The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts
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davidg618's picture

Baker/author Ken Forkish, in Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza, makes an impassioned and compelling argument for home- baking in Dutch ovens.

He writes of his struggle to achieve the same “texture, crust, color and oven spring…” in his home oven compared to: “[what]… we get in the bakery using the 15,000-pound Italian deck oven, with steam at the push of a button.” Shortly following he expresses his gratitude to authors Jim Lahey (My Bread) and Chad Robertson (Tartine Bread) for introducing him to using Dutch ovens for home bread-baking, their books recognizing “…previous techniques for home baked hearth bread, most often baked on a pizza stone with myriad methods for producing steam, were insufficient for recreating the oven steam we enjoy as professionals bakers”

I don’t bake bread at home in Dutch ovens. I made this choice five years ago. I’m and old man. I suffer from arthritic degradation in my spine. If I overdo it I hurt. I’m also a klutz. Throughout my lifetime I’ve frequently tripped over matchsticks. My choice was made for personal safety. I don’t feel comfortable wrestling a pre-heated Dutch oven bent over an open, heated home oven. There are also secondary reasons. One looms large in my reasoning: my favorite loaf shape is the batard. It appears Dutch ovens, with few exceptions, dictate “Only Boules”.

I own six Dutch ovens: three of them are made from raw cast iron (two of them have three short legs for campfire cooking/baking), three of them are enameled cast iron. The oldest two were purchased, by me, in the 1950’s; the youngest three years ago: an enameled Lodge—made in China. It’s my least favorite (its interior stains). Two (Le Creueset)  have some-kind-of-plastic handles that would be harmed at bread-baking temperatures. I could remove them, but that would make wrestling covers more difficult. I’d probably drop one on my toes. The two with legs don’t sit well in ovens. Also, only my oval Le Creuset would allow baking my favorite bread shape. Forget baguettes.

I love Dutch ovens.

But I won’t bake in them for the reasons stated above.

When I read author Forkish’s declaration my first thought was, “What am I missing out on?” I scanned through the rest of his book, and my copy of Tartine Bread, but found nothing quantifying the shortages in texture,  crust, color and oven spring my naked-in-the-oven-with-insufficient-steam breads achieve.

I didn’t doubt there are differences. I simply wanted to know, “What are the differences? How “big’” are they?”

I decided I’d do an experiment. I would simulate a Dutch oven by placing a six-inch deep, fourteen-inch diameter stainless-steel bowl over a 500 gram boule-shaped loaf resting on my preheated baking stone. I would insure the bowl was placed such that its entire rim rested on the seventeen inch wide inch baking stone: an easy challenge.

I would then compare it to an “identical” boule baked in my usual manner.

In this picture and the two following the bowl-covered loaf is on the left.

These loaves, each 500g, were from the same dough (70% hydration, natural levain only) but proofed seperately and baked serially. I was concerned that if the differences were slight how the exterior "wet" oven air might muddy the outcome. I need not have worried.

My visual assessment was the covered loaf had expanded more then the conventionally baked loaf, but after seeing the difference in shape, and loft I wasn't entirely convinced.

I placed each loaf in a thin plastic bag and extracted the trapped air from each bag. the plastic became a thin skin clinging to the loaves crust. I carefully immersed each loaf in a bowl filled to its rim with water. I collected and measured the overflow in milliliters. The cover-baked loaf displaced 10% more water than the conventional loaf, indicating its volume was the greater. Additionally, I weighed the two baked loaves. The differed in weight by only 2 grams (less than 0.4%)--the cover-baked loaf was the heavier..

The crust on the cover-baked loaf is noticeably thinner than the conventional loaf, but I made no effort to measure the difference. Interestingly, I perceive, in this picture the crumb of the conventional loaf exhibits less random bubble size, but overall appears to be slightly more open than the cover-baked loaf. However, the variance seems small, and slices elsewhere in the loaves compared randomly.

The volume difference vs. weight difference would suggest the cover-baked loaf's crumb is slightly more open.

Both my wife and I ate multiple samples of both loaves. Neither of us perceived any difference in flavor or chewiness of the crumb. The cover-baked loaf's crust is, not surprisingly, less chewy. My wife prefers it. I couldn't perceive any difference in crust flavor; my wife didn't have an opinion.

The 10% volume difference in oven spring caught my attention.

