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. Hi Matt,

    The only time I’ve ever heard of the glass on an oven breaking is when something cold is placed on it. It is exactly why you should never use a glass pan to catch the water for the steam bath.

    As long as nothing cold comes into contact with your glass you should be all set.

    There is no reason that the glass should be in jeopardy from baking bread of any kind.

    Thanks for trying the bread! Enjoy!


  2. Thanks Zoe!

    I’ve done a bit more research and it seems like this is a general baking issue, not a ABin5 issue.

    If anyone else is concerned about this, you can pretty much use the method at the top of this page and breathe a bit easier…

  3. Hey Matt,

    I did a poll on Twitter and found out that people have had this happen to them, but it is very rare. They confirmed that it is from something cold getting on the glass!

    Thanks for the interesting question! Zoë

  4. Can the basic recipe be baked in a convection oven? If yes,what’s the procedure with the lasagna pan for steam method?

    Thank you!

  5. Hi Elvira,

    Yes, I love the bread baked with convection. By covering the bread with a pan for the steam you will be eliminating some of the benefits of the circulating air. Once you remove the lasagna pan you will get a deep dark crust.

    As is true with most convection ovens you will need to lower the heat by about 20°.

    If you find that the disposable pan moves around with the air circulating in the oven you may need to weigh it down with a heavy metal spoon or something.

    Let me know how it goes!


  6. hi how do we shape into a cylinder? this is the first ive heard about it. i like high loaves too too but not dry!also, my crusts aren’t widening up as much as id like, am i not slashing deep enough? thanks

  7. Thank you, Zoe. BTW, I love the book. Last night I baked a loaf, gave it to my neighbor and gave him strict instructions on how to store left-over bread so the outside will stay crusty. Well, he called me within one hour to tell me that he ate the whole loaf. This also happened with another friend. In the future I will scratch the storing information.
    One more question. If I bake two loafs at the same time with the aluminum pan method, after how many minutes do I lift the pan, and how much do I need to increase the remaining baking time.

    Also, thank you for telling me that I might need to weigh down the pan while using the convection feature in my oven. I’m new at baking–thanks to you–and am grateful for every tip.

    You and Jeff are fantastic. I can’t wait to buy the new book.

  8. Hi nads,

    Here is a post about shaping the baguette or cylinder:

    I hope that helps! Once it is shaped and has rested you just make 2 or3 diagonal cuts. Make sure they are at least 1/4-inch deep so they will open up nicely. The dough is sticky, so this may take a couple of tries!

    Thanks! Zoë

  9. Hi Elvira,

    Thanks for spreading the word to your neighbors. I hope they will be baking you bread soon! 😉

    You can bake 2 loaves of bread at the same tine and use the exact same timing in terms of the lasagna pan. Depending on how the crust is coloring you may need to switch the loaves back to front and bake for a few more minutes, but not much longer if you are baking on a stone.

    Thanks! Zoë

  10. I bought the book and made the peasant bread last week. Came to the mountains for a vacation and forgot book. I have the rye and whole wheat measured i forgot how much unbleached (I think 5-1/2 cups) and how much water. Can anyone help. I think it was either pg 49 or 46.

  11. Hi Richard,

    Enjoy your trip! We should print a travel size book for camping and other travel plans! 😉

    You are right, it is 5 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour. 3 cups of water.

    Enjoy! Zoë

  12. After having trouble adding the water to the hot broiler pan, I put the cold pan with cold water in the oven when I started heating it, using about 3 cups of water. Had a very nice steamy oven when it was time to bake the bread. After 15 minutes, removed the pan of water, and finished baking for 15 more minutes…had wonderful results. The crust was very nice, all the way around, after baking in a loaf pan. I find this much easier, and love the results. cb

  13. Can we bake the bread in a dutch oven??? Or will it make the crust way too hard? I have a nice Mario Batalli cast iron dutch oven.

  14. Hey guys,
    I broke the glass in my oven by setting a room-temperature (maybe even warmer)cast iron dutch oven on the glass, while re-arranging my oven rack in my hot oven. It is definitely not an ABin5 problem – it is a temperature difference problem.

