There is something about the human brain that just loves the texture of anything that is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Think of it for a second. A pastry with a crispy flakey crust, chocolates that are hard on the outside and have a creamy filling, a burger with a toasted bun. Bread is no exception to this rule.
The secret to a thick crispy crust is steam and baking time. The introduction of steam to the first stages of baking is what forms the crust and the rest of the baking process is what makes it extra crispy as you are dehydrating this crust.
I have read many articles online about the introduction of steam to create a crust and I have to tell you I do not agree with all of them.
Let’s take a look at some ways you can add steam and which are the best and recommended and which you should avoid. Also, we will take a look at how long you should leave you bread inside the oven and the correct temperatures you should bake at.
Lastly, there are just some recipes of bread or types of bread that you will not achieve a crispy crust with. We will discuss this as well in this post.
The Importance of Steam and Its Role
Steam in the oven is important for 2 reasons.
- Keeping the crust elastic so the bread can rise and reach its full potential in volume
- Building a crust
Now you are probably asking yourself, wait a minute! if steam causes the crust to be elastic how does it become crispy?
It’s simple. At first, the steam along with the heat actually cooks the outside skin and the steam keeps it soft. It kind of makes the skin on the outside like a noodle ( dough that has been cooked in water ). This stage, depending on how much steam you have and how long you hold the steam in the oven will determine the thickness of your crust.
I have seen many people give advice on this and the advice is not always good. Below I will show you the different ways to get steam in your oven and which are recommended and which I do not approve of.
The Spray Bottle Method
This is one of those methods I see many websites advocate and I totally disagree with it and should never be used.
This method uses a spritz bottle to spray the walls of the oven with water in order to create steam. The reason this method does not work well is that you do not get enough steam this way.
You would have to open the oven door multiple times in order to get a good amount of steam and this action of opening the oven door over and over not only drops your oven temperature which is terrible for your bread but also lets the steam escape every time so it is counterproductive.
Water in a pan
The other method which I also do not approve of is water in a pan. It is a method which works OK but not Great. We are looking for greatness!
You basically preheat your oven. Put a pan on the oven floor and before you insert your bread into the oven you fill-up the pan in the oven boiling water.
This will introduce steam into your oven but not as vigorously as you would like it to. Also, I have seen many times where people forget to boil water and add cold water to the pan and at this point, it takes the water too long to boil in the oven and your bread does not get the steam needed in the beginning.
Now, this method is actually a good one. This involves the same steps as water in a pan but you use ice cubes instead.
The reason this method works really well is the difference in temperatures that instantly creates lots of steam in the oven.
This is how to do it.
- put a pan on your oven floor
- Preheat your oven ( usually to around 240 Celsius or 460 Fahrenheit )
- place the bread in the oven when it reaches temperature and right away add ice cubes to your pan.
The key here is not to overdo it with the ice cubes. Too many ice cubs can create water in your pan. You want those ice cubes to instantly evaporate as soon as they hit the hot pan, and they will. Just don’t overcrowd your pan with ice cubes.
The Dutch Oven Method
If you ask me this is the best method to capture steam and yields the best results. The reason being is that the dutch oven simply traps all of the steam inside in a small volume.
Rather than having to fill a whole oven with steam you just need to fill up a small dutch oven with the bread inside. The steam comes from a bit of water on the bread and the natural steam produced by the moisture inside the bread as well.
This is how to do it.
- Preheat your oven and place your dutch oven inside (without the bread) and preheat the dutch oven as well.
- Spray or brush your loaf with some water
- Take out the dutch oven,
- Carefully load the bread into the dutch oven
- Close the lid and put it right back in the oven.
- Leave the lid on for about 25-35 min
- Remove the lid and proceed to bake it the rest of the way until you get the desired color on your crust.
I have written a full article on this subject so if you are interseted you can read it here. It really breaks down all the stages and things to look out for.
NOTE: If you are making baguettes or rolls then you will have to use the ice cube method as they will not fit in the dutch oven.
Lastly, there are many alternatives to a dutch oven that have the same effect. You can use a cloche or a closed baking pan as well. Anything you can have that closes a bread inside and traps the steam will have the same effect.
Is Your Bread Recipe The Reason For Soft Crust?
Not all bread is created equal. Breads with fat content like butter, milk or oil will usually result in a soft crust. These fats help to create a nice soft crumb or texture if you like to but unfortunately do the same for your crust.
So if you are looking for a bread with a crispy crust stick to recipes which only include water, salt, yeast, and water. Of course, added ingredients like olives, raisins and nuts will not have any effect on the loaves curst so those are ok.
Some breads like pumpernickel are also difficult to create a thick crispy crust for. These grains have a lot of moisture in them and therefore do not result in a crispy crust.
Sugar will also prevent your crust from getting hard so stay away from sugar, honey, and even malt. Only if you use these in very small ammounts you will be able to create a crispy crust. So if you need to use a small amount of Malt let’s say to get a nice color on your loaf then go ahead but really keep in mind to use very little. Experiment with your recipe a bit until you know where your threshold is.
