The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

creating steam in a domestic oven

margaretsmall's picture
margaretsmall

creating steam in a domestic oven

Most bread books direct you to add steam to your oven, usually by putting a pan, preferably something solid, in the oven when you begin to pre-heat, then add water (varying from boiling to ice cubes) at the same time as you put your dough in. But, I have Bread Matters by Andrew Whitley who absolutely rubbishes this idea. He says that domestic ovens will simply expel any steam you might be able to generate immediately. I've gone along with him, but right now I'm working my way through Peter Rinehart's Artisan Breads which suggests the boiling water approach, so today tried to add steam. I must say it seemed a waste of time - when I poured the boiling water into the pan, there was an initial burst of steam which had mostly wafted out before I even got the door shut. Carefully inspected proceedings through the window in the door but there was no steam to be seen. So I doubt that there was much going on here. What have others tried? have you been successful? Do you think it actually makes any difference? (I hate to be questioning something which seems to be gospel truth, but I do wonder)

Margaret

carblicious's picture
carblicious

Steam makes a difference in bread baking, and various methods are often discussed on TFL.  Lots of very innovative techniques here, and doing a search on 'steam' will yield good results.

This is probably the most referenced method on TFL (at least from my reading):

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

Here's various techniques discussed:

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/23557/ways-create-steam

Good luck!

-Don

Floydm's picture
Floydm

Most successful for me has been placing an inverted aluminum turkey pan like one of these over the loaves when I put them in the oven.

I remove it about 10 minutes into the bake.

Those pans cost about three bucks and can be recycled when the get dirty. The results have been vastly superior to anything else I've been able to come up with aside from the "baking in a covered pot" technique.

-Floyd

OldWoodenSpoon's picture
OldWoodenSpoon

How hot is your oven?  Probably something higher than 212F, the boiling point of water, at which point it becomes...  Steam.  What you see as "visible" steam is really "condensed" steam, or rather, steam that has cooled and so is returning from gas (steam) to liquid (water), and forms myriad tiny droplets that we perceive as steam.  The real deal though, true steam, is not visible.  So if you are looking through the glass door of the oven and can't see "steam" where you think you should, well, that's a good thing.

There are a lot of opinions on the utility or futility of steaming home ovens.  Opinions vary on what the best methods are, and the same is true with respect to whether it is worth the effort or not.  There is something of a consensus that gas ovens are very difficult to steam at home because they are so well vented.  They have to be in order to expell the combustion exhaust.  The same general consensus exists with regard to convection ovens, although there is somewhat less agreement here than on gas fired ovens.  Convection ovens are "fan" ovens, and seem to vent steam very quickly, making them also difficult to steam effectively at home.  A "regular" (non-convection) oven is where the fun really begins.  The best thing to do is test for yourself, as you have already begun to do.  You must understand the goal too, though, before you judge your results.  Steaming the oven during the beginning of the bake cycle is for one primary purpose, and that is to keep the outer crust from solidifying until the heat can penetrate the interior of the loaf and cause all that gas trapped inside to expand, expanding the loaf with it.  This is called "oven spring" among other terms.

I'm of the opinion that, in my kitchen with my oven and my chosen methods, steaming works demonstrably well.  I can always tell the difference in the outcome when I get too lazy to steam for a bake, or to do so thoroughly.  As already suggested in other comments here, there is a lot of discussion on both the methods and the efficacy of steaming here on TFL.  Also as suggested, the search box is your friend on this.

Try some comparison bakes of the same recipe, and try steaming for one and not for another.  See what seems to work, or not work, for you.

Enjoy the testing and good luck with the experiments.  Even if you don't think steam helped, they will still taste great.
OldWoodenSpoon

hansjoakim's picture
hansjoakim

Hi Margaret,

There's already some very good replies above to get you going in your experiments with steam. When baking with steam, you want a thin film of moisture to coat the exterior of the bread. After loading the bread dough into a hot, steamed oven, the steam should condense on the colder surface of the bread dough, and keeping it moist for the first quarter or third of the baking time. You want a visible film of condensed steam on the exterior of the loaf, and I would recommend looking for that when testing various steaming setups.

