Baking with Steam in Your Home Oven

Steam burns hurt. Like really, really hurt. The small mark on my left forearm begs the question every day: Maurizio, was it really worth it?

But before we talk about my new baking badge of honor, let’s concentrate on overcoming the challenges of baking good bread at home. While many of these challenges present themselves early on in the two-day process (fermentation, flour selection, mixing, shaping, and so on), there is that key component at the end of this whole ordered procession: baking with steam in a high-temperature home oven.

For your bread to rise to its potential that outer, taut skin on your loaf needs to be able to expand and stretch before hardening off. Steam in the oven, and subsequently on the surface of your loaves, helps keep that skin pliable and stretchy during baking. If your dough dries and cooks too quickly on the exterior, the interior force generated by yeast/bacteria rapidly consuming food at high temperature will be dampened and never cause enough rise to attain that awesome open crumb, that fantastic fissure on top and that nice gringe that makes us grin.

So how can we get enough steam in the oven to keep those loaves rising? There are certainly methods abound and each person has a different approach, but arguably the most popular choice at the moment, and the one I started with, is baking bread in a Dutch oven. Chad Robertson of Tartine Bakery, and his excellent book Tartine Bread, was my first introduction to the method and it will make an excellent loaf with a wonderful crust. However, there comes a time when you might want to bake two (or more) loaves at a time, or perhaps your loaves are scaled larger than your Dutch oven can comfortably hold. An alternative to baking bread in a Dutch oven is bake directly on stones and generate sufficient steam in your home oven by some other clever means.

Professional baking ovens have steam on tap. Press a button and in goes a wave of steam over decks of newly loaded dough. I’ve never had the pleasure to work on one of these ovens (yet), but I’m sure there are other unknown challenges just the same. Now there are some home ovens that are “steam ovens” but the ones I’ve looked at are incredibly small. You might be able to fit two loaves but I could also fit two Dutch ovens in my current home oven; no advantage there. Some other alternatives can’t inject steam at a button press but they are sealed to trap steam and have a method for generating steam1. These look very promising but are on the expensive side.

Naturally leavened sourdough, baking with steam in home oven

Since most of us bakers out there do not have one of these fancy ovens, we have to make do — read on to learn how baking with steam in your home oven can be a pretty easy process.

Tools for Steaming Home Oven

We first need to have the right set of tools for the job. Let’s go over a few more additions to our home-baking arsenal:

Lava Rocks

The first is a cast iron pan filled with lava rocks2. Lava rocks are a primo choice because they get extremely hot, don’t breakdown easily and have tons of jagged sides and crevices for an incredible increase in surface area. What’s the big deal about surface area? As cooler water comes into contact with a blisteringly hot surface it instantly turns to steam. The more hot surface area you have, the more steam you generate. I found these lava rocks, which are specifically made for home BBQ grills, and they have turned out to be a perfect choice. They come in a fairly large bag and I am still on my first handful — I probably have lava rocks for life.

Cast Iron Grill Pan

The second component is the cast iron pan I use to hold the lava rocks. This Lodge Cast Iron Grill Pan is great for a few reasons: Lodge makes awesome iron products (they make the Dutch oven I’ve been baking with for years), cast iron can get super hot & retains heat very well, and the grill lines on the bottom yet again increase surface area.

Rectangular Baking Pan

The last component is an old rectangular baking pan with a bunch of small dish towels rolled up inside. I simply use an old pan from around the kitchen and roll up 3 small towels placed in the center. The more towels you add, the more steam you’ll generate. I use cheap, clean towels as these will eventually get scorched and will need replacing.

Rolled up towels saturated with water

Ten to twenty minutes before you plan to start baking, you will boil some water and pour it over the towels in the rectangular pan so they are fully drenched and steaming. You will then place this pan with towels back inside your oven. This pan will saturate the interior with steam before you even splash water on the lava rocks, and will continue to do so well into the bake.

Optional Hand Spritzer

The final item is optional. A stainless steel hand spritzer I use to spray in a bit more steam just before closing the oven door. I like to have the option to spray in a bit more steam if I feel it warranted. Additionally, you could use this after 5-10 minutes into the bake to quickly saturate the inside of the oven one more time. Some bakers, like Jeffrey Hamelman in Bread, recommend this second round of steaming in a home oven.

Not many new tools needed, really, and if you think about it over the long run you will probably save money as now we can bake 2-4 loaves at a time — no more wasting all that space in the nice and hot oven. Now that we have the tool requirements squared away, how do we actually do this thing?