TIP: you might notice that when baking bread with fat content and sugar like a brioche or challah, for example, it comes out of the oven with a crispy crust but once cools it goes soft. If you would like to serve these with a crispy curst simply warm up the loaves in your oven before serving. It will recreate that crispy curst as long as the bread is warm. And we all love warm bread! Just preheat your oven to 170 Celcius or 350 Fernheit and warm up your loaf for about 5-8 min. That should do the trick.
Skin Surface Tension on Your Bread
When shaping your loaf it is important to get good surface tension. This surface tension makes it easier to create a nice crispy crust.
If you have shaped your dough and the skin is flabby it will be harder to set the crust and therefore harder to get a nice thick crust.
Try to make smaller loaves at first as they are easier to handle and shape. The ratio between the crust and the soft crumb inside also increases which helps a bit as well.
Another very important variable to a crispy crust that I do not see many discussing is Temperature. To more exact I mean not only the actual temperature you should bake bread at but making sure you keep your baking temperature constant.
A fluctuation in temperature can also result in a thin and less crispy crust. Many novice bakers keep opening up their oven door to check if their loaf is ready. This is a big mistake.
Try to leave your oven door closed at all times. The only time you should open up your oven door is to load the bread and if you are using the ” Dutch Oven” method you should only open the oven door to take off the lid.
As a home oven is quite small compared to a commercial oven, it loses heat very quickly when you open the door. A bread made with flour, water, salt and yeast or starter should be baked at around 190 to 220 degrees Celcius
When you first preheat your oven you should preheat it to about 240 Celcius. The reason for the higher temperature is to counter for the heat loss when you open the door to load the bread.
After loading your bread you should bake for the first 10 -15 min at 220 Celcius and then turn the oven down to 190 and bake the rest of the way.
This high heat will help with the initial rise of the dough and will give your loaf the best chance to reach its full volume potential and make it airier inside.
How long should you bake bread in the oven?
Now, this is another variable that is overlooked as well. Especially with novice bakers. Yes, bread is ready when the internal temperature reaches around 190 degrees Celsius but to get a nice thick crispy crust you need to dehydrate that skin to the max.
The reason I say this is common with novice bakers is that when you start your baking process you usually hear to leave the bread in the oven until it is golden brown and if you tap on it, it should sound hollow. So as soon as the bread is golden they take the loaf out of the oven.
This is totally true but the golden brown part is a little misleading.
Do not be afraid to bake your bread longer than you think. Yes, your bread can be golden brown and yes it is probably baked inside but leave it until it is dark brown.
Bread doe not burn easily ( unless you have high sugar content ). Pastries, on the other hand, do burn easily and that is why you take them out early. Leave your bread in the oven longer than you think. Even if you burn the edges of your loaf ( the edges along where you scored the bread) it is also ok. It will only give you bread a more rustic look and will make your crust extra crispy.
Remember: If you think your bread is ready to leave it in for another 10 min
Now if you are not using the dutch oven method or baking in any closed container you should be using a baking stone or baking steel surface.
Not only do these surfaces help to make the bottom of your bread crispy but hey do much more than that.
A good baking surface will offset the drop in temperature when you load the bread into the oven and will also help in the initial rise of the loaf. Along with that, it will also help to keep a constant temperature which as I mentioned earlier is one of the most important aspects of getting a crispy crust.
We have a great article comparing baking stone vs baking steel. You are welcome to read it and make your own decision.
The best way to cool your loaf
This step in your journey to the perfect loaf should not be overlooked and can also attribute to a soft crust.
Letting your bread cool properly is super important and should be done correctly. After all, you spent all this time and effort making a great loaf. It would be a shame all that effort went to waste if you did not cool your bread properly.
To cool your bread you should place it on a cooling rack with plenty of space underneath it in order to have good airflow.
If you do not have a cooling rack here are 2 home hacks you can use.
- Cool your bread in your oven on your oven wire rack with the door open
- Use your oven wire rack and prop it up on a couple of books or anything you can find with some height.
I prefer method number 2 more as your oven is still hot from the baking and you do not want to keep dehydrating your dough.
Make sure you let your bread cool completely. It is very hard not to cut into a hot bread ( it is nearly impossible ), but you must let your bread cool for at least a couple of hours.
If you cut into your bread too early you could crate a gummy texture in your loaf and it could also have effects on your crust with all that steam releasing.
I know these tips will all help you create that crispy crust you always wanted. I have compiled a quick checklist for you below to sum it all up.
- preheat your oven to 240 Celcius ( hotter than your baking temperature )
- Preheat your baking surface or dutch oven
- use ice or dutch oven for steam
- avoid opening the oven door to check up on your bread
- leave your bead in the oven longer than you think it should be – Until it is a dark brown with burnt edges
- Cool your bread properly.
May your curst always be crispy!