The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

To steam or not to steam...

breadforfun's picture
breadforfun

To steam or not to steam...

That is not the question.  But how to steam?  Ah, there's the rub (with apologies to the Bard).

As many  a home baker, I have struggled with getting enough steam into the oven during the initial bake period.  There are many suggestions on the topic in these TFL pages, and I think I have tried them all.  I've used lava rocks, pouring water into a hot pan, soaking towels, ice cubes, etc.  This past weekend I made two batches of Tartine bread recipe, one of which I used the lava rock method of steaming and the other I used the book's recommended method of a dutch oven.  It is pretty clear which worked better (steamwise).  The boule has much more bloom and grigne, though not as much as I have seen by other posters here.  The oval loaf is much more subdued (although not without its own charm).

The crumb of this bread is exquisite.

What steaming methods work for you?

-Brad

 

Comments

bob3rd's picture
bob3rd

Hey, there

I'm really new to breadbaking, so if the answer to this ?  is obvious, my apologies...

I'm not clear...which bread was baked in the dutch oven?

THX!

breadforfun's picture
breadforfun

The boule (round loaf) on the left had more oven bloom.  If you compare the score lines made with the lame (razor) before baking, the gap that expands during the bake is called the bloom.  The loaf on the right has 2 teardrop shaped scores, while the one on the left has 4 in a square pattern.  Perhaps this photo shows it a little better.

tn gabe's picture
tn gabe

is from the dutch oven

tn gabe's picture
tn gabe

is from the dutch oven

hanseata's picture
hanseata

I use the Dutch oven sometimes when I bake only one loaf. Usually I bake several breads (I sell them), so I use a large steam pan with 3/4 cup of boiling water. I rotate the breads after half the baking time, and then remove the steam pan. My oven is very well insulated, the steam doesn't escape fast, so I have good results with that method.

Karin

breadforfun's picture
breadforfun

Thanks Karin.  I am quite happy with the way my breads are turning out, but when I see these differences I like to explore the reasons.  I use basically the same procedure as you described, and when I have used a large roasting pan (either with or without lava rocks), I use 2 cups of boiling water.  I certainly can't feel any steam, or heat for that matter, escaping the door of the oven, so I presume it is well insulated.  Is your oven gas or electric?

-Brad

hanseata's picture
hanseata

I have a JennAir electric oven. Since I'm mostly baking 4 - 6 loaves on 2 tiers, I use convection mode, basically as default.

When I bake only on one rack, I place the steam pan on the highest tier above the bread (the baking stones are on the lowest tier). I get a better opening of the slashes when the steam pan acts as a "cover" for the loaves during the first half of the bake.

Karin

breadforfun's picture
breadforfun

I have been placing my steam pan below the stone.  Your comments, as well as rereading Sylvia's original towel post, suggests that a top steam tray might be more effective.  I'll try it.  Thanks.

-Brad

BobS's picture
BobS

Karin,

I also have a JennAire electric oven, but I can't see you you can get two sets of stones plus a steam pan in for your 2-tier bake. Could you describe it a bit more?

Thanks

Bob

hanseata's picture
hanseata

Bob, I have only one rack with stones - my lowest rack has a layer of unglazed terracotta tiles serving as "baking stone", leaving an opening (1 tile left out) for the steam. When I bake on two tiers I place the steam pan on the bottom of the oven (below the tiles), half of the breads on the rack with the stones, and the other half on a rack in the upper third of the oven. I rotate the breads after half the baking time.

This way I can bake up to six breads at the same time - I normally scale my breads that they weigh between 800 - 900 g, so that they are not too large.

Karin

 

BobS's picture
BobS

OK Karin, I see.  Are you loaves in pans? I can get three pans across in my oven but getting three 900g batards would be tricky. Boules wouldn't fit at all, I think

 

b

hanseata's picture
hanseata

With boules it can get difficult if I bake six breads at the same time. I try to have at least one batârd between two boules, but sometimes they touch, and I have to separate them with a spatula when I rotate the pans. To make rotation of those many loaves easier and faster, I place them all on baking sheets and not directly on the baking stones.

