Achieving Great Oven Spring Using a Baking Stone

When I read Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson, he recommended using a Dutch oven for baking as that would create a steamy environment that promoted oven spring. He further asserted that as domestic ovens were designed to vent steam, he wasn’t able to trap enough steam to get a good oven rise.

Then I saw a video the other day comparing results baking with a Dutch oven vs. a baking stone. Luckily the guy didn’t say one was better than the other, but I totally disagreed with his conclusions that one is better suited for everyday baking (Dutch oven) and the stone is much better for baking multiple loaves. Irrespective of his results, when I saw his oven setup, it didn’t surprise me that his loaf baked on a stone didn’t have as much oven spring as his Dutch oven.

So… based on what Chad Robertson and on what that video showed, I have one thing to say: They probably didn’t set up their ovens correctly and have their stones appropriately positioned in the oven to catch the steam. It’s physics. Heat makes things rise, so the steam is going to collect in top half – or at least in the case of my oven – the top 30%-40% of the oven. If you have your stone too low, your dough will not get enough steam and your oven rise will seriously suffer. Take a look at the diagram below:

With my stone correctly positioned, I get GREAT oven spring because my baking stone is placed so that my loaves catch the steam! Check out the bread that I’ve made in the last few days…

And here’s how my own oven is set up:

When I bake ciabatta and baguettes, I move the stone one notch up as they are low-profile loaves and I want to make sure they’re in the steam. In addition to my broiler pan, I also use two loaf pans with water-soaked towels in them to provide even more steam. I had to do this because my oven is very good at venting moisture, so I have to produce more steam at a faster rate than the rate my oven can exhaust it.

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