The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Covering vs. Steaming

PeterPiper's picture

Covering vs. Steaming

I've been working for the last two years to get the right formation, crust, and color on my sourdough.  Pre-heated skillets, pans of lava rocks, sprayers, you name it and I've tried it.  Turns out the best solution is the simplest.  Here is a loaf I made last night by covering the bread with a disposable foil roaster pan for the first ten minutes.



As an experiment, I left the cover on for 15 minutes on another loaf I was baking at the same time.  Here are the two together.


Turns out that extra five minutes makes a real difference, as it allows the dough to stay soft enough to keep ballooning out.  Also it seems to prevent full caramelization and the crust wasn't quite as crackly. 

Overall I'm amazed how easy it is.  No more dangerous steam and cumbersome steam pans.  My roaster pan covers were pretty crinkled and certainly not airtight, but did the trick.  Next time maybe I'll try 8 minutes to see what effect that has.


whiskers's picture

I am very excited and thankful that you did this experiment! I was wondering if there was such a thing as too much steam and what kind of effect it would have on the crusts. I've been covering/doming my breads for the first 25-30 minutes which is a lot more than yours, and I've noticed that sometimes the crsut is not as crackly. It sometimes creates a very chewy crust - not the pleasant kind of chewy, but rubbery and very tough.  Next time, I will try reducing the time and see what happens, but I think you answered all of my questions!

davesmall's picture

Hi Peter - Very interesting.

Judging from your photos, it looks like those are fairly large loaves, perhaps about two pounds each (dough weight). Is that true?

PeterPiper's picture

Yes, they're around 2 pounds.  I like a slightly larger sourdough, since it'll last longer anyway.


Janknitz's picture

I cringe when I hear about some of the things people are doing to introduce steam into their ovens--often dangerous or unnecessarily complicated "schemes to steam".   

 Covering the dough is SO simple and works so well!

Over time you will figure out the optimal covering time for each bread you bake.  Baking temperature is a factor to keep in mind as you are adjusting when the cover should be removed.   

 I'm surprised that sometimes the carmelization has already begun when I remove the cover--I thought that would keep the dough moist enough to prevent that. 

kolobezka's picture

I was just going to post a question if anybody on TFL could advise me on which disposable foil roaster pan to buy - so that it is enough large and high. I was trying to look at Amazon but was unable to find a suitable one.

I can only put 15.5x14 inch baking sheet in my oven.

Please, could anybody help?



Yumarama's picture

The inexpensive aluminum "turkey" roasting pans you'll see in the typical grocery store are usually going to be the best size. But for your specific situation, as long as they fit your baking sheet/pan and will go into your oven, you're good to go. These big pans are going to be about 3" deep.

You may also see the oval ones but that would restrict your use a lot. Unless your oven is smaller than "normal" and can't take a standard baking pan (usually 15" X 12") with a bit of extra circulation space all around, these affordable "steam covers" are likely to do nicely. Mine fit right over my pans with the lip over the pan's sides, almost like they were made for it.

I paid like $2 for them and can't see how they wouldn't last numerous bakings since they're used strictly as "covers". If the loaves can fit in the pan, then the covers are big enough for them too.

kolobezka's picture

Thank you for explanation. Please would you be so kind and send me a concrete link or a an official name for such a roasting pan? I am not in US and cannot find it here in a shop. I would have to ask a friend who is in US and will return to Europe in April.

Is 3'' hight enough? I think my loafs are sometimes higher...

Thank a lot!


Prairie19's picture

A company named "Hefty" makes the "EZ Foil" roaster pans in several sizes.  I use one called a Deep Roaster which is 11 5/8 inches by 9 3/8 inches by 4 inches deep.  (295mm X 238mm X 101mm).  It will hold a nice 700 g. batard.  Prairie 19

ehanner's picture

You should leave the cover on until it just starts to color. Past that point you are slowing the browning. When I first started doing this a couple years ago, Susan was telling me she used a glass Pyrex bowl so she could get an idea of how long it takes to start coloring, looking through the clear glass. I tried that but as soon as I got the timing, I switched to SS. It is way lighter and safer IMHO.


suave's picture

It really depends on the kind of oven you use.  My electric oven keeps steam very well, and I don't need to cover the dough.  In the gas oven covering is pretty much the only option for me.  And, for the record, I don't like it.

busy lizzy's picture
busy lizzy

I'm a little confused here.  Do we like the smaller loaf or is it the larger not as cracked loaf that we are after? And if its the larger loaf why are you trying only 8 minutes  when the larger was covered for 15. I'm not real sure if I'm reading all of this correctly.

