The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Steam Steam, Steam

PhilipG's picture
PhilipG

Steam Steam, Steam

For those of you that have been at this for a while, would you be willing to rate the different methods you have tried for creating steam in your oven? I had the chance to read Tartine  Bread last night and was very impressed with the insistence on steam but I am not interested in using a dutch oven. I have a US Range commercial stove in my kitchen with two ovens. I uses tiles in the overs for baking, keep pan in the bottom of each oven to spray some water in for steam. Minimal but better than nothing. What is your favorite way???  Thanks, PG

daveazar531's picture
daveazar531

I am new to this site but there is litteraly more content here then you can imagine, just search steam and you can sift though 13000 results

personaly i recommend this method

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/20162/oven-steaming-my-new-favorite-way

SylviaH has amazing recipes that are easy to follow and she did all the hard work of testing the diffrent methods for us. When i dont use a dutch oven to make bread i follow her well tested process. So far so good

 

PhilipG's picture
PhilipG

Of course. I put in "steam ovens" instead of jsu tsteam and it wasn't giving me what i was looking for. As always, Keep It simple works best. Thanks, PG

Toad.de.b's picture
Toad.de.b

Since I've (recently!) done the same as you -- posting a question to which I could just as well have found plusieur answers by mining the rich TFL archive -- I feel I owe a decent contribution.

  • I second Dave's recommendation of "Sylvia's Magic Towels": the clear top choice of TFL's most accomplished Master Amateurs.  
  • There are some exotic (and dangerous) pressure cooker hacks you can find documented on TFL but are best avoided unless you're drawn to confounding baking with playing quien es mas macho?, are an engineer, and/or share Evil Kinevil's death wish (imho).  And, with all due respect to their brave inventors, I've found the crumb of at least some of the loaves thusly produced to be oddly, even uncomfortably uniformly holey.  As if the standard deviation of the normal (bell) curve of crumb alveoli diameter has been reduced by 90% by these poor abused Presto's.
  • Misting with a sprayer (a Peter Reinhart recommendation) risks cracking oven lights and window, and isn't very effective anyway since about as much steam is generated that way as escapes by opening the door to do it (again imho).  
  • Piling lava rocks or misc steel nuts and bolts in your tray before pouring in boiling water helps by increasing surface area from which water can evaporate.  But that surface area is nothing compared to the fiber surface area of a terry towel a la Sylvia.  That's the genius of her method: high evaporative surface area continuously replenished with water from within the cotton fibers and in the pan in which they're resting.  Brilliant.  Mind you, it's fussy: ferrying burning hot towels from glass dish in microwave to metal tins in oven (= opposite ends of our kitchen).  But look at the products pictured on TFL that result from it:  glossy blistered thick chesnut crusts.  Can almost taste/hear them.
  • Robertson's and Lahey's dutch oven (DO) concept doesn't require an cast iron Lodge combo DO or any other Big Iron or ceramic for that matter.  Many are satisfied with inverting a stainless steel salad bowl over 1 kg boules, without preheating the bowl (another discussion topic on TFL: preheat or not).  Given the heat conductivity of thin stainless steel, non-preheated works fine, though not as well as Sylvia's Magic Towels.  
  • I've wondered if simply gently forming a sheet of aluminum foil over a loaf (when on the peel and leaving it there when dough hits the stone in oven, then remove it after 15-20 min, which by the way is standard procedure for all these steaming methods) would sequester enough dough-released steam to do the trick.  But haven't tried it because I've feared it might stick.  Yuk.
  • You can search TFL for David Snyder's report of SFBI's ice-cubes-on-perforated-pie-plate method.  I've had no experience with it but am intrigued by the concept.  But I'm baking in a small oven and prefer steam to start in liquid phase so as not to draw oven heat to generate it from solid H2O.
  • Someday, a clever baker-cum-inventor will devise a simple why-didn't-I-think-of-that? gadget that we'll all buy to put in our ovens that will fill them with hot steam so neatly and efficiently that we'll have a good laugh at lists like this.  Maybe you're the one to do it.

