How to make crusty bread: your recipes (and tips) for success

Is crusty bread your idea of heaven?

If so – the devil is in the details!

Many of us equate the words “crusty” and “artisan,” assuming that there’s only one path to great crusty bread: that followed by the professional baker. These bread masters lovingly tend long-rising doughs, carefully shape each loaf by hand, then bake bread to perfection in a wood-fired oven.

The result? Beautiful golden-brown loaves, richly flavored, perfectly shaped, and – of course – wonderfully crusty.

But you know what? Artisan bakers aren’t the only ones who can make delicious crusty bread. You, the home baker with average (or even startup) skills can make crusty bread simply by following these five simple tips – and then applying them to their accompanying recipes.

Ready? Let’s make crusty bread.

How to make crusty bread-2A

1. To make crusty bread, choose the right recipe.

On the left, soft, butter-and-milk enriched pull-apart dinner rolls. On the right, a crusty Italian loaf. Soft dinner rolls aren’t meant to be crusty; don’t force them beyond their comfort zone, because therein lies disappointment.

Crusty breads are usually the simplest ones: flour, water, yeast, and salt, with no eggs, butter, sour cream, sugar, mashed potatoes, or anything else that might turn them into softies. Sure, you might see a crusty bread recipe calling for a teaspoon of sugar, or a tablespoon of dried milk powder; these small amounts of softening agents may keep the loaf’s interior tender, but won’t affect the crispness of the crust.

How to make crusty bread via @kingarthurflour

Italian Sesame Bread

You know those Italian breads in the supermarket, the ones in crisp white paper bags printed with the name of the local Italian bakery?

If you’re a Boston-area native you’ll recognize this as scali bread. Its light, crisp crust flakes off in tiny shards as you rip off a hunk, creating a blizzard of seeds and crumbs: rich evidence that someone’s been into the bread box.

How to make crusty bread via @kingarthurflour

2. Shape the dough with more rather than less surface area.

A big, fat, round or oval loaf – a boule – doesn’t have as much opportunity to shine in the crisp crust department as does a thin baguette, or individual rolls. While you can certainly make a big loaf with crisp crust (you’ll see a couple of examples below), the ratio of crunchy to tender will be much smaller.

So if you’re a real fan of crust (as opposed to soft interior), opt for smaller, skinnier, or flatter loaves or rolls.

How to make crusty bread via @kingarthurflour

Crusty European-Style Hard Rolls

These rolls have a delicious crackly/crunchy crust due to their simple ingredients, and as a result of allowing them to proof in the refrigerator. Their texture is light and airy, rather than substantial, which makes them a wonderful mini-sandwich or dinner roll.

Serve these rolls with spaghetti, to sop up the sauce. Or use them for French dip sliders: rolls packed with hot roast beef, then dipped in the beef’s savory, aromatic juice.

How to make crusty bread via @kingarthurflour

3. To make crusty bread, create steam in the oven.

Remember the artisan bakers I mentioned at the beginning, those masters of the perfect crusty crust? They have a professional secret: the steam-injected oven. Nothing offers the baker quite as nice a crust as an oven filled with steam for the first part of the baking process.

While you most likely don’t have access to such an oven, you can try to replicate steam’s role in creating crisp crust by making your own homemade steamy oven. Some bakers like to place a sturdy pan (cast iron preferred) on the bottom shelf of the oven as it preheats, then pour 1/2 cup or so hot water into the pan as they’re loading the loaves. The result? Billows of steam trapped in the oven.

Another, easier way to re-create steam’s work is to simply spray or brush risen loaves with warm water before placing them into the hot oven. A third way: the French cloche (pictured above), a stoneware pan with lid that traps moisture from the baking bread, converting it to steam within its little bell-like cave.

And how, exactly, does steam create a crisp crust? Simply put, it has to do with the starch in flour. As bread bakes, its outer layer (crust) eventually reaches 180°F. At that point, the starches on the surface burst, become gel-like, and then harden in the oven’s heat to a crackly consistency. Steam hitting the bread’s surface facilitates this process.

How to make crusty bread via @kingarthurflour

No-Knead Crusty White Bread

The easy stir-together dough for this ridiculously easy crusty loaf rests in your refrigerator, developing flavor all the time, until you’re ready to bake. About 90 minutes before you want to serve bread, grab a handful of dough, shape it, let it rise, then bake for 30 minutes – on a pan or stone, with steam in the oven; or in a cloche.

