The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

To Steam or not to Steam?

Sulpicia III's picture
Sulpicia III

To Steam or not to Steam?

Hi everyone,

One question that came up when I was making some loaves this weekend is this: do I need to put a sandwich loaf under steam? I have never seen any indication that a sandwich loaf should be steamed. On the other hand, I haven't baked a sandwich loaf since I made my first successful artisan loaf about 2 years ago, so I have no idea. Here was my experience recently that makes me think I might need it. When I made the side by side comparison of the commercial yeast bread and the sourdough version (of the same bread), the final rise time was the same (2 hours). The commercial yeast one rose a lot and filled the loaf pan. The sourdough loaf did not. It only increased a small amount in size, but it had the same light and airy texture as the commercial yeast version did after the same amount of time so it seemed ready to bake. As there was no mention of steam in the instructions, I cooked the commercial yeast loaf without it. There was almost no oven spring at all, and the texture was pretty good for a sandwich loaf (not too dense, but still a tight crumb). On the sourdough loaf, I didn't want it to come out as a brick so I baked it for the first 25 minutes under steam. Surprisingly, the sourdough had massive oven spring. It did not get quite as tall as the commercial yeast loaf. However, I thought the crumb of the sourdough was better. It was still small and regular, as in a good sandwich loaf, but it was slightly more open and creamier than in the commercial yeast loaf.

Commercial Yeast (left), Sourdough (right and top)

Did the oven spring occur because I put the sourdough loaf under steam or was it just because the sourdough needed that final push to expand while the commercial yeast version did not? Does anyone know?

Yerffej's picture

It is an inherent quality in sourdough to enjoy wonderful oven spring.  As you saw, less rise in the final proof but more spring in the oven.  That is sourdough.

As for the steam I think if you had done two sourdough bakes, one with and one without steam, you would find that the steam contributes even more to the healthy sourdough oven spring.  So keep steaming your sourdough loaves as it helps quite a bit.


MangoChutney's picture

I always get better results from my sourdough 100% whole grain sandwich bread when I provide moisture to keep the top soft during the time when oven spring can be occurring.  Any time that I fail to do that, for whatever reason, the loaf does not rise as high as it does when I do provide moisture.

Sulpicia III's picture
Sulpicia III

Thanks so much for the advice! I think will keep steaming the loaves in future.