Baking Steam Method

The following does take a bit of practice. First, make sure you get all your tools ready and within reach, this is a rather hectic process and you want to do it almost without thought — muscle memory. The longer your oven door is open the more heat will escape. Your thick baking stones will help offset some of the loss, but you still want to act quick.

Below is a quick visual showing where I have my pans, where the loaded dough goes and where my baking stones are. I feel like sometimes you just need to see things how I see them just before loading bread.

Diagram showing baking with steam tools

Now that we have a list of what things we need, where things will be placed and why, let’s get to the actual method (with animated version below!).

Method:

  1. An hour before baking, turn on your oven (preheat)
  2. 10-20 minutes before loading your bread boil water, pour over the towels in your rectangular baking pan, fully saturate them, and place in the back corner of your oven
  3. 10-20 minutes after loading the pan, place each mass of dough on a separate piece of parchment paper
  4. Place dough, and sheets underneath, on a pizza peel
  5. Score dough
  6. Open oven and slide-in dough (with parchment) onto baking stones
  7. Quickly lay towel down on oven door glass (optional, you can see me doing this below) 3
  8. Carefully toss 1 cup water into your cast iron pan with lava rocks4
  9. Quickly spray loaves a bit with hand spritzer (optional)
  10. Close oven door and watch your dough rise
  11. 20 minutes later remove both rectangular and cast iron pans (careful these are extremely hot) to stop steaming
  12. Bake as usual until done

Whew, that’s it! Here is the whole process (minus the preheat and drenching of towels) in one trendy baking-with-steam GIF:

Gif showing steaming oven while baking

Why do we use two sheets of parchment paper for our dough? When you use two sheets you can adjust the space between the loaves as they bake, if necessary. One of the worst things to happen is when the dough expands and joins with another loaf, this reduces the overall rise on both loaves. If you notice they start to get a bit close, quickly slide them apart.

After 20 minutes of baking we remove the cast iron pan and the rectangular baking pan so no more steam is generated, which allows your loaves to crisp up and harden off.

Another Approach

If you’re curious for yet another way, Thom Leonard has a method using a roasting pan, or oven-safe bowl, inverted over your baking loaves to trap steam as the water is cooking out of your dough (similar to the Dutch oven method). You can see Thom’s steaming method right here. I tried this method on a few occasions and sadly had issue with my roasting pan; my bread rose so high it lifted the pan off the bottom, smashing the top of my loaf AND releasing steam far too early. I don’t have a bowl/pan large enough to fit my rising dough.

Conclusion

I like this method for baking with steam in my home oven because it allows me to cook two large loaves of bread at a time. Actually, I plan to bake 4 loaves at a time and this will allow me to do that with no problem. Baking with a Dutch oven (or combo cooker) works extremely well, and I might still use that method if doing only a single loaf or a highly hydrated one (the pan will help keep the dough together), but I find myself using this new method more and more. The results have come out smashingly.

Small steam burns, totally worth it (as you can see below). 5

Sourdough bread crumb

Sourdough crust

Sourdough crumb

Any other steam generation recommendations out there? What do you guys use and why?

 

Buon appetito!


  1. Rofco is a notable example. These smaller bread steam ovens are a popular choice for small home bakeries or even smaller professional establishments. I know I’d sure love one.

  2. Other materials will work just as well here: (clean) nuts and bolts, a metal chain or any other heat retentive material that will increase surface area. Keep in mind whatever the material it needs to be able to withstand around 525ºF and water splashed onto it.

  3. I’ve read that cold water dropped onto a hot oven glass door will shatter the glass, thus the towel. I have dropped some water on the oven door without any ill effect, but I do this just to be safe.

  4. This is where careful practice come sinto play. Be very cautious here as water will splash and steam up very close to your hand & arm — and this is how I got my small badge of honor on my left forearm.

  5. … and you don’t have to get burned, just be careful!

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  • margie

    Nice write up, thanks Maurizio! But, the bread is outstanding!!! Tell us more 🙂

    • Thanks, Margie! These loaves were done while testing mixing techniques and flour combinations. For each of them I did ~8 minutes slap/fold up front, they used my stiff whole wheat levain (still working on a post about this), are around 80% hydration and I extended proof times in the fridge, up to 24 hours in one case. They really came out great, the one at the very top is one of my best loaves I’ve baked — now to nail down that consistency 🙂

  • Maree

    Yet again you’ve delivered a ripper and really informative post! What a great idea the lava rocks are and the look of that loaf is smashing, what an ear! Doubt I could fit doing this into my ‘Toy Oven’ but once (hopefully within 12 months) I get a real oven I’ll definitely give it a go. Thanks 🙂 PS, what brand of oven is that?

