Ovens and crusts


My first couple of loaves split and tore well beyond the slashes I made in the dough. For my most recent loaf I filled a pan with water while the oven was heating then put another cup of boiling water in th pan and sprayed the sides of the oven when I put the loaf in. No splitting this time but the loaf didn't brown as well as previously and the crust was thin and soft. Does that mean I over did the steam? Or do I need the oven hotter?

I had been starting the oven at 230 and reducing every 10 mins. I now have an oven themometer and my oven is about 20 degrees hotter than the dial.


Adding new photo

309 users have voted.


farinam's picture
farinam 2012 January 6

Hello redrich,

You should take the steam generator out after about 10-15 minutes.

If, as you say, your oven temp reading is 20C low then your oven should be well hot enough.

Let us know how you go.


redrich2000 2012 January 6

Okay, that seems to have worked better. My loaf browned well and had a better crust. Still not good as I'd like. Farinam, have you seen the northwest sourdough site? Her technique is 30 mins and 450 degrees, first half covered with a baking dish, seconf half uncovered. It seems to produce a very crusty loaf, maybe too crusty. Anyway, I was wondering whether you'd tried that and how the result would compare to your lower temp method?

farinam's picture
farinam 2012 January 6

Hello redrich,

Cooking under a cloche (basin/bakingdish) is a good method to ensure a nice steamy environment without messing with the water bath.  The cover has to be heated with the oven which brings its own set of handling problems.  I have used the method (see one of my earlier blogs that includes a photo).  Getting a suitable cover can be a problem particularly for long slender loaves such as batarde or baguette.  There has been some discussion on this topic elsewhere.

Keep on bakin'


redrich2000 2012 January 15

Just adding a photo of my latest loaf. As you can see I have a banneton now. I also have a lame.

This time I used a hotter oven, started at around 260 then reduced with lots of steam using a spray and ice on a tray for the first 15 mins. 40mins baking in total. I got a better crust this time. Its still cooling so will have to see how it is inside.

I keep getting these flattened out slashes with no gringe (is that the right term?). I'm not sure if I cut deep enough, tried to get the angle right and the blade is curved, but still its flattened out.


farinam's picture
farinam 2012 January 15

Hello redrich,

It's 'grigne' pronounced green-ya actually.

Gringe is what we used to call Green Ginger Wine years and years ago /;-{)}

As with so many things, it is probably practice that you want.  It does help if you can get an undercut rather than a simple vertical slash. 

I think the effect that you are looking for requires a good strong dough.  If the dough is too soft or slack, then the dough can 'flow' to fill the gap rather than staying open and puckering up so to speak.  There's actually something of a balancing act between having a strong enough dough and forming a proto-crust plus getting the oven spring without the loaf splitting.

Just hope you can wait long enough for the loaf to cool completely (and longer if possible).

I am being tempted just by the baking smells wafting through the house at the moment.


redrich2000 2012 January 16

I will have a look at the various stuff suggested above. I was disappointed with the loaf again. The crust, though a little darker was still very thin and soft, not remotely crisp. The whole loaf is very soft and a bit chewey, especially the bottom. I'm not really sure what to adjust at this point.

farinam's picture
farinam 2012 January 16

Hi redrich,

Don't despair, that loaf doesn't look too bad.  I think that you just need more practice.

I recollect that you use a gas oven and I recall from one of the links that I gave you earlier that there were some comments about the differences in heat characteristics of gas ovens.  Perhaps it would be worth revisiting that to see if it gives any more leads.

I am not sure what recipe you are using these days, the this photo shows a loaf I baked yesterday using the formula that you talked about a while back with 65% hydration.


I hope that this will inspire you to keep going.


redrich2000 2012 January 16

Farinam could you run through your process with timings for that loaf?

You're in Melbourne correct? So temperatures should be similar to Sydney.

