Great Crust without the Steam!

without steam

For what ever reason some ovens just don’t trap steam very well. This is true of professional equipment, but some home ovens behave this was as well. The reason to care…if you don’t trap steam in the oven for the first 10 minutes of baking you will end up with a dull, lackluster crust, even if you use a good baking stone (which is essential for great free-form loaves).

There are a couple different ways to achieve this, including the tried and true misting bottle. You use a food grade spray bottle and mist the bread every minute for the first 10 minutes. This requires you to stick close to the oven and open the door repeatedly to spray. A bit more work than I’m generally willing to do, but it will give you a nice result. Here is a much easier way:

without steam

Start by forming two 1-pound peasant dough loaves, letting them rest, dusting them with flour and slashing them with a serrated bread knife. Both exactly the same!

without steam

In this experiment, a double wall oven was used… so one loaf was slid off the pizza peel into the bottom oven with NO steam, just a preheated baking stone.

without steam

Into the top oven went the other loaf on another preheated stone; then an inverted disposable lasagna pan went over it. Make sure the pan has at least double the height of the unbaked loaf, so that the bread will have plenty of room for oven spring. You can do this same technique with a metal bowl or the lid to a chaffing dish, as log as they are tall enough and oven-safe. The pan should also fit on the baking stone, so that it really traps the steam from the bread.

There is no reason to add water, the moisture of the dough will do that for you! This is the same premise behind baking bread in a Dutch oven or a Cloche, but cheaper and less fuss.

without steam

After about 10-15 minutes carefully remove the inverted pan from the oven.

without steam

You can see the reflection of the light off of the doughs shiny surface. If you have baked on parchment paper you will remove that as well. Continue baking to allow the bread to color nicely.

without steam

The top loaf was baked without steam and it is dull and doesn’t have a nice color to it. The bottom loaf was baked under the inverted lasagna pan and has a great shine and the caramel color that we want. Just that simple!

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191 thoughts to “Great Crust without the Steam!”

  1. If I wanted to use a sourdough starter with your master recipe, how would it change the recipe?

  2. Swap out about a cup and a half of active starter for an equivalent amount of flour and water in the recipe (this will depend on the water:flour ratio in your active starter). You can usually decrease the yeast when you use active starter; see Low yeast version:

    This is more finicky than our usual recipes, so I’m assuming you’re experienced with sourdough starter and how to handle it?

  3. I’m not sure if this is the correct place to post this question…but any recommendations for high altitude adjustments? (Denver)
    I absolutely love the book, and have my 2nd batch rising right now. Wow…bread sure rises fast up here! Thanks!

  4. Hi,
    after reading all these messages I am too scared to use the steam method as I am in a rented house and am afraid of cracking oven door, it would be just my luck! So, I don’t have an aluminium lasagne dish in the house but I do have a roasting pan that I could tip over the top of the bread for the first 15 mins, would this work or not? Also, would I let it sit completely over it or does some steam need to be able to escape. I hope you can get back to me soon, I have dough in the fridge I am desperate to use……….

  5. Tried the boule for first time with this method with amazing results. I didn’t have a stone so I placed my dough on cornmeal on parchment paper on an “airbake” cookie sheet. I used a deep, round springform pan over my loaf for the first 15 min and it worked great! I have never baked bread like this so well! I found your video on YouTube and will look for your books. I also baked a foccacia at the same time with success! Thank you so much!!!

  6. Jumping in really late to say, if your pizza stone cracks, keep using it, still works just skooch it back together, no harm

  7. Just a quick question: how do you manage to get such a nice caramel coloured crust but the flour remains white? If I flour the top of my loaves, the flour always turns brown, too.

  8. I usually bake my bread in clay loaf baker with lid at 450 degrees for 40 min, then lid off at 375 until internal temp 200. The crust is very hard right out of the oven but softens at rm temp within 1-2 hours, with no covering. How can I keep the crust hard? I spray the loaf with water before I slash to bake.

    1. Pat: If you’re using whole wheat in high proportion, those never stay crisp– wheat germ contains oil which makes it very difficult to achieve crackly crust in those loaves. So first question: which of our recipes are you using?

      Not sure if this is the problem, but if you’re baking inside a cloche, you don’t need to spray water. See alternatives to steam:

      Baking in a Dutch Oven:

      Aluminum Roasting Pan for Crust:

      Cloche baking:

      Any chance your oven temp is off? Use to check.

  9. Jeff,
    I AM using an almost-no-knead recipe that has a proportion of 2 cups bread flour and 1 cup whole wheat flour; your idea makes perfect sense. The moisture has to be moving from the inside to the crust because this happens in all kinds of weather. I started checking the internal temp of the loaves to make sure that they are really done; had already checked the oven. Thanks for your help.

    1. Hi Pat,

      Just so you know the internal temperature on our breads should be around 200, which may be higher than traditional breads, due to the high proportion of moisture in our recipes.