That's a start.  Let us know what works best for you.  Good luck!

Tom

carblicious's picture
carblicious

Tom,

Really nice summary of different techniques.

Other technique is using one of the hand steamers/steam cleaners in combination with a cover.

I'm going to route an espresso machine's steaming wand and see if that works for me oven. Probably not enough steam, but going play anyways.

-Don

Toad.de.b's picture
Toad.de.b

That's funny -- That very thing occurred to me while writing about the pressure cooker hackers. Fortunately, I don't have a home expresso machine, so that particular temptation is an easy one to avoid.

But go for it, Evil K. :-)

Tom

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

Both of you can read about my ill-fated espresso machine engineering here: http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/28513/dont-try-homebut-seriously-who-has

 

daveazar531's picture
daveazar531

Expresso Machine!! Now I have heard it all, I wish you had video of the setup... I never thought of going with a expresso machine, but I will admit I have thought about using one of those steam cleaners you see in the infomercials but I just cant bring myself to do it.

 

 

 

Toad.de.b's picture
Toad.de.b

Typo for 'amateur' or "a mature'? Well done! Steam cleaner? I don't think so. Hot towels *work fine*. Hate to see a grown man cry over a crashed 'spresso machine.

You know those little cast iron ducks and dragons they sell to put on top of your woodstove to humidify the house in winter? A scaled down, purpose-built variation on that principle that might garner some coin off o' TFLoafers.

Or some microwaveable nanopore nanomaterial upgrade of Sylvia's cotton towels that would efficiently wick water from a previously boiled reservoir below, continuously and efficiently presenting it to the oven air above for vaporization. Same as plants pull water even 100s of yards up through xylem simply by evaporation (at outside temps, not 450˚F!) through nanopores (read: stomata) in their epidermis. Any Materials Scientists listening?

Tom

carblicious's picture
carblicious

Had no idea that there were such things as cast iron steamers.   I'm in California, we don't have such things :)

It'd require a lot heat mass to steam for a long period of time.    That said, having a dragon breath steam is pretty cool.

 

carblicious's picture
carblicious

I missed the first time you posted.  Sounds like it was too successful.

carblicious's picture
carblicious

The Haussler has a funnel for delivering water into a metal steam tray.  While the stock set-up is similar to some WFO, it doesn't generate that much steam as a home unit.  For Sunday's bake, I plumped the espresso machine.

Steamed for the first 2 minutes, but only did a 1/4 of a turn.  The resulting loaves look similar to stock method (one of the loaves from Saturday is on top of the oven).  However, it wasn't a pure A/B test as Saturday's bake had a little instant yeast to shorten the proofing times.

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

Others will probably want to know more about your oven.

Here's the link: http://en.backdorf.de/produkte/produkte_index.php?id=3

They make wood fire ovens, grain mills, and lots of other neat things.

Have a look at the Alpha mixer: http://en.backdorf.de/produkte/produkte_teigknetmaschinen.php?id=3

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

Tried Sylvia's Magic Towels for the first time today.

I'm very impressed!

What I like most about this method is how mellow it is. You warm up the pans, you warm up some towels and water in the irradiation machine, you transfer to oven, done! For the first time in ages, I didn't sear off my eyebrows or burn myself with steam. (And I didn't suffer that extreme temperature drop re: open, spray, close! open spray, close!, so it saves me money. I may even stop preheating to 550 F, which I do because I know how much temperature is lost with the open, spray, close! method).

Love it!

If there was a Nobel Prize for Bread Hacks, Sylvia would win it!

-

Thanks for bringing it (and the others) to my attention, Tom. I don't know how I missed it.

-

The oven is still exhaling 25 minutes into the bake.

My oven "breaths" if the pressure gets too high. It sounds like exhaling. It usually stops after about 10 minutes, but it's still going almost 25 minutes into the bake. That means the towels are still making steam. Awesomecakes!

