The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Baking Stones and Dutch Ovens

soleilnyc's picture
soleilnyc

Baking Stones and Dutch Ovens

Hi guys!


I've been making pizza on the bottom of my 12" cast-iron skillet: flipped over to substitute as a bread stone.  It's worked great, but I wonder if it would be good as well with loaves of bread: does anyone have any experience as to whether cast-iron can handle the greater mass of bread dough as opposed to a thin pizza crust?


I've also been meaning to check out Alton Brown's idea of buying a piece of quarry stone from Home Depot.  Any feedback on those?


Finally, a question about dutch ovens: what size should a dutch oven ideally be for baking things like No Knead Bread and the like? I was under the impression I needed a large one for the steam or something (I don't really know what I thought), but now I see pictures of loaves that fill the whole 2QT cocotte.  What are the guidelines for choosing a pot size for a loaf?


Thank for your help!

patnx2's picture
patnx2

Hi, I use a 5 quart oven for the standard Bittman recipe. I also frequently use corning ware for the same purpose. I use different sizes to get various shapes. Also the fry pan idea sounds good and give it a try for bread. good luck Patrick

soleilnyc's picture
soleilnyc

When you use the 5 quart, does the dough fill the bottom of the pan or does it kind of sit in the middle? Is the idea to make a smaller oven, or to have a "loaf pan with a lid"?


Thanks Patrick!

mrfrost's picture
mrfrost

The original NYT no knead recipe was written for a 1.5 lb loaf to be baked in a 6 to 8 qt pot, though as stated, smaller ones can be used:


http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/08/dining/081mrex.html


"...4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats..."


Dutch ovens are so versatile, that you should consider other ways you may be using it other than just for baking bread. Here's a little video I edited of a Cook's Illustrated dutch oven comparison:


http://picasaweb.google.com/burn1cesharpe/ExportedVideos#5423201021739240818


So, to take full advantage of their versatitlity, get a pot with a capacity of at least 6 quarts, if you can stand the price. Do consider the weight also though; a factor for some.


ps: I don't think you can get that d.o. recommended in the video for $40 right now. It was on sale at walmart recently for $35, but is now $55(I think).


Remember, if you are just baking bread, often any pot(vessel) you have on hand may do just fine. You can even use stainless steel or enameled stock pots, graniteware,etc. However be sure to consider the highest temperature the vessels are rated to be used in. Even the Dutch ovens. Often the handles are recommended to not be used in temperatures over 400 degrees or so(sometimes even very expensive ones). Often, some of the thinner type pots may work better when placed on a baking sheet or stone(to prevent scorching).


If you think you might want something more specialized for baking breads, consider the La Cloche. Breadtopia.com has several videos of no kneads were he uses the La Cloche to bake. You can see the results, and also see that the dough does not always need to fill the container to get a nicely risen loaf.

soleilnyc's picture
soleilnyc

Thanks for such a comprehensive reply, mrfrost! I actually have 3 different sizes of dutch ovens, along with a tagine so I think I'm set on that. What I'm having trouble understanding is whether we are looking for room to create an oven within an oven, or just trying to cover the loaf to create steam, by which I mean baking a loaf like Mini's 100% Rye: using the cocotte as a form/mold and covering it with a lid.  What is your take?

mrfrost's picture
mrfrost

I think whether or not the dough fills the pot, you still get the effects of the trapped moisture. So if you're using as a loaf mold, fine. Same for using the pot as an "oven within an oven" for a free standing loaf.

flournwater's picture
flournwater

I use a four quart cast iron dutch oven for no knead and some other artisan breads  and I find it to be quite adequate.  It is, of course, a relative issue.  I bake loaves ranging from about a pound to a pound and a half.  If I were baking a five pound loaf I'd be using a larger dutch oven. 


Using your inverted cast iron skillet in place of a stone is, IMO, quite suitable; as long as you preheat it properly.  You can load your loaf into the preheated oven atop the underside of a cast iron vessel without preheating and it will still work but you'll find the botton of the loaf/pizza doesn't brown quite as nicely.  That said, pizza is only in the oven for a few minutes to I would always preheat the stone/skillet for that purpose.