#1  
Old 02-10-2011, 07:00 PM
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Join Date: May 2010
Location: Napa, CA
Posts: 150
Unhappy Sourdough Bread FAILURE!!

As the subject title says, so far my (and my wife's) experience with cooking sourdough in our WFO has been a complete and utter failure with a capital FAIL!

I built my 42" WFO dome late last year (cookable, but not finished), barely cooked a few dishes in it prior to winter and starting a new business. But with this fantastic winter (more like spring) weather in Nor Cal I decided to fire it up again. Had a half cord of seasoned white oak delivered and so far I have pizzas, chicken, lamb, roasts and two loaves of cheese filled leavened (if that is the correct term and spelling) bread done pretty delicious. Of course cooking meat in one of these things seems almost bonehead on the difficulty scale.

I was feeling pretty cocky at the superbowl party when I walked in with my two loaves of perfect looking cheese filled (2 1/2 cups per loaf!! NOT diet food) bread. Martha! MOVE OVER!!

But one day later I was quite humbled when our first two loaves of sourdough came out HORRIBLE!
  • The bottom was overcooked
  • The center was undercooked
  • I dont think the sourdough rose (rised? risened?) enough
Two days later and a nice pork tenderloin in between, we tried again, change that to "FAILED" again. This time;
  • The bottom BURNED on the first loaf now known as "The Brick"
  • The second loaf was almost edible and would be a nice stand in for some dark ages film of the almost dead chewing on what the old English would have named "Ye Ol Brick".



We have been using:
  • A starter from Goldrush
  • King Arthur unbleached bread flour
  • water from our well (no chlorine treatment)
  • An oven temp of 400 to 550
  • An unisulated door, basically a 1/2 thick piece of plywood with some pieces of wood screwed onto it for handles
  • An unhappy husband (me) as I LOVE sourdough frenchbread and so far there is nothing to love!
So could someone point me in the correct direction, and yes I know I can search the FB forums for "Sourdough" but all I do is end up reading about Dino's perfect breads or some guy in Australia that his bread comes out in some perfect metric way! And jealosy is an ugly, ugly emotion that I try to hide.

Thanks, Eric
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  #2  
Old 02-11-2011, 05:18 AM
Il Pizzaiolo
 
Join Date: Nov 2006
Location: San Antonio
Posts: 1,719
Default Re: Sourdough Bread FAILURE!!

Hi Eric!

Great sourdough is hard enough to do in a conventional oven. Trying to make great sourdough "casually"/occasionally in a WFO is a recipe for trouble as your experiences suggest. Three key problems:
1) having the bread at proper proofing level when going into the oven
2) having the oven properly loaded and at proper temp when the bread goes in
3) having enough humidity (steam) to give a proper crust (which in my experience requires about 15 pounds of dough in a 1 meter oven so you could figure 18). There are "workarounds" for not having enough dough but the results are IMO reliably inferior.

First issue: Proofing. You need enough experience that you can reliably have the bread ready to bake at a predictable time. This takes experience, practice, and anal dedication to details like starter and levain activity and temperature control.

Second issue: Oven Temp. You need to fire the oven until it is well loaded. At least an hour and a half and preferably 2 hours or more in my experience. Clearing is not enough for the outer refractory will still be pulling heat from the oven chamber. Then clear the oven and close it up and let it heat soak (temperature equalize). Then clean it good and mop it out at about 600 F and get the temp to the desired point - for YOUR oven and YOUR loading. I load my oven at about 560 on the hearth. I spray a little water before and after loading but I rely on the bread for most of my steam. Close the door for at least 45 minutes (in my case) before checking the bread but that is a function of loaf size and other things.

Third point: Make big batches or expect mediocre crust OR put a cloche lid or metal bowl over each loaf.

There are a variety of confusing and contradictory elements in your description of the results/baking conditions.

Your say the bottom of one loaf was burned. That would normally be too hot ahearth but you say "oven temp was 400 to 550 (I assume F). As a result I am forced to suspect the char was burned cheese.

