Bread baking in a Dutch oven: The best way to bake no-knead bread

Making crispy, crusty, golden loaves of bread at home has never been easier. It all starts with bread baking in a Dutch oven (lidded pot), the perfect vessel for making artisan-style loaves. The steam that’s created inside the pot miraculously transforms the dough, ensuring the bread’s crust will shatter into delicate shards with each bite. The best way to produce steam inside a lidded pot? It’s simple: preheat the pot.

Gently slipping risen yeast dough into a searing hot pot and adding the lid creates steam. In turn, this results in bread with a crackly crust and a glossy surface that’s beautifully blistered with bubbles.

We’re no strangers to baking with steam, but our excitement about this classic method has been rekindled. The arrival of Emile Henry’s Bread and Potato Pot, a unique Dutch oven, has us eager to bake!
Bread and Potato Pot via @kingarthurflourWhile this pot is often used in France to make perfectly cooked potatoes, it’s also a game-changer when it comes to bread baking in a Dutch oven. Some bread crocks can’t withstand the intensity of being heated empty and are bound to crack when nothing’s inside. However, this pot is part of Emile Henry’s flame line, which is known for its durability and high-heat resistance.

You’ll see why we love bread baking in Dutch oven like this — the loaves that come out of it are just a beautiful as they are delicious.

How steam leads to beautiful loaves

When the Bread and Potato Pot is preheated empty, it becomes a miniaturized version of a professional steam-injected oven. The heat is distributed more evenly than in a conventional oven, and the steam transforms the dough in a few magical ways.

When unbaked dough, with all its interior moisture, is put inside the hot pot, precious humidity is captured in the form of steam. The steam keeps the crust soft longer, so it can continue to expand during the early stages of baking. The result is a lofty loaf that looks like it came from the bakery down the street!

Bread baking in a Dutch oven via @kingarthurflourIn addition, the steam hitting the bread’s surface gelatinizes some of the starches there, which swell and become glossy, creating a crust with subtle, attractive luster.
Bread baking in a Dutch oven via @kingarthurflourAlso thanks to steam, any slashes or “scores” made in the risen dough open up beautifully during baking. They form “ears,” or crisp ridges that add crunch and an artisan-style look to your voluminous loaf.

Loaves baked with steam taste as good as they look, too.

Steam’s moisture keeps the surface of the dough cool for a longer amount of time as the loaf bakes, which allows enzymes (from the yeast) to continue reducing the starches in the flour to simple sugars.

“Simple sugars” might not sound delicious, but trust me — they are. These sugars caramelize and create the golden crust and irresistible flavor of a perfectly baked loaf of bread.

Getting ready to bake

Intrigued? Let’s show you how it’s done!

First, choose your recipe. No-knead bread recipes are particularly well-suited to this method, as they’re typically wet doughs that release steam when they come in contact with the hot pot (plus they’re easy to make and delicious, too).

I used the quintessential No-Knead Crusty White Bread recipe to put this pot to the test, but you can use practically any bread recipe that makes at least two pounds of dough. (Look for recipes that call for at least four to five cups of flour.)

Bread baking in a Dutch oven via @kingarthurflourPrepare the recipe as written, which often includes a 24-hour (or longer) rest in the fridge for no-knead dough; be sure to plan ahead.

Bread baking in a Dutch oven via @kingarthurflourWhen you’re ready to bake, measure out a two-pound ball of dough. If you don’t have a scale, it should look like it will fill the base of the Bread and Potato Pot most of the way.
Bread baking in a Dutch oven via @kingarthurflourShape the dough and let it rest on a floured kitchen towel or piece of parchment paper with the seam side up, covered, while it rises. (You can also use a brotform if you want to make some fancy rings on the surface of your loaf.)

Preheating the pot

To ensure you get a burst of steam when the dough is put inside the pot, it should be preheated empty for about 30 minutes. Start preheating your pot roughly 30 minutes before your rising dough is ready to bake.

Keep in mind the temperature of your kitchen will make a difference in how quickly the dough rises. The No-Knead Crusty White Bread dough can take anywhere from one to three hours to rise; in my cool Vermont kitchen, I usually let it rise for at least one hour before preheating the pot for 30 minutes, giving the dough a total of a 1 1/2 hours to rise.

When your dough looks like it will be ready in 30 minutes, put the Bread and Potato Pot (both the bottom and the lid) into the cold oven, and set it to 450°F (or the temperature your recipe calls for).
Bread baking in a Dutch oven via @kingarthurflourHalf an hour later, the dough should be risen and the pot should be thoroughly preheated. Carefully remove the hot pot from the oven, taking care to place it on a neutral surface like a cooling rack, wooden board, or kitchen towel. (Avoid contact with anything cold, such as cold water or a cold surface; this may cause the pot to crack.)

