Baking a sourdough bread at home can be tricky. Especially getting that nice thick crust. From my experiance, the best way to bake sourdough bread at home is in a Dutch Oven.
Anyone who baked bread in a dutch oven, even the novice bakers among us, would certainly testify to the relative ease of baking bread in this method. It is the optimal way to reach professional-like results: Your loaves will bake evenly with a nice thick crispy crust, a fully developed bread with an even bake, this at the end of the day is what we strive for.
There are many advantages to baking in a dutch oven. The biggest advantage is the whole issue of steam which can be a bit tricky to get the amount of steam actually needed in your home oven. Baking bread in a closed pot is a much better way to do so rather than baking on a baking stone in your oven.
In this post, I have compiled the most important tips for baking with a cast iron pot or Duch oven if you will. I assure you that if you apply them with precision, the result will delight you and all the members of your household to the maximum. (Check out my article on the best Dutch ovens here. I have a more in-depth look at Dutch Ovens for different budgets.)
Less Commitment On Your Part With a Better Result
Baking bread in a Dutch oven, as opposed to other methods, is quite simple as you will read on. This practice maintains the uniformity of the baking process which will make it possible to duplicate its conditions from bake to bake. So you will have consistent results every time.
When baking without it, it is necessary to heat the baking stone relatively long before baking and then steam must be produced in the oven. This is done by placing a bowl of water at the bottom of the oven, which might break the initial heat stroke that the bread needs at the beginning of the baking.
Another way to provide moisture in the oven is by spraying water with s spritzer several times throughout the bake, which cools the oven each time you open the door and splash it but mostly it requires more supervision on your part throughout the bake and a little lack of attention leads, in most cases, to a bread that does not build a good crust and will not rise to its full potential.
Also, you might notice your loaf getting dark on the outside but not fully baked on the inside. The results can lead to gummy bread or underbaked bread and in some cases very dense bread.
That brings me back to the conclusion that I mentioned at the beginning of my post. Baking bread baked in a Dutch oven will make your baking process much easier and will be much more accurate in your end product.
Increase Loaf Volume- Only In a Dutch Oven
By baking your bread in a Dutch oven causes the bread to rise about 1.5 more than bread baked in the oven in a regular way.
The reason is that the Dutch oven hermaticaly seals the steam in such a way that it can be said to function and mimic the conditions of a professional baker’s oven (sometimes even better). These are conditions that are very difficult to obtain by baking in a regular home oven. It is possible, of course, to create steam in a regular home oven as we know by putting a pan with water, but the steam spreads over a much larger space and does not achieve the desired effectiveness. In professional bakeries they have a kettle hooked up to an oven that blasts steam in under immense pressure.
In the case of the Dutch oven, the steam makes the crust very elastic , and this elasticity allows the dough to grow and inflate to its maximum. potential. The steam also helps build a thicker crust by “cooking” the outside skin while keeping it elastic.
First and Foremost- Safety Rules
Baking in a Dutch oven can present one major risk – burns.
Anyone who has ever baked using this method, especially if he/she does it on a regular basis, probably has burned themselves once.
In absentmindedness and wanting to speed up processes, we sometimes forget our baking gloves when we reach for the lid or touch the hot handles or pot by mistake resulting in a burn that will not be forgotten so quickly.
Burns are also quite common in the process of loading the bread into the hot Dutch Oven.
How to avoid this miserable faith? just obey this simple rule. Whenever your Dutch oven is in your line of sight (when it is not in the oven), put your gloves (thick, protective gloves) on.
For those who only are new to this method, I strongly recommend doing a test run before starting the whole process.
Before you even heat up your dutch oven or even make the dough try this out. Put the pot it in the oven, take it out and see where you plan to load the loaf on your counter. Open the lid, load a dummy bread ( anything that can represent your dough and its size) into the pot. Close the lid and place it back in the oven. Make sure to pay attention to all the steps and repeat it a couple of times.
- see that you can do this whole process smoothly
- see if you can speed it up
- check and make sure that where you place your pot on your counter is comfortable to work
- Make sure that you remove and put your gloves on between loading the bread and grabbing the pot again to put it back in the oven.
