When baking bread, the temperature of the oven affects many of its features. Changing bread baking temperature alters taste, texture, smell, and appearance characteristics. So how do these traits take heed? And, what is the best temperature to bake bread?
For standard bread, the best baking temperature is 220-230C (435-450F). Midway through baking, the heat can be turned down to 200-210C (390-410F). Bread containing lots of sugar or fat needs a slightly cooler oven to prevent the crust from burning.
Once the bread is proofed, bakers have the option to change:
These factors alter the bread’s characteristics. Bakers have less choice when it comes to the available oven. Still, the speed at which the oven can regain temperature after the door is opened is also a contributing factor to the quality of the bread. The more intense these factors are, the harder and darker the crust will be.
The standard bread baking temperature is between 220C (430F) and 230C (450F). Whole wheat bread and loaves with seeds or toppings become less appealing when there is much colourisation and are best baked at 210-220C (410-430F). Standard white bread and sourdough are baked at 230C (450F).
Here are the baking temperatures for some of the most popular homemade types of bread:
Soft bread rolls are baked at 230-250C (450-480F) for 10-12 minutes. Place the rolls on a shelf close to the oven’s top element. If you can’t do this with your oven, finish off under the broiler for the last 2-3 minutes. The heat from above caramelises the rolls’ top surface, which produces a thick, coloured crust and a soft, moist crumb.
When baking crusty rolls, bake on a preheated baking stone at 220C (430F) for 20-24 minutes. Adding steam as you load the oven will make your rolls extra crispy when they come out.
When baking baguettes, set the oven to 250C (480F). This baking temperature helps the characteristic butter-like flavour of the flour whilst making the baguettes crunchy on the outside and soft in the centre.
Pizza is baked at 450-500C (850-930F), sometimes higher. This temperature is not achievable in most domestic ovens. A wood or gas-fired oven is used in restaurants. The high temperature draws sweet aromas from the crust whilst the dough interior becomes nice and soft.
Pizza made in this heat will be ready in under a minute. When making pizza dough with a cooler oven at home, you can add sweeteners (such as sugar or honey) and olive oil to the recipe to accelerate colourisation.
Ciabatta is usually baked at 220C (430F) for 22-30 minutes; however, a hotter oven is occasionally preferred. The oven temperature is often lowered midway through baking to draw excess moisture from the ciabattas crumb.
Italian bread is often baked at temperatures as high as 300C (570F)! The high baking temperature yields a soft crumb with a charred-yet-soft crust on the outside. The blackened crust perfumes the bread, making the flavour of the bread deliciously deep and aromatic.
Pain de Mie contains more fat and sugar than traditional white bread. Depending on the level of enrichment used, a Pain de Mie is baked between 200 and 220C (390-430F) for 30 minutes. Lower the baking temperature if the loaf browns too quickly.
Brioche contains a large amount of fat and sweeteners; therefore is baked between 180 and 200C (390F). Baking at this temperature retains moisture in the bread. It also prevents excessive browning that would occur at higher temperatures due to caramelisation and Maillard reactions.
To bake sourdough, preheat the oven to 250C (480F) with a baking stone inside. Once the bread goes in, lower the temperature to 230C (450F). Add steam and set a timer for 25 minutes. After this, open the oven door to release the steam and drop the heat to 210C (410F). Cook until the bread sounds hollow when tapped. Total baking time is around 35-40 minutes.
Temperatures provided are guides. They may change from oven to oven as some operate more fiercely than others. Some will have their heating elements at different distances from the baking bread. Follow a bread recipe to start with, then use these tips to make adjustments as you see fit.
Oven temperatures are often not as accurate as you think. It’s often a shock to bakers when they discover that their ovens are running 10-20 degrees out from the temperature they are set at. To be sure that you are baking at the correct temperature you might want to get yourself an oven thermometer. These thermometers will sit in your oven to provide you with an accurate temperature reading.
Baking stones take a while to heat up thoroughly. When the heating light on your oven goes out, despite the temperature of the oven being hot enough, the core of the stone will need longer to heat through. This can take up to an hour depending on the thickness of the stone. Not allowing the baking to properly preheat makes it less effective at conducting heat into the bread and therefore the oven spring is negatively affected. An infrared thermometer can be used to check the desired temperature of the stone has been reached.
