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. Bette

    I have 6 quart enameled dutch oven; I want to use cold start but want to know can you use all of the dough from the no knead crusty white bread and bake at one time; or do you use half? cooking time varies? thanks

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Bette! With a Dutch oven that size, you can probably get away with making just one loaf. It’ll probably take another 10ish extra minutes to bake until you get to the internal temperature of about 190°F to 195°F on a digital thermometer. If it’s browning quickly and has a ways to go, cover it with foil. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

  2. Linda Cline

    I’m using a Le Creuset for baking starting at cold. Would it help to put the pan of water underneath? I do have a 5qt cast iron. Would that be better to bake in and use the pan of water underneath. Thanks.

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid

      Hi, Linda. Since you’re baking in a covered pan, there’s no need to put water in the oven as well. The lid from the Le Creuset will capture the moisture from the dough, making the pan an self-enclosed steamer. Just don’t forget to remove the lid for the last 15 minutes of baking, to get a nice caramelized top. Susan

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Phyllis! Since there are so many different types of clay out there that all bake differently, the best thing to do is to just start experimenting. Take some of the tips from this article, apply them to your pot, and see how the bread turns out. If you know the manufacturer of the clay pot they may be able to offer advice or at least give you a recommended maximum oven temperature. Happy experimenting! Annabelle@KAF

  3. Rachel

    If I use the rustic sourdough bread recipe and use the cold Dutch oven method, do I need to increase the baking time?

    I baked it for the standard 30 mins and then cooked it without the lid on for 5 mins, and the dough is very pale.

    It has a nice rise and shape but it is very pale and the interior of the dough is only at 130 degrees.
    Thank you in advance!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Rachel, if you’re starting your baking time from the moment your oven announces that it has come to temperature, it may be that it’s fibbing about how hot the interior of the oven actually is. This is actually a common issue for home ovens, and one that’s wildly frustrating to a lot of bakers, so you’re not alone! Getting an accurate oven thermometer can help with this, but in the meantime, you can try setting your oven 25° higher and see if that results in a loaf that’s fully baked. Happy baking! Kat@KAF

  4. RJ Hirsch

    HI,
    I have been baking no-knead for years and years; it is wonderful. I am delighted with the concept of not needing to pre-heat the pot. Happy not to handle the 500 degree pot! HOWEVER, since doing this, the cornmeal/KF AP flour that I sprinkle on the bottom often has a raw flavor.
    And the bottom is not quite as crisp as it was getting.
    Help appreciated!
    many thanks,
    RJ

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hmm, that’s very interesting, RJ! You could try giving the loaf a final toast on a baking stone or steel for a few minutes to finish off the bottom if it’s not getting crispy enough for you. (Assuming that the stone pre-heated with the oven and is heated through.) Happy baking! Kat@KAF

  5. Dave Hill

    Hi,, want to try Dutch oven bread …have a enameled cast iron pot. Say can’t be heated empty. Do you think it would work to pre heat with a little water in it,remove water and then add dough and bake. Just like the idea of the better steam with a preheated pot.

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      Hi Dave,
      If your pot specifically warns you against preheating it empty, we say you’re best off following that advice. Don’t worry though — you can still make outstanding loaves of bread using your Dutch oven. Simply follow the cold start method, which we outlined this post: Baking in a cold Dutch oven. Both you and your pot will be happy; we promise! Kye@KAF

  6. Jackie

    I use the cold oven method. The problem I seem to have is a burnt bottom and a less than crispy top. But the bread itself is fine. My oven temperature is exact. First time I made it I left it in longer to get the top crispy after I took the lid off but the second time I didn’t leave it in his long and I still ended up with the burnt bottom.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Jackie. The burning might be due to the material your Dutch oven is made of. It may do better if you lower the oven temperature by 25°F. You could also try putt the Dutch oven on another pan, a sheet pan for example, just to give you a little bit of extra insulation on the bottom. For the crispness, you may need to alter the time spent in the oven with the lid on. Having it on for about the first half or 2/3 of baking time is usually sufficient. Then with the lid off, it will brown, but the crispness should already be set. It may take some experiments! Annabelle@KAF

  7. Mary

    I’m wondering how this compares to rising the bread in the cloche and putting it in a preheated oven. I received an Emile Henry for Christmas. I’m a little uncomfortable preheating the empty cloche.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      It’ll pretty much give you the same results, Mary. Go ahead and bake with your cloche in a cold oven. Annabelle@KAF

  8. Steven Hengen

    Julie,
    To prevent any sticking in the future use a high heat 9” round silicone. I’ve used the SIL- ECO for years to eliminate sticking.
    DoughBoy

    Reply
  9. Julie

    I finally got the Émile Henry Dutch for Christmas and decided to give this AF no knead bread dough a try. Followed the instructions but I cut the recipe in half. Room temperature proof and refrigerated overnight and room temp prior to baking.
    Preheated the oven and tossed the sixth cold with room temp dough and baked for a bit longer (20 minutes) to get color on top.
    My only worry is one side of the bread is sticking to the bottom. I’m hopeful that as it cools it will release my bread.

    Reply

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