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I see a lot of successful home bread bakers using dutch ovens in their home ovens. They preheat the dutch oven, bake the proofed loaf inside the oven, and eventually remove the cover of the dutch oven to promote browning.

I also own a few books on bread baking and this method isn't seemingly popular amongst the pros. I'm quite fond of "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" by Peter Reinhart and he suggests sliding the loaf on a baking stone/steel and to put a cast iron pan on the floor of the oven with water in it. Both methods presumably lead to moisture being present around the loaf.

What are the pros and cons of each method? Would they lead to almost identical outcomes, or are there some key differences?

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    Since you're interested in this method, and, from your comments, seem to be interested in specific measurements, I'd recommend Ken Forkish's Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast. He is (well, "was" as of a couple months ago) a professional baker who promotes the dutch over method.
    – Juhasz
    Feb 23 at 23:08

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I've tried both, for my kitchen and oven, I get a much better oven spring with a preheated and initially covered dutch oven. A third alternative is to put your loaf on a stone and invert a large stainless mixing bowl over it. This eliminates the potential of burning your hands when dropping the loaf into the preheated dutch oven or when removing the finished loaf. In either case, the lid or bowl is removed after about 20 minutes. In my experience, the trapped steam is better than steaming the entire oven (unless your oven is equipped with a steam function.

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  • Thank you. I was also wondering about this. Seems to be the same as a dutch oven essentially. One part that confuses me is that many loafs are reaching 200F after about 25 minutes so this would leave only like 5 minutes for browning. Or do people keep cooking loaves even after they've reached 200F? Can you overcook bread?
    – Behacad
    Feb 23 at 22:09
  • I don't generally measure internal temp. I preheat at 500F, reduce to 450 when I put the loaf in. Leave covered for 20 minutes, bake uncovered for 20 - 25 minutes. Usuallly looking for the browning I like.
    – moscafj
    Feb 23 at 22:11
  • thanks. How heavy of a loaf are we talking about?
    – Behacad
    Feb 23 at 22:14
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    @Behacad...depends on the formula, most frequently in the ballpark of 350 - 400 grams flour + around 200 grams starter + 200 - 250 grams water + salt
    – moscafj
    Feb 23 at 22:19
  • @Behacad yes, you can overcook bread. It is still edible, but it is unpleasantly dry.
    – rumtscho
    Feb 24 at 10:36
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I've tried both methods and I have found the dutch oven method delivers the best results, and you have complete control of when you take the lid off. The main benefit of the water pan method is that you can bake more than one loaf in the oven, remember the pros don't usually bake a single loaf, except when they are doing a show. Also, you can do many more shapes with the pan method, like focaccia.

Incidentally, I use an inverted dutch oven on a baking stone, it's much easier than trying to drop a loaf into a dutch oven, and I don't have problems with sticking.

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