Baking better bread with steam

It’s not often we see a build that turns you into a better cook without any electronics whatsoever. [Chris]‘s method of baking better bread with steam is one of those builds, and we’re more than willing to test it out on our own.

If you’ve ever tried to bake bread at home, you’ll quickly notice the crust is much thicker and harder than a loaf available at a bakery. The thickness of the crust can be controlled, however, with a careful application of steam. To make a better crust, [Chris] used a pressure cooker fitted with a valve to inject steam into an oven through his oven’s exhaust. Not only does this gelatinate the starches in the bread crust, but it keeps this gelatin from hardening too quickly.

The end result is a thin, golden brown crust that makes for the perfect loaf of bread. Of course, the proper application of steam does take a little bit of practice. If someone is up to the task of Arduinofying this hack with a few solenoid valves, PID sensors, and a high-temperature humidity sensor, send it in and we’ll put it up.

Comments

  1. Kaj says:

    That guy needs some custom-branded VALVe bread bags.

  2. just me... says:

    You could just put a bowl of water in the oven… Works like a charm…

  3. just me... says:

    Oh and thanks for this “different” genre of hacks :)

  4. rfusca says:

    Bowl of water in the oven really doesn’t work nearly as well. It’s mentioned in the article. It doesn’t generate near the amount of steam, doesn’t recover well when the door opens, generally doesn’t output fast enough, and robs your oven of additional heat that good bread needs. People only think a bowl of water works till you try direct steam.

    • Renee says:

      I was under the impression from the article that steam pans are a pain to get the right setup, not that they don’t work.

      That and it was mentioned that dutch ovens are “great” for that, the only downside being if you don’t want dutch oven shaped bread.

      I get that it’s important to read the articles if you want to have worthwhile discussions but I feel like HAD comments are slipping back to their STFU days.

      • rfusca says:

        Well the article didn’t go in depth about alternate methods because it wasn’t really the point, but steam pans work ‘ok’. But even at their best (high surface area, preheated lava rocks, boiling water, etc) – they’re still just trying to do what is being directly injected here.

        You can steam bread too long and that’s one of the bigger downsides to steam pans – taking a big pan of boiling water out of a hot oven or trying to get the water volume ‘just right’.

      • Chris C. says:

        Agreed.

        If a dutch oven works “great” except for the shape, and is just a covered container, then the simplest solution is to find another covered container that has a desirable shape.

        No need to get complicated unless it just appeals to you. Or reject lower-tech methods, even if they do require a little practice.

        I used to be seriously into sous vide cooking. The absolute control and technical nature did appeal to me, and I made some amazing food. Until I figured out that 99% of the improvement was from slow, low temperature cooking. Cooking at exactly the target temperature, or cook times spanning days, just aren’t required.

        I now get the same results and repeatability in the oven or on the grill, simply by cooking at lower temperatures; and using no other equipment than a little remote readout temperature probe stuck in the meat to tell me when it’s done.

        And I’m happier now that I don’t have to store, drag out, fill, and drain a big heavy recirculating water bath. Similarly, I’d rather have delicious dutch oven-shaped bread, than have to deal with a modified pressure cooker steam rig.

    • spike says:

      1) you don’t open the oven door when baking bread (or a souffle).

      2) if you pre-heat your oven properly, you won’t be ‘stealing’ any heat from the baking process.

      3) compared to the ease of adding boiling water to the pan when inserting the bread, this hack seem like overkill; i doubt the results are that much better.

    • Whatnot says:

      Perhaps a better delivery system than a bowl can be put in the oven, like a closed bowl with a spout above the bread for instance, so you get steam directed at the right spot but keep the simplicity of a single appliance

  5. Nick Short says:

    PID controller?

  6. justice099 says:

    If someone “arduinofies” this, I suggest doing it with a breadmaker. Obviously would be more interesting and contained.

    I am on a bread abstinence diet right now. So I can’t try it for a few months, but very interested.