Confirmed. It's still making steam at 30. How confirmed? I opened the oven and nearly burned my eyebrows off! :)

aytab's picture
aytab

I bake a lot in my Dutch Oven but, I do have one of those Shark steam cleaners I just might have to give that thing a spin around the block and see how it does, hhmmmm.

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

In an atmospheric pressure oven (which is always at sea level by convention) you can't have a dew point above 100°C, and won't approach that without a steam generator that is powered by a separate heat source than the oven box itself. You can calculate the amount of water you need to keep the oven full of steam and then the amount of heat required to boil water (create steam) at that rate.  Most ovens do not have sufficient power to do that.  The result is that the temperature of the oven drops during steaming and only begins to recover when steam generation stops (without a separate steam generator). This includes the towel trick.  The realistic alternative is to store enough heat in lava rock or some other suitable thermal storage medium to create the steam you need so that the oven power source is not required to supply what is necessary to flash the water to steam (an isothermal process at 100°C) but only to heat the steam from 100°C to the oven set point (which takes a lot less power).  So I opted for a combi oven with a separate steam generator when I could afford it, but before that I tried just about all of the tricks elaborated here - except for the pressure cooker approach (which I am convinced will work, but still requires a big heat source and is dangerous without an appropriate safety valve).

I am drawn to using preheated lava rock and a mechanism that slowly drips water onto the rock - and the best one I have come across is to use ice cubes in a pan with the right number, size, and placement of pin holes, even though the oven does have to melt the ice.  The trick is to balance the stored heat in the rock and the amount and form of the ice while engineering the method of distributing the melted ice so that it drips onto rocks that remain well above 100°C.  If the water perks to the bottom of the rock box, it just sits there and boils at a rate that is determined by other factors.

I keep watching for the gagget that we will all buy when it appears - even though I have solved my problem, I am still interested in how and when a really clever solution appears.

Toad.de.b's picture
Toad.de.b

Thanks Doc.  That's great stuff.  You've alerted me to the fact that my botanical analogy about plants losing water vapor to the atmosphere via the water potential difference between stomatal cavities and atmosphere (~100 MPa difference) carries (and clearly evolved in service of), for the plant, the benefit of cooling the leaf from which water is lost.  In the oven of course, heat of vaporization has to come from somewhere and without an external source, it comes from the oven air, cooling it.  So, roger that: an external heat source is required lest oven temps drop.

May I ask, what "combi oven" do you have?  I'm not surprised that one can now buy ovens with steaming features for the home kitchen.   We've been there, done that with kitchen remodeling, so I can safely ask sans temptation.

So criteria for The Gadget are:

  1. very high heat capacity in small volume (hi capacity/cc)
  2. can be heated up outside the oven beforehand
  3. safely moved even though it's hot as hell
  4. volume of water sufficient to steam a 'typical' home oven
  5. steam release can be turned on after setting in oven and turned off when removing it

I'm reminded not only of those woodstove-top steamers, but old fashioned irons that you see in antique stores that people had to heat up by setting on coals in the fireplace.  I suppose they are just solid cast iron.

Fun to think about.

Tom

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

An interesting calculation shows that for an average 4.5 cu ft oven, it takes about 1090 lb-°F of lava rock (weight of the rock x rock temperature above the boiling point of water) to melt the ice, heat it to boiling, boil it, then heat the steam to 450°F. so if you are preheating your oven to 500°F (which means that any rock you have in there will be 50°F below oven temperature just because you don't want to wait forever) you will need a little over a pound of lava rock for the first blast of steam plus some more to provide make-up steam as the initial steam escapes.  If your oven leaks one volume per minute (you can actually estimate this from the power consumption) and you want to have steam for 5 minutes, then you need to have 6 lbs of lava rock and almost exactly 1 lb of water (16 oz) dripped onto the hot rock over the 5 minutes (20% immediately after you close the oven door and the rest spread out over the remaining 5 min).  For a number of reasons this underestimates both the amount of rock you need and the temperature you need to heat it to if you are going to create all of the steam with the stored energy in the rock.  This is independent of how much power you oven can deliver (though that does determine how long it takes to heat everything up).  A bigger oven will take more, a tighter oven will take less.

