The Fresh Loaf

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Materials used in bread baker vessels

Janet Yang's picture
Janet Yang

Materials used in bread baker vessels

I'm looking for a comparison of how different materials perform, including whether or not the vessel is preheated before the dough is inserted. So far I've found these types of bread bakers:

  • dutch oven of cast iron
  • dutch ovens of enameled cast iron
  • stoneware dome and base
  • ceramic baking stone
  • baking stone of mysterious composition: "FibraMent is made from a patented blend of kiln-fired high temperature and conductive raw materials approved by NSF International for use in baking ovens."
  • baking steel in ¼", ⅜", or ½" thickness

Can you point me to a list that compares these plus any I've missed?

So far, I've read that cast iron holds heat well, but is not an even conductor. 
The baking steel is good for pizza because of the short baking time, but loaves tend to burn on the bottom. It is not at all resistant to rust.
Stoneware and ceramic heat the dough evenly but slowly. 
My loaves burn on the bottom in a Le Creuset dutch oven (enameled cast iron), even if I put a sheet under the pot. 

I'm looking to replace a La Cloche baker (stoneware dome and base) that developed a crack. It's been ten years so I'm not dissatisfied with its performance.



AlanG's picture

Hi Janet.  I have a built in oven that is below my waist so using a Dutch Oven for me is out of the question as I don't want to incur a injury to my 72 year old back.  I've successfully used a baking steel for several years now and have never had any issues with a burned bottom.  Rust is a non issue as long as you don't spill water on it.  You can always reseason it by using a very fine grit sandpaper to remove discolored spots and followed by flax oil.  I bake a couple of sourdough loaves every week or so.

Janet Yang's picture
Janet Yang

How thick is your baking steel?

The Roadside Pie King's picture
The Roadside Pi...

Mine is 16" round @ 3/8ths if I remember. I love my pizza steel! FYI you can throw a light weight disposable aluminum tray on top of you loaf on the steel & circumvent injury due to smoking hot cast iron! 

naturaleigh's picture

I'm a big fan of the clay bakers with lids (after having tried the other types of DOs), which I pre-heat to 500 for about an hour before baking.  I get great oven-spring on my loaves (when I put my dough together correctly ;-).  I've also used a baking stone and then used the bottoms from my clay bakers as 'lids' if I am only making one loaf, but the two clay bakers I have (one oblong, one round) fit side by side in my oven, so I can bake two loaves at once, so this is typically the method I use most of the time.  I don't get any burning on the bottom of the loaves.  I also have an enameled pizza stone that we just bought this year, which works great out on the grill--this will be the third weekend that we'll be using it.  It has been a game changer for pizza.  All of these products require a start in a cold oven, heated up to temp, and then they are ready to be used for baking or cooking.  Good luck on your hunt!

zachyahoo's picture

I don't think you're going to find a purely scientific comparison of all of these with control variables, etc.

However, tossing in my two cents..

1. Cast iron holds heat well but is not an even conductor – true! But, in this case, it doesn't matter. When you're baking in cast iron, your DO has been in the oven for an hour. It has heated evenly by then, believe me. 

2. I'm sure enameled cast iron dutch ovens perform well in baking.. But, I don't recommend it, especially if it's a fancy one like Le Creuset. Over time, exposing your empty enameled vessel to 500º temps over and over again will discolor the enamel. It's not harmful (afaik) but it doesn't look pretty.. and don't do it to your poor Le Creuset!

3. Agree about the baking steel – love it for pizza, it burns loaves. I don't feel the rust issue is substantial but your mileage may vary.

4. If you're having burned bottoms on your loaves in the DO, just take it out of the pot after the 20-30 min steam/lid-on period. That's what I had to do once I moved and started using a gas oven. There was just too much heat coming from the bottom of the oven. Now, I do the first portion of the bake in the enclosed DO, and the rest of the bake on thin crappy baking stone (I bet you'd get similar results finishing it on even a sheet pan)

Good luck!