You say the bread hadn't risen. Then it wasn't ready to bake! Period! However, it is also worth noting that cheese contains protease which breaks down gluten and diminishes bread's ability to rise. Using milk products in sourdoughs invites problems and you need to be able to make it indoors before you do it outdoors. Experimenting with recipes needs to be done indoors and with no schedule. Back to point one. You have to be able to have the bread at its peak at a predictable time.

Your second loaf seems to suggest the oven temp was not too hot but that proofing was an issue. However, your reference to temps from 400 to 550 gives me no confidence in your oven temp. While bread can be reasonably baked at hearth temps down to 450 or so, sourdough in my experience really wants higher temps. I have no idea what temp would be best for your cheese loaf. But you also need to insulate your oven before you put any serious effort into bread. It needs to hold temp and not leak the heat outside!

Welcome to the WFOs Make Sourdough Bakers Humble Club. It is quite simply not easy to make great sourdough in a WFO! It takes attention to detail and a lot of practice to get reliable results.

Good Luck!
Jay
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  #3  
Old 02-11-2011, 07:01 AM
Journeyman
 
Join Date: Aug 2010
Location: MN, USA
Posts: 346
Default Re: Sourdough Bread FAILURE!!

Ya know, you might not like what he has to say, but you gotta love that Jay takes the time to explain (very) thoroughly his points. Thanks Jay!
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Old 02-11-2011, 08:02 AM
Il Pizzaiolo
 
Join Date: Nov 2006
Location: San Antonio
Posts: 1,719
Default Re: Sourdough Bread FAILURE!!

My pleasure TMan!

Pizza is so easy (compared to bread) that I think it is really easy for people to get suckered in and underestimate the challenges of bread and to try to make bread casually, and that isn't likely to be very successful in a WFO, especially with sourdough. My response is "tough love" direct because there is no reliable trick or shortcut. Sourdough is tricky. Baking (great bread) in a WFO is tricky. The combination is seriously challenging.

Much better IMO to learn sourdough indoors and to bake commercially yeasted breads in the WFO until you have both of them reasonably predictable. Then one can begin the self-humiliation of learning SD in the WFO with at least some chance of success!

Ohhh....and one last thought for Eric!

Your loaves were also underbaked as evidenced by the raw dough in the center. It can be really challenging to bake severly underproofed dough long enough - but it doesn't matter for it will be terrible (brick) if you do manage to bake it long enough anyway.

If the dough is not light and bouncy the loaf won't be either. Cold clammy stiff dough is not ready to bake (unless you are one of the people who bake straight from the fridge and that is a whole different can of worms). It will almost certainly be heavy and dense, and the flavor will usually be mediocre.

Two tools that are IMO critical for WFO bread baking are a IR thermometer so you KNOW the hearth temp and a good, temperature probe thermometer to check the internal temperature of the loaves for the less reliable/consistent your hearth temp the more variable your bake times will be and recipe times are pretty meaningless in many cases.

It's no fun to be a curmudgeon and rain on people's parades, but Eric's post highlights the disappointment that comes all too easily from baking sourdough in a WFO. The details are important!

Thanks TMan!
Jay
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  #5  
Old 02-11-2011, 06:47 PM
Journeyman
 
Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: minnesota, usa
Posts: 472
Default Re: Sourdough Bread FAILURE!!

We love us some Jay

Been there, done that. I had the added bonus of trying to establish my sourdough culture from scratch, in addition to learning the whole sourdough deal and the ins and outs of WFO bread baking.
Just learning to manage and read a sourdough starter is an undertaking, nevermind getting it to do what you want, when you want.

I agree most emphatically with Jay that it is much, much easier to learn in the indoor oven and then move on to WFO. And if you're a rank beginner with artisan breads, get good at yeasted doughs first. Bread has a bajillion variables that you need to get right to have it come out great. Sourdough has double that many.

