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. Eve

    Could you please post pictures of the exterior side-by-side comparison, not just the interior? The outside crust color makes a big difference in flavor development too, not just the rise. It’s hard to see how they compare when you just show a tiny bit of the loaf tops in the interior comparison picture.

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      Hi Eve, thanks for your question. We didn’t include a photo of the the two loaves’ exteriors because they looked practically identical; the depth of color of the crust was very similar. You can see a side-by-side comparison of cold start method vs. the preheated method in the section called “How baking in a cold Dutch oven compares.” It’s the second photo in that section. We hope that helps! Kye@KAF

  2. Mary

    I found the comments from Sandy and Maureen very helpful because I too am “of a certain age” and look for ways to keep on baking knowing I have a few restrictions. May I suggest, if it has not already been done, posting a blog article on strategies like the ones they suggested. I bet there are a lot of us out there with some great ideas to continue sharing.

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      Hi Mary, thanks for your feedback. It sounds like both Sandy and Maureen use the cold start method that’s explained in this article here–the risen dough and Dutch oven are put into a cold oven before it’s turned on. The slight variation to use parchment paper that Maureen suggested seems both intriguing and helpful, especially when trying to remove the baked bread from the pot. If it helps, you could also simply put a piece of parchment paper in the bottom of the Dutch oven before the dough is added and left to rise. This way you’ll be able to use the edges of parchment paper that protrude from underneath the loaf to lift it out of the pot, kind of like this. We hope that helps! Kye@KAF

    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      Winner, winner! Mike, you’ve guessed what the next article in this series of baking artisan bread is going to focus on: how to bake bread dough in the cloche, and how the results compare to the two other methods we’ve explored thus far. While we don’t have definitive answers for you at this point, we encourage you to experiment using the basic findings here to help guide you. The Emile Henry Cloche can also be preheated empty, so you could give that a try as well to see if you like the loaf it produces. One thing to keep in mind: be sure you shape your dough tightly into a boule since the cloche doesn’t have any sides to support the dough as it rises upwards. Please feel free to share your results with us, and look for that article in the next few months. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  3. Carol Jeffery

    My Dutch Oven is not heat resistant to the temperature required for the no-knead bread (only safe to about 350 F). I have a cast iron skillet that I think would be ideal but would it be too shallow?

    I’d like to try this method.

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      We love baking in a cast iron, Carol, but part of the reason why this method works so well is because the lid on a Dutch oven helps capture steam. The steam is key to creating the crispy crust and lofty rise that makes this method so appealing. You’re welcome to try baking your bread at a lower temperature for a longer amount of time to see if that gets you the results you’re looking for; just be sure to test the internal temperature for doneness. Otherwise, you might want to invest in a sturdy Dutch oven that can get very hot. It’s a worthwhile investment that you’ll end up using for cooking and baking alike! Kye@KAF

    2. Karin

      To get steam, I preheat a roasting pan on lowest rack. Immediately after placing the dough into the oven I add boiling water to the roasting pan and close the door quickly! It provides a generous amount of steam for the first part of baking. I also give my loaf a fine spritz of water to just moisten. I also preheat (don’t forget to turn it down once the loaves are in!) my oven 25 degrees hotter because I know opening the door, sliding dough onto a stone and adding water, or removing & replacing a dutch oven sucks out the heat. Making sure my loaves had the right temp for oven spring and high moisture improved the crust on my Italian and French loaves tremendously.

  4. Francesco Martiradonna

    I wish this recipe was printable, I have had some Italian recipes with pictures that were printable.
    F.M.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Francesco, we’re got great news. The recipe for the No-Knead Crusty White Bread is printable! You can click here to see a printer-friendly version. The full article explaining the cold start technique isn’t printable, but you could copy and paste the text you’d like print into a document if you like. Hope that helps! Kye@KAF

  5. Nancy Beck

    I’ve been baking bread in the preheated Dutch oven. The one necessary ingredient is King Arthur Bread Flour. No other flour works as well or tastes as great. Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      Hi Elizabeth, if you can bake in your enameled cast iron (up to 450 degrees F), then this cold start method will work. Just double check the manufacturer’s recommended maximum temperature before beginning. (And make sure the handle on the lid is oven-safe too!). Kye@KAF

    2. Treven Dunning

      If your enameled cast iron Dutch oven is by Lodge, you cannot do a dry pot pre-heat.

  6. Cecilia freeman

    Hope everyone knows if your dough is over proofed you can deflate it and reform the loaf and let it rise again. I have done this when my dough rose much faster than expected and when I got busy with other tasks and the dough over proofed
    Of course you need to do this before putting the bread into the oven.

    Reply
  7. Cheryly

    I have much more success baking my bread in a hot Dutch oven. I put parchment paper in the bowl for the last rise. When ready to bake, I just take the lid off & drop the loaf in with the parchment paper. Put the lid back on. Equally as easy to remove loaf to cooling rack on parchment.

    Reply
  8. LindaK

    I have an old Propane gas stove that takes about 20-30 minutes to reach a 350 temp. Once there, however, it’s pretty accurate and stays at set temp. Any experiences with or downside to using the cold-oven method with an oven that takes this long to pre-heat?

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      Good question, Linda. With ovens that take longer to preheat, there’s more of a chance that the exterior of the bread will burn before the center has reached the full temperature. To prevent this from happening, be sure to use a lidded or covered baker that’s made from a thick, well-insulated material. You can also put the pot on a baking sheet before it goes into the oven as well. If possible, test the internal temperature of the loaf with an oven thermometer before removing it from the oven to ensure it’s baked properly. (Look for at least 190°F.) Happy baking! Kye@KAF

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