Steam-Baking or Combi-Baking

While you probably think of the stovetop when steaming food, you can achieve the same results in the oven as well. There are a few different methods, depending on what you’re cooking. For steamed vegetables, place a grate over a pan of water and place it in the oven. The rising steam will cook the vegetables. Steam also gives bread a crunchy, firm crust. Pour water over hot lava rocks and seal the oven to use steam while baking bread.

  • This is the simplest technique to steam fish in the oven, but there are some others. You can also place the fish on a grate over water, the same way you’d steam vegetables.
  • Don’t use too much water, or the fish will be soggy. Just add enough to create steam and slowly cook the fish.
  • Besides this one opening, make sure the rest of the seal is tight. Don’t let steam escape through any other cracks.
  • You can use any rack in the oven for this meal.If you’re not sure how to judge when a fish is ready, use a thermometer. Wait until the fish’s internal temperature is 145 °F (63 °C) to indicate that it’s finished.
  • You can use any rack in the oven for this meal.
  • If you’re not sure how to judge when a fish is ready, use a thermometer. Wait until the fish’s internal temperature is 145 °F (63 °C) to indicate that it’s finished.
  • You can add some more seasonings after the fish is cooked like salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice.Also steam some vegetables for a full, steamed meal.
  • You can add some more seasonings after the fish is cooked like salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice.
  • Also steam some vegetables for a full, steamed meal.

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Things You’ll Need

  • Pot or pan
  • Aluminum foil
  • Metal grate
  • Oven mitt
  • Lava rocks
  • Iron skillet
  • Water
  • Oven mitt
  • Skillet
  • Aluminum foil
  • Water
  • Oven mitt


To steam vegetables in an oven, preheat the oven to 200° F (93° C). Spread your vegetables out on a grate or in a steamer or colander. If you’re cooking any large veggies, such as cabbage or cauliflower, cut them up into smaller pieces so they cook more quickly and evenly. Boil some water in a kettle or pot on the stove, then pour about a ½ inch (1.3 cm) of the hot water into an oven-safe pot or pan. Set the grate or steamer with the vegetables on it in the pan, making sure that the hot water doesn’t actually touch the veggies. Then, cover the pot with foil to seal in the steam. Place the pot in the oven for about 3-8 minutes depending on what you’re cooking. Larger or denser vegetables, such as brussel sprouts or broccoli, will need a longer cooking time, while smaller veggies such as beans and peas only need to steam very briefly. The vegetables are done when they’re tender and easy to pierce with a fork, but not mushy. Remove the foil and let them cool on a plate for 3-5 minutes before serving them.

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King Arthur contributor Maurizio Leo has a new book coming out November 8: The Perfect Loaf: The Craft and Science of Sourdough Breads, Sweets, and More. Today, he’s sharing one of his book’s most surprising tips: how (and why) to bake your bread with towels.

(Heads up: At King Arthur, we only recommend cookbooks and products that we, as bakers, truly love. When you buy through external links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.)

As a home bread baker, I’m obsessed with steam. Specifically, how to get the most steam possible in my run-of-the-mill home oven when baking bread.

A healthy dose of steam at the beginning of baking helps promote a tall, golden, and shiny loaf with a brittle crust. The steam we work so hard to introduce in the oven helps keep the surface of the dough moist and elastic while baking, allowing it to rise fully for maximum volume.

The challenge is that the typical home oven isn’t designed to bake with steam inside, whereas a commercial bakery oven has optimal steam at the press of a button. Home ovens encourage dry roasting, resulting in food with a browned, crunchy crust (case in point: that wonderfully crisp-skinned Thanksgiving turkey). To ensure dry heat is circulated, the vents in a home oven allow the moisture from roasting food to escape, making it hard to steam well.

With bread baking, we want this dry heat too, just not so early. If a loaf starts baking in a dry oven, the crust dries prematurely and can’t optimally expand, resulting in less rise and a dull crust. So there’s a balance: ample steam at the beginning (usually about 20 minutes in a home oven) and then finish baking in a dry oven.

So now that we know we want steam when baking, what’s the best way to get it?

Crisp, golden brown loaves are the goal.

Baking inside a Dutch oven or combo cooker

Over the years, I’ve tested myriad ways to add more steam to the oven when baking bread. The simplest approach, popularized by many notable bakers, is to bake bread with an “oven inside of an oven.” Using a lidded pot, like a Dutch oven or combo cooker, traps the moisture escaping from the dough inside, providing just the right steamy environment. While this method is easy and effective, there’s just one problem: What if we want to bake more than one loaf at a time or a loaf that’s a shape other than that of our pot?

Provide continuous steam with a pan and towels

My love of a long and tapered bâtard — which won’t fit in a round pot — prompted me to search for a different approach to steaming when baking bread at home. Instead of baking in a pot, a well-known method for steaming home ovens is to put a pan on a lower rack (or at the bottom) of the oven, beneath the baking bread, and throw ice or water into it. This creates an initial blast of steam that fills the oven and moistens the dough.

