Artisan breads like baguette and sourdough need steam in the oven at the beginning of baking. Steam delays the formation of crust, allowing for the dough to expand in volume at the beginning of bake. This is called oven spring. Steam also gives a shine and better browning.
An approachable way to make this happen at home is to use a Dutch oven or cast iron pot. In a sealed environment, the dough generates steam by itself as the temperature goes up. The limitations in this case are, 1) number of loaves that you can bake at once, and 2) shape and size of the loaf.
Here is how you can set up your oven to increase the baking capacity while maintaining a good steam at the beginning of baking. See our video for a tutorial.
Lay fire bricks on the oven racks. If there is enough space, make 2 levels to increase the baking surface and heat mass. Pizza stone and baking steel also works well.
Create a steam injection mechanism. Place a cast iron pan on the bottom of the oven. Fill the pan with metal pieces - metal chain, nuts and bolts, lava rocks also work. Separately, prepare a pie tin with holes on the bottom. This will hold ice.
Preheat the oven with the baking stones and cast iron pan.
When baking, load your loaves and then slid the pie tin filled with ice on top of the cast iron pan. Close the door and the oven chamber should be filled with steam within 30-60 seconds.
- In a convection oven, turn the fan off at the beginning of the baking. The fan will kick all of the steam out.