I've not been disappointed with the oven spring I've been routinely achieving. (I think the photographs justify my satisfaction.) But, if I can get more, without having to wrestle with eight pounds of piping-hot DO, I'll take it. But first, I wanted to be certain my one trial was typical.

I did it again: with a couple refinements, a week later.

1. I baked  the loaves simultaneously: one covered, one conventionally

2. I increased the dough weight per loaf by 100g. I reasoned this should make any volume difference more observable.

3. I shaped the loaves into batards.

My usual steam source is two small vessels containing a rolled up towel fragment, and filled with boiling water. I don't load loaves until I can see boiling restored.

The volume difference was immediately noticeable.

I didn't repeat my immersion measurement. These loaves' volumes clearly differ by at least 10%.

However, the conventional loaf agian exhibited greater loft.

The other observables: dissimilar crust color and surface texture, thinner crust are essentially the same. The crumbs' structure remains, to me, inconclusive as well as flavors.

Let me hasten to add these results may not be representative of results in true Dutch ovens.

I'm going to buy a second stainless steel bowl.

Happy baking,

David G

Skibum's picture

Well with a couple of fresh levains to bake with and feed, I thought I would try and use some of the natural starter discard in a traditional naan recipe. I LOVED the results!!! The recipe is super easy and with a little baking powder, you can enjoy the results fairly fast.


1/2 cup whole milk, scalded and cooled to 90F

1 tsp sugar

30g sweet levain, 100% hydration

285g AP flour

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 Tbs canola oil

31/2 Tbs full fat plain Greek yogurt

25g beaten egg

Mix well, then knead for 6 or 7 minutes and place in a covered, greased bowl to rise for about an hour. When doubled,m punch down and divide into 6 pieces forming tight balls.

Warm a griddle over medium heat. Lightly flour the balls and roll out into 7-8 inch diameter rounds. Cook on the griddle 3 minutes per side. When cooked, brush with melted butter.

You can easily double this recipe.

this is the perfect side to a nice hot Indian curry and rice!

Enjoy and happy baking! Ski


Skibum's picture

I am SO glad to have an active yeast water! The leavening properties of YW are pretty amazing. I have updated my recipe for this loaf after discovering a few errors in an older YW Pulla post, now deleted.

Here is the proofed loaf on the peel, ready to bake:

After baking for 29 minutes, steam for the first 12:


50g yeast water

50g strong bread flour

Allow 6 - 12 hours for this to double. I leave it on top of the fridge overnight.



3 Tbs sugar

5 cardamom pods, hulls disgarded and seeds ground

215g whole milk, scalded and coolled to 90F

175g strong bread flour

40g AP flour

I infuse the ground cardamom in the milk and dissolve the sugar in the hot milk. When the milk reached 90F, I add the levain and flours and mix well. After 3 or 4 hours the sponge should be starting to get pretty happy.

Final dough:


31g unsalted butter melted and cooled

75g beaten egg

3/4 t salt

315g AP flour

Although this is not tradition to Finnish pulla I added the following extracts commonly used in sweet doughs:

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp each lemon and almond extract

To the happy sponge add the melted butter and mix. Then add a cup of flour and the salt and mix, beating the dough until it is smooth and glossy. Begin adding the remaining flour until fully mixed. Rest 5 minutes and mix again. Rest 10 minutes, then do a series of 4 stretch and folds, with 10 minutes rest in between.

Let the dough double, 1 - 1.5 hours, then de-gas and do another couple of S&F's. Let double again.

Punch down and divide the dough into 3 and shape into balls. Let rest 5 minutes. Begin rolling out long tubes. I do this in 3 or 4 stages with 5 minutes rest in between. Braid the loaf, place on parchment paper and proof in a linen couche, covered with floured plastic crap. After 30 minutes bring the oven up to 400F with steam equipment.

The loaf was brushed with an egg glaze, sprinkled with ground almond and granulated sugar.

After about 55 minutes proofing and using the Forkish finger poke test to determine when to  bake, it is in to the oven for 12 minutes with steam, turn and bake another 12 convection, turn and finish with another 5 minutes and cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes.

This is the best looking and best tasting pulla I have ever made!

