I realize that baking without the benefit of a commerical oven is going to hamper my efforts to some extent but I’ve seen photos on other bread blogs of home-baked breads that are simply picture-perfect brown and beautiful. How does a home baker get a really beautiful brown crust on their bread? My crusts have the correct texture but the color always seems kind of weak and flat, if that makes sense.
I noticed in the notes of Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice that he suggests adding roughly a teaspoon or less of diastatic barley malt powder to the flour blend in some of his formulas to produce a more colorful crust. Has anyone tried this?
Actually, the only time I’ve ever produced a really rich brown crust was when I was working with Nancy Silverton’s sourdough. I had many other issues and frustrations with her recipes but man…the bread I turned out was beautiful to look at. So that leads me to wonder if sourdough turns out a better looking bread than non-sourdough?
I know my oven is at the correct temp and the finished bread is at the correct temp so I’m certain I’m not under-baking.
Any thoughts or advice would be appreciated. This is the last piece of the puzzle I need to sort out to be totally satisfied with my bread.
Hi Sarah, welcome to the forum and blog. I have recently purchased Rose’s Bread Bible (as I was already a long time fan of her Cake Bible), I have made several (non-sourdough) breads from her book in my home oven and all have turned out perfect deep brown crusts - and simply superb looking and tasting breads.
Rose’s tips and techniques including the use of ice cubes to created the steam for the crust are wonderful (as many more experienced than me on this blog will tell you!)
I’ve been using the BB for a while now and faithfully following the directions. Actually, I prefer Rose’s ice cube method and use that with Peter Reinhart’s recipes, instead of popping the oven open 3 times and blasting the walls with water, as he suggests.
BTW, I saw your “First Bread” post and congrats on those lovely loaves. Your first efforts looked SO much better than mine…LOL You’re really going to enjoy working your way through the BB.
I’ve tried many methods of steaming, from misting the walls of the oven to throwing hot water on a pan full of stones. For electric ovens, these methods are probably adequate. The problem I had was that my oven was gas fueled and gas ovens aren’t very “air tight” (by design). Any steam that I generated immediately leaked out of the oven. I overcame this problem by placing an inverted buffet tray over my loaf right after I loaded it into the oven. I also introduced steam, with a small hand-held steamer, through a small hole I drilled in the tray. A picture of the set-up can be seen under the ‘Baguette with Poolish’ entry posted here: Breadcetera
This is too funny…Steve, YOUR bread, that wonderful Pain au Levain, is what prompted me to make this post!
I found your site through A Fresh Loaf and seeing all the amazing results there, and then on your site, really inspired me. I was actually composing an email to you yesterday when I got interrupted and it never got sent. I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog.
So this is really a steam issue? I do have gas oven…a very old one…so what you say about the seal wouldn’t surprise me.
I’ll have to take a close look at your steamer and see if I can replicate the same.
I agree Sarah, I don’t think this is a steam issue. I’m sure you can find a better source that has actually studied this issue, but my observations from baking a lot of bread are that there are at least four factors in browning: oven temperature, baking duration, sugar content, and fat content. Increase any of the previous four elements/ingredients and you will have more browning. Usually, I have found browning just happens without much thought on my part, but occasionally, there will be a recipe that doesn’t brown well. My typical solution is just to add a bit of sugar to the recipe, but you could play with the other factors as well—using malt powder is basically the same idea.
Sarah, the major requirement for the formation of a golden brown, crisp crust is the presence of residual sugars in the dough. This can be controlled by not overproofing the dough; overproofing will deplete the residual sugars, leading to a pale crust. It is also important to make sure that the flour you are using has the appropriate level of amylase activity (many white flours add small amounts of malted barley to adjust the amylase levels). Check the label of your white flour to make sure that malted barley has been added. With proper amylase levels, no sugar needs to be added.
Steam during the first few minutes of baking serves a dual purpose; it delays the setting of the crust so that maximum oven spring can be achieved and it helps gelatinize the starch at the surface, giving a shiney crust.
Sarah, one other thing, unrelated to crust color… Unlike commercial spiral or oblique dough mixers, tabletop home mixers, regardless of brand name, power rating or design, are very inefficient for properly developing bread dough. Since I started using the mixing technique shown on the blog, I’ve mothballed my KitchenAid Pro 6 and Magic Mill DLX and my breads have improved significantly. Yes, it’s more messy and perhaps less convenient but I do get a much better quality bread.
Sarah, I’m with Matthew and agree that different factors affect crust and colour. I would never put any additives in my bread in order to brown it - a good oven heat and duration with unbleached flour will do it (I use organic flour). I make different crusts for different clients - many older people like a softer, paler crust and younger people like dark, thicker crusts. You will soon be able to control it with experience. Do you have an oven stone? This makes for a good crisp bottom crust and just crank up the heat 25F for a darker top crust. Good luck and please send some pictures!
Hector, I confirm what you say is true for sourdough, it does brown very well, but it is baked at a very high temperature. The same will not be true for all breads, so other factors come into play. Also, I agree steam is important, but my point was I don’t think it affects how brown your bread gets—at least that has been my observation, although I could certainly be wrong!
Agreed, so many different types of breads out there, I am still in the sourdough phase.
Luca has been reporting different experiments with the Basic Heart Bread, we noticed that when you omit the sugar, not only it browns less but the texture is not as feathery. He has successfully converted this recipe to sourdough, and believe it or not, I have not been able to make bread as good as his!!!!!!
I think bread baking is an interaction between the many simple ingredients and factors that goes into it. I really understand when Rose explains on her introduction on TBB that she thought she could not make bread because each time hers will turn different.
Yes, I do use a baking stone and a Silpain-lined baking sheet. I never start the bread out directly on the stone since I always seem to deflate it completely when transferring to the oven. I do, however, move the bread directly onto the stone for the final half of baking time.
I always use Gold Medal Better For Bread flour and someimes Bob’s Red Mill, for certain recipes.
I’ve included several pictures below which, I hope, better illustrate what I’m talking about….or illustrate I’m being a picky perfectionist…LOL. I know the shaping isn’t great and I am working on it.
The following is a sourdough boule that I was most pleased with:
Thanks for the thumb’s up on my shaping. I’m glad I didn’t include my Challah.
I start checking internal temp after the minimum amount of baking time has passed and go by that, rather than how much time it has spent in the oven. All 3 spent roughly 20-25 minutes in the oven. The Baguettes are the only ones that were slightly over-baked, with an internal temp of 215.
The Couronne and Baguettes were started in a 500 degree oven which was then lowered after a few minutes to 450. The Kaiser Rolls started at 425, then lowered to 400.
The only thing I did not do with the Couronne and Kaiser Rolls was mist them with water before baking. I think misting makes a difference so I would do it next time.
Thank you for the kind words! I am, indeed, my own worst critic and I do know that a light-colored crust is not the end of the world. I guess the most important thing is that it tastes delicious.