Loaves in pans need, of course, less space, but I bake also free standing loaves.

Karin

SylviaH's picture
SylviaH

Steaming, omg, I have I think tried them all and also have quite a collection of steaming devices..I think all of them...clay la cloche - oval and round, turkey pan lids, purchased steaming lid with injector steamer an expense I wish wasn't just collecting dust, lava rocks and iron pans, perforated pans, chains, nuts and bolts, foil pans, glass bowls, ceramic cover bowls, a whole lot of pots with lids...might have left out one or two.

My favorite and what works the best and very easiest for me with the most control is the 'my favorite' posted on my blog towel steaming method.  Second, I love the dutch oven combo cooker-by Lodge, 'the one in the Tartine Bread book..though that's only good for one round loaf and things can get hot and heavy.  All in all, I now use only the steaming towels, no problems for me!

Sylvia

breadforfun's picture
breadforfun

Hi Sylvia,

Whenever I tried the towel method you described I certainly got good results.  I think the difficulty I had was that it is a multi-step process, first with soaking the towels, then heating them in the microwave and finally transferring them into a pan in the oven without splattering water on the oven door glass.  Have you ever tried putting the soaked towels in the oven without the microwave, and letting the oven heat bring the water to a boil?  It might take a few extra minutes, but it seems that it should work.

-Brad

SylviaH's picture
SylviaH

Microwave sits above a counter right next to my oven.  I don't put the hot towels into the pan, while the pans are in the oven.  I heat the towels, lift them with tongs right into the pans and directly into the oven..easy.  I could just set the whole glass dish directly into the oven..but I like using 2 pans with towels because I steam above and/or below.  I also don't like placing glass into the oven.  No splattering, heavy lifting, or burning myself.  The microwaving of the towels heats them very hot in center..which I find helps in creating move steam for a long time, coming from the towels.  No heat time needed from the oven.  I get fast steam results.  Pre-steaming the oven takes less time for me this way and I can have the oven pre-steamed quickly before putting my bread into the oven.  There are many ways to go about it.  It works fast for me, now that I have a steady routine.

Sylvia 

breadforfun's picture
breadforfun

You must have a very large oven to put pans both above and below the loaves for baking.  I don't think my racks are spaced far enough apart to permit that and allow for oven spring.  And unfortunately, my microwave is not so conveniently located.  I will try a few things along these lines, and post the results.  Thanks.

-Brad

SylviaH's picture
SylviaH

my double ovens are large.  I don't place steaming pans of towels below the stone.  My oven stones cover from corner to of my oven..there are two large stone slabs made for my oven that sit in their holding rack.  The rack with stones is usually placed in the lowest part of the oven.  I wouldn't place steaming pans below if the rack was raised because the steam would only be blocked by the stones.  When baking just one loaf, I'll place one or both pan's somewhere on the stone away from the bread or a steaming pan above..just for good circulation of the steam.  I like using 2 pans to hold the steaming towels.. dark sturdy bread loaf pans.  They are narrow and versatile...they create so much steam..one pan would also work fine.  The distance of your microwave shouldn't create to much of an incovenience as the towel steam will last all the way through the pre-steam and still be steaming when removed from the oven...so there's no rush in moving the  towel steam pans about or the length of time you like to steam.  I use sopping wet towels and there will be water in bottom of the pans poured.  A good plan, routine, whatever works best for you.

Sylvia

bnom's picture
bnom

I thought I would add my own Sylvia-inspired variation into the mix:  I put a pot of water to boil on the stove, use tongs to dunk in two old tea towels, place the towels on top of two aluminum pans partially filled with lava rocks (I have them, why not use them) placed on the top rack of the oven.  Generally, I pre-steam the oven with one towel a few minutes before adding the loaves, and then I add the second towel just after loading the loaves for a big burst of steam. For me, this method is faster and more convenient than the microwave approach and it produces excellent results. 

