Why does my bread look like a turtle?
July 8, 2014 10:11 PM   Subscribe

Bread recipes I never had a problem with are producing disappointing results in my new place. Loaves are coming out dome shaped , brown on the bottom and not brown on top. What do I need to do differently?

I've baked bread of all types in many places with relative success until now. These terrible photos should give you the idea: I'm getting turtle breads (flat bottom, rounded top). I suspect it's the oven, the pans (lined with parchment paper), or the water (high mineral content). My best guess is that the oven is not getting as hot as it says. Does that seem right? If so, how much should I adjust it? If not, where would you start making adjustments?

Another thing: no matter the recipe, the crumb comes out dense and chewy. Until the gluten I ordered comes in, any ideas how to compensate?
posted by CtrlAltD to Food & Drink (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Definitely buy an oven thermometer. We rent, and none of our ovens do what we tell them to. My brother had an oven that wasn't even consistently off... It'd be too hot one time and too cool the next! They're about ten bucks.
posted by jrobin276 at 10:31 PM on July 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

I agree it looks like a cold oven. If you don't already, get a baking stone; it'll act as a battery for heat. You don't have to get anything special; an unglazed tile will also work. I definitely second the oven thermometer. Oven thermostats are calibrated at the factory, and in most cases, never again thereafter-- don't trust anything built in to the oven.

As for protein, you can add casein to up the protein levels in bread--- add milk powder. You should also get some distilled water and try that.

As for straight browning, you can finish bread like anything else-- bake it to within 95% completion, and then finish with the broiler on. The broiler (top element on high) is basically made for browning -- you can also think of it as an upside-down grill. Get the right brown you want, and then if you need any more time throw foil over the bread and switch back to the baking element.
posted by Sunburnt at 11:24 PM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Are you spraying water in your oven as well?
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 11:34 PM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Brown on the bottom and not brown on the top means the bottom is overheating. You're getting intense heat to close to the bottom of the bread. This could be because you have a really cheap oven that circulates heat badly and probably leaks heat badly as well. It could also be because you are baking on a lower rack, too close to the element. Bake on the top rack.

However another way you can get this burnt bottom is by using really cheap thin cookware, like the baking pans you can buy at the dollar store. The simplest solution is to stack them. I find using two baking pans one inside the other works nicely. The bottom pan stays clean so it is not much extra trouble.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:14 AM on July 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

I agree, it's your oven, so the first thing to do is to get an oven thermometer to verify what temperatures your oven is really getting.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:56 AM on July 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Came in to say something similar to Jane the Brown. It seems like your oven might only heat at the bottom, the top (broiler) might not get warm at all or not warm enough. So while baking, the bread forms this brown, hard bottom fairly quickly and can not rise properly. That's why it's dense and chewy. And as the loaf gets little heat from top, it forms this rounded top and remains pale.

First I would inspect the oven settings - maybe this oven needs a different setting than regular ovens to heat top and bottom at the same time? Second, check if the broiler works at all. Third, check temperature with an oven thermometer.

Generally: High temps for crusty breads. And longer baking time on lower temps for soft, pillow-y bread. Since you made those recipes before and now they work the first step to fix is the oven.
posted by travelwithcats at 5:23 AM on July 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Is your new place in the same city and the same distance from a body of water, or did you move to a place with a different level of humidity? That can affect the texture of baked goods.
posted by CathyG at 6:12 AM on July 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure what the answer to the turtle bread is, but contrary to travelwithcats's experiences, all ovens I have used heat from the bottom for baking and they work just fine. Gas ovens have a broiler in a drawer under the oven and the electric ovens I've used do not use the broiler element at the top when baking. So that may be a red herring.
posted by SandiBeech at 6:37 AM on July 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Well, maybe I'm doing it wrong then? My oven has similar settings like described here and I've always set it on "top and bottom".
posted by travelwithcats at 8:19 AM on July 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

1st: It sounds like you need to do the oven toast test, which tests the oven for uneven heating. Buy a bag of cheap, sliced bread, line the racks with the bread, turn on the oven, and wait until the bread starts browning, then pull it out in the exact configuration it was in the oven. This will give you an idea of where the uneven spots in your oven are. (Check both the bottoms and tops of the bread.) You can place the racks in different configurations to give yourself a 3-d idea. This is a visualization of the test. Once you know where the heating is uneven, you can adjust using some of the methods here.

2nd, if you're not already doing so, double check your gluten development after kneading using the windowpane test to check the opaqueness of your dough when stretched. (Photos of the progression here.

3rd (you may also already know this): Wait to cut into your bread until it's cooled. I know I love warm bread, but it needs to continue developing after you pull it from the oven.
posted by barchan at 8:48 AM on July 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow, so much great advice.

I mist the loaves while baking and/or put a pan of water in the bottom of the oven.

The humidity levels are the same as previous locations where I have baked.

The third loaf came out better-- no brown on bottom, no brown at all. I let that loaf rise for 2 days in the refrigerator. It was the King Arthur baguette recipe. It was still very dense.

I did what I usually do: I raised the heat 25 50 degrees for the last 10 minutes when baking. Sometimes I raise 50 if recommended. But now I'll try the broiler when the oven thermometer arrives.

I also had to order a regular old bag of gluten. No one sells it out here.

I am pretty sure my problem is the cheap, no good oven. With all of your tricks I am sure I will figure it out!
posted by CtrlAltD at 4:37 PM on July 10, 2014

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