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[Ba]king [Br]ead
May 8, 2014 6:47 PM   Subscribe

Maybe you've tried a pan full of water. Maybe you've tried to find some way to hack up one of those Steam Shark things. Maybe you just open the door and spray. Those days are over, because the best way to get your oven good and steamy to keep your bread crusts thin and crisp has been discovered, it doesn't require anything you won't almost certainly already have around, and it's dead simple.
posted by DoctorFedora (53 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh! I thought those were just gross meringues.

Lately I have been baking no-knead bread in a Dutch oven. I get my hands good and wet before I handle the dough on Baking Day, and I throw a fistful of water into the pot before I clap on the lid. Works pretty well.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:52 PM on May 8 [5 favorites]


Was it just me, or was that incredibly incoherent? Like she took 10 really short paragraphs to say "I used hot, wet towels to make the steam."
I will totally try this next time we bake bread though, I've been using a pan of water + misting the sides of the oven.
posted by agentofselection at 6:55 PM on May 8 [34 favorites]


I chuck a couple ice cubes in when I put the loaf in, but I'm a lazy cook and not an anal baker to begin with, so I haven't experimented to optimise steam and have no idea how much good they 're doing
posted by Diablevert at 6:57 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


SylviaH bakes which puts her on my good person list [not that if you don't bake you are excluded]. She didn't mention it but I'm sure when she says towels she means 100% cotton towels.

/being helpful
posted by vapidave at 7:04 PM on May 8 [2 favorites]


Was it just me, or was that incredibly incoherent?

Not just you. It had me scratching my head until I got to the photos.

I've used ice cubes with good success. I guess the advantage of the towels would be slower release of water vapor, over a longer time? I'll give it a try some day.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:10 PM on May 8


The writing itself is admittedly not the greatest, but the content is worthwhile enough (and the thread certainly bears out that it works) that I figured it was worth sharing.
posted by DoctorFedora at 7:11 PM on May 8 [3 favorites]


Thanks for this one weird trick!
posted by entropicamericana at 7:12 PM on May 8 [9 favorites]


Bakers hate her.
posted by flippant at 7:17 PM on May 8 [17 favorites]


One thing in favor of this technique is that it avoids mist getting on the window, which some people says has cracked their oven door window.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:18 PM on May 8


I'm not so sure. I've seen a dry dish towel towel go up in flames in an oven real fast so make sure your towels stay wet.
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:18 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


If you can see it, it's not steam -- it's water vapor.

Her loaves look lovely but her method sounds pretty involved and maybe, depending on the towel, potentially dangerous.

I use the dutch oven method and get excellent results (though not every loaf shape works in a dutch oven, obviously.)
posted by Nerd of the North at 7:20 PM on May 8


What glass door is she talking about when she says she put a towel over the glass door?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:27 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: Not an anal baker.
posted by ryoshu at 7:28 PM on May 8 [4 favorites]


Yeah who knows? Her new shower door?
posted by Flashman at 7:28 PM on May 8 [2 favorites]


The idea of throwing cold water at hot cast iron, or river rocks, or...

It kinda terrifies me. That sounds like a good way to get hot shrapnel in my crotch.

Burning towels? It worries me, but the problem ought to be manageable.
posted by wotsac at 7:34 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


I was under the impression that you only wanted steam at the beginning of the process, not throughout.
posted by tofu_crouton at 7:47 PM on May 8


Thanks for this.

> What glass door is she talking about when she says she put a towel over the glass door?

I think she puts a towel over the oven door while she's pouring more water into the loaf pans inside the oven. Most ovens open down, and an errant drip from your kettle might crack the glass.
posted by drklahn at 7:50 PM on May 8 [2 favorites]


Could someone rewrite this? I get the broad idea: Rolled wet towels in a pan. Are we microwaving towels in one loaf pan then putting them in another? Why? Did I read that we're microwaving water after wet towels are already (and maybe in their second pan?) in the oven? What is that water for? The first step indicates that we're preheating loaf pans with towels in them, yet these same pans receive towels later?

I think it may be this:

1: Preheat oven with empty loaf pans in it.
2: While oven is preheating, roll up towels and place in microwave safe container with water.
3: As oven nears the end of its preheating cycle, heat towels to boiling in microwave.
4: Some time around the point you put the bread in the oven, quickly put hot, wet towels in preheated loaf pans in oven (I am unsure if this done immediately before or after placing bread in oven).
5: Keep an eye on the towels. If it looks like they may be drying or slowing their steam production, heat more water to boiling in the microwave, this can be added to the towels mid-bake to keep steam production up.
posted by sourwookie at 7:55 PM on May 8


I was wondering why she transferred the towels from one loaf pan to another. Why not just move the whole Pyrex shebang from microwave to hot oven? I guess it's perhaps you get a large shot of steam the moment wet towel hits hot dry pan.
posted by sourwookie at 8:06 PM on May 8


Anal bakers specialize in hot buns.
posted by yoink at 8:08 PM on May 8 [5 favorites]


This seems way too complicated. An ovenproof pan or bowl of water put in during the preheat and then left in or taken out works fine. I've made no-knead loaves so moist and steamy that they come out of the oven like cake, and they stay that way on the shelf until consumed.

