Hints and tips

Steam!  One of the advantages of a commercial bread oven is the ability to inject steam into the oven and, at a later stage, remove the steam.  This creates a nicely coloured, crisp crust because the water/steam solubilises the sugars in the surface of the bread and the heat caramelizes them.  Enough of the science.  How to replicate in a domestic oven?  Lots of ideas here: http://www.thefreshloaf.com/lessons/tentips_1_steam (and a great web site for amateur bakers) but what works for me is:

placing an old, shallow but wide baking tray in the bottom of the oven and pouring water into this as the oven heats up (another advantage of this solution, especially if the pan fills the bottom of the oven, is that it catches any drips from loaves etc and keeps the oven floor clean!)

spraying the loaves and interior of the oven with water when I place the loaves in the oven (a small garden sprayer is ideal).

Theoretically you should remove the tray of water half to two thirds the way through the baking but this can be tricky and dangerous so I leave it in there.  If your oven is hot enough it should still give you a crisp, brown crust.  I recently bought a new oven and the difference in temperature is amazing.  Be warned, if there is a lot of water/steam in the oven and it is on at a high temperature and there are few leaks, you will get a blast of steam when you open the door so stand well back!

Airing cupboard.  Many bread recipes suggest placing the dough to prove in an airing cupboard or other warm place.  This is not strictly necessary.  The speed at which dough rises is a function of several variables including the amount of yeast, the temperature of the flour and water, the air temperature and time.  It is also affected by the concentration of salt, sugar and alcohol (see below).  Dough will rise overnight in the fridge if there is sufficient yeast and overnight in a warm room with very little yeast.  So, no need to block the airing cupboard with rising loaves, simply work out the most convenient rise time and adjust the other variables accordingly.  Generally, the longer the rise/prove, the more flavour is developed.

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