Bread

The Secret to Crispy, Crunchy Bakery-Style Bread

November 29, 2017

There are few things in the world as magical as a fresh-baked loaf of bread—especially ones that come out of your own oven. From sourdough and sandwich to ciabatta and challah, the scent of a beautiful loaf basking in the oven simultaneously excites and calms me. (Does anything beat a warm, crunchy baguettes with a dreamy swoop of butter?)

I’m all for making your own bread, even if it means some hiccups along the way. (How else would we learn?) But, I never seem to get a bake as perfectly-bronzed as my neighborhood bakery.

Turns out, what I've been missing is steam. In his new book, Breaking Breads, master baker Uri Scheft explains that a moist environment keeps the dough soft during the first few minutes the bread is in the oven, allowing it to continue expanding throughout the bake. It also creates a crisp crust when the steam dissolves, leaving sugars to caramelize on the bread’s surface.

To introduce some moisture, just use another kitchen tool: your rimmed sheet pan:

“Simply set a rimmed sheet pan on the bottom of the oven—or the bottom rack if the heating element of your oven is exposed on the floor of the oven—and let it preheat with the oven,” Scheft writes. “Place the dough in the preheated oven, quickly pour about ¼ cup of ice water onto the sheet pan, and close the door. The ice water will create steam when it hits the hot pan.”

This method works in convection ovens, too, although you’ll want to decrease your baking temperature by 20°F and time by 20 minutes. Just remember that, no matter your oven, carryover heat keeps breads baking even after you take them out. Keep a watchful eye on your loaves to see when they're done. Your reward for letting in a bit of steam? Golden brown bread with a perfect, satisfying crunch.

How do you get bakery-level bread at home? Tell us in the comments below.

13 Comments

Marika V. February 27, 2018
Why ice water, takes more energy to produce the steam, boiling/hot water makes more sense.
 
mtnnewf February 24, 2018
And, I'd add, all this is will change if you're baking at a high altitude or in a very dry atmosphere (or both, like in Colorado).
 
Mike E. November 29, 2017
I recommend Jim Lahey's no-knead bread recipe, widely available on the internet. A very wet dough, baked in a pre-heated dutch oven, yeilds a crispy, chewey loaf.
 
Oscar C. November 30, 2017
cosigning. when you figure out when the best time is to take the lid off your dutch oven, you get that satisfying crust with less hassle than the steam sheetpan method.
 
AntoniaJames November 30, 2017
But the Dutch oven only allows you to bake a boule . . . . I have never had a baguette or batard crust that came close to the best crust on a boule. Occasionally however a baguette is preferred. The sheet pan method of adding steam is not particularly difficult, and well worth the effort. I might add that if my baguettes appear to have dried out a bit while rising (never a problem with boules rising in banettons), I spray generously with water after slicing the surface, right before baking. That makes a big difference, too.<br />For the record, I like the Tartine Bread recipes much more than Lahey's. ;o)
 
Candy November 29, 2017
"It also creates a crisp crust when the steam dissolves, leaving sugars to caramelize on the bread’s surface."<br /><br />Very confused- the water is leaving sugars on the bread's surface? Or the steam dissolving onto the surface of the bread somehow does something causing the natural sugars in the dough's surface to be better caramelized than they would be without the water?
 
AntoniaJames November 29, 2017
Good explanation here: http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2012/11/19/why_does_steam_make_bread_light_and_crusty_it_slows_down_the_cooking_process.html ;o)
 
Woodrow M. February 24, 2018
Thanks. Very helpful.
 
AntoniaJames November 29, 2017
Reduce by 20 minutes for convection loaves? Well, perhaps with some loaves. It depends on the weight and shape of the dough. Trust me on this. I use a convection oven and make bread using the steam creating method suggested on a regular basis. There is no single rule for reducing baking time. One must rely on appearance and more importantly, internal temperature taken with a reliable thermometer. Also, at least in the case of my oven, reducing the temperature by 25 degrees almost always adjusts correctly with little reduction in baking time needed. ;o)
 
Author Comment
Katie M. November 29, 2017
Valid point! And you're right, it's definitely best to rely on the appearance/internal temperature. Thanks for the note!
 
Rebecca Z. December 4, 2017
Temperature is key; and having a good idea of your target temperature, too. For low-moisture breads, this might be 180 to 190-degrees F, for high moisture breads, it's closer to 212, the boiling point. If you're not sure, and are willing to spend a few baking sessions on a recipe to work out its ideal temp., bake the first batch to 200F. If the bread's too dry, on your next baking day decrease the desire temp to 190, if it's too moist (meaning it's not quite coagulated), increase the internal temp. to 205 or even 210. Baker's percentages are a good starting point, breads that are over 75% hydration need a higher internal temp; breads below need a slightly lower temp, since there is less moisture to cook out with the residual heat after the loaf comes out of the oven.<br /><br />When using a steam pan, it's also important to make sure that there's not too much water, so that after the first 10 min. of baking, the pan is dry; too much steam and the crust will never crips properly.
 
bookjunky November 29, 2017
I have never had any luck with making crunchy loaves. They come out of the oven nice and crisp but within a short time the crust has softened. Clearly there is too much moisture in the loaf but how to eliminate it without ending up with a dry and unpalatable bread?
 
Deedledum November 30, 2017
Have you tried No-Knead Bread by Jim Lahey? It could also be the way you store your bread. Plastic's terrible for storage.