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Baking Bread: hot oven+ice cold water=?

Almost everything I've read/seen has a variation of adding cold water to a hot oven (500 degrees usually) to get a steamy oven to produce the nice crisp crust and it's what I've been doing, no knead type bread baking in an enclosed container aside. But, it occurred to me yesterday that that could be a dangerous combination. I brought this up in the baguette thread but thought I'd make it its own thread. Is this dangerous? I've done it directly in the oven, into a hot cast iron skillet, into a stone loaf pan. No recipe/book has talked about cracking your pans or oven. FWIW, I baked the no knead bread in pyrex for the longest time until it came up, on this board, that it could be dangerous with pyrex and when I e-mailed the company, they echoed the response. I don't use pyrex anymore for this.

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  1. You've been reading the wrong books! Peter Reinhart, in Bread Baker's Apprentice, suggests putting hot/simmering water into a heated pan, whilst covering the oven window with a towel to prevent cracking. He explains that ice cubes or cold water shouldn't be used because they take heat away from the oven to produce steam.

    1. I definitely wouldn't do it with pyrex or stoneware. I wouldn't be too worried about cast iron, though I would not use enamelled cast iron.

      I just use my crappiest, nastiest, already warped baking sheet.

      1. Watch out if you're using a spray bottle... I know someone who was a little overzealous and got the oven light wet. He couldn't bear to throw out the dough so close to being done that he spent ~20 minutes picking shards of glass out of it instead.

        1. Bread Baker's Apprentice is a great book!

          I think the ice cube thing arose because it's easier than trying to pour hot water into the pan. Nonetheless, it's not the way to go. I have used Reinhart's steaming method with the pan on a rack under the bread and also using a spray bottle for steam several times. I've ended up switching to a simple system I put together from a link on The Fresh Loaf. There's a great guy who posts on there and has a blog. He's an engineer and he developed this neat little proof box and steam system. There's a definite difference between the crust created with the pan water vapor method and his method which uses a deep restaurant pan with a hole in it and using a small steam cleaner device. If you want more info, I'll find the link and you can check it out. I think the proof box set up cost me $35 and the steam setup was about $50.

          4 Replies
          1. re: Den

            I would love the link. Is the pan method much better?

            1. re: Den

              Hi, I too would love that link! Thanks.

              1. re: Den

                Oops, this is many years later, so I'm not sure this will reach you, but if you see this, I would appreciate the link your mentioned for the home made steam system, and any other new links you may have found since then on the same topic. Thanks! Is there a policy about not having the link posted here?

                1. re: Dough_twist

                  Not sure if this was to me? Anyway, it showed up moments ago in my email! =)
                  Uh, I am baking for the first time, from scratch that is. My mom was a Queen of pastry, among other items in the kitchen.
                  I remember her never putting water in her oven, but again, she was old school "southern" and so she liked a light, flaky bread loaf with light colored crust, and she also used lard in a lot of her baking (told you, old school!).
                  Since I am new to this, I have recently been scouring the 'Net for Artisan bread recipes, so I would suggest just doing that. Nearly everyone I found referred to putting a pan or metal bowl in the bottom of the oven during preheat, then dumping in a cup of very hot tap water into it when you were ready to bake--after you set the bread on the racks of course.
                  Here is a link that may help you:

              2. Thanks, everyone. I read Reinhart's Crust and Crumb but a couple of years ago but was probably too new to breadmaking that I was trying to absorb some new information and probably stuck with the ice cube/water idea. I think the first place I saw it was on Julia Child's show and it seemed common. The Best Recipe also has you putting a cup of water into a pan below the bread. I think I've been combining too many ideas. I'll give the hot water a try but that does phase me in such a hot oven. I have enough problem w/ boiling water for a waterbath.

                1. Once you read this book:
                  you'll never have another question about bread baking.
                  Your baking "No Knead" bread in a Dutch Oven or similar enclosed vessel? Why would you think you'd need to create steam in the oven? I would have no effect on the bread in the covered vessel.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: todao

                    I need to get that book. Thanks for the link. I've read Reinhart's Crust and Crumb and RLB's Bread Bible and there are shelves full of other books at the library that I've looked at, but haven't seen the Bread Bakers Apprentice there. It sounds like I need to break down and buy it.

                    I make no knead bread in a dutch oven (and also the pyrex) but haven't made it in a while. I've been playing with different types of breads in the past year or so. But, I think my problem is that I should stick with one kind of bread and figure it out before moving on. As we enter the summer months, my bread making will become minimal, except what we can put on the grill. Overall, though, I will stop throwing ice into a hot oven. Lesson learned. Thanks all.