I'm wondering whether I am creating too much steam. Some of my earlier loaves burst open much more then my current efforts, much more like yours pictured above. For the most recent bake, I put about 4 ice cubes on a tray while the oven was pre-heating, then when I put the loaf in I through a few more ice cubes in and spayed the sides of the oven. Then after 10 mins I sprayed again. I revoved the water tray after 15 mins. I am a bit confused, the technique of covering the loaf for the first 15 mins is meant to produce a good crust, and in the videos on the North West site she gets excellent crusts. But in seems logical that more moisture would lead to a softer crust?

farinam's picture
farinam 2012 January 16

Hi redrich,

Saturday evening 2200 generated starter - 90g of stock (100% hydration) plus 45g bread flour plus 45g water.

Sunday 0730 mixed dough 100g wholemeal, 400g bread flour, 300g water plus starter.

0815 mixed in 10g salt. 0830 stretch and fold. 0930 S&F, 1030 S&F, 1130 S&F.

1220 preshape, 1240 shape to batarde onto rye dredged cloth into basket and into big plastic bag to prove.

Checked at intervals for rise and readiness.  Room temp was about 18-19C throughout (maybe a bit lower during the night and early morning).

1445 turned oven on 250C. 1625 added boiling water to dish in oven.  Turned out loaf onto baking paper, slashed and peeled into oven 1635.  Baked 10 mins - reduced temp to 220C. 12 minutes from start removed steam and baking paper.  20 minutes from start temperature set to 200C.  30 minutes from start temperature reduced to 180C.  After 40minutes, oven off and door set ajar for 5+ minutes.  Removed loaf.

That's it.

You have to keep in mind that this can be a guide only and will depend on your particular starter and ambient conditions.  As I recall the timeline is probably not much different from one that SourDom published.

On the topic of steam, I think that if you have steamy conditions throughout you will get a softer crust.  Because the gas oven is more ventilated (necessary for the flame), I think that you would need a more consistent steam source that perhaps you have got.  It might be worth considering trying the technique of steaming with the gas off and oven sealed outlined in the link that I sent you or if you are going to spray, do it more frequently.  The problem with that is heat loss opening the door though the stone should help to stabilise that a bit.  I'm not sure about the Heath-Robinson water dosing system that one of the bloggers was using but he did speak very highly of its effectiveness.

Hang in there.


redrich2000 2012 January 16

Couple more questions... during the S&F phase, where do you leave your dough and are you using olive oil to prevent sticking at this stage? Second, are you just stretching and folding into three in each direction at each interval?


My oven is vented and I don't have a suitable pot or lid to use to steam under. I guess I will have to try more regular spraying or perhaps sealing the with the oven off. The temperature doesn't seem to drop too much when I open the door so maybe that will work.

farinam's picture
farinam 2012 January 16

Hi redrich,

I put the dough back into the basin  and cover the basin with clingwrap. 

I don't use anything, just the bare bench. 

Stretch to a rectangle maybe between A4 and A5 in size, fold top long side one third over middle third, then the bottom long side up over the double layer.  Then the same from right and left.  You end up with something that is roughly spherical.  Back into the bowl fold side down.

What about a baking dish with water?

Keep on bakin'


redrich2000 2012 January 17

So latest loaf added at the top. I used the Fred Bread recipe on this one. Preferment sat for about 18 hours. Mixed and autolysed for 30 mins then gave it three S&Fs over an hour. Bulk fermented for about 2.5 hours under cling wrap in an esky. Then shaped and prooved for another 90 mins in the esky. Into the oven with water in a pan next to the loaf (instead of beneath the stone) and sprayed every 3 mins for first 12 mins. Then steam out.

The crust is much harder this time. However I've not gotten much oven spring.

The issues I want to work on are prooving time and the texture of the dough.

My feeling is this loaf might be over-prooved (is that the right spelling?). The loaf that got the best oven spring, which bloomed and split, I bulked for 90m then prooved for 60. That seems so short though? I also used more starter than the recipe in my preferment. Scaled down it called for 1g which was very difficult to get, I had about 2-3g, don't know whether that would have an effect.

