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Oven spring and a crisp crust on bread are largely due to high heat and high humidity. Commercial bakery ovens have steam injectors. How can I replicate this high humidity environment in my home oven? I've tried spritzing and ice cubes and neither really work. Pouring hot water in a hot pan is better but is still severely lacking.

Is there a way the home baker can replicate with without laying out a lot of money for a commercial oven?

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Check your oven for leaks. Many modern ovens leak huge amounts of hot air (and therefore steam) as part of their thermal design –  TFD Feb 23 '12 at 5:02
    
Ya, I noticed yesterday that my door doesn't seal well - is that something you can fix? –  rfusca Feb 23 '12 at 5:12
    
Not easily if it is a design flaw. A test is to fill the gaps with high temp silicone sealant. Line the door edges with foil. Lay a smooth bead of silicone on the oven frame where you think there are gaps between the frame and door. Gently close the door and let it set. The first time you heat the oven up it may stink! Test with same recipe and see if it improves –  TFD Feb 23 '12 at 6:18
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5 Answers 5

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Ok, I'll play along. ;) The moist, hot environment improves oven spring by transferring heat more rapidly to the dough (moist air is more thermally conductive than dry air), keeping the dough surface from drying out and getting stiff. It improves crust quality by gelatinizing the starches on the surface of the dough, causing them to brown better, and form a more distinct "crust", rather than just a skin of browner bread.

To get more steam in your oven, in addition to the simple methods you noted, spritzing and pans of hot water, you can:

  • Bake inside a vessel like a dutch oven preheated in the oven. Gives both thermal mass for browning, and traps naturally produced steam around the bread. Remove the lid for the last 10 minutes of baking.
  • Cover the baking bread with a large bowl or pan for the first 10-15 minutes of the bake to trap naturally released steam.
  • Use one of several commercial steam injection kits (most look like a steam cleaner that allows you to blast some steam manually into the oven when loading).
  • Build your own steam injector, like this handy baker. The gist is that they use a pressure cooker with a flexible metal hose attached to an output port and directed into the oven. Boiling water in the pressure cooker produces steam. Pre-steaming the oven for 10 minutes before baking and for the first portion of the bake produces impressive results.

In addition to getting more steam in, you can improve the crust and oven spring by using delayed or cold fermentation, which creates more sugars (better browning), and more extensible dough (better oven spring).

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+1 The dutch oven is the simple answer. Long and cold fermentation is the real answer. Our instant world has killed off the traditional processes; bread takes time, not work –  TFD Feb 23 '12 at 5:01
    
I doubt that the naturally released steam is enough for the effect @rfusca wants to achieve. Especially seeing that he wants it for crust-setting, which happens early in the baking, before the inside has reached steaming temperature. –  rumtscho Feb 23 '12 at 13:53
    
@rumtscho - it actually is plenty and works quite well. –  rfusca Feb 23 '12 at 15:12
    
I have good luck with the dutch oven method. The heat storage helps a lot with the initial spring and release of steam. The downside is that you are stuck with only certain bread shapes, and you have a longer pre-heat. –  Sam Ley Feb 23 '12 at 16:31
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What I built today - sphotos.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash4/… –  rfusca Feb 26 '12 at 21:43
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I put a cup of hot water into a shallow pan in the preheated oven at the same time that I put the bread dough in. (The bread is on a pizza stone on one rack, and the pan is on a rack below that, and both the stone and the pan are in the oven during the preheat.) This is working great. Wear an oven mitt when you pour the water, because it boils when it hits the hot pan.

I have very hard water and am thinking of using a sacrificial foil pan for this, because scale is accumulating on the broiler pan I've been using.

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Unrelated to the bread part, but I have very hard water too (kettle gets scale from 1 use) and started using a filtering jug for drinking/cooking water. I can recommend it, it is like using bottled water, but many times cheaper. The mineral deposits build up much slower, so you won't have to assign a pan to evaporation duty only. –  rumtscho Feb 23 '12 at 13:56
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The other answers are excellent. I just want to say, be very careful adding water/ice to your oven. You can get steam burns very quickly, warp the oven sides and bottom, crack or break the glass in the door. I use a "la cloche", but care also needs to be taken. They are subject to thermal shock, and removing a very hot cover that has a small handle can be a hazard. In the past I ran a couple feet of copper tubing into the bottom of the oven, and just after placing the dough in the oven, I used a baster to inject water into the cool end of the tubing that came through the top edge of the door. This can also burn.

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Use the nozzle from an espresso machine with a steam wand. Remove the burner element from above the oven vent, usually the back right, and leave the reflector, Fire up the espresso machine right before you are ready to put the bread into the oven, aim the steam wand into the vent (you can slide a piece of heat-proof silicone tubing over the wand to make it go into the oven just a little if you want. I don't. Put your bread in the oven, turn the espresso machine to "steam" and shoot the steam into the oven for about 1 minute. Perfection.

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I use the method described in the Tartine cookbooks. I soak 3 dish towels in water and put them in a cookie sheet. As I preheat the oven to 500 degrees they release a lot of steam. And during the first 15 minutes of baking I keep them in the oven. Sometimes adding water. After 15 minutes take them out. This has worked better for me then the spray bottle on the side of the oven, or dumping water into a hot pan. I've known people to break baking stones and other ceramics with spray bottles. My oven leaks as well but the dish towels keep a nice steady flow going.

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