With regard to baking bread in the WFO, I've found that a "standard" 1.5 or 2 hour firing, just up to full temp white dome, and then cool down doesn't produce as nice a loaf as when I've kept an active fire and held pizza temp for few hours--or several--I haven't found the lower limit, but I know that 2 hours is too short. I almost always end up with overdone bottom crusts with a short heat cycle, whereas if I'm baking bread after a pizza party or other longer firing, they come out perfect.

Be patient, keep trying, and be as systematic about it as you can be at first. Bread baking is the kind of hobby that always offers you opportunities for learning and improving. That's what keeps it interesting!
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  #6  
Old 02-11-2011, 06:56 PM
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Join Date: May 2010
Location: Napa, CA
Posts: 150
Default Re: Sourdough Bread FAILURE!!

Jay,

First of all, let me say "Thanks" for the reply and do not even begin to think that you are going to hurt my feelings. Remember I am the first one to say my SD bread has so far been a Fail! The reason that I posted was to try to figure out what I did wrong.


Quote:
Originally Posted by texassourdough View Post
Hi Eric!...
3) having enough humidity (steam) to give a proper crust (which in my experience requires about 15 pounds of dough in a 1 meter oven so you could figure 18). There are "workarounds" for not having enough dough but the results are IMO reliably inferior.
I need to cook 15 lbs of dough at a time to get good SD crusts! WOW!

Quote:
First issue: Proofing. You need enough experience that you can reliably have the bread ready to bake at a predictable time. This takes experience, practice, and anal dedication to details like starter and levain activity and temperature control.
We are having a difficult time with the recommended proofing Temps mostly, I think it is 70 to 75 degree (F) range which sounds easy but our house is not in that temp range usually. It changes during the day and night as it is a big open plan house. Any suggestions or tips?


Quote:
Second issue: Oven Temp. You need to fire the oven until it is well loaded. At least an hour and a half and preferably 2 hours or more in my experience. Clearing is not enough for the outer refractory will still be pulling heat from the oven chamber. Then clear the oven and close it up and let it heat soak (temperature equalize). Then clean it good and mop it out at about 600 F and get the temp to the desired point - for YOUR oven and YOUR loading. I load my oven at about 560 on the hearth. I spray a little water before and after loading but I rely on the bread for most of my steam. Close the door for at least 45 minutes (in my case) before checking the bread but that is a function of loaf size and other things.
My oven is not completely insulated yet as I am not done with the upper enclosure, but it does have about a two inch thick layer of vermiculite concrete with a layer of stucco over that to keep it working during the winter until I get back interested in it enough to start the construction again.

My oven temps vary depending on where I take the reading, the dome gets the hottest and the floor the coolest except where the fire was/is. Where should I be taking the readings? With Pizza it seems to be the upper area of the dome's interior. And I am using an infrared gun to read the temps.




Quote:
There are a variety of confusing and contradictory elements in your description of the results/baking conditions.

Your say the bottom of one loaf was burned. That would normally be too hot ahearth but you say "oven temp was 400 to 550 (I assume F). As a result I am forced to suspect the char was burned cheese.
No cheese in this recipe or in the oven at the time, but the bottom of that loaf was definitely charred. And yes my readings are in Fahrenheit.

The cheese was in our very first attempt (my wife's idea) which turned out perfect. It was a different recipe on a different day that used dry yeast, not sourdough.

What is strange to me is that on one hand it sounds like the oven hearth was not hot enough, definitely under 600 F before the swab down, but it also seems like it was too hot as that first loaf (of the second attempt) charred the bottom.


Quote:
You say the bread hadn't risen. Then it wasn't ready to bake! Period! However, it is also worth noting that cheese contains protease which breaks down gluten and diminishes bread's ability to rise. Using milk products in sourdoughs invites problems and you need to be able to make it indoors before you do it outdoors. Experimenting with recipes needs to be done indoors and with no schedule. Back to point one. You have to be able to have the bread at its peak at a predictable time.
That I believe and we need practice.