    • Thank you Maree! The lava rocks work extremely well in this case, and are pretty cheap to boot. My oven is a Thermador double oven. I don’t use convection for these bakes even though it has the option. Pretty much a standard home oven!

  • robert petrillo

    Great Post. Your bread looks GREAT. I thought you would be the right person to ask a question. I have been baking yeast bread and pizza for many years. ( When baking bread I would throw ice cubes in a tray every 3-4 minutes for the first ten minutes. ). How things change.

    I recently joined your newsletter and find it entertaining and informative. Well done. I came across your site in my research for making a starter for sourdough bread. I read Tartine Bread and tried the starter from the book. Not much luck. I now have a 100% hydration rye starter going for about a month. I have been using the technique from Tartine Bread.

    Using a 75% hydration dough, recipe for one loaf, 20g of starter for leaven mix, 100g of leaven, ( my leaven passes the float test and it doubles in about 5-6hrs) I have let it go as long as 8-12hrs and then tried it with similar results, 60-70 minute autolyse, add salt, fold 6 times or so, pre-shape, then shape, put dough in a floured basket and refrigerate for 12hrs or less, use the cast iron skillet for baking. Thing is my bread does not rise much in the basket in the fridge and does not have much oven spring. (only about 2-1/2″ ht ) I do get some large holes in the crumb and a gelatin like look but the crumb is heavy. The exterior color is good and the scoring is not bad ( ears ) My thought is that my starter is too weak to leaven the dough. Also, the dough does not seem to have the extensibility or smoothness that I have seen on a video with Chad Robertson showing him shape his dough. I would appreciate any advice if possible. Many Thanks. Your trip to Italy looked like fun.

    • Thanks! I’m glad your starter is up and running, once it’s established it’s a very forgiving thing, so long as it gets regular food!

      I would guess either your starter is not strong enough, as you suggested, but the fact that it passes the float test indicates there is some strength there and it should leavened your bread. My main concern is that you might not be allowing your bread sufficient time during bulk fermentation. How long do you perform your bulk fermentation for? Do you know what the ambient temperature is during this time? Or what temperature your dough is after you mix (stick a thermometer in your mass of dough)?

      My bulk fermentation is typically around 4 hours at 78-80ºF. By the end of bulk fermentation my dough has risen at least 30%, but the main indicator is that the dough looks like it’s alive and holding some shape. The edges of your dough, where it meets the bowl wall, should be slightly domed down towards the wall. If you wet your hand a bit and feel the dough it should not feel extremely stretchy (extensible), and it should feel airy, light, gassy.

      Your dough will become stronger (less elastic) during bulk fermentation, start to look “smoother” and have more of a shine to it. A full and strong bulk fermentation is key to producing light and airy bread!

      Your comments about Chad Robertson, his dough is typically probably upwards of 90% hydration, despite what he says in Tartine Bread! That’s my guess at least. I know some of his bakers will sometimes comment on their hydration levels and they are definitely over 85%.

      I hope that helps, let me know if you have any more Q’s!

      • robert

        Hi Maurizio,

        Thanks for the tips. I have since made a new starter using your method and I ‘m pleased with the results. Big difference. I used your recipe for the bread, the only change that I made was that I used 50g of starter to make the leaven for one loaf. I’m going to try 25g of starter next time and see what happens. Thanks!

        • Glad to hear it, thanks for the update! I agree, slowly back off the amount of levain you use in your mix until you get sufficient leavening of your dough. Once your starter is strong enough (it probably already is) you can even get it all the way down to 20%, or like me, 15% in your mix.

          Happy baking!

  • Elie

    Thank you for this post! My one attempt at steaming my oven for baguettes was not successful, and I look forward to giving it another try with your method.

    • You’re very welcome — good luck and let me know how this method works out for you! I have not tried it on baguettes yet, but I’m sure it will work very well.

  • Thanks for sharing your alternate method, Martin. Sounds like a good approach, and a bit more straightforward than my method above. I will have to give it a shot. I don’t typically steam more through the bake as that rectangular pan I have in there continues to put off steam, however, I don’t know if it’s even possible to over-steam in a home oven (mine isn’t sealed particularly well). I’ll have to try that as well!

    And yes, protective gear is a good idea! 🙂

  • Scott Schmidt

    Maurizio-

    Check this out – perhaps a serious way to go beyond the Lodge Combo Cooker.

    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/stranddesign/the-fourneau-bread-oven/description

    Scott Schmidt
    London

    • Scott, thanks for the link that product looks very interesting. Essentially it’s kind of a larger combo cooker if you think about it, but it might make loading bread easier. Unfortunately the size is rather small so it looks like you can only fit one loaf of bread (one of my loaves at least) at a time. I’m not sure they could make it much bigger, though, I bet that thing is heavy!

