The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Oven steaming using the SFBI method.

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dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Oven steaming using the SFBI method.


When I took the Artisan I workshop at the San Francisco Baking Institute last August, Miyuki demonstrated the method of oven steaming they recommend for home bakers.


The oven is not pre-steamed (before loading the loaves). A cast iron skillet filled with steel pieces (nuts and bolts, rebar pieces) is pre-heated in the oven along with two baking stones. One stone is placed on a rack above the stone and rack on which the loaves will be loaded.


When the loaves are loaded, a perforated pie tin filled with ice cubes is set atop the skillet. As the ice melts, water drips through the perforations and turns to steam when it hits the metal pieces.



I had a hard time finding the perforated pie tins, so I hadn't been able to try this method until today. I did two bakes: One was two loaves of a very familiar bread – Hamelman's “Vermont Sourdough with Increased Whole Grain” from “Bread.” The other was a new bread to me - Chad Robertson's “Basic Country Bread” from “Tartine.” I made two large boules of the Country Bread. One was baked using the “Magic Bowl” technique and the other with the SFBI steaming method, minus the second baking stone and using lava rocks in place of metal pieces.


My current baking method is to pre-heat the oven to 500ºF with the baking stone and skillet in place. When I load my loaves, I turn down the oven to whatever temperature the recipe specifies, using the conventional bake setting. After 10-15 minutes (depending on the total length of the bake), I change the oven setting to convection bake but 25ºF lower. I find, in my oven, conventional baking retains steam well, but convection dries the crust better.


Using the SFBI steaming method, the Vermont Sourdoughs came out substantially similar to how they come out with my previous method – pouring boiling water over the lava rocks. I could not detect any difference in oven spring, bloom, crust color or the texture of either the crust or crumb.



Vermont Sourdough with Increased Whole Grain



Crust Crackles



Vermont SD with Increased Whole Grain crumb


The Basic Country Breads were different from each other. The one baked in under a stainless steel bowl was a bit shinier. The crust softened quicker with cooling. It did not sing when cooling. I don't think there was any real difference in oven spring or bloom.



Basic Country Bread baked with the "Magic Bowl" method



Basic Country Bread baked with the SFBI steaming method



Basic Country Bread crumb


My conclusion is that the SFBI method is effective. It does not require that water be boiled and poured into the hot skillet. To me, it seems a bit easier than the method I've been using. That said, the breads baked using the SFBI method for steaming the oven seem pretty much identical to those I get using my previous technique.


I don't have the kind of covered cast iron skillet/shallow dutch oven that Chad Robertson recommends be used to bake his Basic Country Bread. I do have enameled cast iron ovens that should perform similarly. Perhaps I should try one of them, although my expectation would be that they perform similarly to the "Magic Bowl" method.


David


 


 


Comments

Mebake's picture
Mebake

Thanks, David!


Its reassuring to see that different contraptions will ultimately result in similar breads.


Thanks!


khalid

proth5's picture
proth5

I'm getting used to not abusing my shiny new oven with my steaming method and I'm finding (as you did) that the steaming method may not be the critical factor.


I have continued to use my Haws watering can (minus the rose) to pour water - as the long spout gives me great control in pouring water.  While I don't advise buying a Haws just to steam bread - it is a great tool if you were using it in the garden/greenhouse anyway...


But I love that convection thing!  I get singing loaves every single time!

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

My hunch is that different methods may be optimal for different breads, especially depending on the dough hydration. My impression is that Susan's Magic Bowl works best for low-hydration loaves.


The oven also makes a difference, particularly how it is vented. When I baked the Basic Country Bread, which is 77% hydration, my oven released quite a lot of steam when opened after 25 minutes of convection baking.


Chad Robertson's description of his bread suggests it should have a crisp crust. My breads' crust softened during cooling. Obviously, I could bake a bit longer or leave the loaves in the turned off oven with the door ajar for 10 minutes to dry the crust more. 


David

hansjoakim's picture
hansjoakim

Interesting write-up on your steaming experiment, David!