    Still haven’t changed the glass on it…that reminds me…hmmm

  15. Hi CB, Thanks for the great suggestion!

    Hi Kathy, Yes, the Dutch oven works brilliantly with our dough.

    Hi Jen, I was thinking about you when this question came up, but I knew yours was not an issue of water. I couldn’t remember exactly what the problem had been.

    Thanks! Zoë

  16. Jeff told me to let my pumpernickel dough rise 25% longer if I used a loaf pan. Does this apply to other doughs as well – ie: boule and rye bread?

    I have been rising for 1-40 minutes for all of my doughs. How do you know when they have risen enough? What is the maximum rising time? Can you over rise?

  17. Hi Nina,

    Great question! It somewhat depends on the dough. The more whole grains in a dough the longer it generally takes to rest adequately. One rule of thumb to go by is that the dough should no longer feel cold and should have a little spring to it when poked. When you first take the dough from the refrigerator and shape it, it will feel really cold and dense.

    With the boule (master recipe) this may not take as long because it is all white flour and it will tend to get to this stage quicker than the whole wheat doughs.

    I hope this helps!


  18. Oh my! I tried the roasting pan (I’ve dubbed it the “modern industrial cloche”) over the bread last night and it was spectacular!!!

    When I took the bread out of the oven, it looked beautiful and there was this wonderful crackling sound. It works!

    Thank you for this much simpler and safer method.

  19. hi ive been trying to get wider crusts and don’t feel like ive been getting my slashing (scoring) correct. i found a tutorial on ‘the fresh loaf’ site it was really interesting but a bit technical for me. i think what im after is the “bloom”? if you can shed some light? thanks heaps

  20. After about 4 weeks of baking breads from the book using the tray with steam, I had three big cracks in the oven door glass. I only saw one crack happen, and it happened when a single drop of water from the measuring cup I poured the hot water from, dripped on the glass as I was removing the cup. One drop, and a crack ran across the glass. It cost me $200 to order and ship replacement glass and have a repairman come to the house and replace it. Sooo, I am very happy to have another alternative, as I don’t want to do this again. Thanks!!

    For those who wish to continue with the steam, my advice is to cover the glass with an absorbent towel. I put a folded towel in a jelly roll pan nearly the same size as the glass when I am pouring in the hot water, and remove it all after I have poured the water out and taken the cup completely out of the oven area.

  21. Nads: the problem is that the traditional descriptions depend on a drier dough, one that has less of a tendency to re-stick itself back together after slashing. So those recipes have you cutting at a shallow angle (rather than straight down). Supposedly this encourages “blooming;” the nice spreading you’re looking for. Ours is less likely to bahave that way. Try cutting deeper still.

    Catherine: Thanks for the tips. Neither Zoe nor I have had trouble with the oven glass; my oven is now 16 years old and been baking this way all that time. But others have had your experience with this traditional method for trapping steam in the oven, so thanks for the suggestions.

  22. Great tip-I tried this the other day and it worked very well. Also….speaking about crusts….I “experimented” with my master dough and pizza because I wanted to see how the dough would bake up as a parbaked pizza shell. I pressed out the dough with wet hands onto parchment paper, let it rest for 20+ minutes, then put in in the 450° oven for about 15 minutes, then removed it. I let it cool on a wire rack, then saved it in a plastic bag til the next day. I dressed my pizza shell and baked it again @ 450° until done. The pizza tasted great…but the dough was amazing. Awesomely crispy (but not hard) on the outside and chewy & ‘holey’ on the inside. The texture of the crust is well worth the parbake and it’s an easy way to pre-make a bunch of pizza shells and freeze them for later use. Thanks again for your great book!

  23. Hi Zoe,

    Wow, thanks so much for this method. I forgot to put my broiler pan in the oven and so I tried this method. It worked really well for the Italian Semolina Bread! My husband went nuts for it!! 🙂

    One suggestion on the semolina loaf–I made 1/4 recipe (made 1/2 recipe, and then used 1/2). It only made 12 oz loaf. So I would suggest probably only make 3 loaves from a whole batch. well worth buying the special flour!

  24. Yeast! I used up some fast rising instant and dough went up and out. I think one needs to use cold water with the yeast or- even better- use regular granule yeast.