      Thanks for the link, I’m definitely going to follow these guys and their product!

  • mike

    Great write up Maurizio!

    I’ve used this technique to great effect my last two bakes, but I noticed something peculiar happens on some loaves, sometimes. The loaves in question will appear to rise just fine, but when I remove the steam I they continue to rise and “crack.” That is, they will no longer release the strain of the oven spring through the score like the loaf right next to it, but instead just burst. Any idea why this might happen? I’d never seen it before I started cooking on stones.

    My theories are 1) (the simplest) they aren’t finished rising yet. I, of course, have no way of knowing this. It’s strange that that loaf right next to it will be fine. My oven is kinda crappy so maybe the distribution of heat is just complete crap as well, thus causing one loaf to rise faster than the other. I could always give them more time, and in theory as long as there is a proper amount of steam it shouldn’t really matter, right?

    2) My shaping job on one isn’t as great as the other. (this is extremely possible as well)

    Maybe it’s both! It’s probably both. Either way, I really love the crust this method produces. Super thin and crackly. I find it’s an immense improvement over the dutch oven (which I now suspect doesn’t have a great seal).

    Thanks!
    Mike

    • Thanks, Mike! Glad this method is working out well for you. I’ve used it many, many times now with great results. Even better if you can find all those vent holes in your oven and cover them 🙂

      I sometimes get a “crack” as well. My theory on these is that you have great rise in the loaf but perhaps your scoring isn’t sufficient enough to allow the bread to bloom to its max potential. It pushes hard against areas that have no release, the outer crust is hardening as the bake progress and then eventually a crack emerges. I don’t think a crack is a bad thing at all and I’ll typically get one near the top or bottom of my batard.

      Shaping could also play a role, as you suggested. No one is perfect at this 🙂

      I agree, I get such a nice and thin crust it’s incredible. I too have suspected for a long while the Dutch oven does not get a full seal! I almost always bake this way at this point, but I still dream of a proper baker’s oven at home…

      Cheers!

  • Matt Delay

    Maurizio, I have ordered the extra thick baking stones, the lava rocks arrived today. I will work up to doing two loaves at once as you demonstrate, but how do you plan to get 4 in at once? Maybe two running north to south and two east to west? What shape loaves and would these be full sized?

    As others have mentioned, this is a fantastic write up. By the way, I’m in Portland, OR. If you want a loaf of Ken’s (Ken Forkish’s bread is a life changing experience for those who don’t know him) just say the word and it’s done.

    Thanks for everything,

    Matt

    • Matt, excellent! I plan on doing 4 loaves by actually adding in a second shelf in my oven. I will have to remove the top stone, or rather flip it around. It will be very, very tight in there, but I should be able to get it to work.

      I envy you out there in PDX! My brother lives up there and he really, really enjoys it. I’ve had Ken’s bread (and pizza) and it’s superb. Thanks for the shipping offer, I appreciate that. My brother acts as a “mule” when he comes to visit with his back stuffed full of bread and other items from out there 🙂

      You’re welcome, thanks for the comments!

  • Anilitty A S

    hello Maurizio, wonderful recipes and tempting photographs..im going through your photographs again and again from last week..cant resist it.. i have an OTG oven of 16 liters capacity. can i use it to bake breads with steam?..or should i just bake it without steam?,this oven is very compact..and can i halve the recipe for levain and dough?..if it should be changed how can i do that without changing the texture?

    • Thanks so much, I appreciate that!
      You should bake with steam, bread requires some at the start to ensure a nice and lofty rise. I’m not familiar with your oven but you should be able to generate enough steam in there as long as it is relatively sealed. My oven doesn’t have a full seal but using the method above I’m able to generate plenty to get a nice rise.

      Yes, you can halve the recipe with no problem. Just take everything and literally reduce it by 50% and you will attain the same results.

      Let me know if you have any other issues and happy baking Anilitty!

      • Anilitty A S

        thanks for your replay..by the way im from India and OTG(oven toaster grill) ovens are quite popular here…i just bought an another otg with convection mode of 33 liters capacity and it is perfect for your kind of baking..no one here in India makes sourdough breads from my knowledge..too bad for people like me..:(.. i had been searching for recipes like yours for a very long time..thanks again for the inspiration..keep baking

        • Ahh yes, I know what oven you are using. It should work! You’re very welcome, keep me posted on how it’s going!

  • Chris,
    Thanks for the suggestion, I’ve actually never thought of that. I could see it as a good medium given how dense it would be. Of course I’d have to find clean and sterile sand… I’ll look into that!