The result? Incredible, crusty artisan-style bread. If you’re a first-time bread-baker, you’ll never believe this bread came out of your own oven. If you’re a seasoned yeastie, you’ll love this recipe’s simplicity. And, of course, its crust.

How to make crusty bread via @kingarthurflour

4. Bake on a pizza stone or steel.

Many bakers find they can create a decent crisp top crust, but struggle to make their bread’s bottom crusty, as well.

The best way to brown and crisp your bread’s bottom crust – as well as enhance its rise – is to bake it on a preheated pizza stone or baking steel. The stone or steel, super-hot from your oven’s heat, delivers a jolt of that heat to the loaf, causing it to rise quickly. At the same time, the bread’s bottom, without the shield of a metal pan – which takes awhile to absorb and then transmit heat – bakes super-quickly, becoming brown and crisp.

How to make crusty bread via @kingarthurflour

Stirato

Crunchy and chewy, with great “bite,” each long, skinny loaf of this Italian bread is filled with the large, irregular holes all of us home bread bakers strive for in our baguettes and country breads. And the crust: well, suffice it to say it’s the perfect combination of crunch and chew.

Baguettes, which stirato resembles, are made from a dough that’s soft and supple, but firm enough to shape easily. Stirato, on the other hand, is made from an extremely slack (wet) dough, which not only produces its large holes, but helps make that same “crispy starch” created by oven steam.

How to make crusty bread via @kingarthurflour

5. To keep bread crusty, cool baked loaves in the oven.

This may sound like an oxymoron – cool bread in the oven? – but it works. Once the bread is baked, turn off the oven. Transfer the bread from pan (or stone) to a middle oven rack. Crack the oven door open a couple of inches (a folded potholder works well here), and let it cool right in the cooling oven.

How does this help keep bread crusty? As bread cools, any leftover moisture in its interior migrates to the surface. If that moisture reaches the surface and hits cool air – e.g., typical room temperature – it condenses on the loaf’s surface, making it soggy. If it hits warm air (your still-warm oven), it evaporates – leaving the crust crisp.

How to make crusty bread via @kingarthurflour

Classic Baguettes

And here they are, the sine qua non of crusty bread: baguettes. While it’s a challenge to make “real” baguettes at home, this version is probably as close to an artisan bakery version as you’re going to find.

This isn’t a quick and easy recipe; the starter rests overnight, and the dough itself has two fairly long rises. But the effort is fairly minimal, and the result is well worth the time spent: each loaf sports a thin, light crust that shatters when you slice it. The rasp of a knife sawing through a fresh baguette is one of the most tempting sounds a crust-lover will ever hear.

Finally –

One thing I didn’t explore here is toppings or glazes. Prior to baking, do you brush your bread with a beaten egg white? How about a cornstarch/water slurry, 10 minutes before the bread is done? Fodder for a future post – stay tuned!

What’s your favorite crusty bread? And do you have any tips for attaining the ultimate crust? Please share your thoughts in comments, below.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. magroves

    Are any of these tips applicable to GF Breads? I do miss the crispy crusty outside of bread but I find GF Baking is very difficult as far as crust and also rising. I am guessing it is the GLuten that promotes rising and crustiness.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Most won’t as gluten free breads generally contain eggs, sugar and fat (all of which will tenderize your bread). This means that they fall under category #1 and just won’t get crisp or stay crisp. Jon@KAF

  2. M.

    Thanks, PJ, for this great tutorial. The statement, ” don’t force them beyond their comfort zone, because therein lies disappointment” will be my guide. What a pithy remark, yet one that will save me untold baking regret! Woo-hoo! I’m off to bake. Have a lovely day, PJ.

    Reply
  3. Nancy Lea

    I would assume that baking my ‘no-knead” bread in my Dutch Oven accomplishes the same “steam effect” as the cloche? I LOVE to do my bread this way, but, the only problem is that I want to eat the whole thing LOL. In my student days in Paris, we’d always have to buy TWO baguettes because, as my friends and I meandered home, we’d be nibbling at the bread and one would be mostly GONE by the time we reached our destination. (Given our tight budgets, fresh baguettes were about the only treats we could afford! (OTOH, we all got really good at tasty cheap meals, including steaming mussels with potatoes over a one-burner gas canister. Enough mussels to feed two or three or us, depending on where the mussels came from, could be had for a couple of francs, sometimes less!!)

