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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?)
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.