There are few things in life that warm the soul better than a crusty loaf of fresh-baked bread. Great homemade bread with a crisp exterior and soft, chewy interior is always a winner but with more people staying at home and baking for themselves these days artisan breads have become more popular than ever. 

Use this guide as a refresher on how to make the perfect loaf of crusty bread, including tips on how to create steam – the key to crusty bread – with or without a dutch oven. And find a simple crusty bread recipe that you can use as a springboard for your culinary creativity. It’s so simple and versatile it will have you looking like a serious artisan by the time your next loaf comes out of the oven.


HOW TO MAKE GREAT CRUSTY BREAD

Every great loaf of crusty bread begins with a handful of simple ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry – flour, salt, yeast, and filtered water. Some recipes might include herbs or other flavorings, a little sugar to keep the inside tender – or if you’re making sourdough – a sourdough starter. But as a general rule, crusty breads don’t contain eggs, sour cream, butter, cream or any other “softening” ingredients.

FLOUR TIP:

Because there are so few ingredients in crusty breads, it’s essential to use the best ingredients possible. All-Purpose Flour will work for a crusty bread but using Bread Flour can help create a stronger, chewier bread.


STEAM – CRUSTY BREAD’S BEST FRIEND

The ideal way to create crusty bread is by creating steam in your range or wall oven. As bread bakes starches on its surface burst and eventually harden, forming a crispy crust. This is facilitated when steam comes in contact with the baking bread’s surface. Baking crusty bread without steam may cook the bread too quickly, creating a burnt, dense bread. There are several ways to create steam in your oven – let’s take a look at three of the most popular – a dutch oven, a spray bottle or a water bath.

1. DUTCH OVEN

A dutch oven is a heavy cast iron pot with a lid. Because it’s made from cast iron it can withstand high temperatures and can be used on a stove top or in an oven. The heavy metal lid will trap the moisture that evaporates from your baking bread and turn it into steam. To replicate the extreme radiant heat that’s used in professional ovens simply preheat your dutch oven before you place your dough in it to bake.

2. SPRAY BOTTLE

If you don’t have a dutch oven, no worries, you can create a steamy bath for your bread with a spray bottle. Simply preheat your oven (to compensate for the air that’s lost from repeated openings and closings of the oven door add 25º to the temperature your recipe recommends). Spray the preheated oven with water. Wait 30 seconds and repeat. Return the oven to the recommended temperature and load your dough in the steamy oven. Spray the sides of the oven one more time and bake bread according to your recipe’s instructions.

3. WATER BATH

Another popular way to create steam for your crusty bread is by placing a cast iron frying pan in the bottom of your oven as it’s preheating. Fill the preheated pan with a cup of boiling water and load your dough into the oven; if you have a pizza stone, this is an ideal surface for this method.
 Overhead shot of loaf of fresh baked crusty bread.

TIPS FOR KEEPING BREAD CRISP AFTER IT’S BAKED

After your bread is baked you’ll want to limit its exposure to moisture as this is the enemy of baked artisan bread. Many bakers like to leave their bread in the oven to cool after it’s baked. Just turn off your oven, remove your bread from its pan to a middle rack and crack the oven door open. This will keep any leftover moisture from moving to the bread’s surface and mingling with room temperature air which can condense on the bread, creating a soggy crust. The warm air in the cooling oven will just evaporate and your crust will stay crunchy.

Avoid wrapping your artisan bread after it’s baked to prevent trapping moisture on the baked bread’s surface. Just store it cut side down on the counter top or a breadboard for a day or so to keep it at its crispy best.


YOUR “GO-TO” CRUSTY BREAD RECIPE

Sourdough breads are all the rage right now and in addition to a few basic ingredients, this Sourdough Bread Loaf recipe only requires sourdough starter, a KitchenAid® Stand Mixer, a Sifter+Scale Attachment and a dutch oven to create a bakery worthy, crusty sourdough loaf. And this recipe for delicious No Knead Italian Semolina Bread calls for rosemary but the dough is basic enough to accommodate other herbs or flavorings. Just think of this recipe as a blank canvas. It will take all the creativity you throw at it and suddenly that basic bread recipe isn’t so basic anymore.

 

 

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