The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Too much steam?

Barbara Krauss's picture
Barbara Krauss

Too much steam?

I'm wondering if I'm producing too much steam in my baking.  My last couple of batches of baguettes have been pretty much a disaster, with sickly pale crusts and no good internal air pockets.  I've tried various recipes in the past few weeks (proth5, King Arthur, Bertinet, Acme, etc.) and oven temps that vary from 400 to 500 degrees.  I use a stone and an oven thermometer to check temps.  My steaming method consists of pouring boiling water over 3 tightly wrapped terry towels in a pyrex dish at the bottom of the oven, which remains in place for the first 6 minutes of baking. Any ideas?


Thanks for any help.


Barbara


 

OldWoodenSpoon's picture
OldWoodenSpoon

It might not be a steam thing...  It does not seem like only 6 minutes of steam could spoil your crust.  I won't say it is impossible, but I am more suspicous of over proofing.  I over-proof a lot.  It seems to be one of the judgements I have the most trouble learning.  I produce a lot of loaves with that sickly pale crust and a pretty tight crumb. 


Over-proofing eats up more of the sugars in the dough, leaving not enough to carmelize on the crust to give it that nice dark color.  Over-proofing also leaves the dough with little or no food left to feed the yeast during that last minute feeding frenzy that gives you spring and bloom, and allows the crumb to open up.


If you lay out your specific process and timings you might get better answers based on things members see there.


Good Luck!
OldWoodenSpoon

Barbara Krauss's picture
Barbara Krauss

Hi OWS,


Thanks for your reply.  I can't say I'm never guilty of it, but my problem usually is that I tend to under proof rather than over proof, so though yours seems like a perfectly viable diagnosis, in this case it's probably not that.  Ordinarily I would agree with you that 6 minutes of steam doesn't seem a long enough time to spoil a crust, but the towels really do generate a lot more steam than I've been used to seeing.  Given that professional ovens usually steam for only a few seconds, I'm thinking maybe the crust isn't having a chance to crisp up because of the lack of "dry" heat.  I'm certainly no expert, though, and I could be way off the mark.  It wouldn't be the first time :)


I really appreciate your willingness to help. I'll let you know.


Barbara

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

Interesting conjecture. You would seem to suggest that the yeast produces some significant (it may not be much but to produce a result it must be significant)  amount of CO2 after the dough goes into the oven. 

Can you quantify and rationalize how that works?

The oven heats up the dough from the outside in.  The yeast metabolic rate is calculable and the CO2 production rate can thus be derived.  The yeast activity as well as the amount of glucose, fructose, and various glucofructans remaining in the dough at oven entry are small. The temperature rate is finite but the yeast dies at ~135°F and the metabolic rate falls off above some optimum temperature so there is only so much time for it to produce any additional CO2.  On the other hand the CO2 already in the foam that is the dough is expanding due to the increasing temperature. Can the yeast produce additional CO2 faster than the pre-existing CO2 expands due to the heat of the oven and the condensation of the steam on the surface of the dough?  The yeast took a couple of hours to produce the CO2 that has already proofed the dough. Can it produce any significant fraction of that amount after it goes into the oven and before it dies?

My gut tells me that the expanding gas is by far the dominant effect, but I would be interested in a real analysis of the phenomenology.

 

proth5's picture
proth5

is: Is this a recent event?  Were you getting good results before?  Let's assume the answer is "Yes."


Then on to the second question: If you were - what have you changed?


To give you an example, in my recently installed oven, I can no longer steam exactly as I used to with my old clunker.  This week - I thought that I would lower my baking stone one rack level because I felt that it was "too close" to the top of the oven.


My steaming arrangement is an enameled metal pan on the bottom rack and my stone on the next level above it.  I pour water into the pan (and it boils pretty quickly) - I also spray water on my stone.  The change I made was to put the stone closer to the pan.


A batch of "my" baguettes came out somewhat lackluster - pale, etc. except at their bottoms where the steam had gotten to them from the spraying process.  (Althought the crumb was good.)


Yep - I had boiling water in my pan, but the steam didn't get to the area above the stone.  When I moved my stone one rack setting up - all was well.


So I could suggest examining if the steam is actually making it to your loaves which means giving it a chance to circulate properly.


Internal air pockets are only partly a function of steam, so one must ask, again - what has changed?


Hope this helps.

Barbara Krauss's picture
Barbara Krauss

Hi Pat,


Thank you so much for your reply.  I actually have used your formula several times before with good results, but lately nothing has been working for me very well.  I haven't had really consistent results with any one formula, so it's hard for me to judge what's working and what isn't but the more I think about it, the more I'm fairly certain that the answer to your question -- What has changed? -- is the steaming method. 


I had been using a covering apparatus with good results, but of course with baguettes it's hard to find anything large enough to cover 2 loaves side by side. The soaked towels do produce a huge amount of steam; in fact even after I've removed the pyrex dish from the oven the steam is still coming out like crazy.  I'm beginning to think it's just too much, and it's preventing me from getting enough dry heat to form the crust. I normally push the stone to one side and have the steaming tray on the other, directly below it.


I will try using just one towel and see if that works, and perhaps keeping it in for a shorter time.  Or I could go back to simply using a cast iron skillet with a little boiling water. I'll let you know how it works out.


