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. ShelleyB

    I use a cast iron covered 5qt pan and have had success both preheating and not. I also use parchment for ease putting into the pan with less disturbing and for ease in removing. Thank you for trying the various ways as this is the only way to truly make a comparison. Homemade bread is the best. #loveKingArthurFlour

    Reply
  2. Melanie

    Thanks for this post, I have been using the hot pot method but as others have mentioned getting the hot pots in and out is a struggle. One question I have is, why not start cold pot in hot oven, is the only way to develop the steam is to let it finish the rise as the oven heats? Or is it concerns about burning outside while inside atays underdone?

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      Hi Melanie, your baking instincts are right on. If you put the cold pot with the fully risen dough into a hot oven, you’ll end up with a nice loaf of bread, but it won’t receive the burst of steam that’s responsible for making such impressive, crispy crust. You can give it a try to see if you like the results, but we think you’ll be more satisfied if you start the loaf in a cold oven or use the preheated pot method. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

    2. Melanie

      Thanks for the reply. I tried the cold dutch oven tonight and it went well. I did notice the loaf exploded quite a bit despite me having scored the loaf. Did I perhaps not let it rise enough before putting it in the oven? Or too much?

    3. Kye Ameden, post author

      It sounds like your loaf was slightly underproofed. Try letting it rise for about 20 minutes longer before starting it in a cold oven. The cold oven start works well but it does take a few trials to get the timing just right. Don’t give up; it sounds like you’re close! Kye@KAF

    4. James

      I have trouble understanding how having everything start cold produces more steam than putting a cold dutch oven into a pre-heated oven? Also, starting baking time when the oven has reached temp does not mean the dutch oven will also be at temp since it takes longer for the dutch oven to match the oven temp.

    5. The Baker's Hotline

      James, we haven’t found that starting the bread in a cold oven necessarily makes more steam than using the pre-heated pot method, but it certainly does produce comparable results. We’re glad you mentioned that it’s helpful to let the oven preheat for a bit after the preheat signal goes off — whether you’re pre-heating a Dutch oven or not, we’ve found that ovens tend to be a little bit over-eager in declaring their readiness. It sounds like you, James, might be a proponent of the pre-heated method, and we encourage you to embrace that approach if that’s what works best for your oven and equipment. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  3. Linda Grotefendt

    I have started using a cast iron combo pot. I preheat it. But you place the loaf on the shallow side and cover it with the deep side. It words beautifully.

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      Hi Ann, most of the Le Creuset cast iron Dutch ovens are safe up to 500°F, so this method will work to bake fantastic loaves of bread. (Double check with the manufacturer if you’re unsure of the maximum oven-safe temperature for the specific product you have.) To make crispy, crusty loaves, 450°F is usually a great temperature to bake at, so your Le Cresuet should be well-suited to this method. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  4. Anna Turley, Cubmaster

    When I first saw the article, I thought you were going to use an outdoor Dutch oven that uses BBQ coals. Although I love what you have done, and I plan to try it as is, I camp a lot and wonder if you could let us know how to do it at camp. Won’t that make all the other campers jealous!

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      As a person who grew up going to (and then working at) summer camp, I understand your desire to bake some fantastic bread over a campfire. The best way to do this is to get your fire nice and hot and then let it create some coals. Carefully bury your cast iron Dutch oven (with the fully risen dough inside) in the coals, pushing them up the sides and placing some on top of the lid as best you can. The bake time will vary drastically based on how hot the coals are and how well covered the Dutch oven is. The best way to gauge baking time is to use an infrared thermometer to take the temperature of the pot (if it’s around 400-425°F, start checking around 30-40 minutes), and/or an instant read thermometer that can be inserted into the loaves to test for doneness. It should reach at least 190°F when it has finished baking. It takes a bit of guesswork, but it’s worth the final result! Kye@KAF

  5. Ann Marie Noone

    I do my second rise in a pot lined with parchment. I preheat my Dutch oven, when it is heated I lift the parchment lined dough out of the first pot, drop it in the hot pot. I never burn myself, it’s very easy. Beautiful bread every time.

    Reply
  6. Bill M

    This is interesting since putting the dough in those hot DO’s is intimidating. 1. I am not clear what you mean by “Once everything is fully preheated, start the baking time”. DO you mean you are checking temps of the DO? Or just when the oven is pre-heated? or something else. 2. Also, what about dough that is proofed overnight in the refrigerator?