However, there's a caveat:  If you're sloppy, water can splash onto the door while you're transferring the dripping wet towel to the lava rock pans. This has been no problem for me because I didn't have a window in my door. But I'm getting a new gas range soon and it will have a window. So my question is, since the water is boiling hot, does it present a problem to the window if it splashes onto it?  Would really like to know! Thanks.

hanseata's picture
hanseata

Bnom, I often splash boiling water from steaming on the window of my oven door. Nothing ever happened.

But I can't tell you whether it's just a good quality of my oven, or the temperature of the water. Being not a physicist, I would nevertheless assume that the temperature difference is the main culprit.

Karin

breadforfun's picture
breadforfun

Hi Karin,

You are correct that temperature difference is the key factor.  The oven window sits at the high temperature of the interior of the oven - say 500˚F, and boiling water is 212˚F, a difference of nearly 300˚.  The other factor is the glass: how it was heat-treated in manufacture which imparts internal stress, and if there are imperfections that could initiate breakage. 

Bnom, I had the same thought about the lava rocks.  Glad to hear that it works for you.

-Brad

bnom's picture
bnom

I hadn't thought about the temp difference between the boiling water and the oven.  I'll have to use caution but at least the range comes with  5 year warranty so I think I'm covered if the glass should crack. 

hanseata's picture
hanseata

Sylvia, I just tried to visualize you in your kitchen, surrounded by all those devices.... you really made me smile!

I only tried the lava stones, but they didn't deliver a better result than pouring the boiling water on a large rimmed baking pan.

Karin

SylviaH's picture
SylviaH

In my beginning of TFL..there was a lot of expermenting that went on..I think a lot have benefited from it. I can't believe all the collection I have in my cupboards..good thing I have a lot of cupboards..but I do plan on a radical cleaning out one of these days.  I have glass oven doors..pouring anything now makes me nervous after reading all the oven glass door replacements on TFL.  

Sylvia

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

Ok, I am still not clear which loaf was in your dutch oven - the boule or the batard?  I see the boule had better oven spring but I don't know if it was the one in the DO or not....

I have tried just about all of the methods mentioned above and even burned my face with steam when I placed my steaming pan on the top shelf of my oven....it was preheated to 450° and I got a hefty burst of steam when I added the water to the pan....didn't hurt at the time but later -ouch :-0  So, anyone trying that position - be careful!!!!

Currently I use ice cubes on the floor of my oven.  Yes, it warps the floor but doesn't do any damage and is safest - my face is still tender despite the fact that the steam accident happened several months ago.  (I use a long handled skimmer to put the ice into the oven.)

I also use 2 small Le Creuset dutch ovens.

Method depends on the loaf and shape.

Janet

breadforfun's picture
breadforfun

Janet,

Yes, the boule had more oven spring because it was in the dutch oven.

I've shied away from placing ice on the floor of the oven because some ovens have temperature sensors there, and ice would throw off the temperature reading, potentially causing overheating.

-Brad

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

Thanks for the clarification :-)

I have been doing the ice method on and off for about 6 months.  Floor of my oven won't win and house beautiful contests. I haven't run into the overheating but if it does happen I will now know why!

Janet

bakinginQuito's picture
bakinginQuito

Dutch oven think is perfect if you bake just a loaf...I do not belong one but I use the same method with a couple of disposable aluminum pans......here you are the result! Happy baking from Quito

 

bakinginQuito's picture
bakinginQuito

something went wrong with the pic!

breadforfun's picture
breadforfun

Your suggestions are just great.  I baked my first loaves today using the towel method and placed the pan above the loaves.  I used bnom's suggestion of placing a layer of lava rocks at the bottom of the pan.  I am very happy to report that after 15 minutes when I removed the steam, the loaves were still totally uncolored (a good thing, I'm told) and the bloom was very good.  Thanks again.

 

ml's picture
ml

What a complete joy to read these posts. We are strange, aren't we?

I think it was Ken Forkish who suggested soaking a baking stone beforehand, & placing it in the oven while it heats up.

Has anyone tried this?

Feeling in good company,

ml

Kitchen Barbarian's picture
Kitchen Barbarian

Soaking a baking stone and then putting it in the oven sounds chancy to me.  I could be wrong but - it seems like an excellent way to end up with a broken stone.  That's only what I suppose - I have no personal experience.