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adding steam to domestic ovens | Sourdough Companion

adding steam to domestic ovens

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

11 comments

Hi Margaret, 

I used to also use boiling water, but like you found it puffed out straight off.  I now usually throw in about 4-5 cubes of ice into the bottom of the oven after i've put my loaf in.  That way the steam doesn't disappear out straight away.  To be honest, I haven't tried baking without it, so can't say if it makes a difference or not!

K.

K.

Happiness is making bread!

Hello Margaret,

A good question.

Firstly, on what there is to see.  Steam is only visible when it condenses in cooler air which is what happens with what comes out while the door is open.  Once the door is closed, the water vapour fills the space invisibly and will only become visible if it hits cool air either through an open door or at a vent.  Gas ovens are certainly not sealed - they have to be vented to maintain the flame.  Electric ovens can be either vented or not but either way they are not hermetically sealed.  However, with water boiling away there should be a humid environment maintained.  Even water evaporating from the loaf will raise the humidity to some extent.

As I understand it, one purpose of the humid atmosphere is the keep the crust of the loaf from forming too quickly and allowing the loaf to rise with less resistance and with less splitting as can occur if the crust forms too early.  Another purpose/effect (I am not sure which) is to give a crisper/more brittle crust.  This can be so much so that, after the loaf is taken from the oven and starts to cool, the loaf 'talks' with a quite noticeable crackling sound as the stresses cause the crust to craze.

Using a cloche (cover) over the loaf is another way to raise the humidity around the loaf.

Usually the steam source is removed after the first 10 minutes of baking or so.

I have baked with and without having a steam boat in the oven and have produced good loaves both ways though I would have to say that in general the loaves do not 'talk' without steaming.

As with lots of other things, there are a wide range of opinions on what is 'right' and what is 'wrong'.  By and large, what works for you, is right.

Good luck with your projects.

Farinam

This method absolutely works great! I've been using it for about two years. Just do like it shows in the video, you won't be disappointed

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I 100% agree- I gave up on the adding of water etc because it seemed to not be working in my oven that is electric but has a very powerful draught (Ilve). I know that it is heresy to some bakers but I spray a bit of water onto the top of the loaf before putting on the cover and my boules are much more spherical that they were under the old system of open baking with a water dish. Although saying that, my batards seem to collapse when cooked covered so they are better cooked open.

Cheers!

Steam gives better results. 

The volume of the loaf increases. The crust also changes

Doing this on a domestic oven can be challenging.

If the oven seals well a tray of water in the bottom seems to work.

Remove the water after 3-5 minutes.

If your oven has a fan turn it off if you can.

Thank you for your suggestions. My oven is an Ilve too, and even if its not in fan-forced mode, a fan does come on when the oven gets to a certain temperature, part of its 'clever' way of preventing overheating. A pain actually, especially since when you turn it off, because you have finished cooking, the fan powers on until the oven cools. Wasteful. I like it a lot otherwise, and the pizza mode gives great results.

I have to say removing a pan of boiling water from the oven seems like a dangerous process - I'm sure I'd manage to burn myself if I tried this. Maybe just a small amount of water, enough to evaporate in the first few minutes?

I tried every method known to man to generate steam in my electric oven to no avail. Recently I tried the roasting pan method suggested above. I did not believe it would work but it does. I didn't have a roasting pan but borrowed my mum's chicken roast pan, enamel not the cast iron that is suggested. The oven spring seen is hard to believe and no hassel, burns and a nice clean oven at the end. Maybe cast iron would be better but the enamel one is nice and light and heats really quickly. Don't think they are expensive either.

Yes, there is certainly a hazard involved at both ends of the operation.  Pouring the boiling water into the hot container results in a rush of steam and considerable spitting and oven mitts would be an essential minimum OH&S requirement if not long sleeves, apron, full face mask, etc etc.

Removing it is actually probably less hazardous provided that you have somewhere near by to put the container down and you don't have to traipse half way across the house.

Anything oven-proof that will cover the loaf and leave room to rise can be used as a cloche, such as a bowl for a boule etc.  Having something with handles though is a positive advantage from a handling point of view and metal is probably better than ceramic from a heat transfer point of view (and weight as well generally).

Keep on bakin'

Farinam

For those in the U.S. and not opposed to shopping at Walmart, they have Granite Ware pans like the one below that are 15" oval for about $14

I've been using one of these for nearly two years. I use the bottom section which works great!

There is a definite difference when I use a metal pan filled with water for the first 15 minutes of cooking bread. I simply put the pan with the water in the over and pre-heat to 275F or 475F (depending on the type of bread I’ll cook). 275F is for slow-starting a sourdough bread, 475 for my quick "everyday" boule bread (used for the kids sandwiches and so on). It’s important to remove the water after 15 minutes, otherwise your crust will be chewy. My oven has a vent on the top, some of the steam escapes through there and condensates on the ceramic cooktop. But there’s enough steam inside the oven to make it worth it. Classic bread (with commercial yeast) gets a better coloration and a thicker crust with steam. On the sourdough bread the effect is less obvious.

I use a roaster of the same shape as Shasta's (above) but made of enamelled cast iron and I actually cook the loaf in the roaster. I heat the roaster with the oven on the stone, take it out and remove the lid, slide the loaf in off a flexible sheet which I use as a peel, give it a few squirts of water from my spray bottle, pop the lid on and back into the oven. It eliminate all problems with automatic fans, etc. After about 25 or 30 minutes I remove the lid and give it another 15-20 minutes, depending on what I'm baking. My "house" loaf is a pain de campagne around 750g-800g, shaped like a batard, with or without a soaker of oats & seeds. I get wonderful oven spring. You can experiment with timing of lid on/off to suit your own loaves.

Check out the videos of Dom baking in his domestic oven using different techniques:

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I believe there is a bakery somewhere in New York which bakes all its bread in casseroles so they obviously feel it works.

Happy baking!