The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Mud / Brick ovens and steam?

JMonkey's picture

Mud / Brick ovens and steam?

Breadnerd, PumpkinPapa and others who have outdoor wood-fired ovens, a question: Do you steam the oven when baking? If so, how?

breadnerd's picture

So far I haven't steamed. But, I do soak a towel in water and wrap the door with it--mostly to keep the door from scorching--but it seems to produce a lot of steam, especially at the very beginning. How much of that is left during baking? I don't know. They say that a full oven will get enough steam from the bread itself... but I don't know if that is wishful thinking or good science!


To be honest I'm barely coordinated enough at this point to load the bread efficiently, so I haven't worrried about it yet. On my list of future things to try--I've considered a pump sprayer (made for gardening, but unused of course) and also the low tech "tin can with a hole in it" full of boiling water. In theory it leaks slowly and produces steam. Thirdly, you could build the oven wall or door with a copper tube leading to the inside (or drill a hole later, I suppose) and add steam that way.


Oh and yes I am going to add a metal plate to the door (it's on the list!) but the towel works pretty well for now. You don't put the door on until the fire is out, but it's still hot enough to almost catch it on fire at that point....

pumpkinpapa's picture

I soak the door too, though I read on another list a woman with an adobe horno who keeps a terra cotta pot with water off to one side. I don't think I could tempt that much water spilling across hot bricks.

Breadnerd, are you baking in this cold weather? It's hard enough for me to light our iron boiler inside a trailer box, so cold! I feel the icy wind blowing around the oven constantly so this summer I'm building a cob wall with a bench/rocket stove built in for comfy winter bakes, maybe something like this

breadnerd's picture

Well, I baked in January, and was inspired to try and bake at least once a month all year. That was easy to pledge when it was an unseasonal 50 degrees out! Now it's -4 degrees (F) and seems a lot less appealing! But, there's still several weekends left in February so it may work out yet. Ours is pretty sheltered and I can even keep an eye on the fire from inside so it's do-able. Plus the days are getting a little longer so I might be able to finish before dark!


I like that bench you posted. We definitely want to add some workspace around the site, building on a hill seemed like a good idea originally, but it's hard to set up a level table to work on. We're just starting to get that urge to plan next year's outdoor projects, and there's plenty of winter left to think of some good ideas.

ron45's picture

Hi, I followed the Kiko Denzer book to make my oven and wrote him about the steam problems in mud ovens. He no longer recomends it. My oven is 27" in diameter about three or four times the size of the one in the linked pic.and I only bake two loaves at a time. [ I should have made it smaller to use less wood. Who knew?? ]. So I don't think I'll get enough steam from them to do the job. Kiko told me in his last email on the subject that people are making perfectly good desem bread with no steam addition. I'm new enough at desem and w.w. baking to want to try it like the directions in Laurel's book say.

I think much of the damage is from thermal shock or too much steam. Some of the ideas in this thread sound like a good middle road to try. I plan to use steam till I have problems and either find a miget or a kid to replaster the inside maybe with a lime/sand render?? Who knows. I also like the idea of a tube thru the wall to add water. The misting is a very good solution to the thermal shock problem to my way of thinking. Perhaps a piece iron plate for the water mist to hit an vaporize? The bricks in the SS pan sound good too, and simpler.

If an oven full of bread makes enough steam then I don't think much is needed in the first place. So very small additions over time might provide a solution. The beauty of cob ovens is if it falls apart you just simply put it back in the mixing boat and add some fresh clay dirt and go again.