But back to the problem of home ovens: They have vents. So that initial blast of steam, while beneficial, quickly dissipates and the dough is left back in a dry environment sooner than optimal.

So for an even shinier crust, I like to place a second pan in the oven next to the pan where ice is thrown: one that holds a few tightly rolled kitchen towels saturated with boiling water. Before loading your dough in the oven, place that wet-towel-filled pan in there alongside the pan where you throw ice or water.

Slide your towel-filled pan next to a second pan where you’ll throw water or ice at the beginning of baking.

This approach continually steams the oven even after the pan with ice/water uses up all its liquid. The towels create steam slowly but continuously as they bake in the oven, turning the absorbed water inside the towels to steam. The steady steam results in loaves with more volume and a crust that’s shiny and delightfully crispy.

I know what you might be thinking: towels in the oven — won’t those burn to a crisp? I typically use two to three towels, and as long as they’re completely saturated with boiling water, they never get a chance to bake completely dry. Additionally, the pan with towels is removed after the initial 20 minutes in which steam in the oven is beneficial, so there’s no danger of burning the towels. And to be safe, I always use towels that don’t have any exposed tags.

(One note: If you have a convection oven, I prefer not using it with this steaming method. The fan blows around the steam in the oven and tends to prematurely dry the dough.)

Equipment you need

  • Baking steel or stone
  • Roasting pan (with optional culinary-grade lava rocks or ceramic briquettes), or another oven-safe pan like a cast-iron skillet
  • A second roasting pan (or any oven-safe pan or shallow pot)

How to steam your home oven with towels

If your baking surface (such as a baking stone or baking steel) is wide enough, you should be able to bake two oval loaves side by side using this method. If you’re baking two smaller rounds (boules), they might fit catty-corner to each other.

Regardless of how many loaves you bake, I find it helpful to get everything ready before you score your dough.

Step 1

Place a baking steel/stone on an oven rack in the bottom third of the oven and an empty roasting pan at the bottom of the oven to one side. (If your oven has exposed heating elements at the bottom, place a rack as low as possible to hold the roasting pans, then use another rack above for the baking steel/stone.) I like to fill this pan with culinary-grade lava rocks or ceramic briquettes to increase the hot surface area, but this is optional. Preheat your oven to the temperature specified in your recipe. (Here, I’m making Pain au Levain.)

Step 2

To a second roasting pan add two to three cotton kitchen towels rolled tightly and placed snugly against each other in the center of the pan. Turn a kettle on and boil about two cups of water (to completely saturate three towels).

Fill a container with two cups of ice and set it next to the oven.

Step 3

Before scoring your dough, pour the boiled water over the rolled-up towels in the roasting pan until completely saturated, then slide the pan into the bottom of the oven, next to the roasting pan already preheating in the oven.

Step 4

Transfer your dough from its proofing basket to a parchment-lined pizza peel (or inverted baking sheet or cutting board). Score the dough. Slide the dough with the parchment paper directly onto the baking surface in the oven.

Step 5

Carefully pour the container of ice into the roasting pan without the rolled-up towels and shut the oven door. Let the dough bake according to the recipe. For free-form loaves, recipes typically indicate baking with steam for the first 15 to 25 minutes in the oven. After this time, remove both of the roasting pans used for steaming from the oven. Continue baking the dough for the remaining time specified in the recipe.

The resulting crust from baking Pain au Levain with towels for steam.

I know: It’s strange placing kitchen towels in your oven to bake bread. But while this approach is different, it’s incredibly effective. Once you see the results from this extra steam, what once seemed strange might now be your go-to approach to baking bread.

The Perfect Loaf was named one of our best baking books of 2022 — find the full list in our Holiday Gift Guide.

You like to bake bread, or you’re planning to get started. You now want an oven that’s suitable to bake bread. In this article, we’ll tell you which ovens and oven functions are useful to bake bread.

Choose oven

Do you want to use your oven to bake bread? Keep the size of your new oven in mind. There are also oven functions that make it easier to bake.

  • Which ovens are most suitable?
  • Which height do you need?
  • Which width do you need?
  • How does a telescopic rail benefit you?
  • Why do you choose an energy-efficient oven?
  • How does an oven with steam benefit you?

Which oven is most suitable?

An oven with upper and lower heat is most suitable for baking bread. Nowadays, many ovens have multiple oven functions, so you don’t have to choose between a fan oven or upper and lower heat. This way, you’ll have an oven that has both functions, but you only use the upper and lower heat to bake bread.

How does an oven with steam benefit you?

A steam oven turns water into steam, which you use to make meals. Steam ovens with a partial steam function add steam at the start of the preparation. If you bake with steam, you’ll get a protective layer on the outside of your bread. This way, the outside of the bread stays flexible and the bread gets plenty of time to rise.

Which height do you need?

To bake bread, the interior of your oven has to be at least 30cm high. The dough will be far away from the heating element, so the top doesn’t burn when the bread rises.

Which width do you need?