Ready to bake

Apply a gentle coating of vegetable oil-based non-stick spray and sprinkle in some semolina flour or cornmeal. (Be careful during this step — the pot may smoke slightly when prepared.)
Bread baking in a Dutch oven via @kingarthurflourSlide your hand under the towel or piece of parchment paper and turn the dough over into the pot, seam side down. You can gently shake the pot from side to side to help the dough settle evenly in the bottom.
Bread baking in a Dutch oven via @kingarthurflourDon’t worry if your dough doesn’t look picture-perfect here; it will turn into a beautiful, golden loaf as it bakes.

Make a few slashes in the top of your loaf (a lame works well for this), and then put the lid on. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes; remove the lid and bake for another 5 to 10 minutes, until the loaf browns fully.
Bread baking in a Dutch oven via @kingarthurflourRemove the loaf from the oven and let it cool completely on a rack before slicing.
Bread baking in a Dutch oven via @kingarthurflourBeautiful crust? Check. Open crumb? Check. Yeasty flavor? Check.

Bread baking in a Dutch oven vs. on a baking sheet

I was stunned by the impressive looking loaf I pulled out of the oven the first time I used this method. I yelped with joy and declared it the best-looking loaf I had ever made! But then I wanted to find out, was it really the wonders of preheating the Bread and Potato Pot — or just this much-loved, no-knead recipe?

To see if there was any difference, I baked a second loaf (same recipe, same amount of dough, same length of time in the fridge) but baked it on a baking sheet instead of in the Bread and Potato Pot.

Bread baking in a Dutch oven via @kingarthurflour

The loaf on the left was baked on a baking sheet while the loaf on the right was baked in a preheated Bread and Potato Pot — same recipe for both loaves.

The side-by-side comparison shows that bread baking in a Dutch oven (and preheating it first) is the key to making an artisan-looking loaf. More steam is created inside the preheated Bread and Potato Pot than when water is poured into a pan in the bottom of the oven, one trick for making crusty bread. Plus, regular ovens vent, so it’s difficult to maintain a moist environment if you don’t use a covered baker.
Bread baking in a Dutch oven via @kingarthurflourWhile the crumb was similar, the height difference and crust color of the bread baked in the Bread and Potato Pot made it a more appealing loaf.

A preheated Dutch oven captures a burst of steam, resulting in a perfectly baked loaf. Click To Tweet

Using other pots for baking bread

While the Bread and Potato Pot is perfectly suited to this preheating method, other pots in your repertoire may be able to produce similar results.

You can try using a 4- to 5-quart heavy covered pot, like a cast iron Dutch oven. Some Pyrex and ceramic Dutch ovens might also stand up to the task, but you’ll want to check the manufacturer’s recommendation about preheating empty before giving it a try.

Dutch oven baking beyond white bread

The wonders of this pot aren’t limited to No-Knead Crusty White Bread — you can try one of the delicious variations of this recipe if you’re looking to make bread that’s a little more exciting.
Bread baking in a Dutch oven via @kingarthurflour
No-Knead Harvest Bread, No-Knead Crusty Whole Wheat Bread, and No-Knead Chocolate-Cherry Pecan Bread are also great choices when it comes to bread baking in your Dutch oven: the possibilities are endless when you use this simple preheating tip.

There’s so much to love about the Bread and Potato Pot — it can turn anyone into a bread baker. If you give this method a try, you’ll say goodbye to store-bought bread in no time.

Share your experiences and best tips for bread baking in a Dutch oven in the comments, below.

Thanks to fellow employee-owner Seann Cram for taking the photos for this blog.

Kye Ameden
About

Kye Ameden grew up in Fairlee, Vermont and has always had a love of food, farms, and family. After graduating from St. Lawrence University, she became an employee-owner at King Arthur Flour and is a proud member of the Digital Marketing Team.

comments

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Bonnie, that depends on the type of knob your lid has. If it’s a shiny metal one, you’re good to go! If the knob is black, it’s not rated for this kind of treatment. Luckily, Le Creuset sells replacement knobs, which is a much less expensive solution than getting a whole new Dutch oven! Happy baking! Kat@KAF

    2. Laurie White

      I just bought a Lodge 6 quart dutch oven, as I am especially interested in baking bread in it.
      However, the directions warn to not heat it when empty. H’mmm. Should I put some water jn it, or what do you suggest for the no-knead recipe?
      Thanks.

