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
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. Regina

    It took me awhile to experiment and get it right, but the easiest way I bake a loaf of bread is leaving the dough already molded and scored inside a slighted oiled, closed, Dutch oven (Le Creuzet cast iron or ceramic) for the last 1 1/2h rise. After heating the (electric) oven to 425F, I insert the cold Dutch oven with the dough (top on) in the oven. Let it bake for 15-18 minutes, and lower the temperature to 375F. Let it bake on 375F for 35 minutes. Take off the top and continue baking at 375F for 15-18 minutes. It works very well for me. When using clay pots (cold wet pot and cold oven) I use parchment paper and do the same thing, start counting time when the temperature achieves 425F. You can see the results in my Instagram @regina_north

    Reply
  2. Karen B

    I enjoyed this so much. I did destroy a dutch oven with the 500 degree empty pan and then adding dough so I just haven’t made again. Today is the day. After church I am making this bread. Thank you so much for doing this. I enjoyed it all. I am always at this site to help with my baking. Made crust this morning to make hand-pies for the rest of the week lunches. They are always perfect.

    Reply
  3. Karen. Clement

    I use the cold start method for gluten free bread making now after using some of Nicole Hunn’s recipes. A cold start for gluten free yeast breads is a dream come true. There are recipes using a dutch oven as well, and I just happen to have a smaller one. I will definitely try this as well. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  4. omar alvarez

    I prefer using my regular Cast Iron D O when Baking Bread, also using charcoal as the main fuel source….

    Reply
  5. JAZ

    I love this post and this new method. I’m short and my oven is a little high fir me when I’m dealing with a heavy roast in heavy roaster, so I’ve stayed away from making bread in a hot pot. Now I’m going to give this a try. I’m worried about the over proofing because I’m in AZ and my kitchen is warm even in “winter”. But I’ll just plan on working in the kitchen on a project and keep an eye on it. Thanks again for another great post.

    Reply
    1. Sue

      JAZ, try using less yeast. Less yeast will take longer to double (or whatever the requirement is).

  6. KLin

    Very useful post, as always.
    I’d love to see a blog post about using different percentages of whole grain flour in baguettes, ciabatta and other artisan breads. Since we eat some form of French bread each night, I try to get as much whole grain in the loaf as possible but I’ve found I lose the light texture and “hole-i-ness” of the bread when I raise the level of whole grains (usually a small amount of rye flour plus white whole wheat) above 25% of the total flour.
    With appreciation and thanks for all you do!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thanks for the suggestion, Kerry! We, too, are always interested in finding new ways to work whole grains into our baking. So much so that we’ve written a whole online guide about it, which you can find here. Towards the bottom of the guide, you’ll find links to our blog series about incorporating whole wheat. While we don’t yet have an article specifically about artisan breads, you might be especially interested in the post about yeast breads, rolls, and pizza. We think you’ll enjoy taking a read through it for the details, but in short, we find much the same as you: that incorporating whole wheat into yeast breads can be both delicious and nutritious, but beyond a certain point, it does change the texture and the rise. Mollie@KAF

    2. Nene Goose

      I have been using the following adaptation for “Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day” that I believe I picked up from the KF Flour site some time ago. It has the taste of a French Country baguette and may be closer to KLin’s expectations.

      5-1/2 c. white flour
      1/2 c. rye flour
      1/2 c. whole wheat flour
      1/4 c. golden flax seed meal
      1 t. ground caraway seed
      1-1/2 T. granular yeast
      3 c. lukewarm water
      Form into a shaggy dough, make a slight indentation into the middle of the dough and add 1 T. salt. Moisten the salt with 1 T. water.
      Let hydrolize–undisturbed–for 20 minutes. After that time, stir well until everything is combined, cover and chill at least overnight.

    3. KLin

      Thank you for these useful references and to Kye for the link to the Harvest Grains Ciabatta recipe. I made it this weekend and it was delicious! I made one tiny tweak, substituting 25 grams of rye flour for part of the white whole wheat.

      Thanks to Nene Goose for the French Country baguette recipe. It looks very promising and I’ll be making it next!

  7. Ed

    Having burned myself in the past getting dough into a hot pot for no-knead bread, this is a safety revelation. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Bette I

      Hey! I am going to try the cold pot method, it sounds much safer to me. Maureen’s way sounds the perfect way to bake a great crusty loaf.

  8. sandy

    Kye-
    I have long used the cold start method and it works well for me and, as you show above, the results are similar to the pre-heated method.
    I like the cold start for one very important reason. I am 68 and not as strong as I used to be (hard to admit that but it is true). With the pre-heated method pulling the pre-heated really hot, heavy dutch oven out of the oven was very scary. I was always afraid I would drop it. Then getting the really hot dutch oven back into the oven after I put the dough in was also challenging. Then I had to deal with the hot heavy pot one more time… coming out of the oven when the bread was done. With the cold start method I get the same results and I only have to deal with a hot pot once – when the bread is done. For me, it is so much easier to lift and move a cold pot than a hot one. There is also a lot of discussion on some of the internet bread baking sites about energy conservation and saving energy by using the cold start method. However, I like it because I am not dealing with the hot pot three times to bake my bread. Thanks for keeping an open mind about this one. This is a good post.

    Reply
    1. maureen

      Yup. Same here! Too scary. Too hot! So what i do now is I line cold pot with parchment, generously. Huge peice so that ‘tabs’ are protruding. Then, I remove the ‘formed’ parchment, and when dough is done rising in basket, i cover with the parchment, flip over the entirety into cold pot. Bake w lid on for 45 mins [set to 480 seems to work with this oven], carefully remove hot lid; bake another 20 to 25 mins, epending upon how dark/crisp your family prefers. I turn off oven, open it and carefully pull out rack, and allow bread to sit, still in pot, still on rack, until pot has cooled considerably. thought it might make it soggy, but turned out fine. Recently, i figured out that if i am very careful, i can use the protruding bits of the the parchment and lift out entirety using parchment as a sling, from the hot pot. If you are too quick, the ‘tabs’ will crumble off, so care is required. then i let it cool on cooling rack for at least 20 mins.
      The results with this ‘safer’ workaround seem identical. super crisp crust, nice rise, nice crumb. [like everyone, sometimes i’ve over-proofed, or my sourdough starter was a tad slack or whatever ….but we don’t mind having a more robust loaf here and there!]

  9. Dziadziu

    I tried the cold Dutch oven technique only once and it was a flop BUT it is possible the dough was over proofed. I’ll have to try again. Getting a boule into a hot pot is no fun either. The cold pot method is definitely the way to go as long as the results are the same.

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      Over-proofing is definitely an enemy here, so be sure you watch your dough closely as it rises. Also feel encouraged to give our Baker’s Hotline a call at 855-371-BAKE(2253) so we can hear more details about what recipe you’re using and what the final loaf looked like. We can help! Kye@KAF

    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      The Dutch oven that’s pictured here is a 4.2 quart size, made by Emile Henry. You can view more details on the product page here. If it’s the Potato Pot you’re interested in, the full dimensions are listed here. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

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