Great Crust without the Steam!

without steam

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:

without steam

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!

without steam

I have a double wall oven so I slid one loaf off the pizza peel, into the bottom oven with NO steam, just a preheated baking stone.

without steam

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.

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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188 thoughts on “Great Crust without the Steam!

  1. Thanks for this info — the first time I made the bread, when I added the water my pizza stone split! (good thing I have two!). I think it was from the steam but am not sure – this way I don’t have to worry about it!

  2. Great idea to use the disposable lasagna pan! I’ve used the misting bottle method, but my electric oven loses a lot of heat every time I open the door, so it’s not my favorite method.
    Thanks, Zoe!

  3. thanks for sharing this technique. Since I am pimping the book to everyone I know, I’m glad to have this knowledge in my backpocket in case of crust failures!

  4. ooh, I just bought this book and have been reading the forward for the last two nights. Since it is finally raining today, I think I am going to whip up a batch of dough (need to get my container squared away). Thanks for solving this problem before I have to deal with it, I look forward to experimenting.

  5. What a fantastic idea!

    I’ve actually “baked” my ABin5 loaves using the residual heat of my oven (or Big Green Egg) and pizza stone after our weekly pizza comes out (which I bake at 500 degrees). After the pizza comes out, I slide the formed ABin5 dough onto the pizza stone, and turn off the oven (or close the vents on the Egg). 35 minutes later I have a finished loaf of bread, although not quite as browned as if I’d used active heating.

    But we feel good knowing we’re saving energy. If you make pizza at high heat and your oven doesn’t try to vent the heat quickly when shut off, give it a try!

    I’ll have to try the foil pan method this week (tomorrow night) to see if it helps hold the heat of the pizza stone in closer to the loaves to give a bit better browning.

  6. I will definitely try this method, although I get pretty good crusts with the steam pan method. BTW…I got GREAT English muffins with my default dough by rolling the dough out (as with the baked egg recipe), cutting with a large biscuit cutter, then letting the muffins rise on a cornmeal-coated sheet of parchment before griddle baking. No rings needed!

  7. I broke my first stone with the spray method but I’m doing okay with the pan system. Sometimes, I don’t bother with it, though. I live alone so the bread gets wrapped in plastic after the first day anyway and it’s so delicious toasted that I don’t feel deprived.

  8. Is the lasagna pan method for all of your breads, or just the ones in the book that require steam?

    Great idea as my crusts have come out dull and not dark …. of course that hasn’t stopped us from eating every crumb!

  9. This is great, as I was baking the boule in the book recipe, but my crust never turned out crunchy. Even though I baked on the stone. I will try this one definitely. So, does it mean we do not need to put the roasting pan with hot water, right?

  10. This is a great idea! Thanks!

    I am scared to death to pour the water into the pan, and it ends up pouring almost everywhere except where it’s meant to go! At some point, I tried pouring ice cubes into the pan…have you ever heard of this technique?

  11. We made our first loaf of pumpernickel tonight using your steaming method.

    The bread had a GREAT flavor, but the crumb was not as dense as we had expected. It was more cake like, nice holes and a crisp crust.

    It didn’t rise too even after 1 hour and 40 minutes. How do we get a denser crumb, more like pumpernickel???

  12. I meant to say – it didn’t rise too much …

    We had hoped to make sandwiches out of it, but the slices were more the shape of biscotti – long and narrow, not big like bread.

  13. Sounds like it spread sideways rather than expanding upward. Confusing though, because you say you’d like it denser.

    You can get a denser result by swapping out some of the rye flour for a coarser rye product. Options are pumpernickel flour or meal, or rye “chops” if that’s available to you. Maybe up to half the rye.

    That will also dry out the mixture, which can promote upward expansion rather than sideways spread.

    Another option for upward movement in this kind of loaf would be to add vital wheat gluten– see

  14. I had great success with your breads for about a month, and then suddenly my stone split a few minutes after adding steam water to the roasting pan. Today I’m going to use a brand-new stone and want to be sure the splitting doesn’t happen again. any idea what I did wrong or why the stone broke? Thx.

  15. Unfortunately the stones don’t last forever, which is why I buy the one from Williams-Sonoma– the 1/2-inch thick one has a lifetime guarantee (save your receipt). The 1/2-inch thick one at Amazon( hasn’t generated any complaints either– it’s looks very similar to the Williams-Sonoma.

    But no, you didn’t do anything wrong. The thinner stones especially seem to break soon after you start using them frequently. Jeff

  16. Wow! oven glass breaking and pizza sones cracking?! Scares me to try the steam method. My oven isn’t mine-I’m renting so I don’t want to risk ruining the oven in any way. I will try this method for my first baking effort. I hope the crust is just as crisp.


