, but I figure the increased heat capacity of the pan makes up for it
- preheated to 500°F with convection for 1 hr
- before loading loaves, I turned the oven off and plugged the vent below the controls with a cotton towel
- after loading the loaves, I used a funnel to dump about 1.5 cups water onto the lava rocks with the oven door mostly closed
- baked with steam (oven off) for 20 minutes, then increased the temp to 450°F without convection and baked for another 20 minutes
- I wasn't satisfied with the color after 20 minutes, so I left them for another 10 minutes (so much for reduced baking time)
The crust was definitely crispy, but now I'm wondering if I even want it to be crispy because it was thicker and tougher (thus harder to bite in a sandwich) than I've been used to lately.
Any advice or comments would be appreciated. Thanks!