Be a Fan of Non-Fan … Ovens

Bloomer loaf baked with an even rise

In the first two posts of this series we looked at the importance of scoring the dough and introducing moisture into the oven as two techniques to bake a decent loaf of bread.

Yet even with these measures in place, the rise in the oven can still go awry, with the loaf splitting or rising in a lopsided manner. In this post, we look at the potential culprit … the oven itself.

The Lopsided Loaf

Ever baked bread and found that the loaf cooked more quickly on one side, and that side was always facing the back of the oven? Does getting an even rise require you to turn the loaf around in the oven partway through the bake?

This was my experience in the early days of bread-making. I would also sometimes get a bulge in the side of the loaf facing the oven door, even after adding moisture to the oven.

I first put this down to the loaf tin I was using. Yet after trying to make another loaf with the tin round the other way, the result was the same. Then I thought the oven was warmer at the back than the front. But if that was the case, why did everything else cook evenly? It’s not like chicken roasts quicker on one side.

So what was causing this to uneven cook? Turns out it was the oven itself, specifically the fan.

Moisture and Fan/Convection Ovens

The oven at home that I bake bread in is a fan, or convection, oven. As such, it has a big fan at the back of it. This is stating the obvious, some would say bleeding obvious.

Now consider that the role of that fan is to circulate air around the oven to keep a uniform temperature inside the cavity. It achieves this by blowing air from the back of the oven to the front, which then circulates around the oven, keeping the warm air moving and the temperature pretty much constant.

And therein lies the problem. In addition to blowing warm air away from the back and circulating it around the oven cavity, it blows the water vapour away too. This creates a small pocket of air centred at the back of the oven that will be mostly devoid of moisture … and precisely where the dough is baking into bread.

The result is that the crust nearest the fan will dry out and quickly hardens, leading to a lopsided loaf. It’s also why turning around partway through is required to get an even rise, or at least something approaching one.

Getting To Know Your Oven

With a non-fan, or conventional, oven, the moisture imbalance problem mostly goes away as there is no air flow inside the cavity. Some moisture will escape when the door is opened, a few more squirts from a water sprayer can resolve this. Most fan ovens come with a non-fan setting so this could be used for the bake.

However with this setting turned on for the entire bake, the oven will have a temperature imbalance. The top of the loaf could cook too fast and look slightly burned, whilst the base of the loaf looks positively anaemic.

So which setting to use? The answer could be non-fan for the whole bake or a combination of both. This is simply getting to know your oven and comes with a bit of practice.

For the best loaves at home, I use the oven on a non-fan setting for the first 12-14 minutes. After this point the crust has risen and solidified and moisture is not so important. Then I switch the oven to fan setting for the remainder of the bake. This will re-balance the temperature throughout the oven space and lead to an even overall bake.

The picture above is of a loaf made using exactly the same loaf tin, techniques and types/brands of ingredients as the loaf in the previous section, but using a combination of fan and non-fan settings as described above. It’s not perfect – the grooves were not deep enough so the crust hardened on top too quickly and the side is slightly split. But it does show a clean rise across the loaf.

I hope you have enjoyed these posts so far, and it helps with your bread making. There will be more coming in the future, so stay tuned. You can subscribe for updates using the Follow option either on the right hand side or at the bottom of the page. Your email address will not be passed onto third parties. If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments below.

Happy baking!

On a technical note, I had to delay the publication of this post by a day because the ambient temperature here went up by 10°C/18°F in the intervening days between bakes. I didn’t take this into account and the dough over-proved. That’s a topic for a future post though.

2 thoughts on “Be a Fan of Non-Fan … Ovens

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