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Sure, your dutch oven will do the exact same thing. I use mine alllll the time to make lovely, crisp breads. Jon@KAF

  4. Janet

    I bake sourdough bread in my clay bread baker and it comes out with this beautiful crusty exterior.
    But how to store it for those few days until it’s gone?
    If I put it in plastic wrapper it gets soft, but if I keep it in a paper sack it gets hard enough for croutons!
    The instructor who taught me to make this bread said to just leave it on the (wooden) cutting board, covered loosely with a towel. This too seems to allow the bread to dry too much.
    Is there a way to keep that nice crust, yet have the inside soft enough to chew?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      If you are particular about the texture of your bread, it may be worth investing in a bread keeper. It spans the gap of that too-hard/too-soft conundrum that often occurs when dealing with homemade bread. A personal favorite is our expandable bread keeper with its clear sides and adjustable vent to control how hard/soft you want your bread to be. The more air you let in, the crispier the crust will get. In the mean time, you can try experimenting by slicing your bread and storing it in the fridge or freezer and then reheating in a toaster before serving. If done properly, the bread can taste almost as good as fresh out of the oven with this method! Good luck and happy baking! Kye@KAF

    2. Sabine Applegate

      When using a clay baker, is the oven cold or pre-heated? Does the loaf raise in the baker and then go in the oven or is it inverted and put in the cold/hot clay baker? Is the clay baker soaked in water before use?

    3. The Baker's Hotline

      Sabine, sounds like you might benefit from our Long Covered Baker blog, which explains how to make the most beautiful loaves of bread using this pan. You don’t need to soak this pan. You can put it into a hot (up to 450°F) or a cold oven, depending on what kind of results you want. Either way, you’ll want to let the dough rise right in the baker itself. For more details, check out the full blog post. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Patricia, it’s tricky to create a crusty loaf of bread from your bread machine because that desirable texture comes from a long, slow fermentation period and also a steaming effect while the bread bake. However, you can try to “steal” the tip about letting the bread cool in the machine by using the warming setting after the bake has completed and then shutting the machine off and leaving the bread to cool in the bucket. Also, you can try using bread flour in your recipe–the higher protein content may give you a crispier exterior and chewier interior that you are looking for.

      For additional tips on how to improve your bread machine breads, check out our blog Successful Loaves from your Bread Machine. I hope this gives you some things to try with your next loaf! Kye@KAF

  5. Patricia Mear

    I manage to keep my homemade crusty bread crisp by standing the bread upright on the cut end, uncovered, on my bread board. My grandmother did this and it maintains the integrity of both the crust and the interior better than any contraption or method I’ve tried. (Of course I use KA flour for everything.)

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Grandmothers always have the best tricks! Thanks for sharing, Patricia! I’ll be giving this a try with my next homemade loaf. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

    2. Ellen

      I’ve tried setting the loaf on the cut end but, around here, that attracts ants and the bread is very unappetizing after that. Maybe if I put the loaf in an airy bag that they use for vegetables in the ‘fridge……….

  6. Amy

    While I’m schlepping in a rental (without either the permanence or money for a good stone or steel), I’ve found that the metal trays that came with my oven in addition to the standard wire racks are a lot better than nothing for crisp bottom crusts. I shape my bread on parchment or its floured towel and preheat the metal tray along with the oven, then just slide the parchment onto the tray and listen to the bread sizzle a bit as the bottom meets hot metal. By the time the loaf is done, the bottom crust is dark brown and just as good as the top. I imagine that pre-heating an old, hefty metal sheet pan might provide a similar effect for other folk who have to work without the better options.

    Reply
    1. Kevin C

      Hi Amy- Next time you drive by a big box home improvement store- stop in and go to the tile section. Pre-measure your oven racks, and you’ll find a wide array of un-glazed floor tiles you can arrange to completely cover the rack. Works like a charm- buy a few extras as they will crack, but at a dollar or two apiece, who cares? (Easier to store than a big pizza stone, too, tho as someone else pointed out here- they can be left in the oven full time- they make a great heat sink.)

    2. Sue Guilford

      Pizza stones can cost as little as $10. I have used an unglazed ceramic floor tile. A cast iron pan or griddle also works. My son bought a cast iron frying pan at a garage sale for $2.

  7. Carolyn

    One of my favorite memories from my days as a travel agent is a meal in a Caribbean island hotel or restaurant and the crispy, crackly rolls that were served. They were wonderful. I’ve looked at your recipe for hard rolls but I now live alone and I can’t eat that many rolls before they become bird food and I don’t have room in the freezer to store them. So I do without but a post like this gets my taste buds revved up – again! 🙁 But thanks, PJ, for reminding me of those wonderful ‘working’ days!

