Baking in a cold Dutch oven: artisan bread starts low and slow

Customer feedback is highly regarded at King Arthur Flour — really, it is. Suggestions aren’t brushed to the wayside but taken seriously. When new questions are posed, we put our baking brains to work finding the answer. So when readers began asking about bread baking in a cold Dutch oven, we started plotting. This topic deserves a full-on investigation!

Baking in a cold Dutch oven via @kingarthurflour

In our initial exploration of bread baking in a Dutch oven, we investigated using a preheated pot to bake no-knead bread. The results of this method were impressive — loaves baked to crisp, crusty, golden-brown perfection.

Baking in a cold Dutch oven via @kingarthurflour

Here are loaves made in a preheated pot (right) with those baked on a sheet pan (left). The side-by-side comparison is stark.

So if you’ve got a bread baking crock that can be preheated empty (like this Bread and Potato Pot), it’s certainly worth trying this method. But what about all the other Dutch ovens that can’t be preheated empty, for fear of damage?

This is when you might want to consider baking in a cold Dutch oven — the oven isn’t cold the entire time, of course, but just at the start. Putting the pot into a cold oven allows it to warm slowly as the oven heats up. It prevents any sort of thermal damage that might occur to the pot if it’s heated empty.

Baking in a cold Dutch oven via @kingarthurflour

No oven mitts are needed here — the oven, pot, and dough inside are all room temperature.

Baking in a cold Dutch oven: how it works

Some of our bread recipes call for baking in a cold Dutch oven, but you can use this approach to bake almost any crusty bread. There are just a few tricks to achieving fantastic results: You’ve got to know your oven and watch your dough closely as it rises.

Start by preparing your dough as instructed in the recipe. (We like the No-Knead Crusty White Bread recipe for its ease and quintessential crusty bread texture.)

Baking in a cold Dutch oven via @kingarthurflour

This Dutch oven made by Emile Henry is perfect for baking bread using a cold-oven start, but you can use almost any Dutch oven like this — though you’d definitely want to check the manufacturer’s instructions about preheating.

Let the dough rise once at room temperature and then shape into a boule, or whatever shape you like. Place the shaped dough into a lightly greased or parchment-lined Dutch oven, and let it rise for the second time.

Baking in a cold Dutch oven via @kingarthurflour

When the dough is almost finished rising, cover the pot with a lid. When you poke the dough with your finger, the indent should fill in slowly — this is how you’ll know it’s ready to go into the oven.

Place the pot with the almost-fully-risen dough into a cold oven. Set the oven to the baking temperature called for in the recipe, and let it go! Your goal is to have the dough finish rising when the oven and pot reach the full temperature.

Once everything is fully preheated, start the baking time (usually about 25 to 35 minutes). If you want a nicely caramelized loaf, remove the lid when there are about 5 to 10 minutes left in the bake time to let the top brown.

Baking in a cold Dutch oven via @kingarthurflour

The result? A decent loaf of homemade bread!

How baking in a cold Dutch oven compares

Baking in a cold Dutch oven doesn’t only protect the integrity of your pots, it also helps capture steam. Steam is essential to baking crispy loaves of bread — you can see the wonders it does in this post by my fellow blogger and bread baker, Barb.

But just how much steam does the cold-start method capture? Is it as effective as putting your risen dough right into a hot pot?

There’s only one way to find out!

Baking in a cold Dutch oven via @kingarthurflour

The loaf that’s started in a cold oven looks pretty on its own. It has a nicely browned crust and the slashes open while it bakes, giving the loaf an artisan look.

Baking in a cold Dutch oven via @kingarthurflour

But when it’s placed next to a loaf made in a preheated pot, it doesn’t look quite as glamorous or lofty. The dough made in the preheated pot has more oven spring, meaning it rose taller while it baked.

Baking in a cold Dutch oven via @kingarthurflour

The loaf on the left was started in a cold Dutch oven, while the loaf on the right was baked in a preheated Bread and Potato Pot.

Even though the loaves look a bit different, the insides reveal a remarkably similar crumb structure. Both would make fantastic toast, I promise.