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      Hi Bill, good questions. Once the oven is preheated, start the bake time. (By “everything,” we meant that the pot will also have reached the full temperature.) If your dough is proofed overnight in the fridge, you might want to let it rise on a piece of parchment paper in a bowl so you can easily transfer it to a room-temperature Dutch oven the next morning. When it’s fully risen, you lift it using the parchment paper and place it in the Dutch oven, make your slashes, put the lid on the pot, and put it into a cold oven. Then you can follow the method as described here. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  7. Erik

    I noticed many were concerned about the safety issue of getting dough into the hot dutch oven (generally assuming we are talking about the no-knead bread). Not only can it be a little dangerous, but it’s pretty tough to get a fairly slack dough into the pot without it sticking to whatever it was on previously as all but the most ridiculous amounts of flour end up hydrating. A NYT reader recommended placing the dough on a piece of parchment to proof and then dropping the parchment and dough into the pot. I tried this and it works great. There was no difference in the outcome of the loaf, but much easier to get the loaf in and out of the pot. I highly endorse this plan.

    Reply
    1. Tiffany

      I also do this parchment paper dough transfer as well and in addition I some Ove Gloves (from Walgreens or Amazon dot com) that protect me from the hot pot. Ove Gloves are protective to 500 deg. My pot lid did not have a knob to take the heat so I wrapped it three times in heavy duty aluminum foil. I’m heating the enameled pot empty of dough at 450 deg for 30 min then after the 30 min reduce heat to 430 put the dough in using the parchment paper and Ove Gloves for protection and bake for exactly 52 min. Comes out exactly the same no matter what I do. By the way, the dough is cold when it goes into the baking pot and as well has been fermenting in my fridge for 48 hrs (so it’ll be Gluten Free and Phytic Acid Free). It’s Sourdough bread by the way.

  8. equus_peduus

    I’ve been making no-knead bread in my Le Creuset Dutch oven for a while now. I think it’s probably more or less the NYT recipe, but not sure – I memorized it a long time ago so my quantities might have shifted over time!. Normally, I let it rise in the bowl for a while (usually 10-12h), then turn it out onto a floured surface and coat it in flour, after a bit, preheat the Dutch oven, then plop the dough into the hot pot and bake it. It rarely sticks more than in one or two tiny spots.

    Having seen this post, I tried it today, but instead of letting the second rise be on the counter, I did in the pot (I did make sure it was well-coated with flour). It stuck like crazy. It may have over-risen (usually it only gets 30-60min for the second rise) but today it got closer to 2 hours as I had to be out of the house for a bit and wanted to bake as soon as I got home.

    Is the problem that the flour coating the dough absorbed moisture from the dough, so therefore it stuck, or with the over-long time it sat in the pot, or with the method itself? I don’t usually use parchment paper and have no sticking problems, but I did notice as I read the article that you recommended using paper (I chose not to since I don’t usually).

    Thanks 🙂

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      Hi there bread baker, you can definitely let the dough rise right in the pot; we actually recommend doing just that so you don’t have to worry about transferring the dough when it’s fully-risen and quite delicate. To ensure the bread doesn’t stick, we recommend seasoning your pan well before you begin. Try heating up the pot in the oven slightly and then rubbing a neutral-flavored vegetable oil on all the interior surfaces with a paper towel. Let it cool, and then coat it in oil again before adding a sprinkle of semolina flour or cornmeal. These slightly coarse ingredients help create a barrier between the pot and the dough, which will prevent it from sticking. We hope these tips help! Kye@KAF

    2. equus_peduus

      The seasoning will work with the enameled pot? I’ve mostly only heard of doing that with cast iron.

      I’ll give it a try next time, thanks 🙂

    3. The Baker's Hotline

      Most enameled or ceramic pots don’t need to be seasoned, but since you had such trouble with your dough sticking, it won’t hurt to add a layer of oil to the inside. Give it a try, and we hope it helps! Kye@KAF

    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      Yes, the cold start method works fabulously with a bread cloche. In fact, our recipe for Crusty Cloche Bread actually calls for starting in a cold oven. Give it a shot; we think you’ll like the results! Kye@KAF

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