  • Emanuel Kand

    HI Maurizio!
    I’ve been into home bread baking now for 3 months… I have 2 sourdoughs, one white flour and whole wheat flour.. Your website information is really helping me to learn and getting better with time. So big thanks for that!
    I purchased the thick baking stone 3 months ago (a working friend suggested it as i even didn’t know about it). We bake everything with it – bread, pizza, cakes and even grilled food.
    My question is about increasing the heat with my home oven (bloomberg)… i know that a baking stone gives it approx. 30 (celcius) degrees more then without it. I am considering now purchasing another thick baking stone…. would it give more heat especialy for pizzas?
    Thanks,
    Emanuel

    • You’re very welcome Emanuel, glad you’re finding my site useful! I would imagine adding more stones would help your oven retain more heat, but I’m not sure it would make it “hotter” overall, if that makes sense.

      Have you used your broiler when making pizza in your home oven? What I do is move my rack up a little higher like if you were to broil. Preheat your stones on your rack as hot as normal (I do 525ºF for 1 hour), then when you are just about to load your pizza turn your broiler on high heat. Your thick baking stones should retain quite a bit of heat (mine get over 500ºF, I use an IR thermometer to test temperature) and then the broiler blasts the pizza from the top with a lot of heat. Works extremely well. Be careful with the broiler though, it can quickly burn your pizza (I’m taking 3-5 minutes bake time) and there might be some splattering depending on what ingredients you’ve topped with.

      Hope that helps!

  • Crazymotherbaker

    You could spray the loaves first and then pour the water over the rocks in order to trap more steam.
    I’ve used lava rocks for 2 years but I recently switched to small (river ?) rocks, 0.5-1 inch diameter (or even smaller – one of the commenter suggested sand – that could work too). I figured the water will heat up and evaporate more efficiently due to larger contact area: it did.

    • Coincidentally I’ve just started doing this! I now spray the loaves quickly first, and then pour in the water, you’re right it’s a better order of operations.

      Very good reiteration, I think river rocks (yes those are the small round ones you can buy) are a great idea and worth a test for me, thanks! I’ll add them to the list of things to pick up, and then washed thoroughly of course 🙂

      Thanks for the comments, really great suggestions — happy baking!

      • TooOldToKnowBetter

        Maurizio,
        I just found your site and REALLY like it. I’ve used a variety of steam generation methods over the years and lately have reverted to a Dutch oven for simplicity 🙂 However, I’ve started researching newer steaming methods for non-boule loaves.

        Here is one from Bouchon Bakery that I haven’t seen discussed. It appears to generate a TON of steam:
        Hotel Pan: 13x21x3 inches
        River rocks: 9-10 pounds, golf ball size or smaller
        Metal Chain link: 10 feet (links appear to be 1/4″ thick) threaded among the rocks
        Super Soaker water gun: Needs to deliver about 350g/1-1/2 cups of water from far enough away that the steam doesn’t burn you. (Wear long protective gloves if you are concerned about burns).

        They say that there is tremendous thermal mass (I’ll say!) and it produces a lot of steam.

        Any comments on this?

        BTW – you might want to reemphasize putting a HEAVY towel over the oven door’s glass. I used a thin one once and a small amount of water cracked the glass! The manufacturer’s replacement part was ridiculously expensive. I replaced it with borosilicate glass I sourced from a local glass company at a fraction of the cost – and I don’t have to worry about breaking it.

        • Thank you! That is a fantastic idea, especially the pan with river rocks — might even be better than lava. I think, though, that method might even generate too much steam, if that’s possible. My method here, which I still use, works so well that even with other things I’ve tried I still come back to this. That said, changing the pan to river rocks might be a really great modification. Either way!

          Sorry to hear about your glass! Yes I’ve always been very worried about this and it is a concern. The glass on my oven seems to be extremely strong because I have seen some water accidentally splash on there with no ill effect — thankfully. I’ll definitely be switching to a thick towel, though!

          Thanks so much for the comments and these recommendations!

  • I really like the lava rock method. I’ve been using it now for quite a while to great success. Yes, the Dutch oven is a very good tool to have around! Not only do I use it for certain round shaped loaves I like to use it for all sorts of things in the kitchen — a very versatile pan.

    I actually plan to do some traditional Italian breads soon! I recently stumbled on a really, really old cookbook my Dad had that has some really interesting recipes (including Altamura style bread). Stay tuned 🙂 Sounds like you did Puglia the right way!

    Glad you’re enjoying my site, thanks so much for the comments!