Cold start vs. preheated Dutch oven baking

I stand back, admiring my handiwork, when a member of our merchandising team, Rosie, enters the test kitchen. She has a keen eye for details when it comes to baking pans and other kitchen tools, and she wonders if the difference between the two loaves could be a result of the different shape of the pots.

The Bread and Potato Pot has a smaller, more spherical bottom. In comparison, the Dutch oven has a wider, flatter bottom, which allows the dough to spread and flatten slightly.

Determined to give the cold-start method a fair chance, I repeat the experiment making both loaves in the Bread and Potato Pot — baking one in a preheated pot and starting the other in a cold oven.

Baking in a cold Dutch oven via @kingarthurflour

Both loaves were baked in a Bread and Potato Pot; the loaf on the left was baked in a preheated pot, while the one on the right was started in a cold oven.

And look what happens!

Both loaves are almost exactly the same height. I’m stunned when I lift the lid of the pot started in a cold oven, assuming the intensity of the preheated pot will have boosted the loaf to an unmatched height.

Lessons learned:

  1. Baking in a cold Dutch oven (or cold Bread and Potato Pot) can produce loaves that are just as impressive looking as the preheated method.
  2. Dutch ovens with a smaller base are best when trying to make tall, lofty loaves.
  3. Always have a set of fresh eyes look over your results — thanks, Rosie!

Baking in a cold Dutch oven via @kingarthurflour

Baking in a cold Dutch oven turns bread dough from cold to gold(en). Click To Tweet

Choosing your method

As my fellow blogger PJ likes to say, “There’s no baking police.” Neither method — starting in a cold oven, or starting in a preheated pot — is right or wrong, nor is one decidedly “better” than the other. We encourage you to use the approach that works best with your equipment and taste preferences.

Baking in a cold Dutch oven via @kingarthurflour

Time to choose your bread-baking crock, and set the oven. You’ll soon be rewarded with alluring loaves of homemade bread. There’s nothing better than that!

What’s your favorite bread-baking method? Are there other techniques you’d like to see us explore? Let us know in comments, below.

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

Kye Ameden

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.


  1. Jim Burgin

    Great article re starting with cold vs. hot cloche! Love your idea about letting the final rise occur inside the cloche/pot. My overriding issue is this – does one method produce a better (still crispy but not so thick as to damage my already threatened old teeth? I use both a clay cloche and a Lodge iron pot. Thanks much, Jim

  2. Lisa Montesanti

    I have 2 questions should I let my dough come to room temperature after rising in the fridge overnight before placing in cold oven ? And have you tried this method with glass casseroles with a lid?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there, Lisa! If your dough has been refrigerated overnight, it won’t necessarily need to come to room temperature but you’ll want to wait for it to become slightly puffy before placing it in the pot and into the cold oven. We haven’t tested this out with casserole dishes, but be for you start experimenting you’ll want to check with the manufacturer of the dish to ensure that it is OK to heat the dish and lid to the higher temperatures that crusty bread recipes typically call for. Kindly, Morgan@KAF


    I use cast iron Dutch ovens for no knead sour dough bread…I pre-shape my bread, give it a 20 minute rest, reshape, plop it into my cast iron pan ( I add a few layers of parchment paper on the bottom to reduce any scorching) then pre heat my oven and put my bread, scored and covered, into my hot oven. I remove the lid for the last 5 to 10 minutes in the oven and the bread is perfect. It also saves me from burns…which was my experience adding my bread to the very hot Dutch oven….sometimes, one process is not enough. Thank you for putting the science to the test.

  4. karinova

    I’m still confused about the photos SMSH mentioned. The loaf on the right in the “cold Dutch oven/hot Potato Pot” photo and the loaf on the left in the “cold Potato Pot/hot Potato Pot” photo… are the same loaf. Something’s wrong with that second photo. Either the caption is incorrect, or the image itself is flipped.