On the dough texture, almost all my doughss have been quite tough, even after autolyse and several S&Fs the dough tears when I stretch it. I don't think I would ever get the window pane. The final dough is rarely smooth. I'm not really sure what I'm doing wrong in this respect.

farinam's picture
farinam 2012 January 17

Hello redrich,

First, don't be too concerned about your spelling, we all know what you mean.  If you want to be pedantic, if you use the 'v' then there probably should be only one 'o' - if you use the 'f' then two 'o'.

You said you scaled the recipe.  Can you tell us exactly the weight of flour and water that you used for the preferment and for the dough?

Also give us the type of flour used?

My impression is that the dough is fairly low hydration and would like to check exactly what it was.

In my experience, the dough will be 'ragged' and have a tendency to 'tear' for the first S&F but often by the second and certainly by the third it is quite ductile and will stretch without tearing.  By the fourth, it generally resists stretching and wants to spring back almost to its original shape.

I don't think the amount of starter that you added to the pre-ferment would have been of any significance.

I notice that you also finished your bulk ferment and final proof in an esky.  Was the esky cold or was it just an enclosure?

Your crusts look remarkably pale.  This suggests that there is a lack of 'sugar' formation to give browning or that your oven temperature is not up to scratch.  I know that you said that you had checked the temperature but there was also a bit of confusion between fahrenheit and celsius so just be sure that you are baking at 200+/-C and not 200+/-F.

On the dough development front, I would consider spreading your S&Fs through the preferment stage and perhaps extend it a bit to give an extra S&F along the lines of the schedule that I gave you earlier.  I would also consider a longer proving stage - 90 minutes seems a bit short in the scheme of things.  I would be thinking of at least doubling that and maybe more.  As I have said before, you have to pay attention to what the dough is telling you and not be bound by timelines that happen to suit somebody else.  Let it sit there, apply the 'poke' test, if it goes too far - learn by the mistake.

Hang in there.


redrich2000 2012 January 17

Okay so 'prove/proof' is the same as its regular useage, makes sense now

Here's the recipe...


175g wholemeal flour (Kialla); 306g water; 3g starter


275g white flour (Kialla)

450g preferment (there was supposed to be 480 but I lost some weight, perhaps on the sides of the jar)

No more water.


I put an ice brick in the esky for about an hour before using it, but took it out when I put the dough in. Its warm in Sydney at the moment. I have been trying the poke test, when I poked the dough today the indent stayed in the dough and didn't fill in.

On the loaf colour, that might in part be caused by the flour from the banneton, although I did brush it off as best I could. I lost some temperature spraying the oven, but it was still around 190-200 C, then higher later in the bake.


farinam's picture
farinam 2012 January 17

Hi redrich,

One possibility is the higher proportion of wholemeal flour that you used.

First, the whole meal flour is 'thirstier' than white flour and generally requires more water (higher hydration) to get the same dough consistency.  Yours was nominally 68%.

Second, the bran and wheat germ in the wholemeal also has the effect of weakening the gluten to some degree just by physically interfering with the continuity of the structure.

Perhaps try repeating the exercise with just the white flour in the pre-ferment until you get it right.  Later you can go back to adding the wholemeal and adjust the hydration to compensate.

Maybe also try working with just the steam bath rather than losing heat through repeated opening of the door to spray.  You just need to have the water in sufficiently before the loaf to make sure that there is plenty of steam before the loaf goes in.  That is why I add boiling water 5/10 minutes before, though you do have to be careful as it spits and splutters a fair bit.

Let us know how you go.


redrich2000 2012 January 17

Okay, that's good to know about the wholemeal. The flavour of this loaf was excellent, very sour, the Fred Bread technique is definitely a winner for adding sourness. The crumb was too dense though. Also, the pale colour was definitely the rye flour from the banneton, in the spaces where there is no flour it is nicely brown.

The crust is better, thicker but still a bit soft. I think with my oven I am going to need a lid to get sufficient steam without losing heat. I am looking out for something to use as a lid.

davo 2012 January 19

I skim-read this so may be a little off mark, but here's a few thoughts.