  17. For a good baking stone, look into FibraMent. They’re more expensive but the folks on the board swear by them (and most of us are baking the pizzas at very high temperatures).

  18. Jeff thanks for the optional flours for a denser pumpernickel. My co-op does have ‘rye pumpernickel’ flour. Maybe I will try one cup of that in exchange for one cup of rye flour.

    It sounds as if your pumpernickel bread is suppose to have the softer crumb??? If so I will use your recipe as is, as the flavor is fabulous.

    Yes, it did spread sideways, not upwards. As did my rye bread, which also came out round even through I shaped the dough in an oval.

    Could you give me an approx. measurement for shaping OVAL loaf dough for rising – height, length, width? Maybe I am making it too flat to begin with.

  19. Not neccesarily, give it a shot with the pumpernickel and see what you think.

    If you take a one-pound piece of dough (about like a grapefruit), form a cylinder and it should work. About 3 inches in diameter or so. It’ll be 7 inches long.

  20. Bottom line, the softer crumb in my pumpernickel is normal?? If it ain’t broke, I won’t fix it.

    Thanks for the measurements. My rye and pumpernickel loaves were wider than 3″ when I formed them.

  21. Sounds like they just weren’t holding their shape then. Try a little more shaping, or maybe just dry out the dough a little. Jeff

  22. Jeff, generally how deep should the cuts be made into the top of the dough? Seems that my bread kind of “blows out” of proportion and I’m not sure if I’m making the cuts to deep or not deep enough.

  23. Thanks Jeff, yes, I think that I was making them too wide, maybe 5″ – as I was trying to follow the directions and shape an oval loaves.

    I will try your cylinder shape on the next loaf, instead of the oval shape. Of course I will be using the same dough which is already in the fridge, so I will see if the new cylinder shape makes a difference without having to swap any of the flour.

    I guess I was thinking that it would be a very dense pumpernickel like the European pumpernickel breads. Soft crumb is good, so I hopefully I can leave your recipe as is.

  24. We live in San Francisco and are so spoiled by our sourdough bread. My husband only eats Acme Sour bread.

    I have asked him to forgo store bought bread for a few weeks while I experiment with my new ‘hobby’. Read that as obsession. He has agreed as he loves what is coming out of my oven.

    He went to the store yesterday and ‘almost’ bought a loaf of Acme, but said that he felt disloyal and put it back. That’s a real endorsement of your Artisan Bread.

  25. I have been using alarge terra cotta flower pot cloche, which works well,after seeing the lasagna tin,I am going to try a large steel bowl.

  26. I made my first loaf of bread without the steam method. I it worked great!! I don’t have a pizza stone yet so I used a small metal cookie sheet turned updide down. I used parchment and I think having the parchment covered for 15 min kept it from burning-I think. The bottom crust was not quite as crisp but we hardly noticed the bread was so good! My husband says it reminds him of German hard rolls from Germany. He loved the bread so much he had me make another loaf and he wanted to try his hand at it. So right now I have 2 loaves baking.

  27. I cracked my oven glass adding it after it was heated too… so now.. I add the pan of water during the heat up phase, and just make sure to add more water than usual, so it all doesn’t evaporate away before the bread is baked.

    It was worked well for me this way.

  28. This must be a bad week for stones…mine broke too! Didn’t realize it until I went to take the bread out and there was the split stone and the bread had a bump on the bottom! It still tasted good and the remaining halves are large enough to make at least one boule at a time. I have another larger pizza stone but am reluctant to use it. I wondered if I had the pan too close to the stone this time. I had moved my oven racks around and perhaps it was closer than before…or maybe not…maybe as you said, I’ve just been using the stone so much since buying your book, maybe it’s time had just come!

    By the way I used the brioche dough to make the blueberry lemon curd ring earlier in the week and had to give half of it away FAST before I ate the whole thing. It took eating half of it to figure out where I “knew” the flavor of the pastry from. (that’s my story!) Finally it occurred to me it was like a good cheese Danish so before the day was over I took small bits of dough and made assorted shapes…small rings and shapes similar to your rustic fruit pastries and spread them with some of the lemon curd and a cream cheese and sugar mixture…oh my…way too good! Called in reinforcements to take half of those away too! My friend had lived in Europe for a few years and declared they were as good as the pastries she’d enjoyed there. (by the way, the consensus was that the small rings, similar to the blueberry/lemon curd ring but much smaller, was the winning shape)

    Your recipes rock! I made the English muffins yesterday… due to work getting in the way, even though I’m supposed to be on vacation this week …work still has a way of creeping in and the muffins ended up twice their proposed height…tasty but way too tall. Received my order of malt powder from King Arthur today so bagels are NEXT. Did someone say ‘obsessed’? 🙂 Love it! THANKS not only for your book but for your efforts here, what an inspiration you and all who contribute here have been!

