Perfecting Your Bread’s Crust

There aren’t many things more satisfying to eat than a slice of warm homemade bread, especially when you bite into a crispy crust followed by a soft, chewy middle. But if your bread baking at home is not yielding that crunch, how can you fix it?

The ideal oven temperature for getting a good crisp crust is 425 degrees. Start by ensuring that the temperature in your oven is accurate. You can find oven thermometers at the grocery store. Why is the right temperature so important to the crust of your homemade bread? Gases in the yeast cause the fermentation process during baking. If the temperature of the oven is too low, the structure of the bread won’t set up properly, and ultimately the bread will collapse and the crust won’t brown the way it should. However, if the oven is too hot the opposite happens—the bread sets too quickly, before the gases have a chance to expand the way they should, and your loaf will burn.

Once you have the accuracy of your oven temperature resolved, the next thing to consider when perfecting your bread’s crust is the ingredients in your dough. High protein flour, instead of all-purpose flour, is the best choice for bread making. The higher protein levels allow for more moisture to be absorbed in the bread as it bakes. More moisture equals a thinner crust, which is more likely to be crispy and crunchy.

Your oven is ready; you’ve used the right flour. What is next for perfecting your homemade bread’s crust? A baking stone can help disperse the oven’s heat more evenly for a browner and crispier crust. You can also introduce a bit of steam into your oven, the way commercial bakers do, to promote a crunchy exterior on your loaf. The best way to do this at home is by placing a cast iron skillet on a lower rack in your oven before preheating. Once the oven temperature is right, place the bread in the oven on the baking stone. Then standing away from the oven, fill the cast iron skillet with about half an inch of hot water. There will be an immediate burst of steam (that’s why you should stand as far away as possible). Close the oven door, and do not reopen it for at least 10 minutes.

To keep your loaf crusty after it is baked, store it in a paper bag or simply out on the counter. Sheila McCann, founder of House of Bread, offered some of her own tried and true tips. “Bakers also can place an upside down cookie sheet in the oven, and let it get hot. Then transfer the dough on to the cookie sheet. The key is to have the dough begin the baking on an already hot surface,” she shared. And of course, for those times when you want the immediate gratification of a perfectly baked, crunchy loaf of bread, House of Bread offers a wide selection of tasty options.