The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Steaming Mad..ness

Paddyscake's picture

Steaming Mad..ness

The majority of us have tried different steaming techniques..professional steamers, ice cubes in the bottom of the oven, ice cubes in cast iron pan, spraying the loaves, spraying the oven walls, drip pans, pouring water into hot pans, pans with water heated during the preheat and combos of these techniques.

I have found that heating 1/4" hot water in a metal pan during the preheat gives me an oven full of steam by baking time, so much so that I have to be careful and keep my face away from the oven door when I open it to avoid getting a steam burn. Even after loading the oven, a few minutes later I see steam coming out the vent.

I recently tried the suggested method of pouring 3/4 cup hot water into a sheet pan that had been preheated with the oven. I thought even better was to use boiling water. Quite frankly, it seemed that I hardly had any steam compared to the way I had been doing it.

Does the temperature of the water poured into the pan make any difference? If I had used just hot water vs boiling would there have been more steam? It looked like it evaporated almost as fast as I poured it.

I do remember (I think) that someone said what was being produced was vapor not steam by most of these methods. 


One caveat for all new bakers..If you have glass doors, be sure to cover with a dry towel when pouring water to avoid cracking the window.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

"I thought even better was to use boiling water. Quite frankly, it seemed that I hardly had any steam compared to the way I had been doing it."

Paddy,  what I think you meant to say is that you couldn't see the steam.  Lower temperature steam is visible, high temperature steam invisible, that is why steam burns can be so nasty and unexpected.   One just can't see the danger.    So be careful! 

Ever open the oven and be surprised how much steam suddenly becomes visible as it meets the cooler air in the kitchen?  (and fogs up your spectacles?)  As it cools, the steam forms tiny droplets (reverting from a gas back to a liquid) that can be seen.  In the oven the heat keeps steam circulated as an invisible gas.  It still condenses onto the dough surface because the dough is cooler than the walls of the oven (and this is my point...)  even when visible steam doesn't seem to be present.   Does that make sense?

I use boiling water when I do steam in a regular oven (pre-chase all the little kiddies and animals out of my wake) and use a long handled pot to transfer to whatever container I'm using at the time.   Adding cold water takes longer to heat up in the oven and tends to lower my oven temps.   Same with ice which takes more energy to go from a solid to a liquid and then on to steam.

One thing I haven't seen tried is taking a small wet cotton towel and throwing it over a extra rack... it could even be donut shaped and double thick.  Wrung out to prevent drips....  anyone wanna try?  I don't recommend any synthetic materials and I don't suggest throwing it over the dough or setting dough directly on it (although it might be interesting....)  (There is probably someone somewhere in this great big world we live in, wrapping up a blob of dough in a wet twisted repeatedly reused cloth getting ready to ceremoniously bake it for their daily bread.)

Well I'm off to Coasta Rica for a good month!  And not too soon either.  We just got more snow!  I wonder what I will find there....sunshine, beans, corn and nice!   I'm heading to the coast, west of San Jose'.

Mini O

mountaindog's picture

Good explanation, Mini...that would be my understanding on how steam works, I don't use ice due to it taking more energy to convert it to steam, but use water that had just boiled in a tea kettle that I add to a heavy cast iron fry pan sitting on the bottom of my gas oven. I now see (as per Hammelman in Bread) it is important to add some steam BEFORE loading the loaves so I throw a little hot water on baking stone first, close the door, then score and load, and add the cup of water to pan. I add about 1 cup to pan (eyeballed), which takes about 15 min. to evaporate and is gone when I want to crust to then dry-out for the remain of the bake. It has worked well for me. I also wear a long-sleeve shirt and heavy mitten potholder as I pour from tea kettle into pan, my tea kettle has a long spout (old-fasion style) that reaches easily into the pan without me having to get too close.

Oh, and enjoy Costa Rica, Mini! We are thinking of going there next year with family so I'm researching it now.

Paddyscake's picture

I guess if I took the time to think about things, I could probably figure them out for myself! Logic staring me in the face! Thanks Mini! You have a great trip to Costa Rica..!

hansjoakim's picture

I recently saw this: "Steamed bread: Negative steamer-spring of strong flours". The authors seem to coin a "steamer spring" term, similar to the familiar "oven spring". They did a series of experiments where they measured loaf volume prior to steaming and after steaming. They found some pretty mindboggling results: Strong gluten flours with large proof heights (hard red winter, hard red spring) tended to collapse noticeably during or after steaming, while soft wheat or weak hard wheat acquired a positive "steamer spring". The authors conclude that "Strong flours, and particularly higher-protein hard wheats are unsuitable for steamed bread. ... The semisoft texture and the lack of a solid crust may limit their capacity to retain the large volume attained at the end of the proof..." The bottom line seems to be that flours of medium strength (protein content of 10-11%) are best suited.

mountaindog's picture

Hansjoakim - fascinating article! Thanks for pointing us to it. I prefer using lower protein flour in that 11% range for other reasons so good to know this is yet another benefit when steaming. I wonder if that is the reason why many people do not see an improvement in their bread when they steam, because they are using higher protein flour, so just don't need the steam at all. Probably many people who like to use the cold oven start, that precludes you from steaming, would benefit in that case if they were using high protein flour.

ehanner's picture

Interesting article. It seems to be contrary to my observations but I haven't ever measured the loaves. Maybe this explains to some degree the success Susan gets with her Magic Bowl method.


subfuscpersona's picture

This article discusses Chinese steamed bread. Chinese steamed bread is cooked by steaming it over water in a covered steamer, not by baking it in an oven to which steam may (or may not) be introduced in the early stages. For this reason, this article's conclusions about flour strength may not translate directly to baking bread in an oven.

That said, their findings are suggestive. I've been having problems with loaf shrinkage during cooling when baking dough in pans using the cold oven / cold start method. I've always introduced "steam" into the oven by wetting the oven floor of my gas oven prior to turning on the heat. (Interested readers can look at this TFL thread - - for my method and some photos.)

Lately I've been varying the flours in an attempt to correct this problem, specifically using stronger flour. I think I'll repeat my recipe (same ingredients, proofing times, etc) with the cold oven / cold start method but omit the "steaming".


LindyD's picture

The authors seem to have fully proofed their experimental loves in this study.  I wonder if they would have gotten the same results had they steamed the hard wheat loaves when they were i.e. 80% proofed.

I mention this only because I use hard winter wheat and steam and have yet to see a loaf collapse.  Hamelman discusses this in the pages preceding his Vermont Sourdough recipe.

On my next batch of the sourdough, I'll make certain not to add steam.  One less thing to do is fine with me.

Edited to add a note that MiniO's remarks about steaming were terrific.  Enjoy your month in the sun!

hansjoakim's picture

That's a good point, Lindy! The higher-protein flours trap more gas during proofing, so much that the loaves are very fragile if they're fully proofed. Then it's quite reasonable that additional taxing by steam will make them collapse. So the bottom line seems to be that:

- Use steam if you're proofing until 80-90% of final loaf volume (steam will help keep the surface moist and flexible during oven spring)

- Don't use steam if you're proofing closer to 100% of final loaf volume

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

And the steam might just soften an already borderline overproofed dough. Better to set it first and forget the steam.

Thanks everyone, I need the sunshine.  More than you will ever know.