Cooking Bread in a Dutch Oven and Alternative Steaming Techniques

breadinpot

Commercial bread ovens have a steam injection system. The steam keeps the surface of the dough supple so that dough can expand gracefully during baking. Jim Lahey’s popular no-knead bread recipe uses a dutch oven to emulate steam injection. The Dutch oven method seals in the moisture contained in the dough during the first half hour of baking. It works great and I cook all my bread this way.

screwedupbread1

That being said it can be tricky to plop a loaf of wet, sticky dough into a 475º F Dutch oven without either burning yourself or messing up the dough. I’ll note that even when I’ve screwed it up (like the loaf above) and the dough lands off center, the bread still turns out fine. It’s just an aesthetic issue.

Some other bakers have come up with variations on the Dutch oven technique. Chad Robertson, baker and author of Tartine Bread suggests using a cast iron combo cooker like the one below:

  combocooker

You use it upside down, putting the dough in the skillet rather than dropping it down in the pot. Then you stick the pot on top. I imagine that the handle is handy.

Someone in a bread class I was teaching suggested using a bread baking stone and simply inverting a pot or large roasting lid over the stone. As long as the lid or pot seals properly, this should work too.

Other folks use parchment paper and don’t do the inversion at all. I’m a bit skeptical, but haven’t tried this technique myself.

claychosce_

You can also buy a clay cloche, but they’re on the expensive side.

There are other steaming methods. I used to throw a shot glass of water in the oven–it just doesn’t work as well and, I’ve been told, can damage some ovens. I’ve also tried preheating  a roasting pan and then pouring water in it, but it doesn’t work as well as the Dutch oven. And I was really surprised to read about an elaborate steaming technique that involves a length of chain in a roasting pan described in the Bouchon Bakery Cookbook. Too much work!

For now I’m going to stick with my Dutch oven. Most of the time I manage to get the loaf into the pot and our kitchen is so small that we don’t have room for more gadgets.

If I’ve left out any steaming techniques or you have an opinion, please leave a comment . . .

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13 Comments

  1. Hi – I use a dutch oven in my solar cooker – pre-heating it, and then popping the dough in the dutch oven when it’s ready. Works a treat :)

  2. Hi Mr. H,

    Do you use commercial yeast with this approach, or the sour dough starter you have talked about?

    I don’t have a starter yet, but once I do I am hoping I can apply it to the no-knead recipe.

    Thanks!

    • Both–and we’re having a little trouble with our web software this week so I can only see the first sentence of your question. But it works for all the breads I make.

  3. I gild the lily and grease the loaf side of the parchment paper before using it in my Dutch oven. It does get brown and crispy-looking (the parchment as well as the bread), but it works well and allows me to easily remove the finished loaf without burning my knuckles.

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  5. Just stumbled across your blog and wanted to share that a Romertopf clay baker also works well. I use the dutch oven when baking a round loaf, and the Romertopf for oblong loaves. The Romertopf started life with me as a chicken-baker, but my bread doesn’t seem to mind. And I use the parchment paper method for ease of handling. Works great. I have a photo but don’t know how to post it.

  6. I just love your site. I live in Mexico and dont have a choice about being a consumer. we have to be self reliant. I love some of the solutions you have for things. cant wait to try the bread.

  7. Love reading your article!
    I’ve decided it’s time for me to purchase a Dutch oven, and mainly it’s for baking the infamous bread. I definitely do not want to spend the money to purchase the Le Creuset. From your picture posted above, it looks like you simply used the basic Lodge dutch oven, without the enameled layer. Do you recommend that I purchase the one with the skillet combo or should I stick with the model from the first picture? Thanks again for your inputs!

  8. Pingback: Cooking Bread in a Dutch Oven and Alternative Steaming Techniques | Root Simple | Pasadena Learning Gardens

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