    The bread is a wonder.

    Thanks ena

  25. Judy: Yes, some of our batches are a little skimpy, 3 loaves is more accurate for some of them.

    Ena: Glad the recipes are working for you… I’ve used that instant-rise stuff and it seemed OK… it all evens out in 24 hours or so.

  26. Hi,

    New to all this, I just found your website and just heard about the book, so my apologies if this question is answered somewhere…

    First off, thanks for this, bread intimidates me, and this looks like a promising step away from that.

    Second, we have a clay pot, which my husband brought from Germany (though made in Mexico). We use it for cooking well, pretty much anything. The idea of it is to soak the pot & it’s lid in water while you prepare the meal, then put it in the oven, and then turn the oven on. the steam is created as the oven heats up and the water emits from the pot.

    Could this be a good way to get a crisp bread crust? (Just a wet lid, and an already hot oven?

    thanks in advance. Keri

  27. Absolutely, but it’s not clear that you need to soak it– the lid traps steam from the bread itself. Use lots of cornmeal or other grain to keep it from sticking, which can be the problem with this method.

  28. Got the book last week after trying the rye bread recipe from the website (it was wonderful!). Made the pumpernickle yesterday, but omitted the caramel coloring. Wow! It smelled so good we had to eat it warm from the oven. Great crumb and crust! I bake until the interior temp. is about 206 F. Is this correct? Thanks for renewing my interest in breadmaking!

  29. Hi Ginny,

    So glad you are enjoying the bread! Yes, 206 is about right for the interior temperature. We tend to go by crust color, but that is about right!

    Thanks, Zoë

  30. Help, I just started my semolina bread and forgot to add the salt to the yeast/water mixture–added it to the flour mixture and let it mix a minute or so longer in mixer. Is this going to be a disaster. Do I need to chuck it and start over.

    BTW this steaming method is great!

    Thanks to anyone who can answer.

    New Bread Baker

  31. Believe it or not, you can add the salt as a slurry after the fact, so long as you are using a machine to mix. A little water with the salt, then add back flour so the consistency stays the same.

  32. I am so excited about ABin5. Wow … we’ll be reviewing the book in an upcoming issue of Debt-Proof Living.

    Taking a couple of peasant loaves into the office in the morning for staff. I’ll be hero of the day for sure. Thanks.

  33. Hi; tried my first loaf today and it came out great, crusty, with a chewy crumb. Am excited! I have sourdough starter that i had been using, before your method. can i inorporate a little of this sour into the basic rye mixture or would something bad happen. If so, how much? I don’t want to mess up your basic rye mix. Since you said not to wash container as the dough would sour quicker, it made me wonder if i could do this. thanks, love love your book and its whole concept.

  34. Mary: Glad the recipes are working for you…

    Lauri: Yes, you can use about a cup and a half of sourdough starter in our recipes; swap out approximately an equal amount of flour and water. It’s an estimate and you may need to adjust with flour or water at the end to keep the consistency the same. Then reduce the yeast by half or so, and let it completely ferment.

    It’s a little more temperamental than our basic recipe, but it works nicely; very complex flavor.

  35. Thanks for the answer, Jeff. I will remember your suggestion. The bread was a little bland (I just dumped the salt in, not as a slurry), but still very good. I am just amazed as how wonderful your method is. I have been trying for 40 years to bake good bread and your method is the first one that has worked—every time. My 25-yo daughter said after my very first loaf that it was the best bread she had ever eaten (after eating bread all over France and Europe). She may have exaggerated but this bread is so good and I am proof that anyone can bake bread with your method.
    Thanks again.

  36. Thanks for the kind words Jayne. We really, really mean to get to Seattle for the next book’s tour, so many bakers out there. Jeff

  37. I received your book last week for my birthday and love it. I’ve always enjoyed baking bread but seldom have the time. Now I do.
    Yesterday I found your website. Great resource. Last night I tried the inverted pan technique. The bread came out OK (it definitely won’t last) but the crust was not the same as when I use the steam technique. I just reread the instructions above and realize that I made a mistake and left the pan on the entire time the bread cooked. Could that be the reason why my crust was not crisp and hard?
    Also, my loaves have not been very large. I let last night’s loaf sit for 1 1/2 hours and it definitely helped (great tip from your website). I use King Arthur flour but didn’t realize the need for extra water that you mention elsewhere on the website. Do you think the extra water will result in loaves that rise and spring more?