                    1. re: chowser

                      When you get the book, try the Pain L'Ancienne. Oh my, such flavor. And the cinnamon rolls aren't so bad either.

                      1. re: smtucker

                        Thanks, I'll add it to my list--why does the list of books I want keep getting longer and I barely make a dent in it? I checked out the Bread BIble and loved it and want to get that, too.

                        1. re: chowser

                          The temptation with Bread Baker's Apprentice is to jump right in on the recipes. I think that's a mistake. It's better to read the book, at least the first hundred and seven or eight pages, so that you can fully understand the basis of Reinhart's theories and his descriptions of various methods/processes in detail.
                          I'm currently involved with a BBA Challenge group of amateur bakers who have joined together to go through the book and progressively complete every one of the recipes, one at a time, until we've completed the book. I've just finished the first assignment, Anadama bread. The results were quite good and I found that, at every step, because I had read it page for page, I understood what was happing, why it was happening and was better able to recognize irregularities along the way.
                          Best of luck with your bread baking.

                          1. re: todao

                            That sounds like a great idea, todao. You're right that I've been looking at too many books/recipes and not getting into depth about each one. Your BBA challenge group sounds great. Is it local, or online? Are you posting your results? I'd love to read about it. This is a simple idea of doing only one bread and studying it but I love it. I'm so ADD that I don't stay focused enough and want to try everything at once at the expense of not knowing any of them well.

                        2. re: smtucker

                          He has a new book, "Artisan Breads Everyday", that refines the Pain L'Ancienne technique. When I made his biscuits, (from "Crust and Crumb") a brilliant combination of traditional biscuit making with puff pastry technique, for my then 15 year-old daughter she exclaimed, "Daddy you have to teach me to cook, because once I leave home I will never eat this well again."
                          On topic I use his method of a cookie sheet under the bread and pouring a measured amount of hot water into just prior to putting the bread in. Consistently excellent results.

                    2. Chowser, thanks for making this a separate thread. I think it was my wacky experience two days ago, reported in the baguette thread, that may have occasioned the discussion. So let me give a fuller version of my experience and then my take on the subject.
                      When I bake loaves in the open in a range oven, I steam the bread by preheating an old cast-iron skillet with the oven. Just before putting the loaves in the oven, I pour very hot, not boiling, water into the skillet.The reason for this, of course, is that modern ovens are designed to vent moisture to create a very dry atmosphere; but bread requires a moist atmosphere for the initial oven spring and to form the Maillard bodies that give a crust color and flavor. On Wednesday, however, I had actually gotten the water boiling and had the skillet near the side of the oven. When I poured in the water, just off the boil, it exploded into steam as it hit the pan. Some of the water was blown out by the steam against the side of the oven where it dripped down into the fire chamber, turned into steam, and put out the pilot light. It all happened very fast, and I only figured out later what had taken place.
                      I conclude from this: Don't get water on the oven parts. Use a pan large enough to hold all of the water you pour in. Use hot water, not boiling water. In an electric oven, don't get it on the elements. In all cases, don't splash water or spray on an oven light.
                      Is it safe to do this? Yes. But none of these steaming methods will give results as good as baking in an enclosed atmosphere or the results produced by injected-steam commercial ovens.
                      Rose Levy Beranbaum, in her blog, describes using a steaming device similar to the one Den describes. You can find it at www.steambreadbaker.com., where there is also a link to a King Arthur Flour explanation of the role of water in baking. Above all, don't pour water onto any material that can thermal shock--like glass or ceramic. You are guaranteed to get into trouble.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Father Kitchen

                        This is all good food for thought, Father Kitchen. Thanks for clarifying. What I have in my head is watching Baking with Julia and seeing bakers throw a cup of cold water, some with ice, into the oven but in hindsight, though I've been lucky enough not to have problems with it, it wasn't the smartest thing to do. It generates a lot of sizzle and instant steam. What if I used a large roasting pan, filled with a lot of hot water, and put it in the oven as I do the preheat at 500 degrees? Would that be enough to steam the oven? I assume it wouldn't work as well since I've never heard of it being done.

                        From that steambaker site, they have these beautiful baguettes. As much as I've been playing with bread, I've never gotten near those nice holes in the bread. That's my next goal.