Thanks again for your input, Pat.


 

proth5's picture
proth5

Is the oven electric or gas?


The towels in a pyrex pan method seems to work well in a gas oven.  Home gas ovens vent a lot of steam, so it is more difficult to oversteam.  I can be guilty of overzealous steaming, but lately I have taken care to remove any extra water from the oven AND turn it on to convection mode and I usually get a pretty good crust. 


An electric oven will not vent as effectively and the new method may be a bit too much.


So, once again, depending on your oven, your new steaming method might be too much.  But certainly that's what changed and I would look to it as the problem with crust color.


Crumb - not so much so, but once you get the crust straightened out, you can look to that.

Barbara Krauss's picture
Barbara Krauss

Hi Pat,


I use a gas oven.  I wish I had the option for convection but I don't.  I'll keep tweaking -- thanks for the suggestions.


Barbara

ww's picture
ww

hi


perhaps it's not so much steam but too much lingering steam for too long? I use the towel method sometimes too, and it generates steam for a long while after. More so than just boiling water and ice cubes. If i forget to remove the towels i notice that the bread doesnt get a chance to brown and dry out. When you open your oven do you have hot steam blowing out? I do, so sometimes i have to keep it slightly ajar with a spoon wedged in the oven door. That said, 6 mins is quite short so your problem might lie elsewhere?? Just a thought.

Barbara Krauss's picture
Barbara Krauss

Hi ww,


I don't really notice a lot of steam pouring out when I open the oven door, but when I set the pyrex dish on the counter, I can see the amount of steam that continues to be produced, and it's a lot.  Maybe the spoon wedge would be a good idea, at least for a minute or two after I remove the towels.  I'll try it, thanks.


 

jeremiahwasabullfrog's picture
jeremiahwasabullfrog

what's in your dough?


is it just flour, water, salt, yeast/starter?

Barbara Krauss's picture
Barbara Krauss

Hi Jeremiah,


I usually use just a starter, flour, water and salt, but I have been experimenting with yeast, both fresh and instant, throughout this process. 

Fernando's picture
Fernando

Hi Barbara, I started baking about 2 months ago and I'm having the same problem as you. 

I've been baking only Baguettes from Hamelman with pre-ferment. My baguettes came out somewhat lackluster - pale, etc. except at their bottoms. With no Bloom and ears at all.

I don't know what happened. I think that I have to pay more attention at over-proofing and to try shape tighly.

Could you solve this problem?

This weekend i'll bake another batch and let's see what happen. I'll take some pics and post here to try to find out what's the problem.

Thanks

Fernando

Barbara Krauss's picture
Barbara Krauss

Hi Fernando,

I've been experimenting with different steaming methods, and I have switched from using covers over my breads to an open steam method.  Bowl covers work great, but I don't have room in my oven to bake more than one loaf at a time this way, and I prefer to bake several loaves at a time.

This is what I do: I add a few ice cubes to a bread pan that has been preheating in the oven. After loading the bread onto the stone, I pour 1/2 cup of boiling water in a tray full of lava rocks that I keep in the bottom of the oven, which has also been preheating. 

I set the timer for 10 minutes and at that time I remove both pans, finishing the bake in a dry oven.  This and a higher temperature has worked for me.  I find I have to preheat my oven to 500 degrees, then lower the heat to 485 after 10 minutes.  I can get a nice color using this method. 

You're probably right that shaping and proofing also have something to do with colorization.  Getting it all to come together consistently has been the big challenge.

Keep at it and good luck!

Barbara 

bnom's picture
bnom

I have read this thread with interest because I recently switched from an electric to a gas range (with convection) and has not been able to get the kind of deep russet color on my loaves that I used to. The crumb is good, crust texture is good, but the color is off and I suspect its the steam. I use the wet towel approach and a fibrament stone.  (Interestingly, the color of the loaf at the bottom is beautiful russet color, so I know the dough is capable of the maillard effect.)  I haven't figured out the best way to tweak it (one less towel? shorter steam time? door left ajar for a few minutes after steam device removed?) .  Barbara, did you resolve your issue?  Any suggestions?

 

 

bbbakr's picture
bbbakr

Have you been able to solve your color problem?  My baguette is exactly like yours: beautiful color on the bottom; pale and lifeless on the top.  I used the same recipe in a dutch oven.  Beautiful color all around.  Curious what you have done to solve the baguette problem.

bnom's picture
bnom

I have improved my crust color and ears - so much so that I'm going to start trying baguettes again (I've been making batards).  I'm still tweaking but what has worked best for me thus far to add boiling water to a tray of lava rocks set on bottom shelf, and then turning off my gas oven so I can close the vent for the first 7 minutes of baking. Then I remove the steaming device, unblock the vent, turn the oven back on and turn on the convection fan for the remainder of bake. 

I have been keeping track of my various experiments and posting photos on a thread I started sometime ago. You might want to read it: http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/27937/im-distraught-and-need-help-folks-who-routinely-produce-beautiful-breads-gas-ovens

 

 

bbbakr's picture
bbbakr

I felt lost until I read your thread. Lots of good information to ponder and explore! Much appreciated.  Thanks!