By Harold McGee
The modern metal oven is certainly easier to bake in than the wood-fired oven, but it isn’t as ideally suited to breadmaking. It usually has a maximum cooking temperature of 500°F/250°C. And its thin walls are incapable of storing much heat, so its temperature is maintained by means of gas flames or electrical elements that get red-hot. When these heat sources switch on during baking, the effective temperature temporarily rises well above the target baking temperature, and the bread can be scorched. Because they are vented to allow the escape of combustion gases (carbon dioxide and water), gas ovens don’t retain the loaves’ steam well during the important early stage. Electric ovens do a better job. Some of the advantages of the traditional stored-heat oven can be obtained from the use of ceramic baking stones or wraparound ceramic oven inserts, which are preheated to the oven’s maximum temperature and provide more intensive and even heat during baking.