Quote:
Your second loaf seems to suggest the oven temp was not too hot but that proofing was an issue. However, your reference to temps from 400 to 550 gives me no confidence in your oven temp. While bread can be reasonably baked at hearth temps down to 450 or so, sourdough in my experience really wants higher temps. I have no idea what temp would be best for your cheese loaf. But you also need to insulate your oven before you put any serious effort into bread. It needs to hold temp and not leak the heat outside!

It does hold the heat fairly well, I just don't have anything to compare it to.


Quote:
Welcome to the WFOs Make Sourdough Bakers Humble Club. It is quite simply not easy to make great sourdough in a WFO! It takes attention to detail and a lot of practice to get reliable results.

Good Luck!
Jay

Thanks again and we are not giving up just yet, though I may try some other yeast based recipes now and then as confidence builders!

Eric.
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  #7  
Old 02-11-2011, 07:05 PM
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Location: Napa, CA
Posts: 150
Default Re: Sourdough Bread FAILURE!!

It also amazes me how easy the pizzas were to learn and how brutal the SD bread thing has so far been.

When I was building (not that I am finished) this thing last summer, I did not bother reading the cooking section as I was focused on the construction aspect.

Cooking bread seemed so easy while pizzas seemed like they were going to have the learning curve. Oh well! Live and learn, and if burnt sourdough bread is my biggest problem in life?!!!!

So I think I will continue with my pizzas (the kids LOVE em) chicken, lamb, roasts, tomato's and keep chugging away with the sourdough probably taking a little more notes and giving it more attention.

Eric.
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Old 02-11-2011, 09:43 PM
Il Pizzaiolo
 
Join Date: Nov 2006
Location: San Antonio
Posts: 1,719
Default Re: Sourdough Bread FAILURE!!

Hi Eric!

Thanks for your response. I know how bad a failure can feel in front of "company" and you earned an "honest" critique. Glad you understood how to take it. You can make decent crust with less than 15 pounds but great crust in my experience can't be gotten easily with 5 pounds. Others on the listserve are much happier than me with their small batches. I don't know if they have lower standards or better methods. NOTE: you can learn a lot about crust and steam/humidity in a conventional oven too. I don't like this answer but spray the inside of the WFO for at least 30 seconds before loading. Load the loaves quickly. Close the door to a crack and steam for another 30 or so. Seal it and leave it for at least 30 minutes.

Do you have any sugar or oil in your bread? Straight lean dough with no additives shouldn't burn on the bottom unless the oven is really hot.

You need coals all over the floor so the whole floor is hot and relatively uniform. Measure the hearth the dome should be 30 to 50 F warmer. One of the real tricks for bread is every oven is a bit different and you have to learn YOUR oven. My temps are useful only as a beginning point/reference. Your oven may hold more heat or release it back to the oven faster. That would mean you need to start at a lower temp.

That you need to learn your oven is another reason you need consistency. If you aren't consistent you can't use the results to adjust so you go crazy. Best to make only one or two breads, over and over until they are reliable. Then when you change something you can learn from the results. IDY yeasted boules or ciabatta are a great way to learn.

Hang in there!
Jay

Last edited by texassourdough; 02-12-2011 at 09:03 AM.
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  #9  
Old 02-12-2011, 08:55 AM
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Default Re: Sourdough Bread FAILURE!!

Quote:
Originally Posted by texassourdough View Post
...you can learn a lot about crust and steam/humidity in a conventional oven too. I don't like this answer but spray for at least 30 seconds before loading. Close the door to a crack and steam for another 30 or so. Seal it and leave it for at least 30 minutes...


Could you elaborate more on the steam process?
  • Is your method for steaming for an inside regular oven or the WFO? ? Or both?
  • Why don't you like this method?
  • Is it a substitution for the 15 lbs of dough, which I wouldn't have a problem with if I can get the bread correct!
Quote:
Do you have any sugar or oil in your bread? Straight lean dough with no additives shouldn't burn on the bottom unless the oven is really hot.
NO, no sugar and no oil in the recipe.

I do cook chicken in the oven directly on the hearth which has lots of grease spewing out, but I usually have that in a different area and cleaned (I think) with the fire/coals stack. Could the chicken grease be a problem?


