The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

San Fransisco sourdough and 'the bowl technique'

benjamin's picture

San Fransisco sourdough and 'the bowl technique'

Last night I made the San Fransisco sourdough from 'Advanced bread and pastry' by michael Saus. Though this is a great recipe, the major point with this bread was the steaming technique I tried out. I have tried countless ways to efficiently steam my oven, including a moderately dangerous, self-invented water injection system... needless to say, results were not incredible, and most definately not worth the third degree burns.

Since then I have been using a steam pan in the base of the oven, placed there a couple of minutes prior to loading the bread. Unfortunately this is not the most efficient method, since my oven has numerous vents which allow most of the steam to escape.

I had read numerous times on TFL that a bowl could be used to cover the bread, utilising the moisture held within the bread to generate steam... so I decided to give it a try. I placed the bowl over the bread for the first 20 min of the bake, and then removed, I was thrilled with the results. The crust sang loudly fresh from the oven, and this is the first time that I have ever managed to maintain the little 'bridge' between the two ears, when scoring a batard with 2 slashes.

The bowl I used was an enormous metal bowl, bought from Ikea a few months ago, I forget the price, but it was certainly under $10.

A word of advice: when lifting the bowl after the 20 min, use something like a peel to lift the edge of the bowl to allow the steam to vent... I underestimated the amount of steam this technique generates and lifted the bowl with a tea towel... much to the displeasure of my hands.


Crumb image to follow tonight

Happy baking



sf sourdough side for TFL.JPG



sf sourdough top for tfl.JPG


As promised, a crumb picture! I wanted to wait until the loaf cooled, so I sliced into as soon as I got home from work...




bakinbuff's picture

That is one gorgeous loaf!  My loaves baked under a cover are always much better than uncovered loafs and I always baked covered if I can.  Congrats on your success!

ehanner's picture

Very nice looking loaf. You have fallen under the spell of "Susan's Magic Bowl" method. Covered baking is the best IMHO.


benjamin's picture

Thanks for the nice comments guys... Eric, you are totally right, I am consumed by this technique now that I have found it... I have spent many a moment at work today daydreaming about the improvements this will make to my other loaves.

Can't beleive I didn't try this sooner!


Glare Seethe's picture
Glare Seethe

Hmm, I'd love to try this in my own oven since I also have trouble properly steaming. Right now I'm using a ramekin with boiling water on the top rack but it hardly creates enough steam. The only bowl I have that might be suitable is a stainless steel mixing bowl - think that would be okay to put into the oven at these temperatures? I haven't been able to find a concensus on this online... some people say yes, some no and some say it depends on the kind of stainless steel - but mine has no indication of what kind it is.

benjamin's picture

I just looked at my bowl, all I can glean from the info printed on the base is that it is stainless steel. It does not indicate a specific type of stainless steel (to be honest with you, I wasn't aware that there were multiple types!). There has been no visible distortion of my bowl, discoloring etc... I would just try it, maybe keep your eye on it the first time.


Broc's picture

I sound like an old, scratchy record!

But -- Try a cloche!  [Google Sassafras cloche] Easy-peasey puddin'-'n-pie!

Pre-heat to 450F.  Transfer dough into cloche [I use parchment paper to lift it into place -- and leave the parchment paper].

Score --

Place lid on top and return to oven.  Immediately drop temp to 420F.  Bake lid-on for  12 - 14 minutes, then remove lid.

Reduce temp to 390F and bake until 195F -- 205F internal.

Cool for an hour --

Then comes the good part!


I'm often asked, why drop temp?  My answer.  I dunno!  If I leave temp at 450F, the crust burns before the internal has risen to 200F.  So, I use the initial 450F to caramelize the crust, then drop therms to bake interior more slowly.  Works every time like a charm in my oven [elec].

And -- oh yeah!  I brush melted butter all over it to soften the crust as soon as it comes out of the over -- and the butter also affects the taste.

Of course real butter!

And -- another oh yeah!  Turn the loaf unside down and stick your probe into it's bottom when checking temp, so that the steam doesn't eeek out the top.  And it's no problem to put the bread back into the oven if it needs a few more minutes.

And, no!  I wouldn't know how to thump, or what to listen for.  I'm one-na them ther-mo-meter guys.  Just the penalty for watching Alton.

Alton Brown + Peter Reinhart = my bread


~ B





Barbara Krauss's picture
Barbara Krauss

My Magic Bowl is a big 13 quart stainless steel mixing bowl that measures 16 inches in diameter, which covers just about anything that will fit onto my baking stone. I bought mine from a restaurant supply store for $8.00.  

