The best oven temperature to bake your sourdough bread is at 235 Celcius for 40 minutes which results in the best oven spring, and dark browning of the crust without burning. Oven temperature is reduced by 10 Celcius when baking sourdough bread with sugar and fats (such as honey, milk and olive oil).
The best temperature for baking sourdough bread is determined by the temperature which gives us the best oven spring and crust coloration. Baking at very low oven temperature results in poor oven spring and a pale crust coloration. Baking at very high oven temperature results in an uncooked crumb and a burnt crust.
What happens when you bake sourdough bread at a lower temperature?
The recommended temperature for baking sourdough bread is pretty high at 235 Celcius. Some home ovens are not able to reach this temperature and you may be wondering how this will affect your bake.
Foodgeek channel on YouTube did an experiment on how different baking temperatures affect the sourdough bread, it is a 12 minute video as attached. The table below summarizes the results of his experiment.
Oven spring and crust coloration gets incrementally higher as the oven temperature is increases from 170 Celcius to 230 Celcius.
Baking at 170 Celcius produces a flat loaf from insufficient oven spring, with a very pale colored crust. In my opinion 170 Celcius is too low of a temperature to bake sourdough bread.
Baking at 190 Celcius produces a decent rise in the baked loaf, but crust coloration is still quite pale. Hence, 190 Celcius is not the ideal temperature to bake sourdough bread with, unless you are okay with a pale crust.
Baking at 210 Celcius produces a good rise in the baked loaf, with a nicely browned crust that looks visually appealing. 210 Celcius is the minimum oven temperature to bake a good sourdough bread.
Baking at 230 Celcius produces the best oven spring and the deepest darkest coloration of the crust at the verge of being burnt. 230 Celcius approaches the maximum oven temperature to bake a good sourdough bread without the crust burning.
What happens when you bake sourdough bread at a temperature that is too high?
Sourdough bread that is baked at too high of a temperature (more than 240 Celcius) will cause the crust to get burnt before the centre of the bread is cooked.
The heat from the oven is absorbed very quickly by the surface of the dough which will eventually form the crust of the bread, but the heat from the oven takes a longer time to reach the centre of the dough.
Hence, baking at too high of a temperature will cause the crust to get heated up at a much faster rate than the crumb of the bread, causing the crust to burn quickly leaving the crumb uncooked.
This is particularly evident when baking sourdough bread with added sugar and fats; the sugar and fats hastens the Maillard and caramelization reaction of the baking loaf, causing the crust to darken much more rapidly than a loaf baked without sugar and fats.
If temperature of the oven is not reduced by 10 Celcius when baking sugary and oily sourdough bread, the crust will get burnt before the crumb is cooked.
Oven temperatures are inaccurate! Calibrating your oven temperature with an oven thermometer
Oven temperatures are notoriously inaccurate! Even when your oven is telling you it has heated up to 250 Celcius, do not trust it. Most home ovens do not get at hot as what is indicated by the temperature knob.
To calibrate your oven temperature, you would need to purchase an accurate oven thermometer to measure the temperature of your oven.
First, place the oven thermometer inside the oven, and preheat the oven to 235 Celcius by using the temperature knob on the oven. Once preheated, take note of the temperature reading from your oven thermometer and cross reference it with the temperature setting on your oven.
If the oven thermometer reading coincides with the temperature setting of your oven, you are all good: if you set the oven to heat up to 235 Celcius, you know it is doing its job.
If the oven thermometer reading is lower than the oven temperature setting, you have to increase the oven temperature setting the next time to achieve the right baking temperature.
If the oven thermometer reading is higher than the oven temperature setting, you have to decrease the oven temperature setting the next time to achieve the right baking temperature.
Preheat the dutch oven to a higher temperature before loading the dough into the oven
A very popular method of baking sourdough bread is to bake the bread inside a dutch oven which helps to create a steamed environment for the loaf. A common mistake when baking sourdough bread is to preheat the oven to the exact baking temperature before loading in the dough.
Instead, you should preheat the oven and the dutch oven, at a slightly higher temperature to offset the drop in temperature when you open the oven doors to load in the dough.
Tartine’s basic country bread recipe instructs the baker to preheat the oven and dutch oven to 260 Celcius before the dough is loaded into the oven.
Once the oven has reached 260 Celcius, the dutch oven is removed from the oven, the dough is loaded into the dutch oven, the loaded dutch oven is placed back into the oven, and the temperature setting on the oven is immediately dropped to 232 Celcius for the rest of the bake.