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Master the Art of Perfectly Crispy Crusts: Tips for Baking Bread in a Steam Oven

The benefits of baking bread by adding moisture to the oven were determined long ago when bakers of old learned to spritz water into brick ovens to create steam. Nowadays, we have steam ovens that offer varying degrees of heat and levels of humidity for baking perfectly crisp crusty bread.

You'll get excellent results when baking bread in a steam oven.
Baking bread in a steam oven

Proofing Dough in a Steam Oven

The first step when baking bread with yeast is of course proofing and most convection and steam ovens have a proof mode. In a convection oven the circulating air set to a low temperature of 100 F or less maintains an even temperature that is not drying. The advantage in the steam oven is moisture which provides an ideal environment for the yeast to grow in abundance.

When you proof in a steam oven you do not have to cover the bowl, just put it in the oven for the specified time. Poke the dough when the time has elapsed or it has doubled in size, and if it leaves an indent it has successfully proofed so you can continue the recipe as directed. Just keep an eye on the timing to avoid over proofing the dough.

Once proofed the dough can be formed and placed in the baking pan. In this video I am baking petite baguettes using a perforated form that holds three loaves. The perforations allow the heated air to circulate evenly around the dough creating that wonderful crisp crust.

Now the formed loaves go back into the oven for the second rise and once they are ready, I will increase the oven temperature and change the mode to the combination convection steam mode.   Some ovens, like mine feature different levels of steam that I can choose for baking bread and others feature specific modes for bread baking so it’s always a good idea to follow the manufacturer's recommendations.

When you change the oven mode you can remove the loaves, slash the tops then return them to the oven as it heats. My oven heats so quickly that once they are slashed I put the loaves back in the oven, but you can also let the bread rest outside of the oven until it is heated.

Baking with Steam

In terms of temperature remember you are baking in convection so if the recipe temperature is 400 degrees, I recommend you reduce the temperature to 380 - 375 and also watch the timing. Recipes are developed for full size ovens, and the cavity size of a steam oven is generally much smaller so baking time may not need to be as long. Remember to check the underneath of the breads before you remove them from the oven to ensure they are properly baked through.

Baking with a Cast Iron Pan

Now when it comes to baking crusty loaves of bread a popular method is to bake the bread in a cast iron pan with a lid, then remove the lid towards the end of the baking time. Baking with the lid ensures the steam emitted during baking stays in the pan, removing the lid ensures the bread, achieves that perfect crisp crust. 

When using this method best results will be achieved by changing the mode to convection and increasing the oven temperature by 25 degrees for the final 10 minutes of baking. However, there is an option you can use that will also give great results without having to use a cast iron pan.

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Baking with a Baking Stone or Steel

When baking in a steam oven instead of the cast iron pan, the bread can be baked directly on a baking stone or baking steel. I find that with the added humidity of the oven I can achieve a wonderful crust without having to use a pan. A baking stone or steel can also be used when baking pizza or free form tarts in either a convection or steam oven. You will have to heat the stone or steel for at least 15 - 20 minutes at 400 - 425 F to get it to the perfect temperature.

When baking with a stone or a steel, line a pizza peel with a sheet of parchment and place the formed bread directly onto the parchment.  When you place the bread in the oven slide the parchment onto the hot stone or steel. This way the bread won’t stick it it’s much easier to handle.

If your oven has variable humidity settings you can use higher humidity during the first part of the baking and eliminate or lower the humidity and increase the temperature by 25 degrees for the final ten minutes of baking. This replicates the technique used with a cast iron pan and should provide the same great results.

Baking bread is a really rewarding experience and there are many types of bread you can experiment with and your steam oven is an amazing tool for achieving baking perfection.

Larissa, Your Convection Enthusiast