  • Evren Bingøl

    I have done all that but you still end up getting a thick crust. Do you think there is a way to make the crust thinner? Yet a lot of maillard.

    • Are you baking your bread at a high enough temperature, for the times listed in my post above? If you bake a higher temperature, for a shorter period, and your oven has sufficient steam you should get a nice thin crust.

  • Chris

    If you don’t have rocks can you still use your skillet as a steam pan? Or will this ruin the seasoning of your skillet?

    • Sure, you can definitely just use your pan without the rocks. Over time you’ll want to oil or season your skillet because, yes, the water will eventually cause your pan to rust. I will oil mine periodically to keep that nice seasoned layer on top.

  • Joan Gumowitz Matthews

    I’ve had great success with everything in Tartine Bread, including the sourdough croissant recipe. To achieve steam I use a Dutch oven technique with various shapes of covered cast iron or stoneware pots. I recently decided to order a Wolf combi steam oven. Because the bread baking mode settings are proprietary, there is no way to know the temperature and % humidity. The oven instructions also say not to preheat(!!) – which makes me think the process is nothing like a commercial steam injected oven. Has anyone tried baking Tartine sourdough bread in a Wolf combi steam oven? Gaggenau or any other brand? Have the results been as good as in a Dutch oven?

    • That oven sounds awesome, but no preheat? That’s very, very odd! I don’t have any experience with any of those ovens (although I’d love to have any of them :)) so I can’t comment, sorry! Hopefully someone else chimes in…

    • Paul Tudor

      I use (unused by dogs ) stainless Steel dog bowls as cloches to keep the steam around the baking dough for the first part of the bake as per the Tartine method. Bread cloches were around long before Tartine published his book.

  • Daniel Fosk

    Thanks you very much for all the tips and share your experiences.

    Same Day please make tutorial videos.
    Best Regards from Santiago, Chile.

    • You’re very welcome! I’m definitely working on videos!

  • Rodney Ferris

    Speaking of steam, when you set up your oven with all that steam, be careful opening the door for the first time! I got the most painful facial of my life one morning. It gives whole new meaning to the word: facial peel! Just sayin’.

    • Absolutely true statement there! Steam burns hurt, as I said in the post 🙂

  • Kim Yost

    This is sure to work, but the method described in “Tartine” is far simpler. He says to place two or three soaked rags on a rimmed baking sheet and put it on the bottom rack while preheating.
    unless you are baking more than two loaves at a time, anything more may be unnecessary.

    great blog by the way.

    • Thanks Kim, appreciate the kind words and the comments!

      Yes this method may be overkill for some people, for me it produces ample steam to get my loaves up — it could be that my oven vents more than usual, or the interior is larger than most home ovens and thus the need for a bit more steam. I’ve played with just the towels and it works, but the pan with rocks helps out quite a bit for me.

      Happy baking!

  • OgitheYogi

    Can you do this in a gas oven?

    • Hello! I’ve never baked my bread in a gas oven, but I do know because they have vents inside it is harder to keep the steam generated inside the oven cavity. I would say this would work but perhaps not quite as effective as it is in an electric oven. Give it a shot and see if the rise of your bread is comparable to something like baking in a Dutch oven (a sealed pot). Hope that helps!

  • Paul Tudor

    Use a baking cloche. Cover the bread with a bowel for the first 25 minutes at as hot as your oven will go 230 degrees Centigrade for my oven . Then for the last 25 minutes turn heat down to 190 degress Centigrade and remove the cloche/cover. Saves all this messing about. I actually use stainless steel dog bowls as the cloche/cover (Unused by dogs of course). Bake straight on a thick baking Stone. I also prove the dough on non stick baking parchment and transfer the dough into the oven on the parchment saves a lot of messing about.

    • Yes, cloches work very, very well and have been around for quite a while. Much easier also! The reason I steam my oven this was is I’m baking 2 (and up to 4) loaves at a time, and the loaves are usually in batard shape so they won’t fit easily in my Dutch oven or even a large cloche. All depends on the bread you’re baking, I suppose. I’d say this method I have here works just as well as a cloche / Dutch oven.

      Thanks for the comments!

  • maccompatible

    Okay, so I’ve tried a bunch of things recently since I decided to stop baking in the dutch oven, but I still can’t figure out how to get the entire crust (top and bottom) evenly cooked. My oven has an element on the top and bottom, and it seems like one always wins. My first attempt was on a round pizza stone with nothing above my bread. I removed the loaves when the top looked nice, but noticed the bottom didn’t cook nearly as much.. My second attempt was making a pan loaf with the top covered (as this post recommends) but nothing between the pan and the element. The bread that was touching the pan burned by the time the top was dark enough. Then I upgraded my stone to a baking steel (the normal one, not the thicker modernist cuisine one like you have). This time, I covered the top element and cooked until the top of the loaves looked nice, but the bottom burned! Any advice on how I can make sure the outside of my loaves cook evenly?

