The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Do I need a Dutch Oven/Cloche?

Lesley__'s picture
Lesley__

Do I need a Dutch Oven/Cloche?

Hello everyone!

About a month ago I started baking bread and my sourdough has been a great success at home! Obviously, I have a long way to go and am by no means an expert, so I've been reading a lot on this forum and have learned some interesting things, so thank you! 

 

Lately, I’ve been considering buying a better pan for baking bread. I’ve been using a stainless steel pot to bake my sourdough boules but they don’t turn out as expected (the oven spring isn’t that great). Also, I’m experiencing some uneven browning, the top is pretty much burned but the sides are still very pale. I often have to shield the upper heating element with a sheet pan after uncovering and have to bake 30 minutes more than indicated on many recipes. I’m already planning on making diastatic malt, which might help with the colour.

The method I use is preheating the oven to 230 C (which is its max) with the pot inside. After putting the boule in the pot I drop a few ice cubes in to generate more steam. Although the quality of the pot is quite decent, the lit is very light and it starts shaking when I add the ice cubes. The walls of the pot are obviously not as thick as dutch ovens too. That's why I was wondering whether a Dutch oven/ceramic cloche will improve the oven spring as well as the browning? 

 

Moreover, I really like the ice cube method, but can you use it in a ceramic cloche (like the Emile Henry ones) or with a Staub which has an enamel layer? Another thing I read was that a lot of people use a cold DO in a cold oven to prevent damage on the enamel, but since my oven is quite weak I'm not quite sure whether that will impact my bread negatively. So I was looking into cast iron Dutch ovens as well. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to get my hands on the Lodge combo cooker. So it’s between the ceramic cloche, cast iron DO and the enamel DO.

 

Would love to hear your thoughts on this! 

 

naturaleigh's picture
naturaleigh

Hi Leslie!

I think you will be very happy with your loaves after upgrading to a more substantial covered baking vessel.  I have been making bread for many years now, using all the DO's you mention, and have settled on clay bakers as my favorite, for several reasons.  They aren't as heavy as the cast iron, they are very easy to keep clean (on the inside...the outsides get kind of smudgy) and they produce as good results as the other methods.  But, everyone has their favorites that they swear by.   My go-to at the moment is the batard-shaped clay baker on the Breadtopia site because I actually bake in it with the baker upside down, using the lid as the bottom, which makes getting the loaf into the vessel easier.  Then I put the larger piece on top and pop the whole thing in the pre-heated oven.  If you are using a high hydration dough, you don't need to mess with any ice cubes--the moisture inside the dough creates the steam that circulates around the loaf.  Just like with the cast iron, you have to pre-heat the clay bakers.  That might be the only downside...you can't put them 'cold' into a hot oven or they can crack.  But, I always pre-heat anyway, so it isn't a problem for me.  I have also read some people place the dough in the clay baker and put both in a cold oven, then set it to temp, but you would want to make sure you have a specific recipe to follow for that method.  Hope you find something helpful in my comments!  Happy Baking!

Lesley__'s picture
Lesley__

Hello!

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions :) I was actually leaning towards the DO's because they have handles to them and the cloche because it has a low bottom part. The clay one seemed very fragile and dangerous to handle, so that's why I didn't look it up more. But now I'm kind of intrigued by it since they give great results and they are way cheaper ;) They seem to be able to fit in batards as well as boules (?), which would be great. However, are they easy to hold when they are hot? My hands are kind of small, so if the sides are too slippery or if you're supposed to hold the lit, I might drop it. I watched the video of Breadtopia where the pot was introduced but the man in the video has HUGE hands, so I really can't compare. Moreover, what size of batards/boules do you make in your clay pot? And do you like this size? (would you like a bigger/smaller one?) 

Thank you!! 

naturaleigh's picture
naturaleigh

Hi Lesley (apologies for botching your name previously)!  They are definitely a cheaper way to go.  They can break if mishandled, but I've had three that I've been using for years without any issues.  The only time one got broken was when my dog counter-surfed while we were out and decided to help himself to a loaf that was cooling on the counter.  Unfortunately, the clay baker was also pulled off the counter in the process, and met a tragic end. 

Again, you have to remember to start them out in a cold oven, then set the oven to temp.  They are not slippery to hold and are no hotter to manage than the other DO options--I always use two thick oven mitts and don't have any problems.  The mitts with the 'grippy' bumps on them might be a good option if you have concerns.  The outsides are not glazed but the insides are.  The unglazed outer surface makes it a little easier to hang on to.   

I have one batard shape baker (from Breadtopia, which does not have any handles) and two round Roemertopf ones, that do have knobs on the top of the lids.  I've found I like the larger sizes so that there is lots of room for air and steam circulation.  I've gotten into the habit of pulling the heated up bakers out of the oven and setting them on top of the stove to put the loaves inside.  I think several of the videos show placing the loaves in while the pots are still on the racks, but I think I have better control (and outcomes) by working from the stovetop, rather than leaning into a super hot oven space.  I haven't burnt myself in a very long time by bringing the bakers up to my level on the stove.  They aren't light by any means, once the loaves are inside, but certainly lighter than similar sized cast iron.

I'm currently making loaves with about 500 gr of flour (about 900 gr total), which fit nicely as a batard in the Breadtopia version or as a boule in the larger Roemertopf (4 qt).  What I also like about these two bakers is I can make two loaves at the same time...they both fit side by side in my oven.  It's a tight fit, but it works.  Since we've been in 'lock down', I've been making a loaf for us and giving one away to family and/or friends, so the double bake ability is very nice.  The price of the two clay bakers was less than the cost of one fancy enameled DO.  Hope this info helps!

Lesley__'s picture
Lesley__

Hi, sorry for the late reply! Glad that you enjoy using your clay pots (although one of them didn’t have a happy ending). I was really worried about the handling, but after reading your post I’m quite confident that it will work for me as well. I’m currently also making loaves with 500g of flour so I think the 4 qt Romertopf (rectangular one) will be great! Unfortunately, my electric oven is pretty small so baking two loafs at the time is out of the picture, but that’s okay :( I still have a few questions if you don’t mind: do you soak your clay pot before baking and how do you take care of it (do you have to season it etc.) because I heard that they crack easily? Thank you so much for the help!

naturaleigh's picture
naturaleigh

Hi!  I hope you will be happy with your clay baker!  It seems like they have a lot more options now than when I first purchased mine, so it's nice there are more options (I might have to check it out and see if there isn't another shape I need to add to my collection ;-) ).  As far as soaking, I would follow the instructions that you get with the baker--if you are getting the Romertopf I believe they say to soak the lid, but it's been so long now since I ordered mine, I honestly am not 100% sure on that.  The Internet probably has some additional guidance.  I have not had any cracking yet, and mine get regular use.  You do have to respect the clay though as far as temperature changes...any extreme temp changes could be disastrous.  So, as long as you don't place a cold one in a hot oven without warming it up first, or as long as you don't handle them 'roughly', you should be just fine.  I hope you will post another comment and pictures after your first test drive!  Happy Baking!

Lesley__'s picture
Lesley__

Hi! I just ordered my clay pot and it will arrive on Friday! I'll make sure to take care of it and not drop it while moving it around ;) I'm super excited to try my Romertopf out and I'll certainly post my next loaves here. Thank you so much for your advice!