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 Engagement Team.

comments

  1. Susan

    I bought a Dutch oven and made this bread. It was beautiful with a fantastic top crust but the bottom crust was impossible to cut thru. So I tried baking for less time and again with lower heat settings but the inside was not done properly both times. Help! Also, FYI, I like in the mountains of upstate NY (elevation of appx 2000 feet)

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      Hi Susan, if you’d like to protect the bottom of your bread from turning into a very hard crust, consider placing your Dutch oven on a baking sheet. This will provide some extra heat insulation without compromising the quality of the rest of the loaf. Try using the tip along with the temperatures listed in the instructions here; high heat is critical to getting the right rise, crust, and crumb throughout your loaf. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  2. Krystle

    Hi! I have started experimenting with baking my own bread and would like to take the next step and purchase a dutch oven. Any recommendations on trusted/reliable brands? How much should I expect to spend for a quality product?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Krystle, we have a couple of dutch ovens we really like on our website, at two different price points. All dutch ovens are good for things like pot roasts and such, but not all of them are good for baking. The reason for this is usually the handle on the lid. Read up on the specifications (or call the manufacturer if you find one secondhand) to make sure that it is safe to use in the oven at higher temperatures. If $100 to $300 seems too far out of your budget for a good dutch oven, keep an eye on estate sales! You can often find some gems there that are easier on the wallet. Happy baking! Kat@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Rhianna, you can definitely use this method with any bread that doesn’t require a loaf pan. Have fun experimenting with different recipes! Kat@KAF

  3. Andrea H.

    I just bought a Lodge enameled dutch oven, and it says not to heat it empty. I don’t want to ruin the pot, so how do I bake the bread in it? I so want this to work!

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      We have just the answer you’re looking for, Andrea! We’ve written a full article on our blog about how to bake bread using what’s known as the “cold start,” method. It’s called “Baking in a cold Dutch oven,” and it describes a process where you’ll put the almost-fully risen dough into the Dutch oven and put it in a cold oven before turning it on. It feels strange putting dough into an oven that’s not fully pre-heated, but we promise it works! You’ll get a nice rise from your dough and also it will be gentle on your pot. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi, there! You sure can bake bread in a cast iron Dutch oven even if it has a self-basting lid. Happy baking! Morgan@KAF

    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      Instead of baking the bread for 25 to 30 minutes and then for another 10 minutes without the lid, try baking for 20 minutes and then removing the lid. Bake for another 5 to 8 minutes with the lid off until the loaf has browned nicely and the internal temperature reaches at least 190°F with a digital thermometer. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  4. Nika

    This looks amazing!!! However my loved ones just went gluten-free. Any tips for making this (or any other dutch oven bread) GF?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Nika! For yeasted breads, you really want to start with a recipe that’s designed to be gluten-free, such as our Gluten-Free Sandwich Bread. Gluten-free bread doughs like pans that are narrow, like loaf pans, so they have walls to hold onto, climb up, and ideally, hold a great rise. Dutch ovens make this harder for the dough, so loaves made in them wind up on the shorter, denser side. But still tasty! Check out the recipe for Gluten-Free Artisan Bread in 5 from the same folks who developed this glorious No-Knead Crusty White Bread recipe. Happy GF baking! Annabelle@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We recommend using some parchment paper to line your Dutch oven, Katherine. Sprinkling a thin layer of semolina flour on top of the parchment gives you even more insurance that it’ll come out nicely. You can also spray a small bit of pan spray on a paper towel and rub the inside of the pot lightly, but parchment should do the trick on its own. Annabelle@KAF

  5. Karen

    My bread turns out perfect, but as it cooled, it lost its crunchy crust. I baked it in a cast iron Dutch oven, then took it out to cool on a cooling rack outside the pot. What did I do wrong? That’s the best part of this bread is the crusty outer layer. Thanks for your help

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Check out this article on our blog about keeping your baking crispy. Try baking the bread for an additional 3 to 5 minutes, and then turning it out of the pot and turning the oven off. Let it cool on the oven racks with the door slightly ajar. This slow cooling process should help keep the crust nice and crispy. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  6. Judy Anderson

    I just purchased a Emile Henry potato pot in hopes of making this bread. The instruction manual stars it can be used in a 200/400 degree oven. I’m worried it will crack at a temp of 450. Can you advise?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hmmm… the Emile Henry Potato Pot is part of their “Flame Line,” meaning it’s made of super heat-resistant materials can withstand temperatures up to 930°F. If your pot is made by Emile Henry, then you should be just fine to go ahead and preheat it as described here. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

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