Your levain is a fairly big proportion of your final dough, but your starter in your pre-ferment is a tiny proportion. Now, maybe that is necessary because 18 hours is a long time for that to ferment. If it happens to get away pretty actively, maybe the gluten that is present in that 175 g of flour in the pre-ferment stage is pretty well degraded by the time it is mixed with the 275 g of flour that goes in at the bread dough stage. And maybe that's why it's a little prone to tearing. Of course, maybe it has nothing to do with that.

You could consider putting a fair bit more starter in the preferment and fermenting it for a fair bit less time. Also, I notice that your proof time after shaping (1-1.5 hrs) is (to my thinking) very short. Again, maybe this is necessary, because you have 18 hour fermented "pre-ferment" going into your bread dough, and a lot of it. Any longer and you may be overproved. I would tend to go for a smaller pre-ferment, and add more of that flour into the bread dough. This hopefully will allow you to knead/fold/shape with more resilient dough (it's not 95% of the way to baking and has a bit more gluten that hasn't degraded). Then you prove a bit longer than you have before baking.

On the oven thing, crust beauty is in the eye of the beholder. My kids prefer a thin and not-too- chewy crust. If you want thick, dry crunchy/chewy, you need to bake more thoroughly. (People talk of thin and crunchy, and my experience is that you can get it but it won't last - if it's a thin crust, as the moisture in the loaf equalises out - that thin crust will soften.) And remember, gas combustion produces water (CH4 + O2 produces CO2 certainly, but also H2O!), so a gas oven is a moist oven while it's burning. I changed to an electric for this reason when our old gas one died. I got a gas cooktop though. Also if you bake super hot the whole time it will brown very fast   but still be wet inside. So maybe go for very hot to start, then turn down (I think you do this anyway) until it's about the right colour, then turn off and leave the loaf in for another 15 minutes or so. It won't brown much further, but will cook through a little more, and evaporate off some of the moisture in the loaf. This will give a drier crust that won't soften so much during cooling. It should actually feel noticeably lighter after that extra time ( my loaves lose well over 100 g during baking!). Part of this will be just the extra time, but also the oven will "dry out" while the gas is off.

On over under prove - the biggest oven spring is not necessarily the best. An under proved loaf will spring the most, and split, and be dense! You want the biggest overall rise from proving AND oven spring, not just the most oven spring. An over proved loaf will struggle to brown as there's little left to caramelise.

My 2c.

redrich2000 2012 January 20

Keeping this epic thread going, although I am haunted by Farinams beautiful loaf every time I see it...

I used the Fred Bread recipe again. I was a little short of preferment when it came time to make the dough again so I added a little water. Whether for that reason or Davo's suggestion about gluten degradation, the dough remained sticky and oozy. It stuck to everything. I was contrained with times today but extended both the bulk ferment and proving. I still got little oven spring.

The other issue is the coloration. The photo posted above shows the side of the loaf. You can see there is a strip that has browned perfectly but the bulk of the loaf is discoloured. It may be flour from the banneton, but it is quite uniform across the loaf. Is this a common problem with using a flour drenched banneton?

farinam's picture
farinam 2012 January 20

HI redrich,

Perhaps you have seen my post on the Fred Bread thread.  In summary, I, too, got a very soft sticky dough that I put down to 'failure' of the gluten in the pre-ferment which was important because the preferment contained such a large proportion of the flour in the dough - pretty much a Davo said.  It is early days yet but I will test the idea further to try to work out exactly what does go on.

Davo also makes the point that oven spring isn't the be all and end all of a good loaf, it has to be a combination of rising during proving and spring in the oven.  The scoring of the loaf and the conditions in the oven contribute to this effect.

Browning of the loaf is down to caramelisation of sugars left in the dough ( as Davo also said) but if they are protected from the heat by excessive flour you might end up with a less brown result.  If this is worrying you, you could try brushing off excess flour before scoring and baking.  To contribute to your other browning question, I have not heard of oil being used for that purpose.  Egg wash, which probably supplies protein, and milk wash, which would supply sugars of various sorts are used in some recipes but I think you are better to try to get the natural browning going rather than trying to induce it artificially.  I think I have also read of a brine wash being used as well.

