For what ever reason some ovens just don’t trap steam very well. I know this is true of professional equipment, but some home ovens behave this was as well. The reason we 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:
I did a little experiment to make sure this method would indeed work for those of you having a difficult time getting a shiny caramel colored crust.
I started 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!
In the top oven I placed the other loaf on another preheated stone and then inverted a disposable lasagna pan over it. Making sure the pan was at least double the height of my loaf, so that the bread would 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. The pan should also fit on the baking stone, so that it really traps the steam from the bread.
After about 10-15 minutes carefully remove the inverted pan from the oven.
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.
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!