      Thanks, Zoë

  10. A while ago I mentioned in a comment that I wanted a recipe in between the mostly white flour bread and the mostly whole wheat; more of a 50/50. You answered that I could find some in your Healthy Bread book. I am not having success finding it. Can you give me a page # or something? (Or is this not a proportion that has worked out well ?)

    1. Nina: try..
      Rosemary Flax Baguette
      Pesto and Pine Nut Bread
      Emmer bread, can swap WW for the Emmer but may need to adjust water slightly
      Quinoa bread

      Can easily find them in the index, and swap liberally if you don’t like the additions we do in these variations. Jeff

  11. I just killed my electric knife cutting breads. What knife do you use? Don’t want to buy a new one and then kill it. Thanks.

  12. Hi Guys,
    I ´ve just found you in the net and tried out your master recipe with the addition of sourdough. The result was great, crispy crust and very tasty. There is something I don’t like, the bottom dooesn’t come crispy it looks kind of pale and under baked. I’ve baked using both: a stone and a sheet in both cases using parchment paper. Is it normal getting that dull look.

    and best regards

    1. Jaime: We don’t get that problem. Which of our recipes are you using (which book and page number)? Can direct you to some tips in there. Also check our FAQs tab above for troubleshooting.

  13. Great idea! Though, for times when you cant fit a pan over what you are making, like when making little buns, we beat an Egg and brush it over the top before baking. It creates the most amazing golden and crisp bread crust!
    Simple and easy!

    1. Naomi: Careful with that– at high temperatures (above 375), that egg wash will burn unless it’s for rolls or buns– can’t do that for longer baking times at those temps– which will be required for loaves.

  14. So, if I don’t have a baking stone…is that really going to mess up my bread? Do you have any successful alternatives?

  15. Hi .. Try your recipe , artisan bread crust was lovely but there were not much air pockets .. It look ed denced .. And the bread was heavy loaf … Y is that .. Please help

    1. Which recipe/page number from our books are you using? Longer rest time will help, try 60 or even 90 min and work through the items in our FAQs tab, esp Dense crumb: What am I doing wrong?

  16. I bought your book, read through it carefully. I followed instruction as in the book and after 2 attempts, my breads didnt have nice brown color. It looks just dull, dry and looks nothing like the ones in your pix. Please help me out because I’m so frustrated. Thanks

    1. Hi Mya,

      Are you using a gas oven? Most gas ovens will leak steam, so they don’t produce a nice shiny crust. If this is the case you will have great results if you bake in a Dutch Oven: or

      If you are not baking in gas, these posts will still help, but also make sure you are using an oven thermometer.

      Thanks, Zoë

      1. Hi Zoe
        Thanks for the tips. I watched one of your video about cover the breads with lasagna pan, which I used an aluminum tray to cover it for the first 15 mins and it works. I’m very impressed. I’m now a professional bread baker 🙂

  17. We tried the master recipe ( boule ) and it was great. However a day after slicing it the crust was was as hard as a rock. Any suggestions for storing or maybe it was a baking problem. We used steam. We just stored it cut side down on a cutting board.

    1. Hi Jaryd,

      You didn’t find the crust too hard when it first come out of the oven? You may want to store the loaf in a paper bag, which will trap some of the moisture, but not so much to make it soggy. The loaves made with All-purpose flour stale faster than those with whole grains. You may want to just bake a slightly smaller loaf?

      Thanks, Zoë

  18. I’m trying the Master Recipe in ABin5 substituting with ww flour and white whole wheat. The bread comes out almost flat. I left the dough in refrigerator overnight and then tried again 2 days later with same results. I use the pan with water in the oven, but don’t reheat the stainless steel cookie sheet because I let the dough rise on it.
    I’d like to try a cast iron griddle for this, but don’t know how to keep the dough from sticking to it. Would you recommend parchment paper on cast iron griddle? Any suggestions? Thanks in advance!

    1. I’ll cut to the chase– you can’t swap whole wheat flour (or white whole wheat flour) into a recipe calling for all-purpose white. It doesn’t work; it’ll be much too dry and certainly can’t be stored in our method. For whole grain recipes, check out Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day– it took some doing to experiment until we were happy with stored-dough recipes that retained their loft.

      I’ve used a flat cast-iron without parchment, but you can certainly use the paper.

  19. Hello,

    I have seen somewhere that you can also throw ice cubes in the metal pan. Less of a mess and quick. My oven’s bottom elements are hidden, so I used to throw the ice right on the bottom. However, I have an electronic oven. Too much steam short-circuits the board! I like the aluminium roasting pan trick. Cheap and light. I’ll try that. Will be easier than the whole Dutch oven process. Thanks for the info.

  20. I just got your book today and can’t wait to give it a try. Everything looks so good!

    So glad to see an alternative to putting water into the broiler tray. Cracking the glass window concerns me.

      1. It should, except I don’t know whether dough is likely to stick to that kind of surface… Maybe use parchment till you figure out. We haven’t tested with one of those…

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