We’ve all dreamed of baking bread with that thin, crispy crust full of flavour.
That ‘crack’ as you tear into a crusty homemade baguette.
The glorious sound as you slice through a well-baked loaf.
So how can you make sure you get the perfect, crispy crust on your bread?
And avoid instead a tough, thick shell wrapped round your bake.
Read on, or watch the video below, for my top seven quick and simple ways to get a perfect crispy crust on your home baked bread.
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1. Shape your dough well
Getting a great crust starts well before the baking begins.
The crust of any bread forms from dough being stretched into shape.
Your dough contains gluten – a protein that acts like an elastic band.
As you shape, you stretch the gluten around whatever shape loaf you’re creating.
The aim is to create a smooth, even surface across the top of your loaf.
2. Really pre-heat your oven
Bread is usually baked at a very high temperature.
And crust formation begins the instant your dough is in the oven.
Crusts are formed when the sugars and proteins present in your dough react together at high temperature.
The sugars caramelise, giving that golden-brown colour and creating flavour.
So make sure your oven is hot before you start baking.
For most basic loaves (those without lots of sugar, eggs and/or fats), pre-heat your oven to 240C if possible.
Then turn the oven down to 220C once you begin baking.
3. Create steam in your oven
This one sounds wrong.
Why would adding in water help create the thin, crispy crust you were imagining?
And you’d be right – this isn’t just about the crust.
The crust starts to form the minute your dough is in the oven.
But your dough is still rising – the heat of the oven causes the gas inside the dough to expand.
So introducing steam actually helps slow crust formation while your dough finishes rising.
Then, towards the end of your baking time, open up the oven to release the steam and finish baking to dry out and crisp your bread’s crust.
4. Use a pizza stone or cloche
So heat and steam are a key part of getting that crust of dreams.
To help even more, pre-heat a pizza stone in the oven before starting to bake.
Place the baking tray or tin directly onto the baking stone. This brings a hot surface into (almost) direct contact with the bread you’re baking.
This helps increase the final rise and also makes sure of a good, all-over crust.
Or take it one step further and use a baking cloche or Dutch oven. Both use a lid over your dough to trap hot air and steam even closer to the dough.
If you don’t have a baking cloche or Dutch oven, try baking with a large, deep roasting pan turned upside down over your dough (make sure it doesn’t touch the dough whilst baking).
5. Don’t wrap your loaf as it cools
It’s tempting to tear into your loaf the moment it’s out of the oven – but wait!
Steam escapes gradually from your freshly baked loaf – you might even hear it ‘singing’ as it crackles and cools.
If you trap that steam – for example by wrapping the loaf – you’ll create a softer crust.
So instead, leave your loaf – out of the tin and unwrapped – to cool before tucking in.
6. Think about the flour that you bake with
You might usually use a strong bread four to bake your loaf with.
Strong bread flour is so called becuase it contains more protein – some of which forms the gluten in your bread.
A strong flour can therefore give a thicker crust – rather than the thin, crispy crust you hoped for.
So try switching up to 25% of your strong bread flour for plain or all-purpose flour in your next bread bake.
The lower protein flour will help develop a thinner, lighter crust.
7. Will using different toppings on your dough help?
You don’t need any toppings or washes on top of your bread as it bakes.
As mentioned, using steam and heat, perhaps with a Dutch oven too, can give a great crust.
But some other additions can also change your final crust.
You may wish to try a milk wash brushed over the dough just before baking. The sugars in the milk will create a deeper golden-brown crust (check the loaf is fully baked through too).
Dusting with flour will dry out your dough prior to baking. However, this could also result in a tougher final crust.
Find out what works for you and your preference at home if you like, using different toppings or washes on your loaf or rolls prior to baking.
Want to learn to bake more delicious, crusty fresh bread at home?
Join one of my relaxed, friendly online classes and learn to bake everything from baguettes to ciabatta, cinnamon rolls, a sourdough loaf and much more.
Classes last around an hour and guide you step-by-step through baking the bread.
No previous experience required.
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