oven SPRING!

I ended my last post with the word “mostly.” Meaning that my loaf “mostly” rose. Everything went according to plan until I slid the dough into the oven. Now what’s supposed to happen is that the dough rises rapidly in the hot oven, giving it that last lift and nice round top. This is not just an aesthetic – it’s the difference between airy texture and dense texture. Sadly Sourdough #1 never got it’s oven spring.

As ever, the question is why?
I have a few theories. First of all I used entirely whole wheat. I think that was overly ambitious on my part. Whole wheat is inevitably heavier than white flour and therefore rises a bit less. Secondly, I think my oven was too hot. Maybe you noticed that my crust looked a bit…um….dark? It’s basically on hairy edge of burnt. I think what happened is the crust hardened so quickly from the heat that the bread couldn’t rise any more. And also my cuts were fairly shallow – you can see from the picture that they really filled in with the wee oven spring I did get.

When I baked the next weekend I went for white flour. Or, more specifically, I went for a flour that Dan Leader (of Bread Alone fame) calls “20% bran.” Basically this means that the flour has all of the germ and 20% as much bran as a whole wheat flour has. You can’t buy this flour in the store but I easily mixed it according to Dan’s recipe: 3 cups of white flour, 3 tablespoons wheat germ, and 1 cup whole wheat flour. I also made much deeper cuts before the loaves went into the open around 1/2″ or 1″. Here is the very happy result!

oven spring!

oven spring!

This one was a joy to eat!

The other thing I did was buy some kitchen toys: a baking stone, a dough scraper, and a thermometer. My baking stone is supposed to create a better crust and better oven spring but I didn’t notice a difference. I think one of the problems is that I don’t have a peel to slide the bread onto the stone. The dough stuck to my metal baking sheet (which was doused in flour) and I may have lost some lift while struggling to transfer it to the stone. Mostly I used the dough scraper for clean up, but it’s also the perfect tool for dividing the dough into two halves. Regarding the thermometer, I’m trying to keep my rising stages at a steady 78-80 degrees. The thermometer is also useful at the end of the baking period when I measure the temperature inside the loaf – if it’s around 212 degrees I take it out of the oven, but let it cool before cutting in because the bread continues to bake even after it leaves the oven!  Here’s my thermometer in action:

thermometer in action

thermometer in action - slightly high at 81 degrees

Despite my oven spring this loaf still had a fairly even texture. That’s fine for sandwiches but I prefer bread ripped from the loaf and doused in olive oil so my next goal is to figure out how to to create those rustic breads with large uneven airholes.

6 responses to “oven SPRING!

  1. Research is good…

    Here’s the link to the orignal slow-rise recipe that was adapted by the New York Times — http://www.sullivanstreetbakery.com/recipes/noknead.html. For reasons I don’t understand, the Times version uses more water, which just makes the dough harder to handle. I make this in a square, covered Corning casserole, and it comes out just fine. Lots of holes, artisan style.

    For most bread recipes that use white flour, you can substitute whole wheat flour for up to 1/3 of it. Depending on other ingredients, you may be able to use up to 1/2 whole wheat. If you do want to use all whole wheat, try adding gluten to it, then knead it an extra-long time. It’s not going to be light and airy, but it will be less dense than it might have been. Bob’s Red Mill and Arrowhead Mills both package gluten, and many supermarkets have it in their baking aisle.

    And about that baking stone — don’t rush out and buy a peel. If you take your bread out of its pan 5 to 10 minutes before it’s done and place it directly on the stone, you’ll have a great crust. It won’t do anything for the oven spring, but I think the difference you’d get if you used the peel to place the dough directly on the stone is overrated.

    Just have fun with it…

    • I’ve recently been on a similar quest to Liz’, with some varied results. Here’s what I’ve learned lately:
      -some things about that no-knead bread recipe are really good, but not all. I feel like moving the dough to the preheated dutch oven kills a lot of that carefully, patiently cultivated lofty crumb. I’m going to try doing the second rise directly in the dutch oven, then baking it. Your travails are my travails, seeking that airy crubm with a nice crust that I just can'[t seem to get.
      -Is that starter I gave you working out for you? I’ve kept the same starter going for about four months now. It works, but certainly more slowly than most bread recipes say it should go. I got great flavor recently by letting it rise for four or five hours, then doing another rise overnight. That was some yummy soudough flavor. When I’ve mde the bread rise too fast, it doesn’t get that nice flavor and can be a little bland.
      – I have a paving stone in my oven now. I’m not sure how much it does for me, but my crusts have been pretty good. It does seem to spread the heat out pretty well.
      -another thing I tried recently for the crust is brushing the stuff with a little egg before baking it. Gives it a beautiful golden color.

  2. do you export? 🙂 i’m sick of my breadmaker and all we got here is pre-sliced crap and what they like to call the ‘french stick’. might join the handmade revolution though. any idea what effect very hard water has on the rising and baking processes, as opposed to NY’s soft water? or any tips where i might find that info.?

    • Just use filtered water. Even though NYC tap water is supposedly pretty good I use filtered water to make sure there aren’t any traces of chlorine or other disinfectants that kill bacteria and yeast. I have a filter system attached to my faucet – that’s a little more expensive than your standard pitcher-system but you don’t have to fill anything and wait, which is nice. Sorry, no exports, especially not to questionable nations like Great Britain! 😉

    • Angarade has it right.

      New York City water works well not so much because it’s soft, but because it’s not chlorinated. It’s naturally filtered, which is not the case for most other water supplies.

      When I moved out of NYC, my sourdough results were mixed until I bought an on-faucet filtering system. It works like a charm.

      Long Island Newsday recently had a column in its food section on just this issue. Here’s the link:


      And yes, I admit it, it’s my letter from which the writer is quoting. I’ve had my 15 minutes of fame.

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