How do I bake bread with great crust?
September 29, 2006 3:00 PM   Subscribe

I really, really love good crusty bread. Crust that's chewy and you have to really pull to get off the loaf. Could you please share your tips.
posted by ok to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
These aren't my tips, but check out "Get a good crust on rustic bread"</a
posted by tangerine at 3:05 PM on September 29, 2006

I've found that either a pan full of water on the lower shelf or misting the loaf with water every 5 minutes for the first 15 makes for a nicely crusty bread. Combine that with brushing the loaf with beaten egg or egg white before putting it in the oven, and you should have the chewy/crusty combination you're looking for.
posted by elizard at 3:07 PM on September 29, 2006

If you have a loaf that's a few days old, run it quickly under cold water (literally turn faucet on, whoosh! with the loaf, and you're done) then put it in the oven for a few minutes to warm it up, and the crust will be very crusty!
posted by defcom1 at 3:26 PM on September 29, 2006

If you "really, really love good crusty bread", you should really, really build yourself a bread oven.
posted by paulsc at 3:29 PM on September 29, 2006

In general you should make sure you get the right flour. I'd recommend King Arthur and then check out their site for time-tested recipes, what you're looking for would probably fall under the French-Style Bread Recipe.
posted by jeremias at 3:46 PM on September 29, 2006

Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice deconstructs this perfectly. Use a baking stone. Preheat the oven to 50-100 higher than the recipe and put a heavy frying pan or sheet pan on the top shelf or oven floor. Get some hot water. When you put the bread in the oven, also pour the hot water into the pan (watching for steam burns). Then spray the walls of the oven three times at 30 second intervals with a plant mister. The oven will lose heat each time you open the door, and you can then reset the oven to the correct temp.
posted by saffry at 4:32 PM on September 29, 2006

Seconding the comment about Reinhart's book (just called the BBA in baking circles). Bonus: he also has a blog that is quite excellent, although it will focus on more advanced and/or peripheral techniques.

Another good book is Rose Levy Berenbaum's Bread Bible. Also, I would suggest purchasing a pizza peel (for getting your bread onto your baking stone - use parchment under the bread so that it doesn't stick and you don't have to mess with lots of flour) as well as a kitchen scale (or a postal scale is fine, too), as once you get really into breadmaking you'll be doing lots of weighing.

Good luck! This is only a tiny peek into the immense fun that is making your own bread at home. Read more info online, and in books, etc.
posted by rossination at 4:44 PM on September 29, 2006

Second recommendations for a stone (we just use a pizza stone, but that does limit size), steam (in our case, an inch-deep baking tray in the bottom of the oven filled with hot water as the bread goes in) and a good set of scales.

Can I also put a word in for Dan Lepard? Since following his instructions for sourdough starter, we've never looked back. There's also lots of stuff over at EGullet.

Finally, I'd say from experience that there's a fair amount of trial and error involved. A lot of the variables will depend on the kind of flour you're using, your local ambient temperature and humidity and a ton of other stuff that'll affect the end result. Make a conscious decision to bake regularly (be that once a month, a week, every day) and, like anything else, your skill will improve.
posted by dogsbody at 6:45 PM on September 29, 2006

Ahem. If I may share with you the secrets of the universe.

What you need is a good "lean bread dough" formula. I will share mine with you.

15 pounds high-gluten bread flour
9 pounds water
5 oz salt
5 oz yeast

Combine water, salt and yeast, wisk to dissolve. Add flour and mix on low for 3 min. Switch to faster speed and mix for 6-8 min, or until "final clear" (ie, no more dough stuck to bowl).

Proof for 1 hour, punch, proof over night in fridge, punch, divide, proof, bake in 400 degree oven, add steam with a squirt bottle.

Good luck!

(warning: if I spoke too much culinariesse, please let me know, I will gladly clarify.)
posted by sindas at 8:02 PM on September 29, 2006

saffry's got for sure. We put an old cast iron skillet in the oven with our baking stone (on the top rack set as high as we can set it.) We then heat a cup of water to simmering on the stove. When the temp is right to start baking we put the bread on the stone and then BEING CAREFUL of the steam, pour the hot water into the even hotter skillet and quickly shut the door.

Having done that, we spray (with a cheap plastic sprayer) the hot surfaces of the oven every thirty seconds for the first minute and a half, CAREFULLY AVOIDING lights, thermometers and the bread itself.

Professional bread ovens can inject large amounts of stem into the oven on demand without opening the oven door, at home we have to improvise.
posted by leafwoman at 8:12 AM on September 30, 2006

I'll second The Bread Baker's Apprentice. King Arthur Flour also has two books on baking that have long seciotns on bread that are quite good.
posted by nalyd at 8:15 AM on September 30, 2006

"stem into the oven"

Nalyd and I are doing well this morning.
posted by leafwoman at 10:21 AM on September 30, 2006

Go to San Francisco, CA. Buy Bread. Go home.

I like Boudin Sourdough Bakery & Cafe, however, I am not a native, so I am not an expert on local bread.
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 6:29 AM on October 2, 2006

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