Have you tried venting the oven a few times after you've removed the steaming setup? Popping the oven door open every 10 - 15 mins to release any trapped or generated steam during the final part of the bake seems to be the surest way of getting a crackly crust with my oven at least.


Great loaves and perfect crusts, David :)

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder


Have you tried venting the oven a few times after you've removed the steaming setup?



My very thought.


David

proth5's picture
proth5

My shiny new oven is a gas oven which both: vents like crazy and always creates a bit of moisture - but in a dry climate (another variable) I haven't seen it release steam when I open the door, yet.


I'm still using my old method of pouring water in and spraying my baking stone with a garden sprayer, but with much less abandon than in the past.  My crust color is improved (but that may have something to do with a working oven) and I can't say that I've seen much of a change in the opening of cuts (except my unpracticed hand skills) and crumb.


I've been getting nice crackly crusts on my "standard test breads" - but I used to get that in my old oven until its declining months.


What I don't like is that I can't put my pan of water directly on the (hot) floor of the oven.  I don't seem to get as active steam with my pan on a rack.  I may try the lava rock method to hold a bit more heat.


My old oven was really doing badly towards the end and the things I was doing to compensate need to be unlearned.


I'm not getting near enough baking time in, but if you count actual time at home I've only been back from my 8 month soujourn for two weeks...:>)

highmtnpam's picture
highmtnpam

inspire me. Such lovely loaves, I can almost smell them.  Pam  Oh, where did you find the perforated pans?  As you said, it does seem a bit simpler.  

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Hi, Pam.


I finally found the perforated pans here: Bridge Kitchenware (lames)


They also have French lames - the only source other than TMB I've found in the U.S..


David

highmtnpam's picture
highmtnpam

David, Thank you for the link.  Pam

highmtnpam's picture
highmtnpam

David,


I was wondering how many ice cubes you used?  approximately...


Pam

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Hmmm ... I didn't count them, weigh them or measure their dimensions. I'm so embarrassed. 


I'd estimate I used 10-12 ice "cubes," but they aren't cubes. They are more like sections of a hemisphere. They are what my freezer's ice maker produces.


David

highmtnpam's picture
highmtnpam

Hey David,


Just needed to know if it was 2 or 3 or more of a pan full.


Pam

txfarmer's picture
txfarmer

I was taught the same method during my bugette class at SFBI, but haven't bothered to try it at home since I also don't have the right pie tin. Thanks for doing the experiement for us!


 


I baked the Tartine basic loaf with my usual steaming method (dump hot water into cast iron pan before/after loading), and the crust sang and remained crispy, so probably it just needs more time on the stone without steam.

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Do you let the steam out of the oven at some point? Do you pour less water in the skillet for higher hydration breads? 


I steamed the oven for 15 minutes before removing the skillet and turning on convection bake. Maybe I should have done this sooner. Using the covered dutch oven, Robertson bakes for 20 minutes before removing the cover, and he says the crust is crisp. Not in my oven!


I could do more experiments, but if you have some tips for getting a crisp crust on this bread, it would save me lots of time (and flour).


David

txfarmer's picture
txfarmer

I pour 1.5 to 2 cups of hot water, at 15min, I take the skillet out. Note that I didn't bake it in a dutch oven, I baked them on my baking stone. Total baking time was 45min, turned oven off, and left them inside with the door cracked for 10min.


When they are cooled off, the crust is so thin and crisp that the pieces flew all over when I cut in.

highmtnpam's picture
highmtnpam

David,


I mentioned some time ago that my loves got too much color before they reached 200ºF. But, when I turned the heat down, that they really didn't get the color I liked.  You suggested that I could turn the heat down and later turn it up.  That simply never occurred to me (hmm, I seem to be having these moments more and more. Contrary to Urban myths, hearing aids do not make you smarter)  It works  like a charm. 


(Oh, I AM disappointed that you didn't weight the ice cubes, but even geniuses can have a lapse)


Pam 

wally's picture
wally

not only for the beautiful boules (as I've grown to expect) from you, but over the entire conversation around having to vent ovens to allow steam to escape.


