I'm never too proud to admit that what might work for me may not be the right answer - or the correct solution. Sometimes accidents have happy endings?
I talked with a pastry chef (who makes limited quantities of Austrian breads) I know this morning about this problem. He set me straight ...
Steam during the first part of baking keeps the crust soft. This allows the bread to have a final rise in the oven (called ovenspring
). This is why French bakers inject steam at the beginning of baking.
Steam during the later part of baking causes the crust to get thicker and tougher. Hans said that ice cubes in a pan would cause the late steam since they have to melt and come to a boil - which would make the crust thicker and tougher.
His suggestion (he doesn't make bread like what you're trying to make) would be:
1. Put a cake-pan filled about 1/2-inch deep with boiling water on the bottom of a gas oven, or on the lowest shelf of an electric oven, about 5-10 minutes before you put the bread in. Then put the bread in quickly so you don't lose all the steam.
2. If you do #1 and the crust is still to hard - try removing the pan of water after about 20 minutes.
Let me know if none of these ideas works for you. I've got a couple of commercial bread bakers on my side of town and I might be able to get one of them to give a better answer.