  38. Using the Sullivan St bakery method my glass door broke when a damp towel in my hand brushed the inside of the door as I was lifting the cover off the dutch oven.

    I have a baking stone and I have used the ice cube/spritz and water tray method. I am going to try your bread in the heated dutch oven though because it is the only way I have ever been able to get the proper crust on bread. I live in DC which is very humid and without a crisp crust the bread quickly is unappealing.

  39. Paul: Yes, that could be part of it. But my guess is that you’ll slightly prefer the steam method.

    The extra water will help, give it a try.

    Clarice: The heated (and covered) Dutch oven will make the steam treatment unneccesary, so I think you’ll like it.

  40. Thank you. I ordered your book, and with that modification, I’m ready to try it all. I suppose for longer loaves like bsguettes I’ll try the disposal lasagna pan on a baking stone.

  41. Love this book! The kids are nuts over the boule bread. A couple of questions. 1, how do the French pronounce “boule” and 2, after the dough is mixed and placed inside a container, why the instructions to place the lid on the container, but not to seal it? Why bother putting the top on at all? Just curious…


  42. OK, it’s “BOOL,” rhymes with spool.

    We cover the stored dough because otherwise, the top dries out and gets a crust, which we don’t want. But if you seal it completely, it distorts the container as gas builds up in there, and some users begin to perceive an alcohol smell that builds up in there, and apparently, in the bread (I don’t notice that). So just crack the edge of the lid (or use a vented lid such as are now becoming available for microwave venting). After you use a bunch of the dough, and a few days pass, I usually can seal the lid without any trouble because it produces less gas and alcohol later.

  43. Lots of talk about using malt powder in bagels. I tried once many years ago to make bagels and it was such a disaster I never tried again. Now with your method I am ready to give it another go.

    Question: What is the difference between diastatic and non-diastatic malt powder? Which one is better?

    Thanks, Lindy

  44. Jeff – the extra 1/4 cup water because I use King Arthur AP flour made a noticeable difference in the rise of the bread, especially the oven spring.

    The last loaf that came out of the oven had a nice crust, actually made the crackling sounds you talk about and tasted great, but the coloration is not even close to your pictures. My crust is a light brown, not dark brown. Any suggestions?

  45. Our Montreal Bagel recipe has malt powder, but not our standard bagel. Diastatic malt powder has some enzymatic activity that boosts yeast’s activity. If you’re finding our stuff a little dense, you might like that. But in general, since our doughs are long-stored, we felt that either kind of malt powder would work in our recipes that called for it. So short answer: it doesn’t make any difference (to our taste).

    Paul: Do you have a large oven? Those have trouble concentrating the steam. I got the idea from your first note that the steam pan was working well, just not these alternatives. Is that right? Also, consider the shelf switcheroo that we talk about in the book.

  46. Hi, I have a question, although I am getting a great crust, my crust is actually too hard, will split a tooth if not careful. I am baking at 450 F for 30 minutes for rolls shaped about a third of the original size boule. What am I doing wrong? They look great, crackle when the come out off the oven, the crumb is great, and they taste great, but the crust is over the top when it comes to crispy. Any hints are appreciated.
    Barb in New Mexico

  47. Jeff
    I would consider our oven to be standard size – the rack is 23×17. The steam pan works as far as giving a crisp crust with chewy interior, which for my first loaves met my definition of success (although to get that I need to have the steam pans on the same shelf as the baking stone, not beneath – I use bread pans to do this). Now I’m trying to match the gorgeous loaves I see in your pictures and in a good bakery, and I’m not there yet. I do have a gas oven, not electric – could that make a difference?

  48. Barbara: Assume you’re using steam in the oven (or one of the substitutes on this page)? Then we’ll take it from there. If you do without the steam but bake till very brown you get a very thick hard crust.

    Paul: Hmm– gas should be fine, though Zoe and I both have electric. So that’s not it. Have you just tried baking them for longer? Convection if you have it?

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