The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Lesson Five, Number 1: Steam the Oven

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Lesson Five, Number 1: Steam the Oven

Professional bakers have steam injectors inside of their ovens. Right after placing their loaves inside, they give the loaves a good blast of steam. The steam keeps the outside of the loaves moist and supple so that the bread can spring for as long as possible. Once the outside of the loaf begins to dry out it hardens, preventing further spring. Then the crust begins to form.

Home bakers need to get creative to reproduce this effect. Some folks suggest dabbling the loaves with water before placing them in the oven, but I've found this results in a softer crust. For maximum oven spring and a crunchy crust, the trick is to get a lot of steam in the oven early and then have the oven dry out for the remainder of the baking.

A warning: steam is hot. Really really hot. Steam is also wet and many electronic ovens do not like wet. Please use the utmost caution trying any of these techniques, and be aware that damage to person or property can occur as a result of these techniques. Try these at your own risk!

I've use a couple of different tricks to get steam in my oven. The simplest one is:

squirt bottle

a squirt bottle. Right after placing the loaves in the oven, give the walls of the oven a good spray of water, being careful not to nail the light bulb or it will explode. The water will evaporate immediately, creating steam.

That didn't create as much steam as I wanted, so I moved on to:

A scrappy old brownie pan that I punched 5 holes in the bottom of. I'd place it below my baking stone for preheating, like this:

When I was putting my bread in the oven I'd pour a cup of hot water in the pan, some of which evaporates immediately and some of which drips onto the bottom of the oven and evaporates there.

That still wasn't creating as much steam as I wanted, so now I am using an iron pan that I picked up a thrift shop. See it at the bottom of my oven, under the heating coil:

That pan gets extremely hot, so when I pour a cup of hot water into it the water evaporates in seconds.

As you can see, you can make use of whatever tools you have handy. Just be careful not to get vapor burns while pouring or spraying the hot water into the vessel.

Also, be aware that some people on this site have had their ovens malfunction after using heavy steam. Newer, more computerized ovens appear to be more vulnerable to moisture related problems. "Baker beware" is the mantra when using this technique: what is good for your crust may end up being bad for your pocketbook!

And, finally, Number 0: Practice.

Comments

davidanderson5033's picture
davidanderson5033

I bake Italian breads but I think the concept is the same. I heat the oven 500, pour the water in the bottom pan and spray the sides. I then close, turn the heat to 450. Finally in the first 10 minutes of baking I spray the bread 3 times.

http://viewitaly.blogspot.com/

philly_loaf_lover's picture
philly_loaf_lover

I find, that the higher the temperature of the oven, the better the bread.  Unfortunately, you put water in a pan, and the evaporating water (not the steam but evaporating water) will effectively bring the temperature of the oven down.  factor that with opening your oven to spray the water?  It just does not work. 

 What I do with a loaf, that I learned from a baker and use every weekend, is to wet my hands, and quickly rub down the loaf before I put the bread in, to get the outside moist and a bit "slimy".  Then, I put the bread on a stone.  as this loaf cooks, it gives a good, classic french bread skin.  The guy was a patient of mine and had a very busy bakery in Brooklyn.  I offered to take bread instead of copays. 

brdmkr's picture
brdmkr

Try this for steam:

Buy a couple of fireplace liner bricks from a masonry supply store (they're big and ivory-colored, and made for exposure to high temperatures)

Heat the bricks for approximately 45 minutes on your outside grill (mine is natural gas fired) until they are extremely hot.  I used to do this with an old 2-burner electric hotplate, which worked great.

When the bricks are hot, put them in a large metal baking pan (I used doubled up foil pans, which work fine), put them in the BOTTOM of the oven, which you have preheated to baking temperature, put the bread in the oven on a rack in the middle of the oven, pour a large glass of water (approximately 20 oz) into the pan with the bricks, and step back.  If you have really heated up the bricks, you will get a great blast of steam (be ready to close the door quickly). 

You will get a terrific, french bread type crust (even a little shiny if you have the bricks hot enough), and you will also get something of a brick oven taste.  I have been doing this for 20 years, and the results have always been great.

Kaukulator's picture
Kaukulator

I use lava rocks instead of bricks and the results have always been great too.


Just like this  - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PERdGJCTY1A

Rosalie's picture
Rosalie

Whenever I bake bread, I automatically spray with my water bottle, maybe opening the oven door a couple more times to spray.