There are many reasons to steam during baking: In an unsteamed oven, the exterior of the bread will dry out quickly, and oven spring will be significantly less than if steam had been present. This will also reduce openness of the crumb, since total volume expansion is reduced. Additionally, the crust of your baked, unsteamed loaf is very likely to become soft when the bread has been pulled from the oven and is cooling. I believe this is due to a reduced moisture loss during baking in an unsteamed environment: Early drying out of the exterior will trap much moisture inside the dough. During cooling, the extra moisture will migrate out of the crumb, through the crust, making it soft and spongy. In my book, few things are more boring than a soft, chewy and spongy crust...

As the exterior is heating up after loading the bread in your oven, up to a certain temperature range, enzymes will convert starches to simple sugars. These contribute greatly to the taste and crust colour. By steaming, you keep the exterior of the bread cooler for longer, thus increasing the time the enzymes can perform this function. I think you will also quickly notice that unsteamed breads look "pale" compared to steamed breads. I think this has to do with the fact that the crust undergoes a process called pyrolysis when sugar is heated in the absence of moisture. For a glossy crust full of complex aromas and flavours that remains crisp, steam is essential.

I've had a hard time producing enough steam in my new oven, so I've recently started baking my loaves covered as well: At the moment I use a pizza stone and an inverted cast iron pan to enclose the bread during the first half of baking. As the bread heats up, moisture will escape the dough but be trapped between the stone and the inverted pan, thereby generating a humid, "self-steamed" environment.

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

Margaret,

With all due respect to Andrew, the notion that steaming a domestic oven is rubbish,  is in itself rubbish.  Possibly he has not pursued the idea far enough to meet with success but I assure you that steam makes a substantial difference even in the home oven.

One way,  the easiest and safest, to enjoy the benefits of steam would be to follow Floyd's suggestion of covering the loaf with a foil pan.  This traps the moisture leaving the loaf and the dough then effectively steams itself.  This produces a somewhat shiny crust that differs from the crust achieved by steaming the oven without a cover.  This is definitely a method that works and works well. 

As for actually steaming the oven with out a cover over the loaf, I have used a number of methods.  One effective method is to place a large cast iron skillet on the bottom of the oven (if it is a gas oven) or on the bottom rack and preheat the pan along with the oven to 500-550 °F.  Immediately after placing the loaf in the oven, pour about 8 ounces of hot water in the skillet and close the door promptly along with lowering the oven temperature right away.  This method is very effective but not without its dangers that include;  splashing water on the glass of the door and watching the glass shatter.  Burning yourself with the hot water or the flash of steam that it creates when it hits the iron skillet.  These are two very real considerations that require a healthy degree of caution.  A third possibility is that the steam generated within the oven serves to destroy the electronic controls of the oven.  I have not seen this but have read of it occurring.

I have also placed an iron skillet on the bottom rack of an electric oven and run a copper tube from the vent on the stove top down to the pan and then attached a funnel at the top of the tube and poured water in this way.  Little danger of shattering glass but often the tubing sends back a small flash of steam.  This also has the aesthetic drawback of having the stovetop look like the tin man after a severe personal injury accident !!!

There are other methods that are even more complicated but I would suggest you follow Floyd's suggestion or use a cast iron skillet in the oven bottom and exercise caution.

Happy Baking,

Jeff

ananda's picture
ananda

Hi Jeff,

Just to clarify that Andrew Whitley bakes on a wood-fired brick oven in his home kitchen and has done for years.   So he would not indulge in the type of steaming tactics you recommend.

For all that, I agree with everyone else here that steam does make a difference to baking, and if you can apply a safe and effective method, then it is to the benefit of the bread you seek to produce

All good wishes

Andy

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

Well that explains that.

Andy, my favorite tactic is one that I employ with the deck oven.  Next to the oven sits an electric burner with a pressure cooker.  Coming off the top of the pressure cooker is a flexible valved line that leads to a steel line that then makes it was into the combustion chamber of the gas oven.  Bring the cooker up to pressure, open the valve and voilà, steam in the oven.  While this is not perfect, it does work amazingly well.

Thanks for the information,

Jeff

PeterS's picture
PeterS

I love this idea, Jeff!

Too bad I read about it after I pinched a boiler from a home bath steam generator to play with.

