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Taming the Wild Yeast (continued)

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Tips for a crisp crust

What to do if you do not have an expensive bread oven:

  1. 1.Spray the loaves with a fine mist of water just before you pop them in. I bought a plastic, travel-sized mister at the drugstore for 99 cents, but instead of filling it with hairspray, I use it around my kitchen. Perfect for bread-baking.

  2. 2.With the oven blasting at 450°F, throw in three ice cubes onto the oven floor, after you've loaded in the bread and just before closing the door. The instant steam that rises will mimic the injected steam of commercial bread ovens. Five minutes later or so, throw in a couple of more ice cubes, wait a few seconds, then lower the oven temperature to 375°F.

  3. 3.Use a large baking stone. Or line the rack or floor of your oven with untreated clay tiles. Be sure to preheat them well; it may take as long as an hour to get them good and hot. Not the best news here in energy-starved California, but that high heat does make a difference.

Lessons learned

Trouble-shooting the first sourdough loaves: 

The crust of these first two loaves were rather thick, so I might spray less water on them before baking and/or then cut back on the ice cubes.

Also, less time at the high temperature will prevent cooking the outer layers completely before the interior has "sprung" completely. (Oven spring refers to the sudden  rise of bread during the first ten to fifteen minutes of baking, because of the increased fermentation and sudden expansion of gases.)

The loaves still needed a bit more color, so maybe the temperature should be lowered more quickly to allow longer cooking.

Two of the loaves split at their sides. The slashes in the bread were either not deep enough or had sealed from the water—so they didn't expand enough to allow the bread to rise evenly as they baked.

Bread Wisdom >

February 2001