Toad.de.b's picture
Toad.de.b

Now that calculation is a bit discouraging.  No little woodstove steamer dragon needed here, but an object that perhaps fills most of the volume of the shelf below the stone, inviting convection to move the heat around it.  But convection and effective steaming don't mix.  Good news is Sylvia's Magic Towels do work well without defying any of the few laws of physics that I know of.  That's encouraging, that a purpose-built device is still conceivable, your calcs notwithstanding.

Tom

davidg618's picture
davidg618

I posted this a couple of months ago. From my point-of-view, I've stopped searching for a better way to create steam, safely, with no downside to loaf development.

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/28166/steaming-container-option-update

David G

Toad.de.b's picture
Toad.de.b

Oops yes, sorry, I did forget to include those, David.  They're a key detail under "metal tin in oven for Sylvia's towels".  I remember reading and being intrigued by your posts about them.  I thought there were quite a find and just the ticket, although I think I recall you got a "big deal" comment or two as well.  I finally have time now to look up the details @ Amazon and was pleased to learn they're only "11.9-inches by 1.8-inches by 1.7-inches": they'll fit in the small wall oven in which bread gets baked chez nous.  

<sigh> Would that my breads had as much oven spring as my wishlist.

Tom

Frazestart's picture
Frazestart

Sur La Table stores also carry this item. I like the fact that it is compact and doesn't tie up a lot of oven real estate. I just preheat it with the oven, fill with boiling/almost boiling water right after sticking the bread in and, voila, instant steam. I usually top it off at least once during the first half of baking.  I haven't tried it with a towel yet- I'm all thumbs and don't want to keep the oven door open for half an hour while I juggle hot things.

Thanks to David for first posting about this.

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

I like that solution but it does take the heat from the whatever is the oven input source.  It might be a good starting point for a drip steamer as well, though thermal stress might crack it if water were to drip directly on the cast iron.  I was just looking at materials that have high Cp values and for readily available materials iron and aluminum appear to be perhaps the best choice due to low cost, high Cp (.22 BTU/lbm/°F for aluminum and .11 BTU/lbm/°F for iron), and density (specific gravity is 2.8 for Al; and 7 for cast iron) so for volumetric efficiency iron is the choice, but for rapidity of heating, Al might be preferred (Al has a thermal diffusivity advantage of about 3).  Lava rock has a Cp of .2 but both low density and low thermal conductivity so it heats slowly (I could not quickly find a reliable number for either property).

Perhaps the solution is in using aluminum chips or shavings from a machine shop.  We probably want something a little larger but I am drawing a blank on a cheap source of 0.25"- 0.5" diameter aluminum balls, or cubes, or hex nuts.  Maybe you can get aluminum versions of the glass pebbles that flourists use to stabilize flower arrangements.

Can you weigh the water that will fit into one of the charcoal holders and report back here? Aluminum will just about double it (accounting for 33% void space).

 

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

I saw that solution somewhere: aluminum chain in a loaf pan.

Alton Brown, maybe?

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

That may be a good answer. It will reduce the volumetric efficiency somewhat since the void volume will be well over 50%.

I think you want the thinest chain you can find which won't change the void percentage, but will decrease the average void size.

 

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

Beryllium has 2.2x the heat capacity of aluminum and doesn't melt at oven temperature.

I think I'll just replace the bricks in my oven (heat capacity = .84 J(g*K)) with big chunks of beryllium (heat capacity = 1.82 J(g*K)).

Too bad it's not practical (or even available for purchase):

Because any beryllium synthesized in stars is short-lived, it is a relatively rare element in both the universe and in the crust of the Earth. It is a divalent element which occurs naturally only in combination with other elements in minerals. Notable gemstones which contain beryllium include beryl (aquamarine, emerald) and chrysoberyl. As a free element it is a steel-gray, strong, lightweight and brittle alkaline earth metal.

