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I just tried a recipe for bread that suggests baking it in the oven a casserole pot with a lid (Dutch oven?)
Suddenly I have a loaf with a wonderful crust which I have never managed to do with an oven or bread machine.

I'm guessing it's something to do with moisture levels - any idea why having more humidity should produce a crust? You would think that humidity would make the bread soggier.

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Professional bread makers use ovens that add steam. It is often recommended that you spray your bread with water before cooking or that you add a small tray of water to the oven to get similar results. I know this doesn't answer your question for why; I just wanted to point out that it is common to increase humidity to get better bread. –  michael Feb 9 '11 at 4:18
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A way of adding steam is to drop a some ice cubes in the oven when the bread goes in. Just put them in a tray below the bread. –  Erno Feb 9 '11 at 9:12
    
Maybe the crust of your bread maybe never got hot enough. The sugars in the crust caramelize at approximately 325F. –  citadelgrad Feb 9 '11 at 15:06

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

The steam should only be used for the first part of baking. Recipes vary in opinion on how long it's best to have this steam, but the range I've seen is usually 10-30 minutes. The moist baking environment allows the outer layer of dough to remain stretchy so that you maximize "oven spring" in the first part of baking. Steaming the dough also causes the starches on this outer layer to gelatinize, which is what leads to the crispy and nicely browned crust. If you continue to steam through the whole baking process, this layer will not have a chance to dry out, which is what's required for it to brown and crisp up.

This article has lots of information on how to achieve a good crust.

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Yes the recipe was to leave the lid on for the first 25mins then remove it. –  Martin Beckett Feb 9 '11 at 16:56

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