When I first began my sourdough journey over ten years ago, my number one goal was to recreate the delicious bread I’d had in Europe as a child–specifically that crusty exterior with a soft texture. Sourdough Artisan Bread is known for its beautiful blistering crust, lacy interior with holes, and perfect oven spring. In this article, we’ll explore the baking methods and techniques you need to achieve delicious sourdough artisan bread. You too, can learn how to bake sourdough artisan bread right in your home oven.
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The Goal: Create Steam
Steam is a crucial element in achieving the best oven spring and bake for your bread. Steam does a few things to bread dough:
- Keeps the skin on the dough stretchy and flexible, which allows the bread to rise to its highest potential before the crust hardens (oven-spring)
- Keeps the crust soft (vent the steam and bake for a crispier crust)
- Dissolves the sugars in the crust: as steam evaporates, the sugars are left creating a glossy crust
Most home ovens are built to vent steam OUT of the oven to keep excessive moisture from building up. When baking sourdough artisan bread, you need steam for the first 20-30 minutes of your bake. This ensures the dough is rising to its top height and the loaf is baking all the way through before the crust hardens and bakes it to crispy perfection.
How do you Produce Steam in A Home Oven?
Producing steam in a home oven is the key to a good loaf of sourdough artisan bread. So how do you create steam in an oven that has been made to vent steam OUT? Here are a few of the most popular ways:
Using a Dutch Oven to Bake Sourdough Artisan Bread
This is the most popular way for a home baker to create the steam needed for sourdough artisan bread–for good reason. It’s simple, easy and fairly straightforward. The drawbacks: you can only bake the shape of the dutch oven you have or purchase, and it’s difficult to bake multiple loaves at a time unless you have multiple dutch ovens that fit your bread. With that said, I recommend this method the most, specifically for high hydration artisan breads. Preheat the dutch oven with the lid on according to the recipe directions for about 30 minutes. Score the bread and quickly place it in the dutch oven with the lid on top. Bake for about 25-30 minutes and then remove the lid to let the crust harden and crisp up.
What Dutch Oven Should I Use?
I have a few different dutch ovens that I recommend if you are looking to purchase. Keep in mind that you are looking for a dutch oven that is safe up to 500 degrees F and the darker the bottom of your dutch oven, the darker the loaf can bake:
- Oval Shape: Oval (batard) is my favorite shape to bake artisan loaves. I just love the look of it!
- Round Shape: Round (boule) is the shape I started with. It’s perfect for beginners and makes a beautiful loaf of bread.
- Cast Iron Fryer that fits larger loaves: I can bake one large loaf in this or two smaller loaves at time. I use this fairly frequently.
- Emile Henry Bread and Potato Pot: I love these bread and potato pots. They are a little on the smaller side compared to other dutch ovens and I sometimes have to reduce my dough size, but I love that I can fit two of these in my oven at once. They also bake evenly and produce some of the best tasting bread (and they make incredible potatoes). Definitely a splurge but I really enjoy this pot.
Other Ways to Create Steam
All of the other ways to create steam in your oven will require the bread to be baked on some type of baking stone. A baking stone retains heat and distributes it evenly. It gives the finished product of an artisan loaf.
Pan of water and/or ice cubes variation
Another way to inject steam into your oven is by using a shallow pan of warm water and ice cubes to create steam. Place a baking stone in the oven. You will want to use a baking stone for the even heat and so your crust doesn’t burn. Stick the pan in the lower part of the oven while it is preheating (without the water/ice cubes). Once the oven is preheated, add very hot or boiling water and a handful of ice cubes to the pan. Quickly slide your bread onto the baking stone and shut the oven. Let the bread bake for about 20-30 minutes with the steam (depending on your recipe) and then remove the pan with the water from the oven and finish baking without the steam. And just a little fyi: I actually toss ice cubes into my oven without the whole pan set up for a lot of the different breads I make–just enough to inject a little steam in there and help with the rise.
Kitchen Towels Soaked in Water Variation
Instead of using the shallow pan of water and ice cubes, you can also soak kitchen towels in boiling water, bunch them up together and set them in the oven to steam the dough while it bakes. Preheat the baking stone and once the oven is ready, quickly slide the loaf onto the baking stone. Put the shallow pan with towels covered in boiling water on the bottom rack of the oven and bake for about 20-30 minutes as the recipe directs. Take the steaming water/towels out of the oven to let the crust harden for the last 20 minutes of the bake.
Lava Rocks Variation
I haven’t used this method but I’ve seen it done before. Preheat the oven with a baking stone and place a shallow cast iron or stainless steel pan in the oven with lava rocks. Once the oven is preheated, pour boiling water on the lava rocks and quickly slide the bread into the oven. Bake for 20-30 minutes as the recipe directs. Take the steaming lava rocks out of the oven and let the crust harden for the last 15-20 minutes of the bake.
Frequently Asked Questions
My sourdough bread is burning and dark on the bottom after it’s baked. How do I fix this?
I find this happens mostly when using a dutch oven. Place a baking stone or baking sheet on the rack below the dutch oven to help disperse the heat more evenly. You can also try baking with the lid on for a longer period of time and then with it off for 10-15 minutes.
My sourdough bread is gummy after I baked it. Why?
Gummy bread is usually a sign of excess moisture in the dough. Try baking the loaf a little longer. It can also be a sign of over-proving the dough when the dough collapses in on itself a little and the result is a denser and gummy bread. Slicing the bread too early can also result in a gummy crumb.