Sodium and potassium metal are out, for obvious (boom!) reasons, to say nothing of an impolite visit from Homeland Security.

Toad.de.b's picture
Toad.de.b

Something I've wondered about is why water just doesn't keep boiling when poured, boiling, into a vessel that's been sitting in an oven as it's preheated up to 500˚F. I'm sure there's some basic physics here that I'm missing, but that's well above the 212˚F theoretically required to vaporize it. Seems that a cast iron skillet filled with iron or aluminum bits or lava rocks, and water, boiled on the stove beforehand, should remain boiling when quickly transferred to a 450-500˚F oven. I haven't actually tried that, but from other steaming adventures, assume it would stop boiling and not resume in the oven. Why not?

Tom

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

I just discovered that I started to answer this question last year and never got back to it.

So there is another way to look at it:

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/25975/why-ice-steam

Oven recovery time (table below) is an issue and does depend on oven input power. For small ovens (2500W) it is more than a few minutes, but for a 4KW oven it pretty much matches the steaming time you want during which the bread is still below 100°C surface temperature.  This table assumes that the oven operates at 100% efficiency and has no losses so it under estimates the recovery time.  Thus smaller ovens need more help with preheated pebble beds.

Oven power (W) Time (minutes) to make 1 lb of steam @ 450°F from 1 lb of ice 
2500 9.29
3000 7.74
3500 6.64
4000 5.81
4500 5.16
5000 4.65
5500 4.22
6000 3.87
6500 3.57
7000 3.32
7500 3.10
8000 2.90
8500 2.73
9000 2.58
9500 2.44
10000 2.32
10500 2.21
11000 2.11
11500 2.02
12000 1.94
12500 1.86
13000 1.79
13500 1.72
14000 1.66
14500 1.60
15000 1.55
 
Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

Amazon has aluminum roofing nails for less than $10/lb. The packing density is not high, but it might work if you whack them with a big hammer (like a 2 lb sledge hammer) to collapse the head. At 450-550 per pound that is an afternoon's work and a couple of days of pain.

 

decatur's picture
decatur

The Steam Maker Bread Baker (in which I have NO personal interest) is the option I have used now for two years.  I am very pleased with the results even though it is stupidly expensive for what it is.  The hood works and the steam gadget has been very reliable.  The only draw back is that the size is limited by the hood (seems to be a chaffing dish lid).  I raise (pun intended) this because I haven't read about it in this discussion. 

 

AnnaInMD's picture
AnnaInMD

I believe it was dmsnyder who thoroughly tested various breads by baking them with or without steam and showed the photographs.  No detectable difference was noted.

But, I too, fell prey to each and every book touting steam.

The easiest for me is using the Römertopf since the top is being soaked for 10 minutes prior to putting pot and dough into the cold oven. One drawback is the thinner crust which I reinforce by baking the bread - after being done and out of the pot - for another 5 to 10 minutes.

The La Cloche is my #2 choice, simply because I have not mastered forming wetter dough which then spreads in the cloche. To circumvent this, I put the dough into a springform pan which I put into the cloche. I have even put some crushed ice between the springform and the outer rim of the cloche to make extra steam. But a wetter dough doesn't need this much additional hydration.

#3 choice is those tiny loaf-shaped aluminum cake tins which I partially fill with water and set between the heating elements on the bottom of the electric stove while the oven is preheating and 10 minutes into the bake where the bread sits on a wire pizza pan placed on the stone.

Anna

 

daveazar531's picture
daveazar531

if you proof your higher hydration dough using a relatively small diameter proofing basket it will hold a much better shape though the bake

Toad.de.b's picture
Toad.de.b

OK, that settles it (didn't take much convincing).  Time to fork out for properly sized bannetons for the 1 kg loaves.  They get lost in my wonderful new SFBI linen lined miche-beds.  

Wish I had a little tienda down the street like Beatriz's in Madrid!   Now where's that old colander....