    • It’s always a constant battle to get loaves to cook completely evenly in a home oven. Usually mine will have a slightly more cooked bottom than top, but I’m ok with that. The baking stone on the top should help dissipate some of the heat generated by your top elements so they don’t overheat the top too fast. To prevent the bottom from cooking too fast you can reduce your preheat time so the Baking Steel doesn’t have quite the same amount of stored up heat. Additionally, you could raise up the bottom Baking Steel so it’s not so close to the heating element. And one more idea: you could coat the bottom of your dough with something to help burning, like coarse cornmeal or bran/germ.

      So in the end it’s going to be a juggle for you to find just the right sequence of events to get things to bake evenly. I’d recommend raising the Baking Steel one rung, lower the preheat by say 15 mins (or whatever is best) and then keep that top baking stone to help dissipate the direct heat from the top element.

      Keep in mind that when your oven is actively heating (trying to reach the temperature you’ve input) the elements will be on and red hot, so you might have to turn the oven down in temperature once the internal cavity reaches the desired temperature. This way they won’t activate but you will still have plenty of heat stored in your steel and stones.

      Sorry I don’t have a 100% definitive answer to get your bread to bake evenly! I am constantly turning, moving and juggling things in my oven to keep things as consistent as possible — it’s not easy sometimes 🙂

      I hope these ideas help!

  • uaeute

    Great post. Thanks for the info. The reason I found it… I’m considering buying my wife a Roller Grill and am debating between models with or without humidity injection. Is bread the only baking use for humidity? She’s more into muffins, cakes, etc but with proper tools I’d love some sourdough! 😉 Is it worth the upgrade?

    Also, we don’t have any other oven in our house. Baking would be the primary function and an occasional steak or roasted veggies.

    Any advice? Thanks!
    JB

    • You’re welcome, thanks for the kind words! I’ve never used my oven, steamed, for anything other than baking bread but I do know some of these “steaming ovens” can be used to cook vegetables with steam to keep them moist. I’m not too familiar with this, but if I were to buy an oven that had steam injection I’d want to make sure I have control over when, and how long, steam is injected into the oven. You want to steam your baking dough for some time in the beginning but then stop after a while. The other benefit I could see to buying an oven that has steam injection is it would most likely be completely sealed, meaning no steam would escape the cavity — this would be fantastic.

      In the end I’d say it’s up to you! Personally I would have bought a steam oven for my house if there was a model that was large enough and let me precisely control the amount and duration of steam injected — I wasn’t able to find an oven like this at a reasonable price.

      Hope that helps!

  • Tim McKay

    This is great info! I’ve been having issues getting my bread to have thick, dark crusts. I use a cast iron pan on the lowest shelf and the baking stone right above it. I’m wondering if I should either raise my stone up (it seems like the steam just hits the bottom of my stone and has no where to go) or, put my steam pan above the baking stone? My stone is also quite large and takes up most of the rack space. There is 1-2 inches of space on either side, and I can see steam escaping the oven so I know it’s in there. I’m curious to see if the steam would distribute more evenly. Any thoughts on the best place to put the steam pot, or if people have had success with it above the bread? I also have an electric oven…would that play a role in how it affects my bread?

    • I also use an electric oven and in fact I think they are better than gas because gas ovens usually have an internal vent of some kind, which will cause steam loss.

      I put my steaming pans to the sides of my baking stone (or baking steel) so the steam can kind of get funneled up around and to the top of the oven. As long as your bread is rising well in the oven then I’d say you have plenty of steam in there to allow it to expand at the beginning of the bake. If you’re more concerned with the color and cook level of the crust there might be other issues at play here instead of the steam. To get more color on your crust make sure you’re preheating your oven at a very high temp (like 525F or 550F) for a full hour to get your baking stones nice and hot. When you load your dough try to act as quick as possible to prevent too much heat loss. Bake your dough hot for the first 20 minutes — you could wait to turn the oven heat down to 450ºF until even 30 to 40 minutes into the bake to try and really bake that crust. Keep an eye on it, though, as it can quickly scorch.

      Finally one thing you could play with is purchasing another baking stone to place above your loaves as I’ve done in this post. That might help retain some top heat in your oven and radiate it downwards as you bake. I’d only do this as a last resort if you don’t already own a second baking stone (I hate buying excess equipment!).