    Reply
  8. Gloria S.

    Thank you so much! I have been successful in making gluten free french bread but it became soft when cooling. So I know now to cool it in the oven for the crust to stay crispy : )

    Reply
  9. "Anna Bucciarelli"

    This is so helpful. Have been baking bread (only with KA flour) for many years, know about steam, but I don’t have a stone or steel, too heavy for me to manage. Still, I manage a good crust but it doesn’t hold up past a few days. Still delicious tho. Any ideas?

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Crisp crusts on bread will only last for a few days, really. As they sit, they will absorb moisture from the air and become softer and chewier. You can crisp them up by placing them in a 350°F oven for 10-15 minutes. ~ MJ

    2. Peter J Stagnitta

      The bread crust doesn’t last more than a few days? DON’T MAKE SO MUCH BREAD AT A TIME!
      The day after it’s made it’s already stale, though maybe still soft enough to chew. For sure, after the second day it’s good for croutons or bread crumbs. Make it fresh every day, or make enough dough for three days but only make and bake a loaf a day. The dough may be a little sour by he third day, but that’s just another layer of flavor.

    3. Aly

      The leaner the dough, the shorter the shelf life. Eggs, honey/sugar and milk all add the the shelf life of bread. A rich bread dough, my all-purpose white bread contains honey, eggs and butter. Yes it does get a little drier toward the end of the week but I can get 5-7 days and still have the loaf fresh enough to eat as a sandwich without toasting.

    4. Erik

      Consider a pizza stone. They are ceramic a bit over a 1/4″ thick and much easier to deal with. The humidity in the air all around definitely softens even a great crust over time. I often slice off a piece or two and then drop them into the toaster for a short bit: It really helps bring that lovely crustiness back.

    5. Arlene Goldstein

      To refresh bread and get that “out of the oven” crunchy texture, I coat the crust ever so lightly with water. For a single serving, I place it in the toaster oven and simply toast it.For a larger bread do the same extremely light water glaze and place the bread in a 350 oven for 10-15 minutes as suggested by another comment .

    6. Patricia

      You can leave the pizza stone in the oven on the bottom rack. No need to lift it out when you use the oven. Mine is in there all the time.

    7. Helen G.

      Hi PJ… Any more news on Toppings and Glazes? I’ve been searching and searching for a glaze that will give you that glassy, glossy, crackly crust. Will a cornstarch/water slurry do that? Thank you.

    8. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Helen, while we haven’t posted a blog on toppings/glazes for breads yet, we do have some helpful updates for you! We explored the different results of brushing pie crust with milk, water, a whole egg wash, an egg white, and melted butter in comparison to a plain (naked) crust. We posted the results in an article you can read here. While these toppings may behave slightly differently on bread, the relative results will be comparable. Hope that helps! Kye@KAF

    9. Linda Kinczel

      I followed exactly for crusty bread and when I took it out of cooled oven it was soft. Very disappointed

    10. The Baker's Hotline

      Linda, there are a few tips that might help your crust stay crispier next time. Try taking the internal temperature of your bread to ensure it reaches the right temperature (which varies based on what kind of bread you’re making—call our hotline for more details). Checking the temperature will ensure it’s fully baked when you turn the oven off. It’s also possible that your bread softened due to the humidity, if that sounds like it could make sense for your climate. Try using more steam at the beginning of the bake, and bake it a little darker next time. Lastly, check your oven temperature to make sure it’s reading correctly, and never store your crusty bread in plastic. Leave it in an open paper bag to prevent it from getting soft. We hope this helps! Kye@KAF

    11. Victor Zuliani

      Why not make the Italian loaf crust like the do in Italia. The crustiness is a result of the baking process and how it is handled not a process that must be done to make bread. In Itally they steam the bread. Not having a commercial Italian/c oven I have adopted my oven to do it like a rea
      Freench.\/Italian bread oven does it.