Oh, how I wish that were a problem for me at home.  I figure that my gas oven fully vents the steam I create in less than a minute.  I get by via steaming (cast iron frying pan loaded with lava rocks) three times in the first 5 -6 minutes, but I still can't get good results with baguettes, though with batards it's a different story (I'm guessing more mass with moisture keeps my cuts from closing).


Larry

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

I've gathered excessive venting is an issue with gas ovens. If I had that problem, I think I'd be sticking to covered baking to trap the steam.


David

proth5's picture
proth5

Larry,


I'm just kind of wondering about the nature of your problems with baguettes.  I just got a shiny new gas oven and I'm trying to get used to having an oven that works.


On my old oven I sprayed water on the sides of the oven and on the baking stone with abandon as well as put a brioler pan on the floor of the oven into which I poured a "goodly" amount of water.  (The repairman's statment of "Lady, I'm not taking your money anymore" predated this steaming method - and in fact is what facilitated it...)  Of course it, and my current oven vented the steam pretty quickly. Altough, on the other hand, the little puddle of water in my broiler pan probably boiled for at least 5 minutes...


But I can't honestly say that this has had a bad effect on my breads - or maybe I'm used to it.


Just wanted another perspective from a gas oven user.


Thanks

wally's picture
wally

My major problem with baguettes is that my cuts won't open generally.  Occasionally I get lucky and they do, but I'd say this happens in 1 out of 10 bakes.  Now, I'd take the blame for this if I wasn't able to get consistently good grignes at work.  So it's not my scoring technique - it seem to be a matter of the cuts sealing before the oven spring can occur.


I have a cast iron frying pan in the bottom heaped high with lava rocks, so I have no problem generating steam.  The problem is that once I close the door I can feel the steam as it's being vented by the stove immediately.  So it's a losing proposition.


I don't think my home oven is different from most gas ovens on the market.  They all vent and have to in order to keep the gas burner from extinguishing.  But it sure makes it difficult for baguette baking.


As I mentioned to David, this problem doesn't occur with larger loaves - batards for example.  The only thing I can attribute this to is the greater mass of my loaves (on average 1.5 lbs, versus my 10oz mini-baguettes.


I could invest in pans and do all my baking covered, but it isn't worth the cost or trouble to me.  I did try covering my baguettes with a large roasting pan, but the results were not particularly impressive and the ends of the baguettes tended to scorch.


My compromise is to generally avoid baguettes at home, although like a moth attracted to fire, I'll convince myself from time to time that I can achieve a good result if only.....  And then reality strikes again.


If all my baking was going to be home-based, I'd probably chuck the gas oven and trade it for electric.


Larry

proth5's picture
proth5

I've never had problems with cuts not opening - not with the old stove, not with the new.


Hmm.


I pondered the "dual fuel" option mightily when I purchased the new range, but didn't want the massive project that it would have caused...

mulholland224's picture
mulholland224

I too took the SFBI class and have been using their steaming method.  For the pie tins though, I just bought a disposable tin (three pack for $2) and made the holes with a knife. 

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

I thought about using disposable pie tins, then I found the ones I bought for cheap, although they were more than $2 for 3 pans for sure!


Are you happy with the results you get using perforated pans? Any discoveries or tips to share?


David

bnom's picture
bnom

In a similar way, I've used a broiling pan.  I think with  old nuts and bolts in the bottom of the pan (below the perforated top) it would work better.  In my pan there isn't enough clearance for lava rocks or I'd use those.


 


 

nikkiblum's picture
nikkiblum

I've been unhappy with my steaming methods, and when I read the details of this one, I wanted to try it. My variation, which I like, put a layer of ceramic pie weights in the bottom. That seemed more hygienic than rusty old nuts and bolts. I punched holes in an old pie tin and set that on top. The ice cubes worked perfectly. And the results on two loaves of Craig Ponsford ciabatta made them my best yet -- and with no danger of cracking the oven window or loss of heat in opening the oven door.