Every home baker has the dream to create bread that’s as good as (or even better than) what you can buy at a good bakery. This seems impossible when you consider all the high-end equipment and ovens a bakery uses, but in reality, it’s perfectly possible to create bread that tastes great at home.
A lot of home bakers do make decent bread at home, but they can struggle to take it to the next level. Getting a great rise and a perfect crust in a home oven may seem hard, but it’s extremely possible, you just need to make sure that you’re using the right techniques to get your bread to the stage where it does well in the oven
The techniques and methods you can use to make great bread at home aren’t difficult, but they aren’t always obvious to the average home baker. Take a look below for the tips to make bread with a better crust and you should be able to make improvements to your method for next time.
1. Always Use Steam
Steam is an extremely important component in the bread making process. Having steam in your oven whilst your bread bakes will give it a significantly better rise, or ‘oven spring’, and help the crust develop to be much crispier and better overall.
When you surround your dough with a cloud of hot steam after you put it in the oven, it prevents the outer layer of the bread from cooking too quickly and therefore allows it to expand more. The steam creates a gel flexible layer of starch on the outside of the dough which allows everything to rise more, so as the yeast heats up, it produces more gas and the bread can expand more as it bakes.
If there isn’t any source of steam in the oven, the outer layer of the dough is likely to form into a crust too quickly, which prevents the bread from being able to rise appropriately. This not only prevents the oven spring but also stops you from getting a nice crust.
Professional bakers generally bake their bread in steam-injected ovens so they can make better bread, but don’t worry, you can still add steam to your oven at home.
Using any of these 6 methods, you can add steam to your oven and get a better crust on your bread.
Fill A Deep Tray With Boiling Water
To do this method, set a deep metal baking tray (preferably one with a thick base) at the bottom of your preheating oven. Just before you’re ready to put your bread in the oven, boil your kettle. When you put your bread in, pull your baking tray out and pour in enough boiling water to generously fill the bottom of it.
After pouring the boiling water into the hot baking tray, it will create a good amount of steam, so you should quickly close the oven door and leave it. Avoid opening the door at all during the initial steaming.
If your oven door folds downwards, make sure to put a thick towel on it before pouring the water into the tray. If you accidentally miss the tray, you could risk shattering the glass in the door and making a dangerous mess.
This method does a decent job at creating steam and it can still create a great crust and rise your bread, but it’s not the best method. If it’s all you’ve got, I’d definitely recommend that you still do this though.
Adding Ice Cubes To A Hot Tray
This is very similar to the one above, but you’re creating more steam by using a contrast of a very hot tray and cold ice cubes.
As before, preheat a deep metal baking tray with the oven. When it comes to putting your bread in the oven, make sure to throw some ice cubes into the tray and quickly close the door.
The amount of ice cubes you use varies depending on the size of your tray and oven. You want to add just enough so they turn into steam very quickly after coming into contact with the tray. Be careful not to add too many as this can hinder the evaporation of the ice cubes and prevent the immediate creation of steam
If you have the means to do this, I’d recommend it as this creates enough steam to both help rise your loaf and give it an amazingly crispy crust.
Make sure that you don’t use any kind of glass dish. The rapid change in temperature is likely to cause the glass to shatter.
Using A Covered Dutch Oven
An extremely common way for people to bake cob or boule loaves like sourdough is by using a dutch oven with a lid. This is because the dutch oven acts like a miniature oven inside your standard oven but it traps steam inside it.
Using a dutch oven ditches the idea of having to create your own steam and steams the bread using the moisture already present in the dough. The great thing about this is that you can use this to make great bread even if your oven struggles to hold steam (leaky oven).
It’s a great way to make tasty and crusty bread, but there’s one big downside to it. You can only use a dutch oven to bake rounded loaves, so you’ll be stuck for making longer bread like baguettes.
Pouring Water Over Lava Rocks
Putting lava rocks in a tray at the bottom of your oven is a great way to introduce a lot of steam to your oven.
They can get to high temperatures and hold onto heat very well, so they do a good job of producing a lot of steam quickly.
There are different ways you can use lava rocks to produce steam, but I like to simply heat them up in a pan in the oven for 30 – 60 minutes and pour boiling water over them when I put my bread in.
I find that this method is consistent and it produces plenty of steam to help my bread rise and become perfectly crusty.
See the below video for the method I use.
Below is an alternative method you can try if you’d like.
It involves a pan filled with lava rocks as well as some 100% cotton towels that have been soaked with water. This method produces continuous steam as the water in the towels evaporates.
Lava rocks shouldn’t be too hard to find. You can find them at some department stores, building material suppliers, supermarkets, or even online if you need to.
Using A Baking Stone And A Bowl
Another good method to try would be as simple as a baking stone and some kind of bowl. Any kind of high quality baking stone should work and you’ll want a bowl big enough to dome over your bread and have enough room for it to rise.
Similar to the dutch oven method, this relies on the moisture in the dough to create its own steam and allow the oven spring to happen inside the bowl.
To try this, all you have to do is preheat your oven with a baking stone in the center for about an hour or so, place your dough on the stone and put an overturned bowl on top of the dough.
You can use a metal bowl, glass bowl, or even a dutch oven. Just make sure that it’s completely flush with the baking stone so no steam escapes.
Just like the dutch oven method, this can work great if your oven leaks steam easily, but it won’t work very well for any kind of long bread unless you have a longer/wider vessel that you could use above the bread.
Using A Spray Bottle
This is personally my least favorite method for adding steam to my oven since it is the least consistent and doesn’t provide enough steam. For this reason, I’m not going into depth with it. With this method, you likely won’t get the rise or crust you want.
