The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Steamed Bread Chemistry ?

inlovewbread's picture

Steamed Bread Chemistry ?

I steamed my first chinese bean paste buns yesterday (boy were they good!) and was struck by the difference in taste and texture of the steamed bread. I wondered what was going on chemistry-wise with the starches, sugars, etc. I know there is an explanation out there for what happens when dough is steam cooked rather than baked. I have the basic bread chemistry down on baked bread, but would like to know about steamed. It still has oven spring, but is quite different in texture (chewy, more dense, starchier?) and does not appear to brown if at all. No Maillard reaction? Also it seems that most steamed breads are enriched. What would happen if a lean dough was steam cooked? (I'm saying steam "cooked" to differentiate from bread that is steamed for the first part of baking, i.e. baguettes).

Does anyone know? Dan DiMuzio, Steve B, Debra Wink perhaps?

Some other questions:

I know of Boston Brown Bread and other similar recipes that can be steam cooked all the way through in a steamer, in cans in a dutch oven or crockpot, et. But are is there any precedence for a bread that is steamed and then baked to add a crust? Would there be any taste, texture benefit to doing so?

I appreciate any interesting scientific insights, personal experiences, historical anecdotes, etc. :-) 


Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Sorry, I just saw your question (I rarely scroll down this far). I'll bet not many others have seen it either. I'm afraid I can't help, as it's not my area, but maybe someone else can, now that I'm bumping it up into the comments section.

Good luck :-)

ehanner's picture

You know, just a couple weeks ago I was wondering about the British concoction called Christmas Pudding and if I might draw some ideas for baking or steaming my rye pumpernickel bread. I have come to the conclusion that a long slow bake at 250F is essentially steaming in a closed pan. After a few hours you get a Mallard reaction I think it's called and everything turns dark and sweet and loaded with flavor. I am only a noob in this area but I know there are some members that understand the details. Maybe Dan or Andy, maybe hansjoakim is out there and will comment. I'm about to do a totally steamed 100% Rye in my "Turbo Cooker" steamer.


inlovewbread's picture

Thanks for the initial responses. I was starting to worry that maybe I hadn't worded my question correctly. I realized after I posted the question that maybe I shouldn't have asked people by name...I hope I didn't alienate anybody else that might know something about this when I suggested Dan DiMuzio, Steve B, Debra Wink... of course anybody's opinions, suggestions or expertise is most welcome on this topic.

Debra Wink- thanks anyway! You can't be an expert in every area!

Eric- thanks for the input. Yes, you are right about a long slow, covered bake at a low temp.! Lightbulb! I have baked ryes this way. It didn't occur to me until you mentioned it. I baked my covered loaves this way in a pullman pan. Sometimes I don't get a crust on these, I have to take it out of the pan and place it on a cookie sheet to finish off the crust. Still makes me wonder about the steaming not allowing the Maillard reaction...

Is your "turbo cooker" similar? I'm curious, have you have tried this baking method for any other bread besides rye?

Chausiubao's picture

I'd have to say that the increased density and lack of browning is due to the fact that those things require oven temperatures to occur.

A nice oven spring is always benefited by keeping the dough hydrated (which is easy when steaming) as well as intense heat so that the heat can penetrate deep and get that yeast working (which won't happen at steaming temperatures).

The starchiness you're describing I'm not too sure about, but the good thing about steamed breads compared to baked breads is that they're like you described, moist, soft yet dense, and very similar to steamed rice in texture. 

If you're trying to minimize starchiness in steamed breads there are tried and true techniques that could help you out, that may have never even been applied to steamed bread before, but you might lose the essence of what is steamed bread.


ananda's picture


I came late to this; we are discussing it over here:

Best wishes


inlovewbread's picture

I appreciate the direction to your blog and discussion. I read the article you attached on Maillard reaction. Very interesting.

Your post has inspired me and I am very tempted to try the Horst Bandel's pumpernickel and try it steamed in my pullman. I think I could rig up my covered turkey roasting pan and place the pullman atop the rack with water in the bottom. I'll see what I can come up with. 

Will post results. Thanks for including me in the discussion!

ananda's picture

...except that my roasting dishes are not big enough to cover the pullman pan!!

We're a 2 people household, and we don't eat meat, so I only have a limted range of oven gear!

Thanks, and good to hear from you