The oven temperature for baking bread will affect many features of the breads taste, texture, smell and appearance. So today, I'm going to share what temperature I bake my bread at so you can follow along at home.
The temperature I bake the majority of my bread at is 230C (450F). For some breads I'll turn the oven down to 200-210C (390-410F), halfway through.
This article is going to explain why
Why is oven temperature important?
Alongside the quality of the dough, there are a few ways to adapt it during the baking stage. Bakers can change:
- The length of baking time
- The oven temperature
- The humidity/use of steam in the oven
- The power the oven has to return to temperature after opening the door
These all make a difference to the bread, generally, the more intense these factors are, the stronger and darker the crust will be. However, today we are going to focus on the temperature of the oven.
What happens when baking at high temperature - A case study
First off here's a first-hand account of what happens when baking bread at high temperatures.
In the case of oven temperature, for crusty bread an overly high temperature is not always the best thing:
I worked in a bakery where they would crank the oven up to the max before dropping it down once the bread went in.
Despite dropping the heat, the oven temperature started at 500C (930F)!
It took a while to cool to a more standard baking temperature of 220C (430F) and to be honest, it never really dropped close for the first 10 minutes.
The bread's crust coloured quickly and well, it looked ready to take out really early on. Many of tones of colour on the crust too, it looked nice. The baking time reduced to about 2/3's of a normal bake. The crumb was extra moist as less moisture escaped.
But the crust was never crusty.
I didn’t like it
...It was flimsy...
That’s not good bread. As there was more moisture in the bread, at the end of baking it would rise up into the crust. The crust absorbed the moisture making it soft and not crusty.
The Maillard reaction
The Maillard reaction is actually a combination of reactions which occur as heat is applied to food. These reactions generate colour and flavour. There are many variables that contribute to the amount of colour and how the aroma of the reaction alters the bread. These include the temperature of the heat, the number of sugars and amino acids (protein) available, the ph value and many more. Some areas of the Maillard reaction are still unclear.
You can check out these two articles which talk about the Maillard process in more detail:
https://www.seriouseats.com/2017/04/what-is-maillard-reaction-cooking-science.html (check out the comments at the bottom, some really helpful knowledge there)
The Maillard reaction applies in bread baking as well as cooking other foods. The second of those articles covers the difference between frying steak to gain benefit from the Maillard reaction, as opposed to broiling.
This reaction and caramelisation should not be confused with each other. Caramelisation is created by heating sugar. Caramelisation and the Maillard reaction work separately but can be used in conjunction with another to change properties of bread.
Best baking temperature for bread
The standard bread baking temperature is somewhere between 220C (430F) and 230C (450F). This temperature gives the best combination of all the factors to make a nice coloured bread.
Small breads (like crusty rolls) should be baked at around 220C (430F). As should bread with toppings (e.g. seeds or tiger paste) as they become less appealing after too much colourisation.
Bread baked at high temperature
Bread baked at high temperature take less time to bake. They have an increased rate of the Maillard reaction, generating darker colours. The browning will add flavour to the bread.
Soft bread rolls are baked at high heat, typically 250C (480F). The top heater of the oven is used if the capability is available. The heat quickly caramelises the sugars in the top surface for a thick, coloured crust and a soft, moist crumb.
When baking baguettes the oven should be set to 250C (480F). This helps draw the characteristic butter-like flavour from the flour and makes them crunchy, but soft.
Pizza is baked at 450-500C (850-930F), sometimes higher. This temperature is not achievable in most domestic ovens so wood or gas-fired ovens are usually used. The high temperature draws sweet aromas from the crust whilst leaving the dough interior nice and soft. The bake time for a pizza is generally under a minute in this heat. When making pizza at home with a cooler oven, try adding sweeteners and olive oil to the dough recipe to help speed up the colourisation.
Some Italian breads are baked at high temperatures, especially some of the regional flat or sandwich breads. These breads are moist in the inside and slightly char'd on the surface. The blackened crust perfumes the bread, making the flavour of the bread deliciously deep and aromatic.
Bread baked at low temperature
Low temp baking creates bread with less colouring generated from the oven process. These doughs contain a large amount of fat and sweeteners. This makes the bread crumb moist and lowers the temperature the crust browns through caramelisation.
Brioche is baked at 200C (390F).
Dropping the temperature of the oven midway
Bread that goes into the oven at a high temperature will often have the heat reduced midway through the bake. Sourdough, for example, might go into an oven at 230-250C (450-480F) and the temperature is dropped after 20 minutes to 200C (390F).
Bread baked this way benefits from the early colouration of the crust from the first segment. Whereas the second, cooler period focuses on baking the core of the bread.
This technique only really works if there isn't another bread to go in straight after it comes out. This happens most of the time in a bakery causing a delay for the oven to reheat.
Best baking temperature for sourdough
The usual bake routine is to preheat the oven to 250C (480F) with a baking stone inside. Once the bread goes in with steam the temperature is going to drop a bit which is fine. Change the oven setting to 230C (450F) and bake for 25 minutes. After this, oven the oven door to release steam (or open the damper if you have one) and drop the heat to 210C (410F). Bake till the bread sounds hollow when tapped. This should take a further 15-20 minutes.
Of course, you can change the temperatures around to suit your oven and your bread. You might want to experiment baking at a higher temperature to start with and drop a little more to 200C (390F). You can also bake at a stead 220C (430F) throughout. They are all perfectly acceptable ways to bake sourdough.
Cold start oven baking
There is a wave of bread bakers out their who do not preheat their oven, they put the bread in a dutch oven, turn the oven on and let it do it's thing. The gradual warmth proofs the bread in a kinda long, powerful, oven spring. Moisture is retained in the dough by keeping the lid on the dutch oven. The moisture replaces the need for additional steam thus allowing the dough to rise.
A cold start speeds up the final proof time so bread made in this manner will go into the oven underproofed.
It's often argued that bakers get bigger bread using this technique. Although it is very hard to do a direct comparison. Creating the perfect testing environment with the same dough, the tension from shaping it, the temperature of the oven and heat temperature of the baking stone are hard to recreate perfectly.
As the bread baked like this is exposed to cool temperatures from the oven, less Maillard reaction occurs. This leads to bread with a lighter colour.
Users often experience an unpredictable rise also. The cold start technique can be used by beginners to help prove bread higher. Though it is a bit unpredictable for me to recommend. The cold start method is not used in commercial bakeries as the oven does not have enough time to cool between bakes.
Changing oven temperatures at home
To put into practice some of these tips, its worth using the oven temperature to "fine-tune" a bake. Cranking it down slightly midway through the bake if there is too much colourisation or increasing it to create a more moist crumb. After a bit of experimentation, you should find the best temperature to bake bread for your oven.
The temperatures provided are guides, they may change from oven to oven as some operate more fiercely than others or have their heating elements at different distances from the baking bread. It's always best to follow the recipe you are using for the first bake, then use these tips to make adjustments as you see fit.
If you have not read my article on how how to add steam to an oven for bread creates oven spring, I really advise you to. Oven temperature works with oven spring to alter the behaviours of bread in the oven.