As for pros and cons, the only negative I can think of in using stainless steel is that there tends to be some discoloration over time, especially if you're using it at high temperatures. I imagine if you diligently scour after each use you'll have less of a problem.  I'm not that concerned about the slight discoloration as I use this bowl exclusively for baking.

I've also used those inexpensive foil roasters with some success, but you have to be careful with those as they bend out of shape easily, and you want to be sure you have good contact with the baking surface to get the full effect of the dome cover.  

I agree about the Suas SF Sourdough recipe, by the way. One of my favorites. 

Glare Seethe's picture
Glare Seethe

Thanks for the thoughts about stainless steel. I'll probably not try it with my current bowl - I really love it and it cost me quite a bit (it seems to be a higher quality kind - sturdier and thicker than the others I looked at). I might buy a cheaper SS bowl to try this with; with I could use a cloche but I'm hopelessly broke and can't really afford anything too expensive, which is why I'm reluctant to use my quality SS bowl as well, I'd be seriously bummed if the high temperatures got to it.


korish's picture

Great job the bread looks great, I bake my bread in wood fired oven where my door seals the oven and I bake about 10 to 12 loaves each time I was suprised when I open the oven door how much steam is generated by the bread alone.

subfuscpersona's picture
subfuscpersona it a preheated baking stone? Some sort of container? Something else?

Since your bread is shaped as a batard, what are the (approximate) measurements of the loaf and how big is the bowl you used (height, top diameter) to cover it?

Your loaf is beautiful - wonderful grigne. I'm looking forward to the photos of the crumb.

Please excuse my requests for picky picky details but I, like you, am struggling for ways to get a good steaming effect since I have a (very) old gas stove that is poorly insulated and vents moisture like mad.

thanks in advance - SF


benjamin's picture

I bake on a 1 inch thick piece of granite, which I preheat for at least an hour before the bread is loaded.

The batard was about 10.5 inches in length (I've already knocked about 3 inches off that), and barely fit under the bowl. The diameter across the middle of the top rim of the bowl is 11 inches. It has fairly steep sides and a maximum depth of 5.5 inches.

I too have an old gas oven, which I have come to love, I feel like I am in tune with it now and know exactly how to manipulate the temperature etc to get desired effects. The steam issue has always been a bind, but I feel like it has been solved for me now... I hope you have the same experience!


MsL's picture

I thought i read somewhere on this site that granite was not healthy to use as a baking stone....

I used pyrex bowls -- large one inverted over a smaller one -- to bake my 'no-knead' bread because i didn't have anything else with a cover that worked in the oven, and once I moved on to a covered clay pot the crust went downhill.  I'll go back to the pyrex bowls!

ehanner's picture

The person who brought this method forward here at this site (Susan) uses all kinds of bowls that fit on her steel shelf. Ideally if you have a rimless cookie sheet that doesn't warp when it heats up, that's the best thing to use. I usually use a stone but it takes longer to warm it up.

You can go to a Wal-Mart or Target type of store and get a 4 Liter SS bowl that fits on a standard size pizza stone or large rimless sheet pan. I use a large spatula to lift the bowl after 15 minutes and a glove to handle it.

Another thing that Susan does and I learned from her is to spritz the inside of the bowl just before I cover the bowl. Just a little extra moisture for the rise.


Janknitz's picture

Will work just as well, believe it or not. I love my clay baker, but a dollar store foil pan gets great results as well.

I use the base of an enamel turkey roaster I got for 3 bucks at a thrift store.

friar120's picture

I am trying to get a sense of how this is done.  Is a pan of water put in the oven for steam, and then the bread dough put on a stone or in bread pan, and then a stainless steel bowl put over that with enough opening around the bowl for steam to come up from the bottom of the oven?  Or is the bread put on a stone and a stainless steel bowl smaller than the bread stone put over the bread to enclose it?  I presume it would make a difference.

Broc's picture

The water pan at the bottom of the oven isn't needed...

... if... the upturned pan is amaller than the bread stone...  It is the upturned pan which traps the moisture coming out of the bread.

After 12-ish minutes, remove the upturned pan [careful!] and let the bread then bake uncovered for the duration of the bake.

I shied my stone from direct heat from below -- and don't have trouble with the bottom of the loaf burning.  But, everyone's ovens will work in a slightly different way.  After just a little experimentation, you'll find out what works best for you..

Good luck!

~ B



benjamin's picture

no extra source of steam required. The bowl diameter is smaller than the surface you bake on, such that it forms a 'seal'. This creates a 'microenvironment' around the bread, if you will, in which all of the moisture released by the dough itself is trapped as steam. Also as Eric stated, you can help this along by first misting the inside of the bowl... but no additional source of moisture or steam is necessary.