To simplify it, this method involves spraying the sides of your oven with water multiple times before putting your dough in. This does create steam, but it doesn’t create anywhere near what you need to improve the rise and crust of your bread.
By opening and closing the oven, you’re letting out both heat and steam, so it’s not worth it.
Tip: Watch For Steam Escaping
Some ovens have a faulty seal or aren’t built to hold steam very well. These aren’t great for most of the methods listed above. If you see a lot of steam coming out of parts of your oven, it may affect the rise and crust of your bread.
2. Choose A Recipe For Crusty Bread
It shouldn’t be a surprise to you that if you want to get a good crust on your bread, you’re going to need to use a recipe that makes crusty bread.
Some people will just use a standard dough recipe for something like sandwich bread or burger buns and expect to be able to bake them a certain way so they come out crusty.
To an extent, this may be possible with the correct amount of steam and temperature, but it’s not realistic for a lot of recipes.
If you want crusty bread, there’s no shortcut around it. You need to use a recipe that makes crusty bread. With enough experience, you’ll be able to work out what ingredients to use and what baker’s percentages, but it’s important to follow a recipe unless you know what you’re doing.
Go for a sourdough, baguette, or crusty roll recipe if you want crispy and crusty bread. Successfully making these will give you an understanding of what it takes to make good crusty bread.
3. Don’t Use Enriched Dough
There’s a lot of recipe variations to traditional bread, so it’s easy to go beyond the typical flour, water, salt, and yeast combination.
Recipes that call for additional ingredients like milk, eggs, butter, oil, or even mashed potato are all made to be softer than your standard bread. Dough with added ingredients like these is called enriched doughs.
You can’t expect to make a bread with a strong crust if you’re including softening ingredients like these in your dough. These not only soften the texture and interior of the bread but also the crust.
If you really want a good crust, you should stick to the basic and traditional ingredients. Adding extra ingredients like these will make it much more difficult to get a good crust.
4. Cool Your Bread In The Oven After Baking
Okay, so obviously you’re going to cool your bread off after baking, but there’s a certain way you can do it that’s great for keeping your crust extra crispy.
Most people will allow their bread to cool on their countertop at room temperature for a few hours before cutting into it. The crust may come out as something very strong at first, but it will soften as it cools.
You see, when you take your hot bread out and put it into a cooler environment, you’re allowing the steam inside the bread to condense on the crust, which softens it.
Instead, you want to allow that excess moisture to evaporate out of the crust and leave it nice and crispy.
To maintain your bread’s crispy crust after baking, you can do the following:
- Once the baking time is up, remove the bread from its pan, tin, container, etc.
- Put the bread back in the oven on a rack with plenty of airflow underneath.
- Crack the oven door slightly and allow it to cool off for at least 30 minutes, but you can let it cool off completely before removing it. You can crack the door with a towel or oven mitt, just make sure it’s heat resistant.
This allows the bread’s excess moisture to evaporate from the dough, leaving it crispy even after it cools off completely.
5. Use A Baking Stone
Some people have problems with their bread being soft or soggy on the bottom. This is likely because the base of the loaf isn’t getting enough heat to it.
A baking stone can be great for crisping up the base of a loaf since it absorbs and holds heat very well.
All you have to do is preheat your baking stone for around one hour and bake your bread on it as normal.
You can place your bread onto it directly, use parchment paper, or even put a loaf tin on it. It’ll distribute more heat to the bottom of the loaf and therefore prevent it from being too soft by the time your bread has finished baking.
6. Make Sure Your Oven Is Hot
One thing that plays a huge role is how crusty you bread gets is the temperature of your oven. To make crusty bread, you need to bake it on high heat.
You need to know how your oven works and what temperature it can get to. Generally, if you want crusty bread, you’re going to have to bake your dough at high heat with a good amount of steam.
The high heat and the steam creates a moist layer on the surface of the dough, allowing it to rise before drying out and turning into the flavorsome crust we all know and love. Baking crusty bread like sourdough or baguettes calls for high heat on your oven to build a strong and crispy outer crust that’s different from other bread.
You simply can’t create a great crust if you’re not using a high enough temperature. Using a temperature like 180°C (350°F) isn’t hot enough to develop a deep, thick, and tasty crust. A high temperature will cause the water on the surface of the bread to evaporate, leaving it dry and able to bake nicely.
Make sure that your oven is heating to the correct temperature. You can do this using an infrared thermometer or by getting your oven’s thermostat checked and calibrated properly.
7. Get The Timing Right
The length of time you bake your bread is dependent on so many factors. The amount of bread you’re baking, the type of bread you’re baking, the amount of steam you’re using, and the desired crust formation are the main things that determine how long a bread should be baked for.
It’s important that you take into consideration all the things that might affect how long your bread takes to bake.
If you’re making a standard bread and following the recipe exactly, yours might still end up cooking at a slightly different rate to what someone else gets. All ovens are different and will bake at different rates.
If you’re using steam in your oven, it will slow the rate at which the crust forms, so you bake your bread for longer. If someone was to bake the same bread without steam, they’d likely have to bake it for less time as it would darken faster or they’d bake it on a lower heat.
One thing I will add is that you shouldn’t worry if your crust gets a little dark. A deep and dark crust often means that it’s caramelized and has become more flavorsome.
On the other hand, if your crust looks a little pale but you’ve baked it for the length of time the recipe calls for, just stick it in a little longer. A few more minutes in the oven isn’t going to have any negative effects at all and it’s very difficult to burn your bread if you’re keeping an eye on it.