The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Steam Time

Bred Maverick's picture
Bred Maverick

Steam Time

How long should dough be steamed in the oven?  In his book, BREAD, Jeffrey Hammelman states, "From 4-6 seconds of steam is ample." (p. 100) in 460 degree oven.  In stark contrast, in BREAD BAKING, Daniel DiMuzio states, "The quality of the crust in hearth loaves in enhanced by exposing the loaves to steam for the first 5 - 10 minutes of baking." (p. 130)

That's a huge difference.  Any reasons for this disparity?


sephiepoo's picture

Hi Diane,

Hamelman gives a very good explanation of steam on pgs 26-27, with a description of steaming for the home oven at the end of the section.  The 4-6 seconds of steam that he's talking about is for (I believe) a commercial steam-injected oven. That's probably not something any of us own at home :) Dan's numbers are a nice range probably because baking time for loaves will vary, and each type of bread is different.  But as Hamelman also says, (pg 27 first column) "The benefits of steam occur only during the first third or so of the baking cycle".

So, actually, they're both correct :) It's just the particular situation and environment you're in will determine what may be "best"

Bred Maverick's picture
Bred Maverick

Thanks for both replies.  Yes, it makes sense.  I've tried many methods to add steam to my oven (throwing ice/etc.) , but now I have an idea cooking (no pun intended) that includes a small barbecue smoker box with a solid bottom, multi-hole top with handle and ceramic briquettes.


dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Diane.

I believe that the time for steaming Hamelman specifies are for how long the baker injects steam. In a commercial oven, this is done by holding down a button, I think. The oven continues to be humidified until vents are opened to release the steam.

Home ovens don't provide either steam injection nor venting, generally, but we can humidify them using a variety of methods, and you can limit the steaming time by either measuring how much water you introduce or by removing the water source at the appropriate time.

Although some home bakers do steam for longer - even for more than half the baking time - I subscribe to Dan's guideline. I get best results from steaming for about 1/3 of the total bake time for a mostly white flour bread. In general, rye breads are steamed for shorter times.

It also helps dry the crust to leave the loaf in the oven with the oven off and the door ajar for 5-10 minutes, after the loaf is "done."

I hope this helps.


dghdctr's picture

Hi Diane,

I doubt that Jeffrey and I are in disagreement about the use of steam in any significant way.  I've watched Jeffrey steam and vent his oven on a number of occasions, and I didn't see him do anything I would not have done (if a baker is smart, they watch Jeffrey work and imitate him as much as possible).

Jeffrey's times were, as David made clear, the amount of time he holds the steam button down to add more steam to his large, professional deck oven -- that is to say, the quantity of steam.  If you continue to hold down the button on many pro ovens, the injectors will just keep pouring more steam into the oven until you release the button.

My observations referred not to the quantity of steam, but to the length of time that you should keep the steam in the oven -- which is to say, the length of time that the loaves are baked in a moist environment.  Once a loaf has achieved its maximum oven spring, you ideally want to set the crust by evacuating any remaining steam from the oven cavity and creating a dry environment.  That can add a bit of stability (especially in the case of high percentage ryes), but it also encourages a loaf to release its excess moisture and begin the browning process.

As sephiepoo said, different lean breads require varying amounts of steam, and some ovens produce steam in greater quantity than others, so I chose to focus more on how long you leave the steam in the oven before venting it away.  Jeffrey and I weren't contradicting each other -- we were actually referring to completely different aspects of steaming the loaves at the beginning of the bake.  Both aspects can be important.

I thank you for noticing that my explanation might seem at odds with Jeff's, and I'll add a more detailed explanation to a sort of errata list that will be posted at the student companion web site in the next month or two.  Sorry to have caused any confusion.

--Dan DiMuzio