    3. The Baker's Hotline

      Laurie, if your manufacturer recommends not heating empty, then we would definitely not recommend using that particular Dutch oven for baking in. We’d hate for you to break some beloved cookware! Kat@KAF

  1. Roger M Woodbury

    I wonder if I can use a dutch oven on the top of the stove to bake artisan bread? I have a couple of cast iron dutch ovens but do not have a traditional oven.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there, Roger! We haven’t tried that before, but we know that other folks have baked bread on a campfire or in a grill so we imagine it could be done on the stove top. You’ll have to do some experimenting but just keep in mind that the bread won’t get very brown. Best of luck and happy experimenting! Morgan@KAF

  2. Don Rutherford

    I just called and left my name for an answer to a question. I have been baking your no knead bread and just love it. Tuesday is my daughters birthday and I would like to take her a loaf Tuesday for her birthday when she comes to town. It will be about 59 degrees. Can she leave it in her car for about 5 hours already baked?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there, Don! We’re so glad to hear that you’ve been enjoying our no-knead recipe! That should be just fine to leave a baked loaf of bread in the car for a few hours. Happy baking! Morgan@KAF

  3. Rachel Fuchs

    Hi, I’m trying to make sense of this post compared to the rustic sourdough bread recipe which seems to not call for oiling the Dutch over or pre-heating it. Rather, it has the last rise in the Dutch oven itself. I’m about to follow that recipe’s instructions, but was curious to hear from the experts! Please advise. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Rachel! Preheating and greasing the pan is just another method of baking with a Dutch oven. Different recipes will call for different methods, some having you preheat the pot, some having you put the pot with the bread in it into a cold oven and it slowly heats up, and some that have you putting the Dutch oven into the already-heated oven. It’ll vary depending on how the bread comes out best which method the recipe recommends, but you’re always welcome to experiment using the other methods with recipes! They’ll all get the bread baked, so experimentation is welcome. Annabelle@KAF

    2. Maria Spears

      I do not recommend adding oil. I’ve never done so and I’d fear it would start to break down at high heat and add a bad flavor to the bread. That said, I’ve had great luck with both room temp Dutch oven into pre-heated oven and adding the loaf to the pre-heated Dutch oven. Happy baking!

  4. Andree Sanborn

    Is there a guide anywhere as to how much dough to use for different sizes of cast iron pots? I have several sizes but never know how much to put in. I don’t want the lids to squish down the bread.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We don’t have a guide for that, Andree, but I’ve found that a typical loaf with three cups of flour in the recipe does beautifully in my 4.2 quart Dutch oven with some room to spare. If your loaves are much larger or smaller than this, you might want to adjust up or down. Happy baking! Kat@KAF

    2. Pieter

      Regarding size of loaf.. I’ve just moved from the cast iron pot to an earthenware cloche.
      I make my usual full size loaf then cut the dough in half and shape into two loaves, let them rise under a tea towel then….
      Cook them individually .
      My bread has become artisan and crusty My bread is now regarded with awe due to the dark crunchy crust.
      My usual recipe, but now with la cloche.
      Give it a try.

  5. Pieter van Wessem

    Thankyou so much for this lesson. I’ve been making bread for years and always received kind words, however my bread never looked artisan and the crust was never hard and crunchy. Using your directions and a Lodge (American) cast iron Dutch oven or casserole, I have just taken the loaf which looks like it is from heaven from my oven. Note: my bread recipe was a basic one I use which includes a 15 hour starter ( poolish) I do a little cheat my making the dough in the bread making machine for 45 mins. Australia.

    Reply
  6. Debby S.

    I made a double batch – baked 1/2 that day, and put the second half in the refrigerator as suggested. The first loaf was amazing – very crusty with a soft center. I could have eaten the whole loaf with butter right then. 4 days later, i pulled the reserved dough from the fridge and left it out to rise most of the day while I was at work. It did not seem to rise at all this time. I let it rise another hour near the preheating oven (although my house is normally warm) and baked as instructed. This loaf – well, at best – was so disappointing! I had raved about the first loaf, and was planning on serving this for guests that night but no way. It did not rise and puff up at all, and took longer to cook than the first batch. I haven’t thrown it away but consider it inedible. Maybe I’ll toast it for breadcrumbs. I will make again, but never in advance.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there, Debby! We’re sorry that your second loaf of bread didn’t turn out as expected. It sounds like it was over-proofed — most likely the dough rose and fell again before you got back to it. When the dough has been stored in the fridge, it may need a couple hours to come to temperature and rise a bit but not the better part of a day. Dough that has been over-proofed won’t brown as much, will be much shorter than expected and may have a dense section towards the bottom that appears under-baked. We hope this helps for your next baking adventure. If we can help troubleshoot further, please give our Baker’s Hotline a call at 855-371-BAKE (2253). Kindly, Morgan@KAF

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