This will ensure that when you are doing this for real you know all the steps and you will prevent any mistakes or worse injuries.
Again. I cannot stress the importance of this. Please handle with care and make sure to do a couple of dry runs until you get the hang of it.
Preheat Your Dutch Oven Before Loading The Loaf
When we use a Dutch oven we want it not hot but boiling hot. High heat in the first stages of baking is crucial for the initial rise of the bread.
Remember that the pot is actually like an incubator: The iron from which the dutch oven is made of is heated in the oven and then evenly heat the bread from all sides (unlike using a baking stone that radiates heat only from the bottom which if you’re not careful can make the bread gets a thinner crust, or even get a bit burned at the bottom, but the crust above depends on the heating elements of your oven).
It is very important to heat the oven and the Dutch oven itself for about 30 minutes before putting the bread inside. The recommended temperature for most sourdough bread is about 240° C or 450 ° F. This is the initial temperature that will be reduced later on.
Use a Proofing Basket
Using a proofing basket will help you with the shape of your bread as most sourdough breads are quite soft and novice bakes struggle with the shaping of the loaf as these doughs are quite tricky to handle if you are not used to it. Also when loading the bread into the Dutch oven it will prevent less handling on your part. Proofing baskets are quite cheap and I recommend you give them a try if you have not used them before. We have an article on proofing baskets, just click here. Make sure to check it out, I think you will find it useful
The Right Time To Score Your Sourdough Bread When Baking in a Dutch Oven.
Scoring your bread as we know is essential. If you do not score your bread properly you will have a bread that has bursts in unwanted places. ( if you have problems with bread bursting or splitting check out our article here on this issue. I’m sure you will find some useful information.)
Scoring your bread should be done as late as possible before baking. So it can be quite tricky to do it when the bread is loaded into the Dutch oven. There are two ways of going about this.
- score your bread just before loading it. This is the simplest and safest way to do it but you will find sometimes that when scoring at this stage your cuts can close as you pick up the bread to load it in the pot.
- Score your bread in the dutch oven using a blade with a long handle. this will help keep your hands further away from the pot and in turn, will decrease the chances of burns.
Loading Your Bread Into the Dutch Oven
The moment of truth. After your dough has proofed and is ready to go into the oven you need to load it into the pot. The safest and smoothest way to do this is by using parchment paper.
Take two pieces of parchment paper and lay them on top of one another in a cross pattern. The parchment paper should stick out of both sides of the loaf.
Carefully turn your bread onto the parchment paper ( do this slowly as you do not want your dough to deflate here). Then grab the bottom of the two parchment paper pieces from the sides and slowly load it into the Dutch Oven. Do this carefully as again you do not want to deflate your dough. Don’t worry if the parchment paper is a bit long and is overhanging in your pot. Your Dutch Oven lid is quite heavy and will seal your pot, even if the parchment paper is wedged in between.
How To Prevent The Bottom Of The Bread From Burning – Use Cornmeal or Semolina.
As mentioned before using the parchment paper will help with the loading but also it will prevent your bread from sticking to the pot and we don’t want that happening obviously.
Over the years, I found that spreading cornmeal or semolina flour on the bottom your loaf creates a gap between the bottom of the pot and the bottom of the bread. This gap creates a buffer of air between the dough and the bottom of the pot that prevents the dough from sticking to it and also allows some air in between the two for a nice bake.
you can either putt he Cornmeal or Semolina flour on top of your bread while it is still in the proofing basket before turning it or if you are not using a proofing basket you can spread the Cornmeal on your parchment paper before placing the loaf onto it. Either way works just fine.
So you are asking yourself right now, Why do I need cornmeal and parchment paper? Well, at a certain point in the baking process you will remove the bread from the parchment paper and the Dutch oven for that matter. The cornmeal will stick to the bread and will also prevent sticking and burning later on in the baking process. Keep reading!
