The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Just stumbled on the concept of steaming - so much more to learn!

Newfieguy's picture

Just stumbled on the concept of steaming - so much more to learn!

Looks amazing and relatively easy to do in a regular oven, bearing in mind you do not go nuts with it and blow out the light bulb but basically you steam to keep the outside of the bread moist as the inside bakes correct?  Else you will have a shell like a turtle on the outside and it be nice and done on the inside is that the premise of steaming?

I guess just opening up the oven every few minutes and squirting some spray water on the bread directly is probably not the same is it?




wassisname's picture

And if your oven has a window cover the glass with a towel.  I know I'm not the only one who's heard that advice and thought, "They don't mean me!  I'll just be careful!"  And then - CRACK.  It wasn't especially expensive to replace, just a pain in the neck.

Chuck's picture

Steaming keeps the crust from getting hard sooner, which means the loaves can expand as they bake. No "oven spring"? no steam is a likely culprit. Also, this softer thicker crust will be perceived by humans as significantly "crunchier"(!?) Steam is important for artisanal-style bread baking (maybe because of the higher temperatures?), but not for "conventional" bread baking. Steam is especially important in the first ten minutes of baking, but not much after that.

Professional bakers typically have a steaming capability built right into their ovens. But home bakers have to do some sort of trick. Older thicker un-fancy ovens are best for supporting tricks.

Use a spray/mist bottle, not one that shoots a stream. And use one that's only touched water; don't use an old Windex bottle (unless you're sure it's absolutely clean). And if it drips or sometimes fails to instantly break up into a mist, get a different one; you're risking cracking something.

At first just the simple spray bottle without even pulling out the oven racks sounds easiest  ...but that way you will wind up cracking either the lightbulb or the oven window or your baking stone sooner or later. Mist the loaves once before you put them in the oven. Then if you need to mist them a second time, pull the oven rack out a bit (but not over the window).

Another possible technique is a few ice cubes tossed on the floor of the oven at the same time you put the bread in. But if your oven metal seems real thin or if you try the ice cubes and hear "ominous thumping noises" don't do that again. Julia Child suggests getting a non-exploding(sealed?) brick or stone quite hot, then dumping it into a pan of water in the oven.

Especially be careful of fancy new ovens with electronic controls. The steam can rise into the control circuitry and condense and cause the whole oven to shut down  ...permanently. (You can find more than a few sob stories here:-) If that's what you have to work with, only try tricks that get the bread moist but without creating free-floating steam througout the whole oven.

A small thick metal container (mini cast iron baking dish? spoon rest?) on the bottom of the oven may work very well. Either fill it with water, or arrange a pan with a very small hole to drip into it. I use two pans: one with a very small drip hole and the other with no hole at all; I pour one mugful of almost-boiling water (cheers to the microwave) into each. The very small hole (which is difficult to test because water has a much much higher surface tension at reasonable temperatures than it does when almost boiling) drips into a thick metal spoonrest sitting on the bottom of my oven.

Listen to your oven - if you hear thumping or banging, try a different trick for making steam next time.

Happy Baking!

wassisname's picture

Aha...  Good point about the steam in the circuitry.  Now that you mention it I'm thinking that may be what fried my microwave - it's a built-in / combo deal right above my oven, and went out shortly after I started baking bread hearth-style.  I was thinking maybe my stone had overheated something, but this makes even more sense.

On the up-side, I've learned to live happily without a microwave.  And it makes a nice proofing box, to boot!

del's picture

I get a bread loaf pan that fits the cement brick that'll be placed snug inside of it. Put that on the bottom of your oven as you pre-heat.


Then put your dough on the baking stone close to its back edge when ready. place the loaf pan (using oven mitts) with the brick on the baking stone in front. Pour one cup of water over the brick. Then enclose everything under an overturned steamer pan. Leave it on for 8 minutes. Then remove the steamer pan. I got a rather large baking stone and a full sized steamer pan is a perfect fit on it.


One cup of water (doesn't matter if it is cold water or boiling) poured over the brick is about right. I find that any more and you will induce blisters on your breads' surface and any bread dough scoring you do is kinda "smudged" out.


The oven has to be at its highest temperature (mines is at 550 deg F.) to make all this work right. And leave it at this temperature (highest) for the entire bake. For all this work your bread will have its greatest volume and the bread surface will be well geletainized ---extremely shiny!


I did some tests previously with my hand held digital infared thermometer checking the temperature of the baking stone's top surface versus the bottom surface, oven walls etc. Observation: Your baking stone is a giant heat sink that tends to suck the heat above it hence its always "cooler" on the top of the baking stone versus its bottom, often times a 100 deg F. difference or more!


Longer oven preheat times may appear a solution but once cold bread dough is place on top of the baking stone, the heat of the top surface of the baking stone just goes into the bread and is not being replaced quickly enough. For my oven, a 550 deg F. setting yields exactly 480 deg F. baking stone surface temperature at the latter part of the baking cycle.


The pouring of water over the brick of course produces steam but this very steam is also COOLING OFF THE TOP PART OF THE BAKING STONE! Steam's temperature is 212 deg F. and this cools off your 550 deg baking stone and the oven walls etc.


...just my observations...




del's picture

Oh, in case a loaf pan with brick inside combo is too bulky for your bake, you can instead place two pre-heated bricks by itself standing on its edge on your baking stone. Then pour half a cup of water or so over each. Then put an overturned steamer pan over everything. Wait 8 minutes then remove the steamer pan.


Some water that isn't absorbed by the bricks may drip on your baking stone but it doesn't seem to hurt anything.


I got one of them custom made cementaceous baking stones though. I dunno what would happen to a "real" natural baking stone.


Again, crank up your oven temperature to its highest setting for all this to work!