A nicely browned crust

Standard

My latest task has been to determine why I am failing to get a deep brown crust on my loaves.  The hallmark of breads that come out of professional bakeries is often their intensely browned crust.  Is it possible to get such a crust at home?  For one, bakeries use commercial equipment – rack ovens, proofing chambers, etc.  Then there is the usage of various additives which are often not available or hard-to-get for the home baker.  Bakeries definitely have the advantage.  But again, is it possible to duplicate a great crust at home?  I was beginning to think it was impossible.

At first I chalked it up to the electric oven…but then I started talking to some bakers, and I even emailed the Bakers at KAF for some guidance.  Here is a summary of the things that can cause that pale, sickly looking crust:

  • Overproofing the dough.  If you overproof, the yeast will consume the sugars needed to undergo the Maillard reaction.  In other words, your crust won’t be as brown as it could be if you tend to overproof your dough.  Several bakers have told me that I should slightly underproof.   This is not as easy as it seems, but it is simplified by understanding how the bread reacts when you gently press a finger onto the surface of the dough.
  • For baguettes baked in a standard 3-loaf baguette pan, KAF said to remove the stone from the oven when using the baguette pan.  This is something I did not do…I was keeping the stone in while using the baguette pan.
  • Bake longer.  I admittedly have a fear of overbaking.  But sometimes…keeping the loaves in 5 minutes longer might mean the difference between that pale crust and a dark, inviting crust.
  • Oversteaming – it is possible to oversteam, even in an electric oven.  The steam is only needed during the first few moments of baking.  You should not strive for a continuous presence of steam in the oven.  I was doing this at one point by adding several cups of ice cubes to the steam pan…the water was never boiling away and just sat there simmering the whole time.
  • KAF sells some products that assist in achieving a darker crust in the home kitchen.

I am totally open to any comments and suggestions.  I am learning as I go, and any thoughts can only help!

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