Do you like to bake many breads at the same time? Measure the width of the baking pans you’re going to use and check if they fit in the oven. Keep in mind that the baking trays don’t touch each other, because they need to be at least 1cm apart. This way, the air can circulate through the oven well. Also check if the length of the baking pan fits on the rack of the oven.

How does a telescopic rail benefit you?

With a telescopic rail, you can safely take the baking sheets and racks out of the oven. With the telescopic rails, you can easily slide the baking sheet out of the oven without tipping it over. This way, you won’t easily burn your hands on the hot inside of the oven.

How does pyrolysis benefit you?

Don’t you like to clean the oven after an extensive baking session? Choose a pyrolysis oven. This self-cleaning oven burns the dirt and grease at a high temperature. Because the oven cleans itself, you don’t have to clean as much. After cooling down, you only have to wipe the ash away.

Why would you choose an energy-efficient oven?

Do you bake a lot? In that case, it’s a good idea for your wallet and the environment to buy an energy-efficient oven. Only solo ovens have an energy label. These have an A energy label at most. The higher the energy label, the less energy the oven consumes.

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Artisan bread still warm from the bakery is one of the world’s simple pleasures. Seeing the shiny, golden-brown crust of a baguette peeking out of the paper bag is a sign that there’s some true joy in your future. So, why is it so hard to produce the same quality of bread at home? Besides years of training and practice, one of the lesser-known reasons is the role that steam plays in bread baking (via King Arthur Baking). It’s so important that those big commercial ovens are able to inject steam directly into the baking chambers. That steam is the key to creating the perfect crust on every boule that makes its way out their door.

Commercial ovens aren’t typically accessible to the average home baker. Besides being incredibly large, they’re expensive and don’t make much sense for someone who only bakes a couple of loaves a week. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to get the same effects from a conventional home oven.

What role does steam play?

Steam plays such an important role in baking bread for several reasons, but essentially, it’s helping your bread with its last stage of fermentation (via Slate). Fermentation is what makes the difference between good bread and great bread and can be one of the hardest aspects of baking to master, according to Food Network. The yeast that is added to your bread feeds on the sugars in the flour and produces gas that causes your bread to rise and loads it up with flavor as well (via BAKERpedia).

Slate explains that the last stage of this process and the first stage of baking is called the oven-spring. This is the point where the last of the yeast is producing gas rapidly thanks to the increased heat, and the bread gets its final lift before the yeast is killed off. The moisture helps the yeast and prevents the final crust from forming too soon. Slate notes that the surface of the bread stays elastic, which lets the dough further expand, and opens the interior or crumb to make it chewy and soft.

Once the yeast has died off and the steam evaporates, the dry heat of the oven causes a Maillard reaction as the crust forms. This adds even more sweet, caramelized flavor to the bread, and gives it that shiny, appetizing crust.

How to steam bread at home

King Arthur Baking recommends three methods to inject steam into a home oven. The first method is to take a simple spray bottle filled with water and spray the loaf lightly before it goes into the oven. The loaf will need a second spray about five minutes into the baking. This method is fairly easy to do, but King Arthur Baking found that it doesn’t affect the final bread.

The second method the site recommends involves putting a preheated cast-iron pan on the tray under the loaf and fill it with about 1 cup of boiling water. That water should quickly evaporate, fill the oven with steam, and dissipate quickly enough for the loaf to finish under dryer conditions. King Arthur Baking also recommends placing a large metal bowl over the bread to keep the steam in close proximity. Just remember to leave a portion unsealed to let the steam in.

The method that King Arthur Baking found most effective is to bake your bread in a preheated dutch oven. This traps the natural steam released by the bread nearby and produces the most desirable color and blistering on the bread’s crust.

Steam is just one step in perfecting the art of bread baking. Practicing these methods with a classic boule is a great first step before moving on to something like this delicious no-knead rosemary bread.

What is Combi-Steam Cooking?

Twenty years ago, Combi-Ovens or Convection Steam ovens, were introduced to the residential appliance market, and since that time they have become a popular choice for the modern kitchen. A Steam Oven is an amazing appliance, but since recipes don’t reference the appliances we cook with, there is a bit of a learning curve to understanding how to make the best use of the oven.

Steam ovens have been an essential tool in high-end restaurant kitchens and commercial food service for many years because the ombination of Convection & Steam provided chefs with tools to help in the precise preparation of large quantities of food. Food cooked with steam inhibits cellular breakdown resulting in better flavor, texture, and definitely nutrient value but the most remarkable aspect of a Convection Steam oven is versatility.

I have been asked many times over the past twenty years if there are special recipes for using the steam oven, and the truth is it’s not so much special recipes one needs but rather a clear understanding of cooking terms so that recipes can be easily adapted to cooking in the Steam Oven. There are a few different models of Steam Ovens on the market and while it’s important to learn the specific features of your steam oven, the good news is that the fundamentals for steam oven cooking are the same.

*Additional functions include:

Sterilizing Jars for Canning

Proofing Yeast Dough

Some Steam Ovens also have a Broil element that can be used for browning and toasting and broiling leaner cuts of meat.

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