The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Best baking vessels

russell's picture

Best baking vessels

I don't have a cast iron dutch oven or a combo cooker so I started my sourdough experimenting with an oven-safe large stainless steel pot. It works OK but I'm not very popular for discolouring our expensive pot. If I'm to purchase something (or two of them, if they fit in the oven together) specifically for baking sourdough loaves, what would be best out of the following?

- enameled cast iron dutch oven like this

- ceramic cloche like this or this

- enameled roaster as championed by this blogger

In theory they're in descending order of price for me locally (Australia), but what I can find at present has them all about equal - so I would appreciate some advice! Thanks in advance.

clazar123's picture

I am a fan of looking around and trying what is easily available-either in your cupboard or the local thrift store. But here is my opinion about the different pans:

Cast iron-so useful for many different cooking techniques. Make sure the lid handle is heatproof for high heat. Also, the pan and lid are heavy to handle and expensive-esp. if you are buying 2. They retain the heat well and won't crack (usually) if preheated and cool/cold dough plopped into it. I have many cast iron pans and cook (and bake) with them every day. I've just never used my dutch oven as many others have described-too hot and heavy.

Ceramic cloche-not my favorite for many reasons. Much more fragile and esp. prone to thermal breakage. Expensive by comparison. Usually much cheaper at a thrift store-I see many of them there.

Enamel-roaster,pans,etc(comes in many sizes and shapes). It doesn't retain heat like cast iron but has all the other characteristics and lightweigh to handle. Always much cheaper,too.

If you have to buy 2 pans, I would vote for enamel. But check local thrift stores and garage,yard or boot sales first. Or ask an older friend or neighbor if they have one they want to get rid of or that you can try before you commit to buying one. So many times, we don't need a whole new "thing" when we may already have one we just hadn't thought of re-purposing.


DanAyo's picture

I’ve tried a lot of different cookers and methods. For me, it’s Graniteware.

Here is an example, but there are many sizes available. For me, it’s Graniteware.



Edo Bread's picture
Edo Bread

I think the best thing to consider is what are the favorite surfaces for any bread oven. I am surprised that people that ooh and ahh over wood ovens and professional deck ovens so quickly suggest steal dutch ovens. 

If somebody already has one, then sure figure out how to use it. But, if you are looking to get something new, what are the ovens everyone craves made of? brick, stone, clay -  not steel. I am not an expert on the science of heat conduction, but I know there is definitely a difference, and I think that plays out in a bake. I remember seeing chart once that steel was over 80 times more conductive than brick. I think this accounts for all of the burnt bottom posts of steel dutch oven breads. I have seen the same kind of of posts for pizza that use a steel instead of a stone.

It takes time to get a stone or ceramic cloche up to temperature, but then it releases that heat "gently" and evenly. This becomes clear when a steel has totally cooled in minutes and a stone is still putting out heat hours later. Where does all that heat go from the steel? Right to the bottom of your bread. I have seen side to side bakes, metal vs. ceramic and I think ceramic always does a better overall job. Like everything, we all have opinions and people make amazing loafs using all kind of things, but for my money stone, brick, ceramic far out shines any steel solution I have seen. 

russell's picture

Thanks for this and the other replies. On ceramic, I also wondered about a casserole, like this, but perhaps it wouldn't stand up to preheating. (That one does only say oven safe to 240C.)

Edo Bread's picture
Edo Bread

You definitely need something that can handle the heat. I know they are pricey but I would suggest Emile Henry Bread Cloche.

I have 5 of them, used them for hundreds of loaves of bread, no cracks, chips - they are in perfect condition. I think materials that are not up to the job can have some problems. I preheat this to about 500 degrees and it always performs. 

DesigningWoman's picture

I started with cast-iron Dutch ovens, because that's what I had. But here, in a vacation rental, have fallen in love with an enamelled turkey roaster to bake two boules at once (using the shallower "top" as the bottom and just preheating the deeper "bottom"). Works a treat, and am now trying to figure out how to fit one of those in my kitchen when we go home.

In any case, enamelled cast iron, like Le Creuset, may stain, so you may want to go with just "naked" cast iron, if you choose the weightier route.

Also agree with clazar -- you probably have something in your kitchen that will do the job, just takes a little thinking out of the box.

dabrownman's picture

for a total of $2 on dollar Thursdays ,  Aluminum heats up very fast compared to steel and the mixing bowl also works well as a cover plus you can mix dough in it and then cover the dough on the counter as it rests.  Do not use enamel anything,  it will discolor horribly like mine have from baking at high temperatures.  I don't care because I use them all the time for cooking and they weren't perfect to begin with and they were cheapies too,  But ruining an expensive CI enamel pot would be bad!

Filomatic's picture

Maybe not what you're asking, but having tried Dutch oven and stone, I prefer stone in combination with steam from lava rocks.  I found the largest one possible was a $25 Target ceramic stone, and it works great.

doughooker's picture

Here is what I use to bake my boules. It accomplishes the same thing as a Dutch oven but doesn't weigh a ton like a cast-iron Dutch oven.

Round roaster

I found some 8" round pizza stones which fit perfectly on the bottom of the above roaster. I dust them with corn meal to prevent sticking.

8" Pizza Stone

doughooker's picture

There is a property called emissivity. In simple terms it is the amount of heat radiated into a baking vessel. It accounts for why a black Dutch oven bakes so well — it radiates ambient heat to its interior.

I once had a silver aluminum Dutch oven which baked very poorly because of low emissivity. If you put an inverted silver bowl over your loaf or a foil covering and get poor results, that's why.

DanAyo's picture

Doughooker, I looked up Emissivity, but I still do not understand :(   I am interested to learn.

I used to be a big fan of cast iron combo cookers and DO. After testing by comparing CI to light weight Graniteware, I learned that CI gains heat relatively slowly. GW gains heat in a flash. Also, and very surprising to me, CI and GW lose heat very fast.

On many occasions I tested both materials with an infrared heat gun. CI took quite a while to pre-heat and also to recover from heat loss. GW accomplished both in around 5 minutes.

Both vessels lose a large amount of initial heat when they are removed from the hot oven. For instance the CI reads 520F then removed and is loaded with dough and placed back into the hot oven. The measure right after this about 325F. I’m going from memory. GW will go from cold to temp in about 5 minutes. It will also go from hot temp to being able to easily handled by hand in 5 minutes.

My original thinking was that heavy CI worked as a heat sink and, once it came up to heat would hold it. I thought lightweight metal (GW) would lose heat fast (and it does). But CI also loses a lot of heat when loaded with dough. I think the cooler dough aids to reduce the heat during this operation.

At this time I use GW because it recovers heat many times faster than CI.

I’m not trying to win an argument here, I want to learn :)


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