By the way. The link in the email I'm responding to contains many very profesionaly done cob dwellings. These display a leve of craftsmanship and creativity not always seen in alternative housing. It's worth clicking on the forward and back arrows if you have the time. I think the sculpted orchids on the courtyard wall are worth the time to find. Love to know what they used to get that yellow. Thanks for posting the link. It was nice to see those places again.


bustamove's picture

I built an oven using the alan scott book... and i found that when i baked 6 -8 loaves in the oven - that it required a lot more steam than baking in the conventional electric oven - i think this was due to the enormous thermal mass of the bricks....
i found the loaves came out really "chalky" and dry the first few times... so i kept putting a bit more water in the oven - via  a garden spayer with a .5 gal min tip... the water was really atomized so that when it hit the brick or the very hot cast iron skillet  it turned to steam immediately...  
the oven was never full either and so that also played a role in needing more steam...
i have moved - need to build another oven... i like the rocks in the pan idea...there is this great thermai mass that can convert the water into steam w/o effecting the overall heat of the oven.
i now have a very crappy gas oven that doesn't retain the steam - so i have a cookie sheet above the stone and another pan in the broiler... 
i find that i have to steam 4 or 5 times ... 
I want to imbed the steam system in my next oven  anyone know about this...

pumpkinpapa's picture

I just read a comment on another list from Alan Scott of the Bread Bakers. Alan advises all of clients now not to add water to their masonry ovens due to damage, spalling, etc.  Alan said he rebuilt a brick oven for one client three times, each time it was destroyed by the addition of steam, but the client refused to stop adding steam.

The owner of Wildfire food has found that having a good tight sealing door is all that is really needed as the moisture from the bread creates it's own perfect humid mass within the oven. Her Maya oven was being damaged by the addition of steam so much so that the interior thermal layers were coming out in large chunks so much so that Kiko Denzer must replaster the interior. Now without the addition of steam they produce the same great crusty bread as before.

Now I know a neighbour with a gas oven and they have to add a lot of water to produce the same results I get with a little mister in my electric oven. So maybe it's something more specific to gas ovens to add so much steam?

JMonkey's picture

I suspect that the difference is ventilation -- gas ovens, for obvious reasons, have to be very well ventilated, which, alas, causes all that steam to shoot right out the vents.

I tried last year to block these vents to trap the steam and ... disaster struck.

bustamove's picture

That's really interesting about the steam... i would like to look into that more...i never had that problem with my oven... i was not firing it every day...not sure what kind of brick they were using in their oven...the thing with low/medium fire brick is that it should go through the thermal cycling fine.. if you use red bricks they will spawl.. the process and the material by which they are made is completely different...  i would also be suspect of a castable refractory - or a twowel on refractory.

 i looked at the site -  the bread is beautiful - but for me it has that chalky/dry look - i was getting - i wanted that wet/ carmel color...and found that the steam gave me that.. maybe that is not correct though...

Cliff Johnston's picture
Cliff Johnston

I use steam when I bake my rye bread in a Dutch oven in a gas-fired oven.  As I bake the bread with the lid on the Dutch oven for the first 30 minutes I use no steam during this time.  At the end of 30 minutes I remove the lid and start the steam.

 I use an old stainless steel roasting pan that I had collecting dust in a cupboard.  Inside the pan I have a building brick that I've cut in half.  I put the pan on the lowest rack setting in the oven.  While the bread is baking during the first 30 minutes I boil some water in a kettle on the stove top.  When I remove the Dutch oven lid I carefully pour some boiling water into the pan.  There is a prodigious amount of steam produced intially, and one needs to exercise some caution when doing this.  Steam is produced as long as there is water in the pan.  If I want no steam for the last 10 minutes of baking then I pour in less water.  It takes some experimenting, but it works, and it's inexpensive.

Before using the brick I did prepare it first by boiling it for 20 minutes in a lage pot to "neutralize" any real and/or imagined "critters" that may have been undetected in or on it.  When water is poured into the pan initially there is an "earthy" odor from the brick, but I've found that it imparts no noticeable taste to the bread at all.

I've found this to be a reliable and inexpensive method to produce steam for baking my bread.  Best of all, it works!


Cliff. Johnston
"May the best you've ever seen,
 Be the worst you'll ever see;"
from A Scots Toast by Allan Ramsay