  7. barryronaldo says:

    Man I am all for this. There seems to be a contest between bakeries to see who can feed actual treebark to consumers and call it artisan. There is usually only a 1cm tube of doughy substance to eat in many bakery loaves. A pox on all hard crust bread makers. Ducks don’t like it either.

  8. Pagey says:

    This method is/was common practice. I remember back in the early 90’s when I was working in a bakery, the bakers taking a small jug of cold water, opening the oven door and pretty much chucking it in just on the inside edge of the oven itself, produced loads of steam. I remember the bread being lovely, the crust was awesome. I think modern commercial ovens actually being able to inject steam into the oven. I don’t think there is a strict rule of how much and when, I think it just comes with experience.

    • Roklobsta says:

      Er, The Bread Makers Apprentice also suggest a tray of boiling water PLUS spraying water onto the oven walls several times over a few minutes. Works for me! I keep getting accolades on my bread. My old steamless bread machine is rotting slowly in the cupboard.

      • rfusca says:

        BBA is a great book. Piping it in is just much easier and consistent than the tray and spray – plus you’re not trying to get boiling in and out of the oven.

      • justice099 says:

        That’s a great point, actually. Is there really a need for a separate steam source? What about a system that just sprays water into the oven to produce the steam? Or is the idea to produce pressurized steam? Either way, you already have a heat source inside the oven or breadmaker. Why not just use that?

      • Sobachatina says:

        @justice099 This style of bread requires short baking times and high temperatures. Just spraying in water cools down the oven. It works but it isn’t ideal.

  9. http://www.cookingwithcrack.com/bread/steam/index.html

    I email this to my brother back in January, so I know it was on the web first.

    You have to click through in the blog to another page, but eventually you get to the commenter (Sam Ley) who links back to the above site author. No guarantee though that this author didn’t ripoff the idea from someone else.

    If I had seen farther, is was by standing on the shoulders of giants who I will refuse to credit in my blog :-P

  10. aztraph says:

    C’mon people! Baking the perfect loaf of bread just takes practice, take notes, make changes, document the results. sure it takes a lot of flour, and you’ll gain a few pounds for sure, but doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a computer programmer, just someone who can follow through. http://www.cad-comic.com/cad/20060218

    • Roklobsta says:

      Yeah, I agree. Since I started making bread I have gained a few kilos and get up at 3am to dip my crusty creations in balsamic vinegar and olive oil….

  11. kawak says:

    I bake a couple loaves a week. I preheat a cast iron skillet (or just heat it up with the oven if doing a hot oven bake), and throw a bunch of ice cubes on the skillet after inserting the loaf.

    if you are worried about heat/temp recovery, just stop opening the door.

  12. Hirudinea says:

    Why use a pressure cooker to supply steam? Wouldn’t a kettle work just as well? And this seems to supply continuous steam unless your riding the heating element all the time, it could be automated by measuring the humidity with a sensor and having an arduino (those are mandatory for hacks on here aren’t they) controling the heating element (this was done on an electric stove so I assume it could be done), then you have automatic steam control and tasty, lazy bread.

  13. Oliver Heaviside says:

    I must be the only guy that does this.
    I have a can that once held tomato soup. It has 3 largish nail holes on one side of the top, and one hole on the other.

    I push it into the sink, let the air out, and the water in – about 1/2 full. Then it goes into the oven a bit before the bread goes in.

    It spits a bit, but the humidity stays plenty high. The solder has yet to melt.

    But to tell the truth, as much as I like a tangy sourdough, I’m kind of over the whole tough resilient crust thing…

    Instead, I’m trying as hard as possible to duplicate the culinary and physical properties of 1970’s vintage wonder bread.

    It’s so hard to get the fine consistent grain pattern and the bland non-competing taste without gas bubbles; for the first time I can see the importance of silicon dioxide and the various additives that allow bread to stay “fresh” for three to four weeks.

    I’m not quite there yet with mold inhibitors, but the field of micro gastronomy is filled with interesting projects to pursue. If I can finish this, I shall try to recreate little debbie snacks – how on earth do they get those suckers to remain solid at room temperature? They’re basically corn syrup emulsions and flavor.

