The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts this what is supposed to happen when i put the ice in the oven?

Cara's picture
Cara this what is supposed to happen when i put the ice in the oven?

alrigth as a gift to myself i bought TBB and BBA for Christmas. After a few months of baking bread I am definitely a "bread head" I absolutely love this craft.  I am a nerd at heart and the chemistry of it all fascinates me!  The fact that if I screw something up I know exactly why it happended and can correct it next time.  Not to mention the fact that it seems to be a relatively inexpensive hobby for me (compared to scrapbooking and stamping, computers, etc.).


Well I am making the regular Hearth Bread and it said to put 1/2 of ice cubes in the pan underneath my baking rack for steam........I get this.  But after about 3 minutes My house is well...........kind of smoky!  It doesn't smell like things burning, but I have smoke anyway.  Is this normal?  Should I make sure my oven is perfectly clean first?  I use an electric oven and the heating element is on the bottom of the oven, so i do not put the pan directly on the bottom like it said to do b/c i didn't want the pan sitting right on the element.


Any advice or clues as to why this is happening would be appreciated.


Other than that it was my first time trying a preferment and I LOVED it!  The dough i just put in the oven is the absolute best dough I have ever made, it felt wonderful and when i scored it it responded wonderfully.  Despite this weird smoke/steam whatever it is, I think this is going to taste great!



Soundman's picture

Hi Cara, and welcome to TFL!

Smoky doesn't sound good to me. I use a gas oven, so maybe I shouldn't respond, but I only get smoke from my oven when there's some junk or gunk still baking away, slowly, for example like some of the sugar that oozed out from a sweet potato on the oven floor or on my baking stone.

Ice cubes should, in principle, only make steam. Just by the bye, I'm not a fan of ice cubes rather than hot water in my steam pan. Ice cubes, it seems to me, can only negatively affect the oven temperature. But other people do it, so never mind that.

Glad to hear you succeeded with your first preferment! They're a great way to make good bread taste better.

Good luck with your baking, and show us some pictures?

Soundman (David)

Cara's picture

Thank you so much.  I might need to clean the oven.

The pics are up in teh "photos" section of the website if you want to take a look at them.

gaaarp's picture

Welcome, Cara.  As a self-proclaimed "nerd at heart", you will surely fit in here.

Are you using a baking stone?  If so, how are you transfering your loaves to the stone?  I ask because I, too, created clouds of smoke when I first began artisan baking.  (A common refrain in my house was, "The smoke detectors are going off again.  Dad must be baking!") 

At first I thought it had to do with my steam pan, or possibly goo on the bottom of the oven.  Eventually, though, I realized something:  course-ground cornmeal burns at 500 dF!  I was using cornmeal to dust my peel, and I figured the more, the better.  Only my oven didn't think so.  Now I'm a bit more judicious in doling out the flour or cornmeal.  And I often use baking parchment, which renders dusting the peel moot.

Anyway, just a thought.

Cara's picture

Seriously!  Cornmeal burns at that temp?  That explains a WHOLE LOT.  I am just using aluminum half sheet pans like they have at a fancy stone yet.  I am putting one pan on the lowest shelf (that is the one i put hte ice in).  The putting a rack right above it with my bread on it.  Any yes, you guessed it it's liberally dusted down with Cornmeal!!! That explains why i didn't start seeing/smelling the smoke until about 5 minutes in!

So I guess my next question is......ummm next time what do I dust with?  I have Bakers Joy...would that work?   Or like you said, just basic Flour?

And on the kid note.  I have a 2 year old son who was napping at the time, when i woke up he said "mmmmm  BREAD!!!  Get knife"  lol!!!  My little guy is a bread snob....his grandma gave him a piece of bread (wonderbread) when we were at her house, he took a bite and went "blllaaakkkkk! That's not bread"  (of course I am standing there a bit embarrased)  He already gets the yeast out of the freezer for me when i tell him it's time to make bread..........and I always take off a chunk of dough for him to knead while I am  When his dad gets home it's always "daddy I make bread today"  (I even found these little bitty mini loaf pans from Longaberger that he uses to make "his" loafs in..............poor kid doesn't stand a chance!

benjamin's picture

definately does not sound too good to me. I agree with the comment about the baking stone, if you use an excess of flour or cornmeal, that could well generate smoke.

As a side note, I don't like to use ice cubes for 2 reasons, firstly as mentioned above, they detract from the oven temperature. Secondly they take time to melt and create steam, at which point a crust may have already formed prematurely, which will ultimately not be as good. I like to boil water and put that in a cast iron skillet at the base of my oven just before i bake. I also mist the walls of the oven as i load the bread in to generate an instant blast of steam. These two things have made a great difference to my bread, might be worth a try if you feel like experimenting one day.

Glad to hear of your doughy successes!


P.S. Nerds rule!

gaaarp's picture

Cara, you don't have to do away with the cornmeal completely.  Just use it judiciously.  Or put parchment on your pan. 

If you really want to get into baking artisan breads, I would highly recommend a stone of some kind.  You just can't get the true crust you want without one.  I use unglazed tiles that I got from another baker.

There are a lot of ways to create steam, and everyone swears by their own method.  For what it's worth, I have a small pan of broken potshards on the bottom of my oven.  I add water to it as I'm putting the bread in the oven and sometimes once or twice more after that.

Good luck.  Let us know if the fire department comes out the next time!

sphealey's picture

I recommend using semolina instead of cornmeal as the sliding layer on the peel.  It burns at a much higher temperature than cornmeal or flour - around 550 deg.F in my experience.  And even burned it doesn't produce as much smoke or taste as bad as burned cornmeal or wheat flour.


ehanner's picture


Just to chime in, I use an old 9x13 steel baking pan on the bottom rack of my oven. Some have found old cast iron skillets that will fit and I think that is probably a better solution. I know the ice cube method has been suggested by a few authors but the ice cools the oven as it melts and you end up steaming for longer than should be necessary, in my opinion. I think most people nuke about 3/4 cup of water until boiling and toss it in the bottom of the pan. You do need to be careful about the sudden steam that will burst out of the pan so don't lean over the opening while you pour the hot water in. Also make certain you don't get any water or ice on the door glass or it will break. (voice of experience here).

gaarp is right about the parchment paper. Most of my baking is done on parchment (in the baking section at the grocer store). I wouldn't be without it.

Looking at the crumb image you posted, I would say it looks like the bottom didn't get as well done as it could of been. It seems lighter in color to the sides and top color. Considering what you said about how you baked it, I suggest you turn the oven down 25-35 degrees and bake it a little longer. Ideally the bottom should have a similar color or at least have a firm to hard surface when you tap on it. Using a lower temperature for longer will allow the bottom to catch up with the top and sides. You will have to experiment to find the right setting for your oven.

I could have said lower the rack but I think you are already as low as it will go with the steam pan on the lowest rack, right?

Good luck Cara, I like your spirit.