I, too, recommend a heavy metal pan (cast iron for me) on the bottom rack of an oven--as I have posted elsewhere on this forum--for creating steam.

After one has generated the steam in the oven, the trick is to keep it for 5-8 minutes. I've found that most home ovens have vents (all gas ovens do and I haven't seen a self-cleaning oven, gas or electric, without a vent) which let steam escape. I have a gas oven and I turn it off for 5-8 minutes after I load and steam the oven. This prevents the combustion gases from the burner, which are routed through the oven of all gas ranges, from purging the steam from the oven. If I recall correctly, others with electric ovens have done the same thing with good results. Blocking the vents, if possible will help both types of ovens, but will create a serious hazard if not removed when a gas oven is turned back on--so, I do not recommend that <period>.

As JanetCook and others have pointed out steam can burn. I make a point to stand to the side of the oven (making sure to hold the door open so that it does not close on my arm) and pour the water in at pan level, i.e. do not pour the water down into the pan while standing over it--steam will rise in a cloud into the oven and the excess will billow out by the door. Staying low keeps one's body parts out of the way. I don't even use hot water; cold tap water works fine as long as the pan is properly preheated. Pour quickly, carefully and promptly, it's easy, safe and produces good results.

Some use nut/bolts, misc metal, towels in their pans. I use a plain 12" cast iron pan & nothing else; it has a large enough heat capacity to generate sufficient steam. The limiting factor, in my experience, is retaining the steam and turning the oven off for 5,8-10 minutes does the trick.

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

Peter,

If you the pursue the idea of a pressure cooker as a steam generator, be aware that the heat source under the pressure cooker has to be powerful enough to generate a continous stream of steam.  In my case after a few trial and error events,  I obtained a 1500W single plate electric burner to do the job and it does it well.  The pressure cooker is a 6 quart aluminum model that I fill about two thirds full.

Jeff

PeterS's picture
PeterS

Thanks for the data point. I like the simplicity of your idea, but I already have a purpose built steam generator that is 6kW (220v)! I am going to run it on 110v; it will still be overkill.

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

"I already have a purpose built steam generator that is 6kW (220v)!"

Right after you finish steaming the bread you could hire out to steam clean smaller skyscrapers!

Jeff

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

think that everyone's 'omestic home oven' is a wood fired brick oven like his?  I'm thinking he was very wrong in both cases if quoted correctly :-)  Generating mega steam is very  worth the effort and quite easy if you block the vent for steam and unblock it for the finishing convection if you have it.  Baking bread with steam is highly recommended even if some of it escapes.

clazar123's picture
clazar123

It was one of the Julia Child series where she had guest chef demonstrating how they make something-bread in this case. She put the loaf in the preheated oven and unceremoniously threw about 1/2 c water on the bottom of the oven and quickly closed the door. She repeated in 5 minutes and then let it cook to completion. She was careful NOT to drip any on the oven glass door.

 I have done this for years and no problem. My element is on the bottom but it doesn't seem harmed by that little amount of water.

Franko's picture
Franko

Hi Margaret,

Whitely is right about domestic ovens expelling any steam you can generate...unless you block the vent. Find where the steam is venting from (usually under or near the control panel) and use a damp piece of wadded towel to close off the vent and keep your steam in the oven. Jeff mentions in his reply that there is some concern with this practice of possibly damaging the electronics of the oven and I've heard similar concerns as well. I've been using this method for over 3 years, at least once a week, and with two different ovens during that time and so far I haven't had any oven problems resulting from it. Depending on the type of bread your baking, spritzing the oven with a spray bottle of water before and after loading the loaf is often sufficient if the vent is blocked. Sometimes you'll need a lot steam, for instance if baking baguettes and for that I use Sylvia's method that Don has linked to in his reply. Hope this helps and happy baking.

Franko

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

I have used the fully heated (500-550 °F) 10/12  inch heavy cast iron pan in both gas and electric home ovens.  Fully pre-heating the pan and pouring in about 8 ounces of hot water eliminated the need to block vents or turn the heat source off and on.  I define fully pre-heated as having the cast iron pan in the oven during a one hour preheat to maximum temperature.   When hot water hits a large 550 °F cast iron pan it boils violently and immediately.  The release of steam continues long enough that venting is not an issue.  A smaller pan or a lesser temperature proved to be insufficient and did require blocking the vent for effective steaming.