    12. Victor Zuliani

      Boy could I write a book replying to this so this is going to be long, actually it’s addressing the errors this page has created. I’ll start right off. Who am I? I am a Chef, a Master Chef. I have been to Italy twice to go to baking schools. That is with an “s”. I am now retired from the restaurant business. I am from Groton, CT. I went to Brown University in Providence same as Ms PJ Hamel (no offence made or intended to her) and where one of my Uncle’ was the Grounds Keeper … many many years ago. I also attended UCONN. I traveled back and forth to Providence from Groton in my teens where I went to Chef School at the Paramount School of Culinary Fine Arts which my other uncle Dante Grozzi owned and operated. He also owned a block of downtown Providence at one time. It had a Café on the corner, a huge produce manufacturing plant in the middle and with delivery business as part of the whole set up including the big school. He even sold restaurant equipment. Yes, I was a pampered punk but I did go to school. I was the youngest of all the students in my class. My success was shown when I was appointed the ‘head cook’ bu the school for the 1958 Republican Presidential Convention in Hartford CT representing our Paramount school. I cooked 58 larger than normal 48 to 52# roast beefs to perfection and was brought up on stage and thanked publicly. So, I have credentials and abilities and know what I am talking about. Challenge what I write here you better have a deck of cards full of aces.
      Now to the baking problem: Number One. It is the nature of bread to be crusty when baked. You can’t stop it unless one takes steps yet in this page above everything is done totally wrong to bake real bread as they are trying to make it crusty. The problem is in that they are backing the “bread” at soup warming temperatures, not hot enough, further baking is a drying process to start with. A lot of home ovens do not get hot enough to do the job correctly. One must be in the high 400 plus degree range. Number Two. The flower needs an oxidizer to get the gluten in the flour to fall in love with the “live” yeast they should have been using, not the powdered stuff. This is why you can get and need multiple rises. Ascorbic acid is the one most used by the Italians and French. After all, it was Italian’s that taught the French how to make bread to start with but that’s another interesting story. Another name is vitamin “C” for ascorbic acid. Rose hips were also used. Don’t let them tell you that vitamin C is a modern drug. They had it back in the 1100 hundreds. Thats about a thousand years ago. It’s discussed in Chef Carmine Louis Zuliani’s cook book. The first cook book published in the United States around 1900. And as far as getting bread to last one need’s to add a “retarder” but then you have ruined the need for “fresh bread”. You eat a ton of it in today’s regular breads (not the fresh baked stuff). Further if you make Italian or French bread with a retarder it won’t work. It drastically changes the taste as well. Further, you CANNOT make Italian or French bread and a lot of other baked specialty breads in a regular vertical mixer. It won’t work unless it is a “Horizontal Mixer.” Vertical mixers tear the fabric of the bread during the mixing (shear the dough rather than fold it constantly) in which it doesn’t allow the air bubbles to form (not the yeast rise ones) that are needed, to form the proper dough. The only difference between French and Italian is the way the dough ball is first formed and kneaded. The approximately 16 ounce’ of dough ball is hand rolled out, folded towards you then turned 90 degrees for French bread three to four times. Italian is done 180 degrees thus the large inconsistent bubbles. This is done after spending a long time in a rotating humid proofing box. Then make your rolled out triangle to roll up, and razor cut to make your loaf. Remember each time you disturb your dough cover and keep it dark and ket is rest. There is more! The reason for all this from me is so I can show you bread making is an art and breaking the basic rules to short cut the bread making is not working and it makes you a cook making biscuits that are longer than normal biscuits. I’ll bet some formulas (recipes) have baking powder and soda in them. Yuk! Of course you will end up with ‘a product’ but you sure can’t call it premium.
      I have worked out a complete recipe for baking natural Italian and or French bread at home but it would be too much for here as it is detailed thus it’s very long for here and now. The best I can do is give you a helping hand with what you have. Get your oven hotter. Also, place a large tray (I use a large commercial cookie tray in the very bottom of my oven as my commercial oven is in storage) in the very bottom of the oven. It helps keep the bottom of the oven clean as well. Also, bake your baked goods on the bottom shelf or the next one up only. This includes pies cookies and cakes as well so arrange the racks thus. When baking the bread we are talking about, when it is turning a light tannish brown throw three quarters of a cup of hot water on the bottom tray you installed missing the bread and STEAM the loaves of bread like the Italians do it in Italy. Be careful as you will get a live steam kick back so close the oven door ASAP. You will get your crust. Don’t store it in a plastic bag unless you are going to freeze it (that is another story and very possible). When it cools, put it into paper bags for storage like the bakery and stores do but use quickly. After all…It is fresh bread. The real igloo ovens have such a steaming system built in. There is also a story on why the French baguettes are so dark brown and it has nothing to do with being crusty…its more history.
      Being very proud of what I can do, know and accomplish.
      I will use the Italian American salute to say good bye for now. ENJOY and MANGIA!
      Chef Vic

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