Tom

daveazar531's picture
daveazar531

dont waste a bunch of money to test, go out to the local 99 cent store an pick up whatever they have. If that size works best then consider buying the similar sized brotform

I've used a new dog's water bowl from the dollor store for like 4 months. It did give a little irregular shape around the edge because of how the bowl was shaped but the oven spring is way better for nkb  then i used to get just proofing on the counter.

Toad.de.b's picture
Toad.de.b

Thanks for that perspective Anna! I've assumed all along (=during the ~6 months since I started trying to bake bread at home) that steaming was a *given*. Essential. I spent an enlightening hour a while back strolling through David Snyder's blog entries but only got halfway from 07 to present. Could you point me to his steaming test? That's an eye-opening report you've given.

That said, it appears that you do indeed still steam with a soaked clay top or springform/ice/La Cloche (THAT's clever!) or ice pan (also clever!), despite your subject line. What am I missing here?

Thanks,

Tom

AnnaInMD's picture
AnnaInMD

recipe instructions where most call for some type of moisture while baking for the first few minutes.  And as you see in a post from David, he mentions that there indeed were differences in that test, I just wanted you to be aware that some tests didn't come up with big differences but as David rightfully states, that also depended on the type of dough. So back to steaming :)

The items I listed were my 3 most used methods, besides those, I also make larger oblong loaves or baquettes sitting on a large tile stone and tented with an inexpensive aluminum roasting pan, and larger round loaves, again sitting on the stone,  I have topped with a big stainless steel bowl, and also have a Dutch oven, and with none of these methods do I use extra steam.

Wait until you try to find proofing methods, they might be even more varied, grin....

Best,

Anna

 

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

First off, Anna, in my "test" of no steam, the crust appearance and texture sufferred. Without steam, the crust is matte, not shiney. In theory, oven spring and bloom also suffer. The steam is to keep the surface moist and pliable longer. If crust forms too early, it resists loaf expansion.

Second, as has been mentioned, the generation of steam in the oven does cool the oven, but the ways to compensate are really simple. Pre-heat the oven to a higher temperature than your baking temperature and have material in the oven that stores heat and buffers temperature fluctuations. The principal one is a thick, good quality baking stone. I don't think tiles are sufficient. I use a cast iron skillet to hold lava rocks. The cast iron is another "heat capacitor." Use of lava rock or, better yet, steel nuts and bolts, provide both heat storage and a large surface area for the water to hit resulting in more steam generation. Just be sure that your hardware doesn't contain elemenets that vaporize at oven temperatures and are toxic.

I have used other methods including covering the loaf with a stainless steel bowl, a variety of Dutch ovens and covering the loaf with a disposable aluminum roasting pan. All of these work well. I have not tried Sylvia's technique. I have no complaints regarding my current method, but I am very impressed with the results others have achieved with hot wet towels.

Any one's decision among the methods that work (including some others I haven't mentioned) is personal and should be based on effectiveness in the oven one has and ease of use.

David

Toad.de.b's picture
Toad.de.b

Oops. David, you were certainly one of the Master Amateurs to whom I was referring, in my list above, who I thought favored Sylvia's Magic Towels. Perhaps I was mistakenly recalling a post by Glenn.

Lava rocks it is. Good to know. Sorry about that.

Tom

AnnaInMD's picture
AnnaInMD

find your original post anymore, but do remember looking at the photos and from this perspective, did not appreciate any extreme differences, aside from a mention of one loaf being a bit smaller.  If you could be so kind and direct us to this original post, that would be wonderful.

Anna

 

LindyD's picture
LindyD

Perhaps this is what you were thinking of?     http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/20024/oven-steaming-using-sfbi-method

I tried David's SFBI method and it works perfectly for me:  http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/21045/fire-and-ice-great-oven-steam

Am still thankful to him for writing about it.

AnnaInMD's picture
AnnaInMD

I love that link to David's SFB loaves, but I think there was another one, maybe he remembers.

Thanks much,

anna

 

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

I have a vague recollection of the comparison you are referring to, but I can't find it ... yet.

David