Bold Baking


As co-founder of a baking Meetup group, I get to see a lot of what Michael Pollan somewhat crassly calls, “crumb shots.” One consistent error that I see in many of those bread selfies, is that the baker did not leave the dough in the oven long enough. The crust is too light in color.

I’ve found that my best loaves are the ones where the crust is chestnut brown, taken from the oven just before it starts to burn on the bottom. Too soon and you have a light colored loaf with a soft crust and gummy interior. It took me a long time to figure out that you get a good crust by baking your bread almost to the burning point. Josey Baker calls this “bold baking.” It’s bold because it goes against the beginner’s fear of burning.

While crust color provides a convenient clue for when your loaf is ready to remove from the oven, oven temperature and baking times are also factors. If the bread bakes too fast you’ll end up with a soft crust; if the oven runs too cool you’ll get a crust that’s too hard. In our old O’Keefe and Merritt, I bake my bread at 500º F (260º C). If you’re using a convection oven you’ll need to bake at a lower temperature.

So be bold baker!

Leave a comment


  1. blech. I’m not a fan of “just nearly burnt.” I undercook by Josey’s standards (and yours) but still aim to avoid gummy – a less-than-leather-tough crust makes slicing lots easier.

    It’s a matter of taste. Your pic looks pretty good, but Josey’s (by my taste) look too far gone (one of one 15 year olds also agreed when I tried to be bold :|)

    • Agreed. I don’t care for very dark crusts, either.

      I bake my Josie Baker bread in a 9″ X 5″ loaf pan placed inside the dutch oven; it rises beautifully, does not get over browned and gives us a loaf shaped perfectly for sandwiches, which is pretty much all we use bread for. Oh, and breadcrumbs.

  2. Big fan of the bold bake here. Since I’ve switched to 100% whole wheat loaves at around 100% hydration, however, I’m having trouble striking the right balance between a boldly colored loaf, a thin crust that isn’t leathery, and a crumb that isn’t gummy. Do you (or any fellow readers) have any specific suggestions on baking boldly while balancing the other elements?

    Last time, baking on the bottom rack at 500 for about 50 minutes (35 covered/15 uncovered) gave me a gummy loaf and a slightly burned bottom crust.

    • You might try less hydration–maybe 90% and bake in the lower third of the oven rather than on the bottom.

    • Do you know your oven is running at the right temp? Get a cheap oven thermometer as a backup. Sounds like your oven might be running cool.

    • Thanks! I’ll monitor the temperature during the next bake and will reconsider my formula if it’s not the oven. I’m a bit hesitant to go much dryer, but I am in the super-humid southeast and perhaps I’m not compensating for that enough.

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