How To Get Crustier Bread Without Steaming Your Oven

Since basic white bread is never more than a grocery store trip away, home bakers seek to create crunchy, satisfying crusts to differentiate their bakes. There are many kinds of crusty bread, but most recipes share one secret to their success: steam. Wetness on the outside of the dough combines with starches to create that satisfying crust, and the Maillard reaction helps the bread develop a wonderful deep brown hue. Steam also helps regulate the temperature of the bread as it cooks, enabling chemistry to work its magic on the outside without the inside becoming overdone.

The simplest way to create steam in your own oven is to put an oven-safe vessel, like a rimmed pan or Pyrex baking dish, full of water on a shelf below where your bread bakes. However, the steam produced may still be there when you open the oven, potentially causing an uncomfortable experience or even damaging the electronics in certain appliance models. As a result, it's worth a bit of extra effort to get that crust without a full steam bath.

Get great results with less water

One trick to getting crustier bread without filling your oven with steam is simple: use less water. Home bakers can simply use a spray bottle to spritz their bread down before it heads into the oven or dip a brush into a glass of water for the same effect. This gets enough moisture onto the dough to enable that perfect crust while minimizing the amount of steam that escapes. However, note that some recipes will require reapplication throughout the bake.

Using the right equipment lets bread create steam out of the water in the dough, with no need to add any additional liquid. This can be as simple as scoring your dough and putting the bread into a cloche or a Dutch oven instead of on a baking sheet. This traps the steam that escapes naturally into a tight area where it can do its work. This process can also be replicated with a preheated pizza stone and a metal bowl tall enough for the loaf to rise into.

Good crusts require more than steam

Getting a great crust while minimizing steam requires paying close attention to how you treat your bread both before and after it bakes. A dough that is either over- or under-proofed won't have the right amount of sugars from fermentation needed for a gorgeous brown crust. Since proofing is also vital for getting the right taste and rise, putting in the extra effort to get this step right will pay off in multiple ways.

Additionally, don't immediately take your bread out of the oven once it's done. Instead, turn off the oven, put the bread directly on a rack, and crack the door slightly to let your loaves cool inside. This will make any remaining water in your bread evaporate faster, which will help it retain the crispy, crunchy exterior you worked so hard to produce.

Finally, avoid the urge to put your bread in a closed plastic bag. This will capture moisture inside, which can cause even a great crust to go soft. A bread box is ideal, but a paper bag can work too.