Happy Baking & Steaming,

Jeff

bigcrusty's picture
bigcrusty

I've used a roasting pan below my baking stone.  The recipes I use most call for 450 -500 F to start.  When heating the oven I put the pan in the oven.  I've used up to a quart of boiling water after I load the bread it creates plenty of steam.  I close the oven and put bunge cords around the back and hook them into the oven door handle.  While the steam vents I've been able to maintain it throughout the bake up to 40 minutes.

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

15 minutes of steam in a home oven is more than enough.  Beyond that time you do not want the steam.

Jeff

JOHN01473's picture
JOHN01473

originally i just used to use the baking tin that came with my oven.
i would pre-heat it and just add some boiling water just after i loaded my bread in to bake.
i found that the pan soon lost heat and i did not get more two minutes of steam.
the method i now use was suggested by Ananda.
he suggested filling the tin with pebbles - preheating - then adding the boiled water.
so now i pre-heat the oven with the pan in and after loading the bread into bake i add boiling water from a long spouted watering can.
i now get steam for at least 12 minutes.
i tend not to remove the pan of stones even when not requiring steam as the heat the stones give counteracts opening the door.

John

margaretsmall's picture
margaretsmall

Thank you all for your thoughful and thought-provoking posts. My oven is fan-forced electric which has a quick heat function in which the fan operates .I think that for my bake which prompted this post I didn't turn to the heat only function until after I loaded the oven up (this is my usual procedure). so it's no wonder the visible steam wafted out.  Even if the oven is working in non-fan-forced mode, the fan does come on, at a lesser speed, when the oven has been on for a while, to prevent over-heating I guess. But this is a bit of a problem as if the fan is on I would think I have more air and steam venting out. So I think I'll try the foil baking dish idea, as I don't have a cast iron covered pan big enough (and I don't really like the idea of having the oven preheating for an hour to bring the dish up to temperature). I'm reluctant to block the vent for fear of damaging my oven.

The comments here have given me some hints about some of the less than terrific results I've had with some of my bakes, which is most encouraging. Thank you.

Margaret

joyfulbaker's picture
joyfulbaker

Just read this post and here's another method.  I place a cast iron combi-cooker lid and an old heavy loaf pan in the oven, the loaf pan next to the stone, which is just below midline of oven and the cooker lid on the bottom shelf (electric oven), both to be preheated with oven.  I preheat two folded terry towels, saturated, in the microwave (2 minutes) just prior to loading the oven, and I boil some water in my electric kettle.  I use tongs to place the hot, wet towels into the two pans just before loading the dough, then, just after loading the dough, pour about 1/3 cup hot water from the kettle into each of the towel-lined pans.  The towels maintain a healthy dose of steam, which lasts as long as you want (10 minutes for sourdough rye breads, a little longer for other sourdoughs, til they begin to color).  Then I carefully remove the pans after the prescribed time.  I also bake in the combi-cooker and a clay baker w/ cover, preheating the covers along with the oven and doing the final proof in the bottom of the clay baker and the top of the combi-cooker (with parchment cut to size, enough overlap to remove when bread is baked, taking great care when covering the proofed dough with the lid/cover of the respective vessels.

Good luck, Margaret!

Joy

pb9003's picture
pb9003

John's method, which is similar to mine, brings up the point of thermal mass - I've always believed that the thermal mass of home ovens is inadequate and allows the temperature to drop too much when opening the door.  Please understand I'm not advocating this as a great baker, I'm far from, but advocating on basic physics.  I think the end result can only be improved by maintaining a more-constant, broad heat source, and that's a part of the reason some of us home bakers can get a very good result but still not quite what comes from a true steam oven.  The stones, in addition to adding thermal mass better regulating the oven, also increase the surface-area-to-water ratio resulting in more steam.  It seems the best solution in theory, I'm not a consistent-enough baker to test one method against another side-by-side, anyone out there who has tried one method against another ??  Obviously all the above-mentioned systems of steam work, but i wonder which is the best.  I'm so convinced about the thermal-mass-inadequacy of home ovens that my pan of lava rock lives in the oven pretty much permanently.