    I want to make sure I understand those photos, because what I’m REALLY interested in is the difference between the cold Dutch oven and the cold Potato Pot: I want to know what effect pot shape has on oven spring when all other things are equal. I seem to get much taller loaves when I bake in a pot with a rounded bottom (like the Potato Pot) than when I bake in a flat-bottomed pot (like the Dutch oven), and I can’t tell if it’s just my somewhat inconsistent beginner shaping skills, or if it’s the pots.

    This article is the ONLY one I’ve found anywhere that seems to address the question (if incidentally), so any clarification or comments from the KAF pros would be truly appreciated. Thanks in advance!

    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      Ah, we understand what you’re saying, Karinova! We recently added those clarifying captions based on SMSH’s questions, and we see where the “right” and “left,” were swapped. The important takeaway from this post is that a preheated pot and one started in a cold Dutch oven, if handled correctly, will both deliver loaves of bread that rise to a similar height and have an equally crispy crust. If you use a wide-bottomed Dutch oven, you’ll notice a lower rise, regardless of the heating method you use. To answer your musing about flat-bottom pot vs. rounded – it’s the pots, not you! Narrower, rounded-bottom pots encourage dough upwards and into a more spherical shape. If you use a small flat-bottom pot (like a 2.5-quart Dutch oven), then you might achieve a tall rise. Opt for one of these smaller pots if that’s what you’re looking for! Kye@KAF

  5. Nancy Read

    I’m confused. You mention that you were following the No-Knead Crusty White Bread Recipe, yet you say above to let the dough rise twice. My recipe had only one rise. What’s the difference?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Nancy, this post is intended to be used with any recipe. In the No-Knead Crusty White Bread recipe, the bulk rise is the multi-day rise in the refrigerator, after which you’ll shape your boule and let it rise a second time as directed. Hope that helps clarify! Kat@KAF

  6. SF

    I use cast iron D.O. I seem to get over baked, very hard bottom crust.

    I suspected it was from being cooked, seared, from the moment the dough hit the preheated iron.

    Sides and top were beautiful. Inside soft, sliced easy until you get to the bottom and have to saw through it.

    Question: How to get a lighter or softer bottom crust? Similar to the rest of the loaf.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi SF! You can use this method of baking it in a cold Dutch oven to prevent the bottom from getting super hot, that’s the easiest solution. The other is to insulate the bottom of the pot a little by wrapping it in tin foil to deflect some of the heat. Happy experimenting! Annabelle@KAF

  7. SMSH

    I really appreciate the photos, however I can’t help noticing that in the two photos captioned, respectively: “The loaf on the left was started in a cold oven, while the loaf on the right was baked in a preheated Bread and Potato Pot” and “On the left is the loaf started in a cold oven, and on the right the loaf baked in a preheated pot,” the loaf on the right in the first instance is the same loaf on the left in the second instance. Probably just mis-captioned, and the premise is clear either way.

    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      Thanks for reading and checking to make sure the photos and captions were correct. Let’s see if we can clarify: The first picture shows a loaf baked in a cold Dutch oven (left) vs. one made in a preheated Potato Pot (right). (The cold Dutch oven loaf is notably shorter than the preheated Potato Pot.) For the next round of testing, I made two loaves both in Potato Pots — one was made in a cold Potato Pot (left) and the other in a preheated Potato pot (right). (The loaves on the left aren’t the same loaf in both pictures.) I couldn’t believe how well the loaf baked in the cold Potato Pot turned out. It looks almost the same as the one baked in the preheated pot. I’ve added additional language to the second caption to make it clearer. We hope this helps! Kye@KAF

  8. Maryann Ratchford

    Thanks for the cold method information using an oval cast iron Dutch oven! Can’t wait to try it. However, I have to eat gluten free will that type of yeast bread work? I hope you can email me at my email address.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there, Maryann! Our friends at Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day have come up with a gluten-free version of this wonderful, convenient recipe we highlighted in this article. The full method and recipe for the gluten-free version can be found in their book Gluten-Free Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. We’ve found that because gluten-free bread dough is very batter-like, a pan that provides more structure (loaf pans) work out better as the bread will rise upwards rather than spread outwards. We hope this helps and happy GF baking! Morgan@KAF

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