Granted, the only way they're not consumed within a couple of hours is if I make several loaves. I also live somewhere that is notably damp and well suited for baking bread.

But I will acknowledge that baking bread is like building a HiFi stereo in experimentation, complexity and chasing perfection and diminishing returns. Don't let me stop you from trying this just because I think my bread is practically perfect.
posted by loquacious at 8:11 PM on May 8 [2 favorites]


I thought the role of steam in the oven was to create a crispy-chewy crust, right?
posted by sourwookie at 8:18 PM on May 8 [2 favorites]


I usually use the "throw water into the oven before baking" method, which seems to work ok, I've also tried ice cubes, pans of boiling water, and, yes, damp towels. They all seem to work, but nothing so far matches what you can get from a commercial steam-injected oven. I'm somewhat surprised there isn't a home-kitchen equivalent available. Some sort of heated tube with a water injector should do the trick.
posted by Blackanvil at 8:21 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


Anal bakers specialize in hot buns.

Anal bakers will never have a bun in the oven, though.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:28 PM on May 8 [7 favorites]


They do have plenty of heated tubes and injectors and suchlike, though...
posted by Earthtopus at 8:29 PM on May 8


Nuh uh guise, anal bakers specialise in loaves.

The secret is in the pinch.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 8:33 PM on May 8 [2 favorites]


Man, I could go for some bread right now.
posted by uosuaq at 8:34 PM on May 8 [2 favorites]


Not really seeing how the towels add anything you wouldn't get from a pan of hot water. Some kind of wick effect? Increased surface area?
posted by Segundus at 8:46 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


"This seems way too complicated. An ovenproof pan or bowl of water put in during the preheat and then left in or taken out works fine.
...
I also live somewhere that is notably damp and well suited for baking bread."


Posed and answered.

What Segundus said above. I lived for a time in Winnipeg and the difference in humidity between winter and summer is astounding.

Baking is truly an art.

An art I suck at.
posted by vapidave at 9:05 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


Was it just me, or was that incredibly incoherent? Like she took 10 really short paragraphs to say "I used hot, wet towels to make the steam."

Well, at least it wasn't a dreary 9-minute long Youtube video, like most internet tutorials these days.
posted by Jimbob at 9:13 PM on May 8 [17 favorites]


Not really seeing how the towels add anything you wouldn't get from a pan of hot water. Some kind of wick effect? Increased surface area?

The specific heat of cotton is much lower than water, so perhaps it works because the towel fibers heat relatively easily even when wet, transferring more heat than water would absorb on its own, and as you say have a lot of surface area for water to evaporate from while the porous structure pulls moisture up and out as they start to dry, steadily replenishing the supply and resulting in even vapor release.
posted by clockzero at 10:14 PM on May 8


Lately I have been baking no-knead bread in a Dutch oven. I get my hands good and wet before I handle the dough on Baking Day, and I throw a fistful of water into the pot before I clap on the lid. Works pretty well.

Every time I've made the Jim Lahey/NY Times no-knead Dutch oven bread, it's turned out perfectly without any extra water. Next time, I'll do what you do and see what happens.
posted by Guy Smiley at 10:17 PM on May 8 [5 favorites]


There's nothing wrong with trying innovative ways to get the right amount of moisture to your bread, ways that require no equipment purchase and just a little bit of effort.

There's also nothing wrong with just buying a cloche or two. If you're gonna bake a bunch of bread, it'll pay for itself.
posted by gurple at 10:24 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


I thought the role of steam in the oven was to create a crispy-chewy crust, right?

Sort of, but my understanding is that it's more to prolong the period that the bread can poof as much as it can in the first phase; if the outer side is wetter, it won't crust over as quickly and can expand more. The towels seem to just make the steam happen more slowly, and the modern venting ovens most of us have get rid of the humidity more than they should.

Anyway, there are other methods that work well, but this essentially gets at the same concept, and, hey, good idea.
posted by transient at 10:32 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


I've had such success with the (above mentioned) 'Jim Lahey/NYTimes no-knead bread' (that's its name in my head) that I'm not sure I would bother with this.

My bigger problem is that German flour is... weird. I'm not entirely sure what it is, but I believe it has to do with reduced gluten content, subsequently 'white' breads don't rise like with 'American' flour. This is actually an Ask comment.
posted by From Bklyn at 11:25 PM on May 8


I bake bread daily and have never had to steam my oven. I bake whites and ryes and spelt breads mainly. I'm in England. I use either Shipton Mill flour or Stoates. I think both are stone mills just grinding organic wheat and adding nothing.

For my sourdoughs I use a dutch oven. This traps the moisture of the bread in pretty well. The lightness of the loaf depends on the rise times not the baking. The crust texture depends on how long its baked. Partway through the baking I open up the dutch oven to let the crust get brown and crusty as desired. My loaves end up like this (wife's photo) and they last for days.