    • Chris C. says:

      Heh. I always enjoy reading your posts.

      Since reading about the *instant* rise bread recently (I think it was on Make Blog), I’ve wondered if the companies making stuff like Wonder Bread rely on shortcuts like carbonating the dough with pressurized CO2.

      And as for the Little Debbie snacks, I only half-jokingly think they’re more of a polymer than a foodstuff. Heck, even the golden brown bottom on Twinkies isn’t from baking, but painted on afterwards.

    • Chris C. says:

      Oh, I forgot to mention. I recall seeing a DIY breadbox with a germicidal UV-C lamp some years back, which successfully inhibited mold in home baked bread. Seems like something you might appreciate. :)

      • Oliver Heaviside says:

        There are a number of interesting ways to leaven bread – and only a few of them involve yeasts.

        Sodium bicarbonate churns out CO2 like gangbusters after you reach ~80 celsius, but we’ve used it for a long time under the name baking soda. It needs an acid of some kind to get jiggy, which is why baking powder is so popular – it’s baking soda + acid, I think tartaric or some phosphate.

        But that’s boring.
        There was an english company that made bread and baked goods for over a century using concentrated seltzer water, flour and a touch of whitening – by spraying the seltzer (well, carbonic acid infused water, same thing) into the flower and mixing it mechanically to produce the very first high speed bread – with texture not unlike that in a hostess twinkie, which is produced by the same methods.

        It was called the Aerated Bread Company, and it was the bee’s knees until modern production line bread companies were stablished in the 50’s.

        Fun fact – all those excellent loafs of french bread baked fresh each day in the bakeries of paris… they all come from frozen production dough lines, hence the consistency in baguettes.

        The french pain, it is all mechanical.

      • vic says:

        @Oliver Heaviside : I’m Parisian so I just have to set this straight: bakeries all make their bread themselves from flour and water. Using frozen dough is out of the question. In fact it’s illegal to call yourself a “Boulangerie” if you don’t mix the dough, let it ferment, cook it, and sell it in the same place.

        Here, I feel better now :-)

    • Oliver Heaviside says:

      Vic,
      quelle arrondisement? j’habit (quelquefois, apres 911 et les frites freedom) prochaine la Quartier du Combat, et peut etre c’est pas normal, mais je pense c’est le mode du jour pour “convenience”.

      a la prochaine.

  14. Tom the Brat says:

    hehe

    I take issue with local bakers, “These are not ‘hard rolls;’ these are ‘hamburger buns.'”

    I expect their in store bakery equipment automatically steams it.

  15. andsetinn says:

    When I was working in repairing restaurant kitchen appliance, some 20 odd years ago, some professional ovens had water injection system that would blow mist into the oven. Usually for few seconds about 1/2-1 hour before the bread was fully baked.
    The problem with opening the oven, inserting bowl of water, and closing it again is that (depending on what you’re baking)the crust may fall.

  16. LARRY says:

    Worked in an industrial bakery for a number of years. Industrial line and tray ovens do have a provision for steam injection although it is only used for specialty products. The thin soft crust is made by a number of factors very closely controlled.
    1.Oven design. heating elements are not in the bake chamber but heat a refractory that cooks the bread by radiant heat. Temperatures are zoned and vary from room temp to as high as 900 degrees F. The product is moved through the zones baking time 5-20 min depending on product. Unlike home oven the oven is not ventilated.
    2. Fat and sugar content of the dough.
    3. Rising and proofing. The bread rises in a proof box at between 90-115 degrees F and 100% humidity. The surface of the bread is saturated when it goes into the oven.
    4.Cooling/bagging The bread is cooled in high humidity and bagged at once.

    If you do a lot of baking you might consider getting an old Chambers gas stove. The oven has a cast iron liner that you preheat you then turn the oven off which closes the dampers sealing the oven. Temp recovery is very fast and baking times about 1/2 regular oven. They show up on e-bay from time to time. hope this helps

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