You made sourdough bread and now it’s time to bake it. You know you need steam to get that rise and crust but it’s just so darn hard to get it. You need a tray with water, add water to the base of your oven, etc. In this post, I will tell you how to bake sourdough bread in a Dutch oven and why it’s easier than the alternatives you have with a home oven.
The presence of steam helps the bread expand, preventing the crust for forming too fast. Also, it helps with the shine of the crust. The steam condenses on the surface of the bread, making the flour gelatinize and giving us that great shiny, blistered finish. The steam is only required during the first stage of cooking and then that factor is removed to get that glorious golden colour on the crust. When I make bread without a Dutch oven, I preheat the oven with a dish with water so it generates steam. I also drop a cup of water at the base of my oven to generate a lot of steam when the bread goes in. Other people use a tray with volcanic rocks and add ice to that when the bread goes in, others have a cast iron pan and add water to that so it sizzles and steams. There are so so many options and they’re all messy if you ask me.
The Dutch oven (cast iron pot)
A Dutch oven is great because it can go into the oven but also, the weight of the lid makes it pretty airtight. That means that we actually use the steam that the bread itself generates and use all of its benefits. It’s also a lot more practical than playing around with boiling water and hot stones, lol. Yes, it’s true that they’re not cheap (although they’re worth it, they will last several generations) and they’re heavy, but they’re worth their weight in gold. Cast iron has the advantage that it stores and distributes heat evenly. That means that when you preheat your oven with a Dutch oven inside, it really does become an oven in itself. It’s a really good tool in the kitchen. In the photo above you can also see how white the bread is when you lift the lid off the bread when the first half of the cooking process is complete. After that you let it bake with the lid off to make it become golden.
How to bake sourdough bread in a Dutch oven
Before removing your bread from the fridge, preheat your oven with the Dutch oven inside to the max temperature you can. In my case it’s 250C/480F.
A. Cut baking paper in a circular shape with to wings on the side. Don’t make them thin! You’ll then use them to lift the bread and place it in the Dutch oven. Place the paper over your bread that was all night in a bowl or banetton. Over that, place a cutting board and turn all of it upside down. Lift off the bowl or banetton and you should have the board, paper and the bread on top, like in photo A.
B. I like to spray my bread with water using a pulverized. It generates more steam on the surface! But it’s optional. If you want to make a design on the bread, you will have to dust its surface with a bit of flour so that you can see the design afterwards.
C. Use a blade (I buy them online, they’re really cheap) or really sharp knife and make a large cut to one side at a 30 degree angle to the surface of the bread. Alternatively, you can also make a cross on top at the centre. These are the two main types of scoring but there are plenty more. It’s these scores that will tell the bread how to grow in the oven. You can use the same blade to make any decorations you like, like the wheat sprigs I drew on mine. I don’t recommend that you make decorations with a knife because it’s really hard.
D. Remove the Dutch oven from the oven carefully, remove the lid and place the bread inside carefully, not dropping it in and definitely not burning yourself. Place the lid on top and place it in the oven for 20 minutes. After that time remove the lid and lower the temperature to 200C/390F and bake for 20-30 minutes or until golden. If you knock on the bottom of the bread it should sound hollow.
After this, you remove the bread from the oven, let it cool down completely, slice it, toast it, spread butter on it and smile :).
The lessons I learned
I made sourdough bread without a cast iron pot or dutch oven for 2 years and I have to say that it’s a lot easier with than without. It gives you predictable results, reduces the stress the process brings and the bread is amazing. The only thing I don’t like is that you don’t get to see it grow, lol! But it’s also nice to get that surprise when you open the lid and see how it’s going halfway through. I hope this brief lesson on how to bake sourdough bread in a Dutch oven has been useful to you :).