As soon as bread goes into the oven, the first thing that happens is the yeast rapidly feasts on the available sugars. Yeast is more active as it gets hotter until it reaches 64C (148F) where the active fungus dies. The deactivation of the yeast cells happens around 15 minutes into the baking. We call this action “oven spring” as the aggressive yeast activity leads to the rapid creation of carbon dioxide, which raises the bread in the oven.
At around the same time as the yeast becomes inactive, the crust loses so much moisture in the oven chamber that it turns dry and hard. We call these the “yeast kill point” and the “crust set point”, and both can be responsible for bringing oven spring to an end. For the remainder of the bake, starch coagulates as moisture exits the core. Baking turns a gassy dough into a delicious loaf of bread.
A preheated baking stone dramatically improves the conduction of heat into a baking loaf. This extra heat from below pushes moisture upwards to improve the oven spring and ensures the bread’s base is crisp and properly baked. If you don’t have a baking stone, heating a thick baking sheet and baking on that will have some benefits, but it’s not as good as the real thing. A baking stone should be able to retain and conduct plenty of heat while also being durable enough to last for years. See the baking stone that I recommend.
Do you want to know the other secret to the perfect oven rise? Well, steam is it! Baking bread in a humid environment delays the setting of the crust. This promotes more significant oven spring gains and increases the baking time. These two factors are vitally important in creating bread with a perfectly crispy crust. Without adding steam, the bread would be soft and ready in half the time. This is useful for soft loaves, but not if you want your bread crust. There are many ways to steam bake bread, but the easiest solution is to use a water mister to spray the oven as the bread goes in to bake. You can see other methods in my adding steam to an oven guide.
The Maillard reaction is a chemical process that occurs when an amino acid and a reducing sugar are heated together. It leads to the development of new molecules with exciting but unusual aromas.
The science behind it is that the reactive carbonyl group of the sugar interacts with the nucleophilic amino group of the amino acid. It produces intriguing but poorly described odour and flavour compounds. The net result is more complex flavours and new aroma molecules appearing. These flavours are not found in the raw dough materials, which explains why roasted coffee and peanuts taste so different from their raw form!
The Malliard reaction also produces enzymatic browning, making food turn brown or black. Another cause is caramelisation. This reaction and caramelisation should not be confused with each other. Caramelisation is created by heating sugar. Caramelisation and the Maillard reaction work separately. Yet they are used in conjunction with another to change the properties of bread. A dark crust adds a warming aroma throughout the bread.
The variables that contribute to the amount of colour and type of aroma produced include:
Yet still, some areas of the Maillard reaction are unclear! One of the best ways to see the impact of Malliard reactions in homemade bread is to bake bread at high temperatures. You will see an increased rate of browning, which generates darker colours.
I worked in a bakery where they would preheat the oven to the max before dropping the heat as the bread went in. The oven temperature would start at 500C (930F) (that’s a high heat!) but would take around 10 minutes to drop to 220C (430F). The bread shot up initially, and the crust coloured quickly. But to prevent the bread from becoming too black it was removed and cooled after 20-25 minutes. It shaved off a third of a standard baking time. I think the idea was to get more colour on the crust, but the bread wasn’t great!
There were many tones of colour on the crust, which did look impressive. However, the bread was so moist due to the short baking time preventing water from escaping that after 20 minutes of cooling, the crust became unbelievably soft and floppy. It had no strength whatsoever that it bent over when held upright. That’s not good bread!
That said, dark colours and a soft crust is ideal for pizza! The baking method of extreme heat for a short period is often used in Italy. They will use wood-fired ovens, which can go super hot! In it, they’ll bake pizza, soft flatbreads or pocket sandwich bread in no time at all. The same high-heat method is used for baking naan bread in a tandoor clay oven.
To practice these tips, start using the oven temperature dial to “fine-tune” your bread. Follow a bread recipe, then make tweaks to the oven settings. After experimenting with different temperatures, you’ll soon find your bread comes out just right! Let me know what you have learned about bread baking temperature and if you will approach baking bread differently in the comments below.