      Let me know how it goes or if you’ve made any progress! Happy baking 🙂

  • Richard Madigan

    Thanks very much for your work on this site! My girlfriend and i have been having a blast learning how to care for our starter (practice child?) and getting used to the quirks of our oven.

    I’d like to try to bake wood-fired loaves on my Weber Kettle. I have the Dough Joe stones, a Lodge pan that I already use as a drip/water pan when I smoke or slow roast meats, lava rocks to put in the Lodge, and a spritz bottle. I’m good at controlling the temp using the top and bottom dampers on the grill. I figure I can spritz through the holes in the top damper to compensate for the steam that will escape through them.

    Do you think I’m missing or overlooking anything?

    Thanks for any suggestions you can offer!

    • Right on, so glad to hear you guys are enjoying my site! Your sourdough starter is totally a child of love 🙂

      I think that would be an awesome thing to try! I’d say just be careful with spritzing in the holes as some steam might come back at ya there, but I’m sure you’ve thought of that. As long as you can maintain a somewhat closed oven and get steam in there during the first part things should go very well!

      Another thing is you could just use your Dutch oven inside the kettle, both bottom and top to enclose the dough during the first part of the bake for steam and then remove the lid for the last part. You won’t get quite as much “wood fired” taste I’d guess but if you find you’re not able to generate enough steam this might help.

      Let me know how it goes! Jealous of that Kettle, been meaning to get one just haven’t made the leap 🙂

  • Rachel

    Hi! Love your blog. I bought a Baking Steel (the thick one) and I’m going to use it for the first time tomorrow morning – will be the first time I’ve ever not used a Dutch oven.

    Do you now use a Baking Steel in place of refractory bricks? Either way it would be a good subject for a blog post!

    Could you put the lava rocks and the rolled up dish towels in the same baking tray? Or would the rocks scorch the towels?

    PS. I bought a KoMo after reading your post but sadly the grains I bought to mill (organic, UK grown) have very little strength and result in a close textured loaf. Going to search elsewhere – do you have any tips about what to look for? Protein percentage etc?

    Thanks so much!

    • Sorry for the late reply! Yes, I use the steel instead of the bricks, they are removed altogether. I agree, a blog post on how I use the steel and any updates to my method is due! Not too much has changed, though, just the swap for the steel instead of the bricks. They both work well, though!

      I would not put the towels in with the rocks, it would defeat the purpose of the rocks. They were there to store additional heat so when the ice is thrown on them massive steam is created. The towels provide a consistent steaming throughout.

      Congrats on the KoMo! Fantastic mills. Hard to say on what to look for exactly with grain, it depends on what you’re after. In general look for grain that claims a protein from 11% – 13% (you could go higher but any lower and it’s more like pastry flour).

      Hope that helps — happy baking Rachel!

  • Brett Fielder

    So I tried this technique and it worked pretty well but I just had one or two questions: is there a particular amount of boiling water the report over the rags in the roasting pan they need to be completely saturated or just enough to cover all the rags? Also I use your sourdough recipe that I took my load out of the fridge about an hour before baking, but it seemed to flatten out a little bit initially in the oven. Would it be beneficial to leave the loaf in the fridge until right before scoring and baking?

    • I boil enough water to completely soak the towels in my pan. I’m not sure exactly how much water as I just fill my kettle, boil the water, and pour until I notice the towels are totally drenched.

      I do like to leave my dough in the fridge until right before baking: take the dough out, score it and load it directly into the hot oven with towels already steaming (be careful).

      Hope this help!

  • dirndl kitchen

    This was very helpful! I just bought the book by Ken Forkish and I do not have a dutch oven and was wondering what a good alternative method would be. Now I will try this instead… Thank you!

    • Right on, glad to hear it! I still use this method almost every day when I bake and it works very well 🙂

      • dirndl kitchen

        Baked my first loaf today (60% white wheat, 20% rye, 20% spelt, added pumpkin seeds). I let it got a little too dark in color and didn’t think to score the bâtard… so it was a little dark and funky shaped… but hey, not bad for a start! I will keep trying! Thanks again!

        • Cool! Well, each loaf does have its own style and character 🙂 Keep at it, happy baking!

  • Matt Duhe

    I’ve heard that you are really not supposed to let your baking stone get wet. Would the steam not possibly damage the stone? I just purchased my stone and I am getting ready to use it for the first time!
    Thank You

    • I have not personally had this happen to me, but I could see really cold water splashed onto the stone causing issue (anytime really cold liquid touches anything really hot there is a possibility of a crack). I think since I’m not pouring water directly on the stone I haven’t had any issues — use caution, though!