The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

What EXACTLY does steam in the oven do to bread?

guerrillafood's picture

What EXACTLY does steam in the oven do to bread?

Hey guys,

I've used steam in my bread backing every time it calls for it in a recipe. And it does seem like basically all artisan breads call for steam of some kind. But what does it do? Sure, I know it makes for a chewier and a moister crumb. But I have noticed when baking a rescent batch of Kaiser Rolls (based on the Floyd recipe on this site), that the addition of steam seemed to cause the rolls to brown too quickly and deeply, as well as taking a roll that is supposed to be as crisp and crusty on the outside as any Parisian baguette, and turned it into a soft, chewy and dense dinner roll. I mean mine came out way too brown. Real Kaiser Rolls from Germany are about as beige as a brown paper grocery bag at the brownest. And the shell should be crackly-crisp and crusty, with a moist soft white crumb.

I'm inexperienced with bread backing, and I only have prescious time on the weekend to turn out a batch or whatever. So before I just try the same recipe again, but without steam, I'd like to know if you guys think that me leaving the steam out is going to crisp up these rolls, or if the recipe is just for softer rolls, and I should look for a new "Baguette-like" recipe?

Maybe I just used too much steam??? I preheated my oven with a cast iron skillet in the bottom of the oven, and when I added the rolls to the oven, I poured a cup or so of boiling water into the pan, and it steamed like mad. And I left the pan in the oven for the first ten minutes of the 20 minute baking cycle. Maybe I just steamed them brown and chewy. How should I have done?

Has anyone gotten this recipe to produce a crust like I am refering to? Because I think that the baquette recipe from Rose Levy Beranbaum's Bread Bible, would produce the texture I want. What do you guys think?

browndog's picture

The purpose of steam in the oven is to delay formation of a crust and give the bread a longer opportunity to gain oven spring and volume. Hamelman in Bread recommends cracking the oven door open with a spoon or something during the final portion of the bake, that is, as soon as the loaves (or rolls, presumably) begin to color, to dry out the oven air and allow the crust to crisp. The benefits of steaming only occur within the earliest part of the bake.

docpat's picture

Steaming increases enzymatic activity, resulting in gelatinizing of the carbohydrates on the surface of the loaf. The starches swell and become glossy, resulting in a shiny crust instead of a dull lackluster one. With stem, the surface molecules are broken down into simple sugars called “reducing sugars”, the crust caramelizes, giving it a good sheen and contributes to crust color. Also by keeping the dough surface moist, the crust formation is retarded, allowing for more oven spring.  The benefits of steam occur primarily during the first third of baking cycle for those looking to increase ovenspring and color.  Adding steam later in the bake cycle will cause a harder, thicker, crisper crust to form. Be careful of over steaming the breads. Over steaming will result in flattened breads and a thick chewy crust as well as reduced oven spring. Hope this helps. ~Docpat