  29. Thanks Jeff. We just made a second loaf of pumpernickel, using the above steam method and we followed your advice about forming the dough in a cylinder, roughly 3″ x 7″. That solved our problem of a flat loaf with biscotti sized slices.

    It was absolutely perfect, great crumb (no need to swap flours), we followed your recipe exacty and made your carmel coloring recipe .

    When I made the carmelized sugar coloring yesterday I let it boil too long covered and it came out almost black and turned to glass, adhering to the bottom of the pot. It was real pain to clean the pot. I had to make it again, being very careful, stirring it constantly, so as not to let the carmelized sugar over-cook and become one with the bottom of the pot. Cook it gently and keep stirring, and it will still be liquid when it cools off. It only takes a few minutes to make.

  30. Paul: Cool idea, let us know how it works out.

    Jennifer: Yes, parchment actually insulates just a little from harsh heat sources, you could be right. To your husband’s point about great German breads and rolls, we’ve gotten so many requests for Brotchen that I think we have to come up with a recipe.

    LaJuana: You’ve probably seen my posts about Williams-Sonoma? The only stone that’s lifetime guaranteed (save your receipt). They all crack unpredictably and I don’t think it’s a matter of how close the water source is the stone (but I could be wrong). If you buy the W-S, save your receipt!

    About that Blueberry Ring, yes, it’s impersonating Danish, just without the lamination. It’s terrific– give bunches of it away.

    Thanks for all the kind words!

    Kate: glad this is working better.

    Nina: So glad the pumpernickel had it’s Eureka! moment. Especially with the homemade caramel color.

  31. After going through two batches of dough the pan I use to pour the water in is actually warped now!! Even with using a stone the bottom of my loaves don’t seem to be crispy. My loaves seem to come out better when I let them rest longer than suggested before baking.

    I’d love to see some type of message board forum used here to make it easier to go through all the wonderful information and suggestions.

  32. I also tried this technique last night. The crust and crumb were very much like pumpernickel. The loaf also has a more uniformed shaped, no explosive rise in the oven. The crust is more moist, before, with water in the pan, the crust was more crispy. The bread is still very yummy. But I wonder why? I did use a large pyrex bowl to cover the dough on the stone for the first 11 minutes. I’m going to try to find a tin pan to experiment with. Love the bread and the book!!

  33. Excellent idea. This lasagna pan should be just the right length for the half-pan long baguettes (the only ones I can make in my oven). Thanks, Zoe and Jeff!

  34. I baked this bread just as I bake NO KNEAD. In a heated oven proof glass bowl with a Pyrex cover and it works perfectly. I also made pizza out of the 5 minute dough that had been in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks and it was just fine! Does it really need 1 1/2 tbs yeast? I will experiment.

    Thanks for a wonderful bread revolution. Now I will try the English muffins.

  35. I love this Book! Have made the Boule, Olive oil and Challajh doughs…..breads, focacia, rolls and cherry danish pastry….as I don’t currently have a baking stone…I baked the loaves in my cast iron dutch oven, resulting in a beautiful, crackly carmelized crust…..looking for the perfect stone now, think I will go with Williams Sonoma as recommened due to the Guarantee….thank you so much for this great technique and the fabulous recipes

  36. On the second loaf I tried to put the loaf on my stone and pour hot water into the pan, but the steam sent my electronic controls crazy. The door locked and an error message appeared. The door unlocked after a while and I had to turn the power off to reset everything. Bread was fine. Went back to a heavy W-S Cookie sheet and Silpat liner and it works fine with out the steam.

  37. I am so happy with my Artisan bread! In the past 5 or so years I have tried everything-from the Nancy silverton fresh grape in flour recipe for sourdough to bread machine white bread. This is terrific, I have made the regular loaf above, the whole wheat bread is very moist and the brioche was a hit at my club meeting last Friday. Love the whole book!

  38. Baked two loaves (deli rye and light wheat using on stone covered with a stainless steel mixing bowl for 20 min and then uncovered with convection mode on and came out crispy and delicious-glad to get that broiler pan out of my oven.

  39. I am so excited about your method but I’m a bit concerned about the possibility of cracking the oven glass.

    Would you mind addressing this issue? Have you experienced any problems with oven glass cracking?

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