According to one of my references, pale crust colour can be caused by -

Overmature dough,

Baking temperature too low,

Lack of salt,

Excessive steam in oven,

Insufficient yeast

Actually your loaf looks pretty good to me.



redrich2000 2012 January 23

I wonder whether the high % of flour in the preferment in the Fred Bread recipe also results in less sugars in the final dough because the starter has had time to consume them (i read something along these lines somewhere else). That is turn could explain the ghosting of the crust?

Anyway, I want to try the Fred Bread with an adjustment. If I just half the amount of flour in the preferment and add it to the final dough, all the ratios and hydration should remain the same right?

That will result in a very runny preferment will that cause a problem? I will preferment for less time as well.

farinam's picture
farinam 2012 January 23

Hello redrich,

Personally, I would advise sticking with one simple recipe and bake it several times until you get it right.  Either stick with Fred Bread as is or go back to the Pane francesa recipe that you started with.  LeadDogs Fred Bread (and mine) browned just fine.

If you keep chasing fairies you will end up running around the garden forever.

At most, get yourself something that is suitable for you to use as a cloche to get the early baking humidity right.  Plus experiment a bit with higher oven temperatures.

Keep on bakin'.


redrich2000 2012 January 24

The main reason for thinking of adjusting the Fred Bread was to make the dough more manageable. I am trying to get to a point where I am producing bread that is decent with a manageable process. Once I get that I will definitely stick to it and work on my tecnique. The Fred Bread has given me the best flavour by far, so I want keep using a preferment, but with a less sticky dough, hence adding less flour into the preferment and more into the dough.

farinam's picture
farinam 2012 January 24

Hi redrich,

Perhaps I misunderstood what you were on about, I thought it was to do with getting your bread to brown/form a crust.

If it is dough handling properties that is the problem, then Fred Bread might not be the way to go.  Although I have only had one attempt so far (the next one under way), LeadDog also commented on the potentailly more fragile characteristic of the dough that the recipe produces.

I will update on how my second Fred Bread goes in the next day or so.


redrich2000 2012 January 25

Another day another Fred Bread... very happy with this one out of the oven. It has browned much better, sprung through the slash much better and still seems to have a good crust. There is even almost a sort of grigne. The interestinging thing about this one is I stuffed up the preferment a bit, I hit the tare button after adding the water and saw it hadn't reset too late to abort the first scoop of flour. So from that point on I wasn't as careful as I might have been but have still gotten my best result. I am very happy about that because I was finding the intricacies and trying to get everything perfect was taking some of the joy out of the process. Anyway, onto what I did this time...

The preferment went 24 hours. It was very dormant by the time of the batter, my starter seems super fast and seems to go through the three phases in a few hours. But it doesn't seem to impact the loaf too much.

The dough was very wet and sticky again. Because I wasn't being too careful this time, I used a lot of flour when handling it, which was much easier than using oil. I autolysed for about 40 mins, then mixed the salt and gave it a really rough stretch and fold. Then left for an hour and floured and stretched and folded again (the dough had already almost doubled by this time!). Left if for another hour then shaped it (more of a torpedo this time) and into the banneton in a plastic bag and into the fridge.

Next morning took it out and left at room temp for about an hour, turned out, slashed and into the oven.

I used less steam this time. I still had a tray of water and sprayed when I put it in but then I left it for 12 mins at about 260. Then took the water out and left it at 260 for 9 mins, then 9 mins at 240, then 5 mins a 210. So it seems the ghosting of the crust I was getting was due to too much steam. Now to work on my shaping...

farinam's picture
farinam 2012 January 25

Hello redrich,

Looking good. 

It does seem to be a characteristic of the long high hydration pre-ferment that the dough characteristic is quite different from normal - in my experience so far at any rate.  I am in the middle of making one with the pre-ferment time half of what I had on the first and the dough showed signs of being difficult to handle normally.  As a result, I have persisted with retarded development and the dough strength seems to be developing quite well as the S&F's progress.  After shaping I am planning to prove at RT, mainly becuase I need to get the loaf baked earlier rather than later.

No looking back now.


Post Reply

Already a member? Login