Do you wonder how you can get that deliciously crunchy/chewy crust on the bread that you bake at home? Turn your oven into a bread oven and make crusty bread just like a bakery!
The Secret is STEAM!
When steam is added to the oven while bread bakes, the moisture condenses on and lowers the temperature of the outer surface of the loaf, slowing down the baking process and allowing the inside of the loaf to continue rising and expanding to its maximum volume. This results in a light, airy texture. Meanwhile, the starches in the outer surface of the dough absorb moisture and eventually liquefy, making a gel that coats the outside and bakes into a crunchy crust.
Bakeries have special steam-injecting ovens to accomplish this miracle. Obviously, it is not practical for the average homeowner to have one of those. However, you can easily simulate a bread oven and get the same results at home.
What You Need to Transform Your Oven Into A Bread Oven
1. Rimmed Metal Pan
A 13″ x 18″ half sheet pan works great. You could also use the bottom of the broiler pan that came with your oven. I use the former because it is dedicated to this one use in my kitchen and has been for decades.
2. Small, Natural Rocks to Fill Pan
You need enough small, natural rocks to fill the pan. River rocks or smooth landscaping stones work equally well. The rocks preheat in the oven and when doused with water, create steam. Yes, this is exactly like a sauna! Some people do not use rocks at all and simply pour water into the preheated pan. However, I have found that the steaming process is extended by using rocks and provides better results.
3. Ceramic Baking Surface
A ceramic baking surface preheated in your oven bakes the bottom side of the bread loaf much better than a metal cookie sheet. There are several options available today:
Unglazed Ceramic Tiles
Measure the flat surface of one of your oven’s racks, then purchase unglazed ceramic tiles from a home-improvement store in a size that will cover as much of the rack as possible without cutting any tiles. Be sure to buy only unglazed tiles, as glazed ones are coated with chemicals that are not food-safe.
- Pro: least expensive
- Con: more “fussy” to lay out and collect when you need to use the oven for other things.
- Con: More delicate. Can break from the sudden temperature changes.
Baking or Pizza Stone
Be sure that it is heavy duty enough or tempered to withstand uneven heat. Look for one that touts being able to be used on a grill.
- Pro: available in a variety of sizes that can fit your oven
- Pro: multi-purpose because they can often be used on your grill to make fantastic grilled pizzas or breads.
- Con: heavy and more challenging to store when not in use
Ceramic Oven Liner
- Pro: sized specifically to maximize oven space
- Pro: may have sides that fit into slots in the bottom, radiating heat from many sides for more even baking.
- Con: most expensive
- Con: heavy and most inconvenient to store when not in use
4. Parchment Paper
Since I discovered parchment paper, I don’t like to use anything else! Nonstick cooking spray contains lecithin, which builds up on bakeware and becomes impossible to remove. Oils can run onto the bottom of your oven and burn and also absorb into the bottom of the loaf, destroying the continuity of the crust. Parchment paper is used dry but is nonstick and oven safe. It keeps pans and baking surfaces totally clean.
Let your bread rise on a sheet of parchment paper and transfer it directly to the baking surface, either by lifting the edges of the parchment paper or by sliding a rimless cookie sheet underneath and sliding it off onto the baking surface.
How to use your “bread oven.”
- Fill the rimmed pan with small rocks and place on the lowest rack in the oven.
- On the next rack, place the baking stone or tiles.
- Preheat the oven for baking bread.
- Place shaped bread loaves on a sheet of parchment paper for the final rising.
- When ready to bake, use a rimless cookie sheet to transfer the parchment paper with the loaves on it directly onto the preheated stone/tiles.
- Standing back to avoid the steam whoosh, carefully and quickly pour one cup of water into the pan of rocks and shut the oven door.
Food writer Beatrice Ojakangas grew up as the oldest of ten on a farm in northern Minnesota and learned to bake on a woodstove. Author of 31 cookbooks, Beatrice has a degree in home economics, has been inducted into the James Beard Cookbook Hall of Fame, was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Minnesota, has written for magazines such as Bon Appetit, Gourmet, and Woman’s Day, and appeared on the television shows of both Julia Child and Martha Stewart. Her specialties include baking, Finnish and Scandinavian cooking, and writing well-tested, simple recipes that use wholesome ingredients. She lives in Duluth, Minnesota.