Quote:
You need coals all over the floor so the whole floor is hot and relatively uniform. Measure the hearth the dome should be 30 to 50 F warmer. One of the real tricks for bread is every oven is a bit different and you have to learn YOUR oven. My temps are useful only as a beginning point/reference. Your oven may hold more heat or release it back to the oven faster. That would mean you need to start at a lower temp.

I have not been doing that with the coals, I will try that next time.

So would 550 F on the hearth be a good starting point?

And is that after I swab the hearth? I have been using a damp towel on a rake to swab after removing the coals.



Thanks again for the help and suggestions, I am sure I will have more questions, comments and questions and probably a few more questions!

Eric.
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Old 02-12-2011, 09:28 AM
Il Pizzaiolo
 
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Default Re: Sourdough Bread FAILURE!!

Hi Eric!

I realized I needed to be explicit on the steaming and forgot to edit it when I had connectivity problems this morning. It is revised. And it is only for a WFO. While you can use garden sprayer (dedicated to WATER ONLY for the oven) on a conventional oven there are IMO better ways like cast iron skillets with lava rocks (which can be used in a WFO also). (but you still want to spray a WFO before and after loading to make sure the humidity is high in the oven). I am after a very specific look and finish on my bread and I haven't been able get it in a WFO without heavy dough loading. I even make load 85% hydration ciabatta in my bread batches to get a bit more steam in the oven. It is not often I want 15 pounds of bread so I mainly bake indoors. There are a number of people on this forum who try to bake one or two loaves and that invites lots of crust problems IMO. If you work in 5 to 8 pound loads you will do much better than in smaller batches.

Chicken grease shouldn't be a problem if the oven is heat loaded but you probably need to fire for two hours or more - periodically - to burn it out of the hearth. I am personally not crazy about the idea of having lots of grease on the hearth for the grease will soak down and permeate the cooler parts of your hearth and undoubtedly eventually turn rancid.

First, burn well past clearing to insure the oven is heat loaded. Clear it (just get most of the stuff out). Close it up and let it heat soak - this creates a more uniform temp through the refractory and loads the refractory so it can send heat back to the oven to bake the bread. Ideally it should heat soak an hour or so. Ideally, at that point the temp on the hearth should be about 600 F and it should be pretty uniform. Here is where you can slow down or speed up a bit depending on how your dough is progressing. If you want to speed up, you can start cleaning the oven a bit early and this time sweep it well. Usually you don't mop until the last minute, but if you want to speed things up more, mop early. The temp will probably drop to 580 or so while cleaning - more if you mop. Close it back up or leave it open depending on how fast it needs to cool off to your loading temp. Get your bread ready... I like to load at 565 but 550 is fine. When the temp is 5-10 degrees hotter, mop the oven well. NOTE: the mop should not be sopping wet. Just damp. This removes excess ash, humidifies the oven some and drops the temp. If the temp is right, spray the oven with your dedicated CLEAN WATER garden sprayer (note this sprayer should be bought from a hardware store and NEVER used with anything but water. It should ideally have a metal wand). Load the bread. Close the door leaving a crack. Spray some more - not on the loaves and not on the refractory but in the air. With a fine mist it will evaporate rapidly and shouldn't cause erosion of the refractory.
Seal, and check back after about 25 to 30 minutes. Rotate loaves as necessary/appropriate. Bake until at least 205 internal temp (and I usually shoot for 210 and higher).

Hang in there. My goal is not to discourage you but to foster realistic expectations. If you follow the path above you should be able to make very nice loaves in 5 pound batches. But use IDY so you can reasonably predict when the bread will be ready to bake until you are consistent. You only have about a 30 minute window for optimal loaves (and I can easily argue 15 but...30 isn't a disaster. An hour can be!)Peter Reinharts recipes in BBA and recent books are a good start and just like pizza dough, the overnight process greatly adds flavor.

Let me know how your next batch works.
Jay
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