Baking Time and Temperature
When the 30 minutes of preheating have passed, be sure to carefully and quickly remove the pot from the oven, place the dough in the pot using the parchment paper, close the lid and return it to the oven quickly to avoid a drastic drop in temperature.
IMPORTANT: Again, be extremely careful when removing and putting the dutch oven back into your oven. This is quite dangerous. Make sure to plan this ahead. Use thick oven gloves. Make sure that you have everything ready before removing the dutch oven out and preparing to load it. Know where you are going to load it in your kitchen. Make sure there are no obstructions in your path on your counter and on the floor. Also, be sure that no one is in your path.
Reduce the heat to 220° C or 430° F ( this temperature may vary a bit by about 10-20 ° C according to the type of bread you are baking but for sourdough breads, this is the usual temperature) and bake for about 25 min.
Remove The Parchment Paper and Say Goodbye To The Lid
One of the drawbacks of baking in a Dutch oven is the fact that you bake without really knowing what is going on inside the cast iron and the possibility of tracking the development of the bread does not really exist.
It can be really hard, especially for the beginner baker who is concerned about the condition of the loaf in the pot but it is also our chance to release control and let nature (or the Dutch oven in this case) do its part.
Of course, we do not let go completely. After the bread was in the oven for about 25 minutes, remove the pot from the oven, and then carefully remove the parchment paper from the bread and put the bread back in the pot minus the lid for another 20-25 minutes at the same temperature of 220° C or 430° F to complete the baking process and give it a nice color and crust. At this point when the bottom of the bread is directly touching the blistering pot, this is where the cornmeal mentioned earlier comes into play.
If you find yourself fiddling too long with the bread when removing the parchment paper you can skip this step and just remove the lid and keep baking. I like to remove it just because it gives the bottom of the bread a better crust but it is not a must. You can get away without it and still end up with a beautiful crispy crust.
The Right Color For Sourdough Bread
This is the part where most beginner backers struggle with. the bread is golden brown and seems ready. Yes, you do not want to burn your bread but your loaf should have some dark even black marks on the edges. often times novice bakers take out their loafs way to early when they see that the crust has turned into a golden brown. This results in gummy or underbaked bread.
Check the seams of the dough where you scored it and see the color there. This is where you want to see that Dark golden brown color.
TIP: If you think your bread is ready because it is golden brown leave it in the oven for another 5 – 10 min. Sourdough bread will not burn so quickly so don’t worry about it, leaving in the oven for another 5-10 min will only ensure your loaf will be fully baked and will give you that beautiful rustic look.
Don’t Forget- Let The Bread Rest
If you have followed the steps correctly now, please do not skip the last step that so crucial to keeping your crust nice and crispy ( if you have problems with a crispy crust you can read our article on this issue here ).
When you remove the bread from the oven place it on a rack and make sure there is a gap between the cooling rack and the countertop so that the bread can breathe. Let the bread rest for at least 2 – 3 hours before cutting into it.
Although it is quite the temptation it will be worth it, The upside is that your house will be filled with an amazing smell, so it’s a win-win situation. If you cut your bread too early you can end up with gummy bread. For more on gummy bread click here.
Before you go to clean the pot let it cool down completely. Do not pour water in. Do not scrub the remaining Pieces of bread if there are any stuck to the pot. This may harm the layer of enamel coating the pot. In short, just like the bread, let it rest.
Once it’s cooled: If you use the pot only for bread baking and not for cooking, just clean the leftovers with a dry towel and continue with your day. For any baked on pieces try to get them off with a wooden spatula.
If you use the pot for cooking too, use the old methods for cleaning this one: some soap and water will do. I wouldn’t put it in the dishwasher even if the manufacturer says it is safe it’s not worth the risk.
If you have never tried this method give it a try. you owe it to yourself. I promise you it will change your baking life forever. This is a truly foolproof method that works every time and gives you the best results.
I had a conversation with my father not long ago about baking in a dutch oven and this is what he told me. ” If I knew of this method a long time ago I would have been baking bread in the bakery this way”. I think that sums it up.
For your convince I have put a link here for an article we wrote about recommended dutch ovens. Feel free to take a look.