                        1. re: chowser

                          Chowser, I don't know why nobody suggests putting a pan of water in the oven when preheating. But my thought is that it would take so long to heat the water that you wouldn't get the big burst of steam you get by putting water into a very hot pan. By the way, this presumes you preheat the oven a good long time. And generating a lot of sizzle and instant steam is the smartest thing to do, since lots of instant steam is what you want.
                          Actually, the big holes in the bread aren't hard to get. You want two things: a fairly moist dough and a light hand in handling the dough. Think in terms of shaping the dough, not compressing it.
                          Most French bread made with all-purpose flour uses about 5 parts of water by weight to 8 parts of flour--or 62% hydration. They develop a nice crust easily and often do not have the big holes made from wetter dough.
                          Italian breads tend to go higher, starting at a ratio of 2/3 (67% hydration) up to about 3/4 (75% hydration--or even 80%) but very wet doughs are difficult to handle.
                          If you are looking for good holes in the bread, you may find them easier to get at the 67% hydration level.
                          When it comes time to degas the dough after its first rise, don't punch it down. Rather fold it and gently deflate it as you do. And shape the loaves gently. This leaves enough gas bubbles to re-expand in the heat of the oven. If you really punch the dough down or handle it roughly, you tend to get a denser crumb with small holes, not big ones.
                          When you shape the loaves, remember that part of the idea is to apply a bit of surface tension to the outside of the loaf. That way, it will tend to stand tall, not spread sideways, in the oven. This also helps to get an open crumb.

                          1. re: Father Kitchen

                            Okay, lighter touch I can do and it sounds like that might be my problem. I do punch down fairly vigorously, as I've seen on TV. As wetness goes, even my focaccia dough, which can be sticky wet, doesn't get nice holes. Some, but nothing close to what I've seen in pictures online.

                            As that surface tension on the outside goes, that goes along the lines of stretching the dough into a ball and gathering the excess to the bottom. When I do that, the ball of dough is nice and tight. But, maybe I'm gathering and pulling too much and deflating it, too. I think, as todao mentioned, that I need to stick with one type of bread, play with it until I get it right. At this point, I try different recipes/types of bread and can never remember what each dough should feel like. I do like the bread I make but have the feeling it could be so much better. Thanks.

                      2. I spray. I let the bread bake about 5 minutes, open the door a crack, and do four or five spritzes in the general direction of the bread. The oven light should be left off to avoid cracking the bulb.

                        I've tried leaving a hot pan of water in the oven, and I haven't found it to be as effective as spraying.

                        Crusty breads I usually bake directly on a stone, occasionally in metal pans. I haven't cracked my stone yet.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: David A. Goldfarb

                          Do you spritz cold water? I was wondering about cold water and a hot stove, even with something as little spritzing, as the lightbulb and oven window go, as Fritter mentioned in the baguette thread. I bake crusty bread either on quarry tiles, a pizza stone, or cast iron dutch oven. I haven't cracked any, yet. But again, there's the cold dough and the hot stone question, over time. I'm not that worried about it cracking. They were under $1 a piece but the clean up could be messy.

                          1. re: chowser

                            I usually have a spritzer filled with water, so it's usually room temperature. Sometimes, maybe I've just refilled it, so it's a bit colder, but I don't make a point of using either cold or warm water.

                            1. re: David A. Goldfarb

                              Chowser, the spritzer will work fine. Most of the mist evaporates in the hot air of the oven. As for quarry tiles, they will fail eventually. They don't last as long as baking stones, but they are a lot cheaper. I think I used a set for about four years and then one day they cracked. Easy to replace.

                          2. re: David A. Goldfarb

                            I noticed you said you "leave a hot pan of water in the oven", so I am wondering; did you put that in as the oven preheated? If so, that won't work as well, because you need steam, not moisture. You should put a metal pan of some sort on the BOTTOM of your oven, either under the coils (if they are adequately raised from the absolute bottom) or a smaller pan or metal bowl in the center if there is room. Then when you set your bread on the racks, you toss in a cup of very hot tap water. The bread's crust will only benefit from this initial steam in the first 5-7 minutes or so.
                            So, hot pan in during pre-heat, empty, then toss in a cup of very hot water after you have put the bread in, then close door, and relax and enjoy the smell!

                          3. I came looking for information on whether zinc coated chain links are safe to use (being heated on a pan or in a can, to store enough heat to quickly form steam when water or perhaps ice is put on top).

                            1. If you are making Bittman's NYT recipe when are you adding the water?

                              Since it is baked in a closed container for most of the time