Tales from the other Dark Side

Tales from the other Dark Side

I haven’t had the time or reliable internet service to do much commenting or posting here because we recently sold our house and are in the process of relocating. We are temporarily staying in a small bunkhouse on a ranch for the summer. It has a small propane gas stove and that is the focus of this tale.
I have baked bread in a few different electric ovens before some better than others and my last one which was non convection worked well and had a good seal that held steam very well. Much better than the one it replaced with a warped door. I was under the impression from others that a gas stove was not the best way to bake bread because of the venting required made it difficult to provide the steam needed at the start of the bake. I was resigned to the fact that I would have to go back to using a vessel like a Dutch oven or clay baker and all that it entails like round loaves and a blacksmiths getup for handling hot iron pans. Not to mention that baguettes would be out of the question or so I thought. The oven is small only 18 inches deep and 18 wide but that happened to be just big enough for my smaller rectangular pizza stone to go in lengthwise and my graniteware roasting pan to barely fit over it. This was promising and I thought maybe I could bake a decent loaf after all. The oven is an older type with a pilot light and I was thinking it might work for proofing but with the baking stone in it was over 100 degrees in the oven with just the pilot light, so that was a no. However with my IR thermometer I found a few spots on the stove top in the 80 degree range that were perfect for my jar of levain and bulk fermentation.
My first attempt at bread in the new place was challenging in a small kitchen with limited counter space. I have continued to use the Tartine country bread method as told by Jenifer Latham described in my last blogs. I really like the double fed levain and the shaping method of folding in half lengthwise as it goes into the basket. The only difference is that I am now using a rye starter ala Hammelman(Thanks Gavin and Benito for steering me down this path). My starter has been strong, reliable and easy to maintain. My first levain feed in the morning is at a 1-1-1 ratio that doubles by noon time and then fed again at the same ratio and is peaking or doubled 4 hours later ready to use for bread making. It has been so hot here this summer that the fermentation has been moving at such a rapid pace that I didn’t feel like it would slow down enough for an overnight retard in the small fridge  which has no room and doesn’t get very cold anyway. I fired up the stove for bread baking for the first time in a panic hoping it would heat up fast enough before the loaves over proofed. It heated up really fast and the IR gun read 550 on the stone in about 20 minutes. I have since then figured out that the dial on the stove is off by about 75 degrees. This first bake was shaping up to be a disaster. The slash was ragged in the wet jiggly dough that flattened out and spread before loading and covering. Ten minutes later I peeked under the cover and saw that there was already browning but the oven spring was tremendous so I removed the roasting pan and rotated the loaf because it was even darker towards the back. So uneven that it needed to be rotated every five minutes. It browned so quickly that I was worried the inside would not be cooked enough especially with the hydration being near 85%(its very dry here) It was a full on bold bake(burnt) in a little over 25 minutes of time in the oven. The second loaf went pretty much the same even though the oven was turned down to 375. By this time it was near 11 at night so I went to bed in a too warm of a house from the heat put out by this oven with visions of burnt toast in the morning.
When I sliced it the next day the crust was still crispy and the crumb was nice and open. It turned out to be one of the tastiest loaves I have ever made with the most enjoyable crust I have ever eaten. Go figure! Yet another path to chasing thin and crispy crust.
So the oven I was dreading is now baking better bread than I ever imagined. I am trying to understand the why. Perhaps the smaller oven chamber is generating more radiant heat. I moved the stone up to the middle of the oven to keep it from getting too hot and it is still dark on the bottom and the crust is thicker overall but the flavor and texture of the crust is incredible like the ends of a good baguette, even when toasted. Maybe the water is being cooked out in an optimal amount of time in a drying oven. I baked the same recipe in an expensive double oven in another kitchen on the ranch and got okay results similar to what I was used to in my former oven but nothing like the blast furnace I am using now. I am still struggling with enriched yeast breads browning too fast and baguettes that are too short for my liking although end loading is nice and easy.
I am amazed at the bread that is coming out of this oven and how much better my bread is in a darker shade than looks palatable. I now understand why some bakeries insist on a full bake for a superior flavor but the customers reject it because it looks burnt. 
One of the things I was looking forward to in our next home was a dedicated bread oven. It’s going to look a lot different now than I imagined it!

Those who prefer golden brown should look away.

raisin bread

Raisin bread with whole wheat and a little rye

raisin bread crumb

Tartine country bread

The darker one had better flavor and contrary to what I read somewhere the keeping quality is longer on the full bake.

dark and darker

slices

Approachables with high tech oven setup in the background. The roasting pan actually covers the two bread pans in the early phase of the bake.

Approachable

Baggies are constrained by the smaller oven but still doable.

I know I am not alone in my preference for a bold bake but I would encourage others to explore the dark side and reconsider a gas oven.