Barbara Krauss's picture
Barbara Krauss

Hi Lizzy,

As I understand it, the loaf on the left was covered for 15 minutes while the one on the right was covered for only 10.  You can see that the loaf on the right, while smaller, has scoring marks that are well-defined and the crust is a deeper color, indicating a harder crust.  The experiment seemed to show that a shorter time under cover gave more desirable results.     

saraugie's picture

What do the loafs go on in the oven ? Do you still use a stone or ?

PeterPiper's picture

Yes, I'm using baking stones in both ovens.  It's actually just cheap unglazed clay tiles, which cracked when I was using steam pans.  Now that I'm covering, I may find they don't crack since there isn't that burst of steam right under the stone.


bakinbuff's picture

Lately I have been covering my dough with a cold cover (previously I was preheating the cover on the baking stone, usually a large metal roasting pan) and I've discovered something really interesting.  With a cold cover, the crust takes longer to harden, so the loaf continues to expand much more than it did under a hot cover.  This is great, with the exception that higher hydration doughs tend to spread out more than up, so I'm experimenting today with a lower hydration than yesterday's bread to see if I can get more upward expansion.  The other interesting thing I noticed is that the cold cover results in a nice crispy, chewy crust but one that is significantly thinner than the crust I get with a hot cover.  Although for me the crustier the better, my husband and children are not so keen.  The cold cover gives the perfect amount of crustiness/chewiness. 


for Saraugie: I bake on a granite stone.

PeterPiper's picture

In response to the above comments, yes, I'm using a cheap grocery store roasting pan.  What's nice about it is that it's flexible so you can crown the top or stretch out the sides to accommodate a wide loaf and still keep a relatively good seal on your baking surface.

I'm not so sure about the idea that the cover has to stay on until the crust starts to brown.  I find that there are lots of factors that affect the Maillard process including whether I've overnight-fermented the dough, the type of dough, and oven temperature. I think if I'd kept the cover on one of the above loafs until it browned, the crust would be wan and really chewy without any crispiness, since it wouldn't get enough time to properly dry and set.

I suspect the material of the cover makes a big difference.  The foil cover just acts to keep the moisture in, and while it reflects heat back onto the bread, it doesn't radiate any of its own heat, like a pre-heated cloche lid might.  My ovens are smaller and hold heat very well so I haven't needed to promote any extra browning, but maybe it''s essential in larger/poorly insulated ovens.


Jean-Paul's picture

I also thought "why am I steaming up an entire oven (might I add a $2000 convection... not a cheap one to replace if I mess with it by squirting water into its GUTS) just for a loaf of bread? Why not narrow it down to the area around the bread itself? So over the holidays when the antique shops were unloading their items, I bought an old-fashioned aluminum roasting pan for $2! I preheated the oven with the pan in it, slid the loaf of readied sourdough into it, sprayed it down with water and put it back in for 30 minutes. THE OVENSPRING WAS FANTASTIC! They DOUBLED with no more "open, spray, close.... open spray close" for the first 20 minutes to try to keep it moist. When I pulled it out, it was oddly pale and even moved a bit like jello. Uh-oh, I thought. But the internal temp was 190. Humn, ah yes... convection roast! so I slid the mostly baked bread out and placed it directly on the baking rack and turned on the convection roast mode: in 5 minutes... FIVE, it was such a beautiful roasted color with crunchy crust I said outloud to the dogs "Eureka! This is it! I've made the perfect loaf of sourdough with no more spraying!" A moment later I, and the dogs, were eating hot bread doused with butter and you MUST try this if you haven't, a tiny sprinkle of salt... oh my my my! My heaven!

rsherr's picture

Since my stone (14"x15") was two small for the large roasting pan (the long end extended out beyond the stone), I used two roasting pans with the bottom cut out of the first one.  I set the bottom roasting pan minus its bottom over the loaves on the stone and inverted the second one over the first one.  This way the bottom one fit the stone and the top one gave me plenty of height. Worked wonderfully.