Spraying bread dough with water before baking promotes the formation of steam in the oven. Baking in a moist and steamy environment improves the texture and quality of the bread in multiple ways:
• Moisture helps the rise of bread in the oven by keeping the surface of the dough moist and delaying the forming of a crust. • Steam contributes to the color of the bread crust by helping enzymes convert surface starches into sugars. The resulting bread crust will be crispy and thin. • Glossy shine on the bread crust results from the gelatinization of the starches, which requires moisture during baking. Without steam, the bread crust will become dull.
Role of steam in baking bread
Oven spring and delayed forming of the crust
During baking, the moisture in the dough turns into steam, which contributes to the initial rise of the dough known as “oven spring”. Steam in the oven also helps delay the hardening of the bread crust, which is essential for proper expansion of the dough and a fluffy, airy, soft crumb.
Speaking of bread rising, you may be interested in my article on what happens if you bake under-risen bread dough.
Scoring or slashing the dough is important because steam can burst out in a controlled way through the incisions, preventing random cracks. These incisions are not only functional, but also serve as decorative elements on the bread.
Browning of bread crust
The steam also plays a role in browning the bread crust by helping enzymes convert starches into sugar. Caramelized sugar gives the bread a nice brown color and a pleasant taste. If the surface of the dough dries out, the enzymes cannot perform their activity and the bread remains pale.
The bread crust gets a glossy shine as a result of the steam, as it helps the gelatinization of the starches.
When not to spray the bread dough
If you make bread that is glazed with egg wash, it is better not to spray the dough with water before baking because it makes the crust dull.
To decorate your bread with flour or some seeds, spray water on the dough to help them stick.
However, not all types of bread benefit from steam baking. Some rustic breads, which are proofed in floured proofing baskets of bannetons, do not require spraying with water before baking. It is sufficient to create steam in the oven for such loaves using one of the techniques described below.
Other ways to create steam in the oven
There are additional ways to create steam in the oven besides misting the surface of the bread with water.
1. Spray bottle method
The easiest way is to spray some water into the preheated oven with a spray bottle. Do it only once, before putting the dough in the oven, so that you do not lower the temperature by opening the door multiple times.
2. Ice cube method
One way to generate steam in the oven is the ice cube method. Place a small pan in the bottom of the oven while preheating it. After putting the bread dough in the hot oven, throw a handful of ice cubes into the heated pan to generate steam.
Similar to the ice cube method, a pan should be placed in the bottom of the oven. Pour a cup of hot water into it after the oven has preheated and you put the bread in to bake.
3. Boiling water method
Another method is to place a pan in the bottom of the oven and pour a cup of boiling water into it after the oven has preheated. Hot steam can cause burns, so exercise caution when you are using this method.
4. Steam injection function
Some ovens come with a steam injection function that comes in handy when baking bread, but it is essential to use the correct amount of steam. Two doses are usually adequate: once before putting the bread in the oven and another right after.
However, steam is only necessary at the beginning of bread baking, for approximately the first third of the baking time. Once the bread crust begins to brown, it is no longer needed.
It is a good idea to release the steam from the oven afterward as it softens the crust. If you bake the bread in a Dutch oven or casserole, finish baking without the lid to achieve a crispy crust. Over-steaming the bread can cause the loaf to flatten and a chewy, hard crust to form on it.
In conclusion, steam is a vital factor in baking bread, contributing to the brown, shiny and crispy crust. as well as a soft and airy crumb.
Spraying the dough before baking helps ensure a nice appearance, good taste and texture. However, you do not need to spray water on bread that is glazed with egg wash or has a rustic, floured surface.