Is this tack only for crusty breads, or should we be using it on other types too?

Similarly, regarding the previous comment about temperature, should I not spray breads baked under 400 degrees?  Or should I be baking these breads at 450 or so for the first ten minutes with steam?

Give me a context....

Rosalie

Wisecarver's picture
Wisecarver (not verified)

I absolutely must have a good crust or else. ;-)
What I do is use a thick cake pan, heart shaped.
I put an inch of water in the pan and let it heat with the oven.
My electric Frigidaire oven vents nicely at the top.
Typically I heat the oven to 425 degrees.
I remove the pan of water after the bread has been in for 5-6 minutes.
So far it has not harmed the oven and I find it works great.
My kids love watching this, call it the Fire-breathing oven.

edgewood66's picture
edgewood66

I preheat the oven at 500 degrees. I only spray the bread with water. I put the bread in the oven at 500 degrees for the first 10 min, and lower to 400 degrees for the rest of the time (aprox. 30 min). It works very good!

Peter Zachos's picture
Peter Zachos

A little note:


Habitual presence of large amounts of water vapor in a hot oven with a hot baking stone will eventually shatter the stone. Stones need to be kept dry. I've lost my share of stones as a result of forgetting to remove the pan of water from the oven.  


Keep this in mind when baking. Typically I don't use stones when making bread that requires the initial steam. I've made stellar french bread loaves on a foil-lined aluminum half sheet sprinkled with cornmeal.  

LindyD's picture
LindyD

Can you define "large amounts?"  And the type of oven you have (electric, gas)?


I'm curious about the type of stone you're using primarily because every bread book I own advocates the use of a stone for hearth breads - as well as steam.  It's worked fine for me during the past three years.


Perhaps you're using too much water?

microsuperman's picture
microsuperman

I have heard that cooking bread in a dutch oven, in your oven, can solve this problem. Being that I am new to cooking and bread baking. I don't own one, so I have not tried it.

Rathjo3471's picture
Rathjo3471

I'm going to the FCI for their bread baking program. I have a gas stove and asked the head of the dept how I could get steam and he showed me how to take a cast iron skillet and weights (I'm using a length of logging chain coiled in my skillet), then toss a handful of ice cubes in it before I load my bread. So far this has worked amazingly well. I just got a 14 x 16 baking stone--so tomorrow will be my first time with steam and stone. I am expecting great results. (I'm making liquid levain baguettes and pain au fromage). Hope this helpful.

whizkid's picture
whizkid

I do the cast iron pan thing myself, but have never heard of adding weights.  What's the purpose of them? Is it to add more mass to ask as a heat sink or to increase surface area for evaporation?

Chuck's picture
Chuck

IMHO this "lesson" should include



  • a very prominent warning about the hazards of whole-oven steam to electronic oven controls

  • prominent mention of the "cover" technique ("magic bowl", inverted foil roaster, Dutch Ovens, pans used by the no-knead methods, etc.)


The current information is not only misleading; it's downright dangerous.

Floydm's picture
Floydm

I'm not sure what is misleading about it because those do represent the techniques I use and the only time I've gotten burned was using the Dutch Oven technique, but I certainly don't mind adding more of a disclaimer and a link or two to other options.  


Can you recommend a post that illustrates a technique you prefer?

Chuck's picture
Chuck

My issue is not steam burns (although that's an issue too), but kaputing electronic oven controls!


Currently on another thread here, a user who borked his oven controls three times and is now in the market for an entirely new oven complained that he had no idea what he was doing was risky until it was way way too late. He's right! The writeup contains no warning about electronic controls - it gives the impressions a) whole-oven steaming is the only possible method and b) everybody can and should do it. It's only after perusing old threads in detail some folks realize that everybody SHOULD NOT and DOES NOT do this, as it risks breaking their oven.


The obvious alternative to whole-oven steaming that I feel should be mentioned is steaming only the bread (or "covering" if you prefer). From what other threads say, this alternative generally produces equally good or usually even better results, yet doesn't risk damaging the oven. This method hasn't gotten a well-known name, and is referred to by a whole variety of monikers including "magic bowl", inverted roaster, upside down foil pan, covered pan such as Dutch Oven, etc. etc.


thanks!

