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. Gary S.

    I’m new to bread baking. I’ve been working on a multigrain dutch oven bread recipe. I’m using Robin Hood Multigrain Flour and a bake pot handed down to me from my mother.
    The best results I’ve had in 10 loaves or more just occurred from using a cold oven and a cold bake pot. So glad to have read this article.

    Reply
  2. Isabel

    I have a lodge cast iron Dutch oven and an enamel one. Both say that you can’t pre heat empty. How accurate is this ?

    Isabel

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Isabel. We’d recommend following the instructions that come with your pans to sure they aren’t damaged. You may be able to find additional information on the website of the brand that makes them, we just want your kitchenware to stay in good shape! Annabelle@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Great question, Laurel. Once the dough is almost all the way risen and you’re about to pop it in the oven, that will be the ideal time to score it. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

    2. Joanne

      Thank you for this question! I had the same question and scrolled through the entire thread to find it (the last answered question just one day ago)!!

  3. Christina Richardson

    This is a great article! Thank you! I love this approach. I am a huge dutch oven fan. I sadly do not have any Emile Henry pots yet. I do have a family of Le Creuset. I made the KA No Knead harvest bread today and it stuck really awful to the pot. Is there a way to prevent the bread from sticking? I oiled the pot well and also used cornmeal as recommended to dust the pan. Ideas? Thoughts? Thank you for all that you do in the test kitchen to help us.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      No worries, Christina. Parchment to the rescue! Using parchment paper to line the pan, either cutting it to fit the bottom or a larger parchment sling will make removing it infinitely easier. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

  4. Christina Richardson

    I love this approach. I am a huge dutch oven fan. I sadly do not have any Emile Henry pots yet. I do have a family of Le Creuset. I made the KA No Knead harvest bread today and it stuck really awful to the pot. Is there a way to prevent the bread from sticking? I oiled the pot well and also used cornmeal as recommended to dust the pan. Ideas? Thoughts? Thank you for all that you do in the test kitchen to help us.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Parchment paper works wonders, Christina. Line the bottom with parchment and sprinkle with semolina flour for a frustration-free loaf removal. Annabelle@KAF

  5. Dorse

    I too really love the no knead bread method and have always used the pre heated pot method, with great success. I use my Le Cruset and a clay baker. I have never “soaked” the clay baker b/c I’m concerned it will crack if I place the soaked clay baker in a 450 degree oven. The bread I’ve baked in the clay, unsoaked baker turns out beautifully, but wondered if the steam from the soaked pan might take the bread to another level. Thanks for any help with my question.

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      Hi Dorse, we wouldn’t want you to risk breaking your clay baker. We’d only recommend soaking before baking if that’s something that the manufacturer recommends doing with the piece. If you’re unsure, it’s best to play it safe and stick with a method like the cold oven start shown here. If you’re intrigued by baking with steam, see if you can get your hands on a cast iron Dutch oven — they’re practically indestructible! Good luck. Kye@KAF

  6. Muhammad Ali Al Harazy

    Thank you for your prompt response. My biggest challenge is sticking of sides not the bottom. I tried oil coating but it tends to dry up. I tried the baking paper but it tends to get wet and get stuck to the bread. I want to use the next time around all the possible solutions simultaneously. I will oil the sides, dust them, oil a baking paper, dust the baking paper and put a water pan for at least the later part of the baking for coloring the top. I will let you know. Best Regards.

    Reply
  7. Muhammad Ali Al Harazy

    In addition to coating the baking pot with oil after heating it and after it cools down; does a water pan for steam help reduce the sticking problem and would the steam be kept for the whole baking time?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there fellow bread baker, it’s not necessary to include a water pan in the oven while the bread bakes. The steam will be captured inside the Dutch oven since the lid will be on the pot. If you’re worried about sticking, the best thing you can do is season your pot with a bit of oil and sprinkle some semolina or cornmeal in the bottom of the pan before adding the dough. Either that, or use parchment paper to line your pot. Both approaches work well. Good luck! Kye@KAF

  8. Tom

    The parchment paper will be much stronger to lift bread out if one just folds the “tabs” under the lid while baking – lid on – the last 10 or so minutes – lid off – won’t degrade the paper that much….

    Reply
  9. Karleen Wolfe

    Looks and sounds good. I plan to try this with a Le Creuset pot. I have several sizes–can you recommend which diameter works best? Love everything King Arthur, BTW. I use your flours and it’s great when I find a store that carries a wide range. Wish we had a KA store here in Seattle!

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      Hi Karleen, a Dutch oven with a 8″ to 9″ diameter works nicely to bake a 2 pound loaf of bread. (Anything that has a 3.5 to 4 quart capacity is typically in this range.) Happy baking! Kye@KAF

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