The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts


MNBäcker's picture

No decent crust on French Bread

December 4, 2011 - 11:34am -- MNBäcker


I finished my WFO earlier this fall and am baking in it now. Breads are great and sell faster than I can bake them, but I encountered one particular issue:

I seem to have a problem gettin that nice, crispy crust on my French Bread. I am told that with my Whole Wheat or even Whole Wheat mix, the crust usually gets softer after the loaves cool off, but I'm a little disappointed that even the French Bread (Reinharts recipe, made with Sam's Club high-gluten bread flour) gets soft after it cools off.

ph_kosel's picture

In recent weeks I've been kibitzing a friend who's starting up a new restaurant where he's been trying out a recently purchased, second hand, commercial "combo oven".  The oven is proving a bit cranky and he's working out the bugs and tinkering with bake times and temperatures.  I got a chance to bake a couple test loaves in the oven and was very impressed with the "jump rise" achieved in "combo" mode (heat with superheated steam in the oven).

^My friend's big "combo oven" (not something for the home kitchen!)

^test loaf from the big "combo oven"

You can clearly see how the loaf lifted itself the sheet pan when cooked in the combo oven with a lot of steam.

Impressed, I tried "cooking with steam" in my home oven by dumping a cup of hot water in a pan near the bottom of the oven and slamming the door.  I'd previously thought (erroneously) that this would keep the oven near the boiling point of water, but that's wrong.  The oven runs near the set temperature (usually ~450F) and there's simply a lot of humidity in the oven, near saturation.

Here's a loaf I baked with steam at home:

^loaf baked with steam (with my beloved wife's home-made tomato jam on a slice)

Notice that the above loaf is round on the bottom as well as on the top from lifting itself off the baking sheet!

In my home oven experiments I notice when I cook with steam this way I'm getting much more browning on the top of the loaf than the bottom.  I'm delighted with the jump rise I get with steam, and I think I should be able to get the top and bottom more similar with some more tinkering.

Now, on to shopping for  and using brotforms/bannetons. 

A shopping report first. My friend with the new restaurant mentioned needing some inexpensive baskets for forming/proofing loaves.  I did some shopping and found a big selection of inexpensive baskets at including three kinds of "brotform" basket and also some willow "banneton"-style baskets.  They don't sell cloth liners for the brotforms.  That's OK because my friend with the restaurant usually lines his proofing baskets with cloth restaurant napkin which I found cheap at another site.

I ordered some brotform baskets and some napkins from the above sources.  My friend with the restaurant really likes the brotform baskets and I do too.  The napkins just came a few minutes ago; I like them because they have a very tight, shiny weave that should be hard for dough to stick to.  My friend has used similar napkins with good success.

I've had a little trouble occasionally in the past with dough sometimes sticking to custom made brotform liners. The ones I have fit very nicely but have a softer, slightly less tightly woven fabric than my new napkins.  Recently it occurred to me part of the reason dough stuck to the liner sometimes I've had problems scoring loaves was I'm not used to letting a loaf "rest" on the counter until the surface dries out a bit and a skin forms.  I tried doing exactly that, let the dough rest uncovered until the surface didn't feel sticky, dusted it with a little rice flour, and plopped it inverted into a lined brotform.  It worked great!  The dough showed zero inclination to stick coming out of the brotform, and scoring was a breeze as the "skin" on the loaf parted under the razor blade!





elledeca's picture

Where to rest my loafs for good crust?

September 14, 2011 - 12:46am -- elledeca

Hello! I have been baking for a few months and I am really enjoying it. However, I don't manage to get a crunchy crust!

I use Richard Bertinet's dough recipes with 70% hydration, white or rye, no fats. I pre-heat the oven to 250 a couple of hours in advance, I have bricks in the oven and a big tray of lava rocks to make steam after I put the bread in the oven.

preemiedoc's picture


August 11, 2011 - 3:47am -- preemiedoc

Doing a new kitchen and evaluating the Kitchen Aid Steam models. Anyone with any experience with this oven? The model I'm looking at is the KDRU767V. Greatly appreciate any input. Thanks, preemiedoc

MNBäcker's picture

Best way to bake and steam with a Fibrament stone...?

February 13, 2011 - 9:30am -- MNBäcker

A couple of questions:

I have a Fibrament stone in my oven that maybe leaves an inch or inch and a half around the edges from the oven wall. I always use convection heat, since I thought it might be best to move the hot air around in the oven, but now I wonder if that's still a good idea, with the airflow severely restricted by the stone? I have also noticed a couple of hot spots in the back center of the oven, close to the spot where the convection fan is located.

varda's picture

Over the past few weeks I have been trying to "take it up a level."   I had hit the wall on getting properly shaped and slashed naturally leavened loaves.    LindyD's recent post on generating steam set off a lightbulb in my head.  The symptoms I have been trying to cure are cuts that open a little and then seal over, and a split side.   I had been convinced that this was caused by underproofing even though I was doing my best with the poke test, rise times and so on.   When I read her post I started to wonder if I was having trouble with steam.   I had been preheating a dry jelly roll pan on the base of the oven and pouring in cold water at the same time as loading the loaves.  This sets off a cloud of steam and then the water continues to boil for around 15 minutes before it evaporates completely so I thought I was all set.   But I do have a brand new gas oven and after reading Lindy's post, I began to suspect that it was efficiently venting out steam as fast as I could generate it.   After surfing around a bit, I found the following excellent comment in a post on side splitting   So I surfed around some more for steaming methods that didn't involve going out and buying rocks and I found the following: and I tried it and dramatic improvement.    But it involved a little too much mucking around with steaming hot towels so I experimented some more and came up with a similar, but what seemed to me like a simpler and safer method.   I placed some soaked towels into bread pans half filled with unheated tap water on each side of my stone half an hour before loading the loaves, and let them preheat with everything else.   By the time I loaded the loaves, I got hit in the face with a cloud of steam.   Then fifteen minutes later, I removed the bread pans (with a long tongs) and once again got hit in the face with a cloud of steam, so I figured that the oven had been steamy enough in the interim.    The bottom line is the cuts opened, and the sides did not.   In fact they opened too much.   I have overdone it.   Too much steam?   Something else?   By the way, this site is just fantastic.   I would still be baking out of Clayton using speed em up 70s methods if it hadn't been for all of you.

nojiri's picture

Will a commercial steam pan work for general baking?

December 12, 2010 - 6:27pm -- nojiri


I'm a total newb trying to buy a stainless steel baking pan for my wife.  She needs a very specicfic size (10x12) that will fit in our convection oven, and I'm wondering if a commercial steam pan like the one in the link below will work OK for general baking.  It's 24 guage SS and is 10 x 12 x 2.5.  Will this work OK, or do you have any other suggestions?  Thanks!


Cheers! - nojiri


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