Aga Saga part three

The gnarly doughy loaves coming out of the (third) new oven got me down (you’ve got to have nice bread to eat, and it’s my “signature dish” for goodness sake). I consulted my bread books and the internet. The advice was confusing. The dough is too wet or too dry. It’s over-proved or under-proved. The oven is too hot or not hot enough.

Time for some analysis. I’d been using the same recipe and the same method, more or less, for donkeys years, but the oven was not the same. Was that the only variable?

Strictly speaking, no. There are many variables when baking. Flour – even the same brand; it’s a natural product, and the flour millers are allowed some variation of moisture and protein content. Yeast – dried, fresh, fast action. Kneading time and pressure. Rising time and room temperature. Size and shape of loaf. Proving time. Baking tin, tray, tile or stone. Slashing (loaf not wrists), knife or razor, depth of cut, etc, etc.

I used different flour, different yeast, all my different tins, trays and tiles. There wasn’t enough time left in my life to vary each parameter independently so I didn’t do that, and I didn’t keep records either. So much for the scientific method. Anyway the loaves were still coming out gnarly and doughy, whatever I tried.

My husband was taking an interest too. He suggested all the above and I just got more and more cross with the oven. I said, I’ve always baked bread like this, I’ve used lots of other ovens, I don’t understand it. He suggested the bread wasn’t rising evenly, but why, and what to do about it?

Last week, he took a really close look inside a loaf. We both could see doughy bits next to stupidly large holes. He said, the top crust is very thick and I think it’s trapping air (carbon dioxide actually) inside the loaf and stopping it from rising. And light began to dawn. I remembered that when I baked in my daughter’s fan oven, the best results came when baking in a cast iron pan with a lid, to stop the fan from drying the top crust out too much. Maybe my new, FAN, oven was doing the same.

The next batch of bread I put in to the oven with the fan off, using what the oven guide calls its “conventional grill” setting (grill? I think not), “top and bottom heat. ideal for traditional roasting. The meat is placed in the middle of the oven, roast potatoes towards the top”.

After half an hour fiddling with the temperature control and kneeling by the oven peering anxiously in, Great British Bake Off style, I took the loaves out. YES! Decent loaves. No doughy bits. Biggish holes but not too big. I kissed my husband.

With hindsight, I can’t understand why I followed the oven’s user guide. Specifically, the bit which reads “Intensive bake – fan, top and bottom heat – suitable for food with a high moisture content, such as quiche, bread and cheese cake.” Or perhaps I can understand why. As a software developer, I’ve learnt to stick to the rules.

Clearly this particular user guide is not completely trustworthy. But the bit which reads “WARNING! – the appliance and its accessible parts become hot during use” seems to be accurate.

Loaves are baking as I write. I hope to goodness they’ll be nice as we’re very hungry.

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