I put most other breads in a tin. I've let them proof twice already: proof and then knock back and then let them rise again so they are pretty huge going into the oven already and bake pretty quickly. For an Ale & Rye bread made recently, washing the outside of the loaf with a wet mixture and sticking oats all over also made for a nice crust in the unsteamed oven.
posted by vacapinta at 12:24 AM on May 9 [6 favorites]


I've had a fair bit of success adding water (about 2/3rds full) to a muffin tin. It seems to make more steam than just a pot, possibly because of the increased surface area for water to heat up on.

I should try the towels next loaf.
posted by matrixclown at 12:47 AM on May 9


I was under the impression that you only wanted steam at the beginning of the process, not throughout

She took the towels out of the oven 10 minutes into the baking process.
posted by aubilenon at 12:57 AM on May 9


Surely the title should be [Ba]king [Brea]d, if you were going for the spooner.
posted by marienbad at 1:16 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]


Vaguely related tip: You can extend the life of cloths you use to wash dishes by rinsing with clean water until they're wet (but not dripping), and then microwaving them for a couple of minutes. They come out very hot and very clean.
posted by pipeski at 2:58 AM on May 9


Is it really that hard to leave a cookie sheet (the kind with a rim all the way around) in the bottom of your oven as it's preheating, and then toss a bit of water in as you put the loaf in? People make everything so complicated (see also: what coffeemaking has become).
posted by sonascope at 3:54 AM on May 9 [5 favorites]


(see also: what coffeemaking has become).

90 grams of Chock-Full-O-Nuts and 50 fluid ounces of water into the cheapest drip brewer on the shelf. ( I think the current one is a Mr. Coffee without even a clock.

As soon as it's done brewing, shut off the hot-plate, decant into travel mug, thermos, or thermal carafe as needed.

Easy-Peasy.

( I'm also a fan of Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François' The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day book although I might have words to say about current thinking about pretzels... )
posted by mikelieman at 4:06 AM on May 9


This has got to be the post title of the week.
posted by indubitable at 4:18 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]


If I want bread and don't want to futz around with an all day project, Jim Lahey's recipe has served us very well.

But then if I want to spend time--using my wild sourdough yeast starter (that I made! so proud!)--then I use anything out of the River Cottage bread book as a starting point. I'm a bread fiend so learning how to make my own, how to get better at making my own (I make baguettes upon request for dinner parties) is one of those weird invaluable skills to me.
posted by Kitteh at 4:20 AM on May 9


I've found that using room temperature water in a spray bottle is good enough and a lot easier.

German flour is... weird. I'm not entirely sure what it is, but I believe it has to do with reduced gluten content, subsequently 'white' breads don't rise like with 'American' flour.
American & Canadian flour is much stronger than European, due I think to the climate. I usually mix them 50:50 so you get strength + flavour.
posted by Lanark at 4:26 AM on May 9


I know it's not applicable to the article the tagline was actually a ShirtWoot offering a while back complete with baker Walter and MuffinMan Jessee
posted by Hasteur at 6:42 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]


I thought the role of steam in the oven was to create a crispy-chewy crust, right?

Sort of, but my understanding is that it's more to prolong the period that the bread can poof as much as it can in the first phase; if the outer side is wetter, it won't crust over as quickly and can expand more.


*click* Thanks for the "ah-ha" moment!
posted by sourwookie at 6:53 AM on May 9


Is clickbait on MeFi a thing now?
posted by GoingToShopping at 7:37 AM on May 9


but nothing so far matches what you can get from a commercial steam-injected oven

That is absolutely true, especially with a digitally controlled CVAP.

At a restaurant I worked at a million years ago, our baker (who was responsible for an astonishing amount of product; the restaurant, three stores, and orders from other restaurants) was obsessed with making croissants perfect (we were a French restaurant after all). And I mean obsessed. He'd make sheets and sheets of croissant dough, and then try cooking in different ways. "7.3 minutes at 400 with 14% steam, then another 10.5 minutes at 350 with 5% steam etc etc etc etc."

But man were his croissants fucking good. Chef said you'd maybe get better in Paris. Maybe.

Bakers, because of the nature of their work (they bear a lot more relationship to the modernist cuisine world in terms of obsessive fiddling than they do to traditional cooking), become incredibly obsessive about their products and precisely how they're made. Striving for perfection in a world where the variables are largely controllable is an interesting thing to watch up close.

Plus every time he went back to his obsession the entire kitchen got to gorge on the most amazing croissants I've ever had, fresh from the oven.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:40 AM on May 9


I tried this technique this morning, but I just ended up throwing in the towel.
posted by Flashman at 8:46 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]


boo, hiss
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:48 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]


[Ba]king [Br]ead

No spoilers, please, I'm still waiting for last season's DVDs to come up in my queue.
 
posted by Herodios at 8:58 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]


*click* Thanks for the "ah-ha" moment!
posted by sourwookie at 8:53 AM on May 9 [+] [!]


Is clickbait on MeFi a thing now?
posted by GoingToShopping at 9:37 AM on May 9 [+] [!]


I just meant that the reason for steam in baking clicked for me. It had nothing to do with the link.
posted by sourwookie at 12:54 PM on May 9


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