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. Karen Rushing

    I’m really wanting to bake this bread. Is it possible to swap the yeast for sourdough starter? I have an abundance of it plus really enjoy the taste of sourdough.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Karen, rather than trying to make all the adjustments needed to this recipe to make it using sourdough starter, we suggest trying our No-Knead Sourdough Bread recipe instead. It’s very similar, but has all the adjustments needed to make a no-knead bread successfully as a sourdough loaf. Happy baking! Kat@KAF

  2. Joseph Cartlidge

    I plan to make my first King Arthur “NO-KNEAD CRUSTY WHITE BREAD” which calls for 32 oz. flour in my 6 qt. Lodge enameled Dutch oven. Does one entire recipe make a single loaf or must I portion the recipe for multiple loaves?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Joseph, that recipe makes three or four small loaves. You could make two larger loaves, but using all that dough for a single loaf would be unwieldy. The nice thing about this recipe is that you don’t have to bake both on the same day. Since the dough rests in the fridge, you could leave it for three days, bake the first loaf, then wait another three days and bake the second. Kat@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You’re welcome to check with Romertopf but when we bake with our Bread Baking Bowl we don’t soak it. It’s neither recommended nor necessary. Instead, we oil it with neutral-flavored vegetable oil before each use. Annabelle@KAF

  3. John

    There are so many variations you can do with this that it’s insane. Been cooking dozens of loaves in many ways. It’s very forgiving IMHO. My sister uses a stainless steel pan with glass lid – comes out beautifully every time.

    My latest ones are a NYC deli rye, using the king arthur flavor powder. Oh man it’s so good!

    Thanks king arthur! All hail the king!

    Reply
  4. Karen Michaels

    If you cannot preheat your empty dutch oven (enameled cast iron), you still use the dutch oven for bread baking?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Of course, Jay, it works beautifully with any bread recipe you want to have a nice crust on. The only thing it isn’t ideal for would be gluten-free bread. Annabelle@KAF

  5. Tammy

    I like to use the crock that comes out of an old crock pot, put foil over the top for the first baking. Not the big oval ones, the more narrow round crock. We use all kinds of different ingredients. We put herbs (fun to mix up the flavors), cheese, different craft beers. Artisan breads are so easy, they make us all look like master bakers.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      They sure can, Teresa! We’d just suggest double checking with the manufacturer to make sure the pot you have can be heated empty. Happy baking! Morgan@KAF

    2. Andrew

      The black “plastic” handle on a Le Crueset pot is only good to 375°. You can buy a metal one to replace it for pretty cheap. My stove is the limiting factor now.

    3. Lou Ann

      I use my Le Creuset 4 qt dutch oven and it works beautifully. I got one with a grill pan for the lid on QVC and use the lid as the base and the pot as the cover. A little heavy to manage but the bread is perfect.

  6. Paul Pluth

    What is the advantage of this Bread and Potato Pot over the Emile Henry Cloche or a Dutch Oven? Is there any difference?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there, Paul! The only true difference between a Bread and Potato Pot, Dutch oven and a cloche is the shape of the vessel and the shape of the loaf it will produce. They will all create steam within and give your bread a nice crusty finish. Also, the cloche can’t be used on the stovetop, like a Dutch oven or a Bread and Potato Pot can. We hope this helps and happy baking! Morgan@KAF

  7. Paul Pluth

    I used the Emile Henry Ceramic Dutch Oven I bought years ago from KAF (though in the sales listing it says no difference is noted whether preheated or not). When I plopped the dough into the pot and put into the oven, I thought “This is going to be a disaster.” I could not have been more wrong. It turned out beautifully despite all my clumsiness in handling the dough. What a relief that it was so forgiving.

    Reply

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