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May 14, 2009 11:03 AM

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.