Floydm's picture
Floydm

Yeah, this writeup does have a disclaimer about electronic controls and has for at least 3 or 4 years.  Right after warning folks to be careful not to burn themselves I wrote:


Also, be aware that some people on this site have had their ovens malfunction after using heavy steam. Newer, more computerized ovens appear to be more vulnerable to moisture related problems. "Baker beware" is the mantra when using this technique: what is good for your crust may end up being bad for your pocketbook!


I added a second disclaimer higher up in the article today.


I have had two ovens with electronic controls at this house and my previous house.  I've steamed the bejeesus out of both ovens and never had any malfunctions, which frankly has been disappointing because I've wanted to replace both of them with something better but I'm too cheap to replace something that works just fine.  I don't know why mine haven't had problems and other folks have -- they certainly haven't been high end ovens, just run-of-the-mill Whirlpools or Maytags -- but clearly the "your mileage may vary" mantra holds as true here as "baker beware" does.


Again, if you are aware of good demonstrations of the covered/foil/Dutch Oven techniques here I'll gladly link to them.  

Kim-Nora's picture
Kim-Nora

Hi, Chuck. I'm a few years late in commenting here but I thought I'd lurk and learn before spreading some of my own wisdom, which now may be useful to others I steam only the bread by creating the next best thing to a brick oven loaf. I bake my risen, misted and slashed hearth loaf under a preheated (to 550°) terra cotta pot (I plug the hole with a couple washers and a nut, creating a handle). But I don't know what you'd call this method either. KN

RoBStaR's picture
RoBStaR

I do the cast iron pan thing myself, but have never heard of adding weights.  What's the purpose of them? Is it to add more mass to ask as a heat sink or to increase surface area for evaporation?


 


YES, the more steam that is created the better, so by creating the surface area in which the ice can melt, more steam is produced. I took the Parisian Bread course at FCI as well, and that's the technique they told us to do to try to replicate the crusty baguettes we produced in class at home. Also, be sure to cover the glass with a towel when adding the ice..precaution. For me, instead of using the chains as suggested, am gonna use the lava rock on a rectangular tray heated at the same length of time as my 15x20 stone. bicycle chains have also been suggested.

whizkid's picture
whizkid

Great! Thanks for the insight.  Lavarocks sound like an awesome idea, as I figure the porosity would probably allow a little more water to be added without having too big of a pool sitting in the bottom of the pan.  I use the suggestion in BBA to use boiling water rather than ice, which creates instant steam, but I feel like the steam is gone way too quickly.

Savvymama's picture
Savvymama

I found this on youtube and thought it was brillant idea. She uses a stone then a large roasting pan lid to cover the bread for a mini steam oven.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4PHUyRmpPc

Oxfordman's picture
Oxfordman

I have used the Steam Bread Maker for the last few months and I have had great results.  My only problem is that when I bake I usually make 30-40 pieces and I can only fit 5 or 6 at a time in there.  I found and old review for this at http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/2223/review-steam-maker-bread-maker


Using steam definately makes a huge difference in your bread.  It does make things a lot easier and safer for me.

Feragoh's picture
Feragoh

I've tried many of the homegrown methods of steaming bread in my oven and the best thing I've come up with is something that occurred to me out of the blue.. I have coil-style elements (burners) on my stove top and most ovens with that style of stove top have a "chimney" or "vent" under the back-right element that goes directly into the oven. I've had great results from removing the element during baking to pour small amounts of water into the vent pipe as often as needed. The advantage I could see to this is that I don't have to open the door and let all the heat and steam out while I'm spraying. You could even set something with a slow or or adjustable drip over the vent to keep the steam at a  constant level.

This is what I've found to work best in my oven. Hopefully it works as well for you! :)

 

clwseattle's picture
clwseattle

I recently read a Ciril Hitz book and he recommended filling a loaf pan with CLEAN, heavy nuts and bolts. Preheat this pan of bolts when you preheat the oven, then when you are ready  to bake, CAREFULLY fill the pan about three quarters with boiling water. I think this will solve the problem of bring down the oven temp  and still create the right amount of steam. I have not tried it yet, but it sound perfectly reasonable.

pdurusau's picture
pdurusau

I have assembled a baking stone from smaller 6 x 6 stones from http://www.californiapizzastones.com/. Quite by accident I found out that I can pour water directly on the stones (I was aiming for the pan below). ;-)

The amount of steam was quite large (at 500 degrees it should be).

Curious if anyone is using a separate stone(s) onto which to either pour or spray water? I am planning on obtaining a small long necked pot to see if I can locate the steam source further to the back of the oven.

Thanks!

Patrick