I sometimes need a saw to cut into my loaves :)
Am I steaming too much? ( I normally throw three ice cubes on a hot skillet, 450F for 15 minutes, then lowered to 400F for an additional 20).
Too much steam? I doubt it. In spite of what you may have heard or read, Ice cubes don't provide much steam. Remember that steam is produced ONLY when the water source (a pan or water or the drippings from your ice cubes) reaches 112 degrees. Try using a pan of water on the bottom rack of your oven with about half a cup of water in it and put it iin place during preheat. When you load your loaf, pour another half cup of boiling water into the pan and close the oven. You'll get instant steam, and lots of it. Then, about every thirty seconds after loading youru oven, spritz the interior walls with a spray of water. Do that three or four times before furning the oven temperature down for your final bake.
There are lot's of ways to steam...I agree with flournwater, I doubt you had to much steam! I've tried just about every method I can think of listed on this site for home oven steaming. Right now this is my favorite method of steaming and I have no complaints. Here is a photo of a recent example of breads, I baked using the method I show Here.
I get great thin, crackly crusts using the "cloche" method, and this time of year is a great time to experiment because big foil turkey roasting pans are everywhere and usually on sale. for very little.
Just make sure that the turkey roaster pan fits on your stone with no gaps. I like to preheat the pan in in the oven, but if I forget it doesn't seem to matter. When you place your dough in the oven, cover it with the pan for 1/3 to 1/2 of the baking time. The hydration in the dough makes its own steam, and the resulting crust is awesome. No hot water, ice cubes, or steam to deal with.
If you like this method, you may eventually want to trade out the easily smushed foil pan with something sturdier. I bought a big enamel turkey roaster from Goodwill for $3 and use the bottom as a "cloche".
I also bought an inexpensive clay baker. I preheat the lid only, put the dough in the bottom and cover it in the oven with the hot lid, and remove it 1/3 to 1/2 way through. It's great.
If you suspect steam, try absolutely no steam with your next batch, a easy process of elimination! You didnt say what type of dough/bread, how it was mixed and feremented, what size the loaves were or how the rest of the bread stands up, colour ? oven spring? interior -fluffy? open? dense? chewy?
Obtaining a good hard crust is something we try to achieve with some breads ie ciabata etc. These are normally achieved with a cooler temp over a longer oven period and no additions like sugars and fats.
Ruckerz: i used to get very hard crusts as well, until i slightly lowered the temperature of my oven. I used to bake at about 230-240 C throughout the bake and end up with flavourful but teeth-chipping crusts. Now i go for a high temperature in the intial 10 mins then slightly turn it down. But it all depends on your oven and type of bread too. You just have to hover around the oven to gauge. I think too that steaming prevents an over-hard crust.
My problem is that my slashes tend to close up. They open up nicely then i watch in dismay as they close up. ANyone can help me out ??? I cant decide if it's too much steam or too little?