Whether you are looking to gain a crispier crust on oven-baked bread or looking for alternative methods of baking, steam can play an important role in your bread-making skills. In the oven, added steam helps to increase oven spring, keeping the crust from drying too quickly. When used on the stovetop or in a slow cooker, steam allows you to bake a loaf of bread without ever turning on the oven.
Place an empty aluminum baking pan on the bottom shelf of your oven before preheating for baking. Preheat oven as recommended by your bread recipe.
Open the oven once the preheating is complete. Slightly pull out the rack with the aluminum pan. Cover the glass window on your oven door with the dishtowel. This reduces the risk of the glass cracking if water splashes.
Place your loaves of bread on the top rack of the oven. Pour the boiling water into the aluminum pan and close the oven. Allow the loaves to cook for the time listed in your recipe. The hot water will produce steam for the start of the baking process.
Place a large boiling pot on your stovetop. Inside the pot, place a stainless steel cooling rack on the bottom. This keeps your loaf of the bottom, where contact with the heat source can burn your bread. If a stainless steel rack is not available, crumble aluminum foil into balls and place on the bottom to achieve the same goal.
Place your bread dough or batter into a traditional loaf pan, metal coffee can or washed soup cans. Position the pans or cans on top of the rack or foil. Pour enough boiling water into the pot until it comes halfway up the sides of your bread containers.
Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid. Turn heat on high to return the water to boiling. Reduce the heat to a simmer and steam for 1 to 3.5 hours, depending on loaf size.
Remove lid and insert a skewer into the center of the loaf. The skewer comes out clean when loaf is done. If it isn't done, return lid and continue steaming, checking at 20 minute intervals.
Place the slow cooker on your countertop. Insert your cooling rack or crumbled foil, similar to the stovetop method. Place your loaf container on top of the rack or foil. Pour boiling water into the slow cooker until it comes halfway up your loaf container.
Turn heat on high and steam for 2.5 to 3.5 hours, depending on loaf size.
Remove the slow-cooker lid. Place a skewer into the center of the loaf and remove. The skewer comes out clean when the loaf is complete. If not done, return the lid to the slow cooker and continue to steam for an additional 20 minutes. Check again. Repeat if needed.