Common oven issues & how to improve them
I’m going to share how to get the most from your oven from my years of bread baking. First off, I’ll share how to get to know your oven, before moving on to some regular issues bakers have and finally what to do if your baked products show the symptoms.
For new bakers, this article is going to help understand what’s going on inside when baking bread. I’ll also try and help out with some troubleshooting tips to help you get the most from your oven.
It's been a couple of weeks since the arrival of my oven, I just need to understand it. For an oven, every oven has flaws in it. It’s up to the baker to understand how their oven distributes heat.
I’ve spent the past couple of days getting a lot of use from it, and I'm slowly getting there in understanding it.
The oven I bought is a commercial spec Smeg electric oven which is second hand. I choose this for the quality of bake that Smeg ovens give, whilst not a "proper" artisan bread oven that bakes on top of a stone, it’s more comparable to the home oven that bakers following the course will use.
To understand it I’ve not just used it for bread baking. I’ve been enjoying spiced chicken, pasta bake, frozen pizza and loads more, all baked inside the new Busby Bakemaster™.
Its great, but seriously the more I’ve used it, the better I’m accustomed to its qualities.
Just like a housewife knows the perfect temperature to cook chips, an artisan baker knows their oven, every inch of it.
To get to know your oven, it's best to use it as much as you can. Try moist products, dry products, fill it up, minimal bakes, change the shelf height...
Basically, keep using it! Try different ways to discover it's flaws and strengths.
Here are a few pointers if you notice inconsistency in bakes.
Oven heat spots
These show the ovens capability to distribute heat. In a low budget oven, you will most likely notice a difference in the browning of the baked goods in different areas of it.
Often it happens near the heating element or at a regular radius from it.
Often the effect of heat spots get exaggerated when the oven's running at full capacity.
Using the fan in an oven when baking bread is generally a no no.
Having air blowing around stops pressure being built up during the baking process, pressure is necessary when forming the shape of your loaf, also I found when trailing that a powerful fan will push the bread causing it to become misshapen.
In fact, it looks very much like my hair after I've driven with the window down - I end up looking like a windswept TinTin!
Anyway, back to the issue.... In a commercial bakery oven, the baker is still going to have to deal with distribution challenges when it comes to heat.
In the trade, they are referred to as heat spots. Similar to the issues found in low-cost ovens, but can also occur in smaller areas. These areas form heat pockets as well as areas of low heat.
Heat spots can occur in recurring places even without a fan, the hot air circulates regardless. It can bounce off the products inside causing hot and cold spots to appear.
How to stop heat spots occurring
To counteract heat distribution issues during bread baking here’s a few pro tips that can help remove or reduce the issue:
Get your oven serviced to repair any broken fans, elements or components.
Switch the trays over three quarters through the bake (make sure the crust has formed before opening the door).
Keep an area of the oven clear. This could be an area that contains the hotspot, or the area the reduces the airflow to areas of the oven. Trial and error is the best way to make this work.
This can be classed as the overall efficiency of an oven. Gas ovens can struggle with retaining pressure as they have to allow air into the oven to keep the flame burning. Electric ovens can struggle too.
To generate a crunchy crust, a baker needs to add steam to the oven when placing the dough in the oven.
A good oven with efficient seals will retain the moisture and allow the crust to develop.
Not only will the crust develop be retaining moisture to gelatinize the starch, it also aids the oven spring.
This is the phenomenon where the last gasp of yeast accelerates when the yeast in the dough meets the heat of the oven causing it to rapidly react and generate carbon dioxide which makes the bread spring up.
Oven spring is exaggerated in under developed doughs such as tin bread but still found in every loaf. The moisture on the surface of the loaf caused by adding steam helps it stretch.
As the bread bakes, pressure builds inside the oven which supports it. In a poorly sealed oven, the effects result the same as opening the door when making meringue.
The change in surrounding air pressure causes the fragile structure to collapse. This means a more dense, low volume bread at the end of the bake.
To counteract this, check your oven seal is regularly replaced.
Heat up speed
It’s necessary to know the time in which your oven will take to heat. You don’t want your dough ready to go without anywhere to put it!
When baking on the stone either with a deck oven or when using a baking stone in a home oven it’s wise to give it an extra 30-60 minutes after the dial says its ready.
Do this so the stone is proper hot, the cool dough is going to be placed on it to absorb the heat. If the stone is not drop in temperature.
Like pressure retention, seals are important here. When placing your perfectly proofed dough into the oven, you are going to let some of the heat escape.
More so if you're placing multiple loaves onto a stone like when ciabatta or baguettes.
The longer the oven door is open, the more heat will escape, the more products added, the cooler too. Likewise, adding cold water to generate steam is going to cool the oven temperature again.
The issues with this can be a long baking time, poor development of colour on your crust, soggy bottoms, crap oven spring and losing the will to live.
Most bakers (even proper artisans) counteract the drop in heat by adding 20c to the temperature of the oven before placing the bread inside and then turning it down to the desired temperature.
For example, if the temperature you want to bake your loaf at is 230C, then heat up the oven to 250C, place the proofed dough onto the stone and drop the heat to 230C once the oven door is closed.
If heat loss still becomes an issue in your oven, try baking in smaller batches or using silicone paper to drop a shelf worth of dough straight onto the stone which will minimise "door open time".
Failing this, using a thicker/higher quality baking stone or adding extra stones around the oven that will heat up and help retain heat.
What if I have these oven issues, I try these fixes and they don’t work?
If you have any of the issues listed above try out the recommended remedies. If they don’t work then it could just be that your oven is unsuitable for baking bread.
Sad, but true. But the good news is there are plenty of alternatives available on eBay.
I found my commercial oven for just £40. Its treated me well and the large size allows me to fit much more in it than a standard home oven.
It will even fit baguettes that are almost full size plus the trays I can use are now big enough to fit an amount of rolls to be bothered to actually bake my own.
A bit more on commercial bakery ovens
There tends to be no substitute for having a better built, expensive oven. So always spend as much money as you can to get the best oven for your bread needs. Even a proper bakery stone heated deck oven will show limitations.
I had a Tom Chandley deck which was great at first, but as production got busier, I was forced to upgrade.
The Tom Chandley gave a great bake, however took too long to heat up between loads than I had time for. It became necessary to invest further for a more reliable (and powerful) deck oven.
If you visit your supermarket bakery, you will often see rack ovens installed, these clamp the whole rack inside it and rotate it around the heat.
These are great for efficiency and give a more consistent bake as opposed to filling up a deck oven (and then moving the tins midway through to control heat distribution).
The drawback is the lack of stone which results in less oven spring and a thinner, less exciting crust. This is tolerated by the supermarket customer, but less so by a modern day artisan foodie.
Lastly, ever wondered how the big brand bakeries bake their sliced bread?
Well, the proofed tins are dropped onto a conveyor belt, roughly 20 tins wide and go through an oven to bake.
Viewing the experience is much like being at an airport and watching your bags going through customs.
Once the bread is baked, the tins go back into single file and are tipped (or de-tinned) with the help of magnets which lift off the aluminium pans.
To sum up...
I doubt you’ll be looking to purchase a conveyor oven straight away, but you never know one day…
It starts with creating the perfect dough, getting the dough right is the most important thing in crafting amazing bread.
The bake quality of of your oven can be the difference between making decent bread and some professional quality bread that you would be proud to sell.