Happy baking! Ski

Shai's picture

Steaming before baking

May 19, 2015 - 1:44pm -- Shai

Did anyone ever tried steaming loaves in a steamer prior to baking them? I would except to get a result very similar to baking in a very well steamed oven. I'm slightly worried that a crust might form without the bread rising to it's full potential due to the low heat during steaming. I guess it's somewhat like boiling bagels, which are known for being dense due to this... Any thoughts?

Heylo's picture

strech and fold substitute

May 19, 2015 - 1:10pm -- Heylo

hi there

since working a lot with spelt and rye, i've been getting lots of advice from you in this forum to S&F in order to enhance dough strength.

unfortunately though, i mainly use  my mixer due to wrist problems. so i'm wondering, what can i do instead of S&Fing? will replacing S&Fs with a few minutes of mixer kneading (in the same time intervals) be as effective?

hoping for an optimistic answer.. ;)

victoriamc's picture

Its easy to make and this flaxseed bread is delicious and healthy too.  its the latest post on  

WendySusan's picture

I mixed up a batch of dough using Hamelman's Deli Rye as a guide.  I did substitute a little KA Sir Lancelot for the whole wheat I usually use because 1) I was out of whole wheat and 2) I wanted to see what Sir would add to the mix.  I also added yeast because I needed to bring one of the loaves today and couldn't wait hours!

The recipe:

675 grams KA Bread Flour
125 grams KA Sir Lancelot
200 grams Hodgsons Rye
600 grams water
300 grams Rodney
20 grams salt
7 grams SAF Yeast 

Put together in the usual method.  Added all the ingredients except for the salt and yeast.  Let autolyse for 30 minutes and then added the salt and yeast.  The addition of the yeast really reduced the rise/proof time which is just fine with me these days.

Bulk ferment was two hours with a few stretch and folds spaced out.  Then it was bench rest, shape and into the bannetons.  I could tell things were lively as I had to pat down quite a few bubbles on the skin.

The loaves only needed 30 minutes of proof time and then baked in the dutch ovens.  Scored with my nice, new walnut lame...this baby really ups my skill.

And the final crumb yet as they just came out of the oven and one of them is going on a road trip!

Practicing my slasher skills....

Signature T-Rex / W

WendySusan's picture

Today's adventure in baking involved the rest of the spelt flour, some orange juice, buttermilk, cranberries and honey.   The 50% spelt loaf came out nicely...after my burned, failed 100% attempt, so instead of leaving well enough alone and making another one, I decided to branch out.  I also wanted to use up the buttermilk and orange juice.

The recipe:

250 grams Spelt flour
250 grams KA Bread flour
200 grams levain
50 grams honey
100 grams orange juice
100 grams buttermilk
100 grams dried cranberries
10 grams salt
6 grams SAF yeast
Some brown sugar...I didn't measure

Soak the cranberries in the orange juice for 20 minutes and prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Measure the spelt and bread flours, add the slightly warmed buttermilk, honey and prepared levain and mix well.  Allow to autolyse for 30 minutes.

Add the cranberries and juice, salt and yeast.  Mix well using your preferred method.  I used 5 minutes of slaps and folds.

I allowed the dough to rise in my warm microwave for 30 was almost double...and then gently pressed it down and stretched and folded one more time before putting it into another 30 minute rise.

I then split the dough and allowed it to rest for 10 minutes before I stretched it and sprinkled some brown sugar on it and folded and rolled it up before placing it in parchment lined baking tins. Proofed to about 85% and then baked for 40 minutes at 375 dF after sprinkling a little more brown sugar on the top.

I also neglected to take any pictures of the preparation but the final result and crumb are pictured below.  

And while not as pretty as other loaves I've taken from the oven, these really are tasty.  A hint of sour from the levain and buttermilk, a little sweetness from the honey and brown sugar and tartness from the cranberries.

 The verdict from my in-house, not so independent taste tester was that the loaves are a keeper.

sallam's picture

easy method to tell when dough is doubled

May 19, 2015 - 3:21am -- sallam

Many factors affect the time it takes a dough to ferment or proof. Fluctuations in room temperatures, different seasons, dough content, starter quantity, to name just a few. That's why I've come up with an easy method to tell when any dough reaches the volume that we want, specially when using non-straight fermenting or proofing vessels. For this we need:

  • a digital scale
  • a small glass jar
  • a permanent marker
  • some water

Here is how:


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