I resisted for a long time. But after experimenting with multiple baking methods in pursuit of that oh-so coveted oven spring; I’m going to have to admit it — the Dutch oven is king.
If you’ve taken an interest in making sourdough bread, you’ve probably read that creating steam in the oven is essential to a good bake. You know those tall loaves with nice open structures you see on Instagram? Steam does that; it helps bread rise, develop a crispy crust, and encourages an open crumb.
TLDR: Go buy a Dutch oven. It’s the easiest and most effective way of creating steam in your oven. You don’t have to shell out the big bucks for a fancy Le Creuset. The Lodge Dutch Oven is a great value, pre-seasoned and if well-cared for, will last a lifetime.
Disclosure: Please note that this post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This does not impact my recommendations.
Why you need steam
As dough proofs, yeast breaks down glucose and transforms it into carbon dioxide and ethanol (alcohol). When dough is put into a hot oven, carbon dioxide expands and ethanol evaporates, this is what forms those big bubbles in bread, resulting in oven spring. Because bread needs to be baked in such high temperature, without steam, the crust would bake up and harden too quickly not giving bread room to rise and expand.
Ways to create steam in a home oven
Most professional bakeries are outfitted with steam-injected ovens. However, most home bakers do not have this luxury. There are plenty of methods to create steam in a home oven, some popular methods include:
- Lava rocks
- Pyrex pie dish covered with a glass bowl
- Placing a roasting pan in the bottom of an oven filled with water
- Pizza stone covered with a metal bowl
- Dutch Oven
- Placing wet kitchen towels inside oven
Among these I’ve experimented with a Pyrex pie dish covered with a glass bowl, and using a pizza stone covered with a metal bowl. Mostly because these are items I already had in my kitchen. While both methods result in a nice crust, and moist crumb, I never got any oven spring, all the loaves I baked using these methods ended up being flat without a good rise.
Compare the two turmeric and charcoal breads pictured below. Both were made with the same ingredients, at 75% hydration. The bread on the left was baked with a Dutch oven, and the one on the right was baked using the pizza stone and metal bowl method. You can see that the one on the left achieved a better oven spring, because of the steam in the Dutch oven, the gas bubbles expanded more freely resulting in an open crumb structure.
I resisted purchasing yet another piece of equipment for baking for a while, but after a few flat loaves, I finally gave in and purchased a Lodge Dutch Oven for $39.90 on Amazon with free shipping.
I decided against the more popular Le Creuset enameled French oven because I didn’t want to worry about damaging the coating. When it came time to purchase one, here was no question that I would purchase one from Lodge, because I owned a cast iron pan by the same brand, and trusted the quality of their products. I chose a 5 quart model because I usually bake smaller loaves (300 g flour), I think it’s perfect for my needs, but if you tend to make bigger loaves, I’d advise perhaps purchasing a larger one. It was love at first bake, and I only wish I had bought my Dutch oven sooner.
If you’ve been having trouble with your bread rising, I definitely recommend purchasing a Dutch oven. It’s extremely useful, and hearty. Trust me, after spending hours creating beautiful doughs, your bakes demand and deserve it.
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