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Baking Sourdough Without A Dutch Oven

Baking sourdough bread without a dutch oven can be a challenge, but it's not impossible! Learn why home cooks use dutch ovens for bread baking and how to get perfect results without one.

There are a lot of baking myths out there. One of them is that you need a dutch oven to make perfect sourdough crusty bread. This simply isn't true!

While many home cooks, including me, use dutch ovens in their sourdough baking, there are alternative methods to achieving the same results.

There is a little science involved, so get ready to learn why bakers use dutch ovens for bread baking, why bread needs steam and consistently high temperatures to develop and how to bake sourdough without a dutch oven.

At the end of this article, you can be confident that your sourdough will taste just as delicious when baked without a dutch oven.

This guide to baking sourdough without a dutch oven is dedicated to confidence.

Two baked sourdough loaves on a baking steel.
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Why Does Bread Need Steam During Baking

Steam (moist air) carries heat better than dry air, and although it seems counter-intuitive, steam actually slows down the cooking process in a few ways!

  1. The moisture in the air, and within the loaf condensates on the surface of the dough absorbing heat. This process reduces the surface temperature of the dough, slowing down the cooking process, it's KINDA like the stall when you're smoking a pork butt or brisket! It takes a large amount of energy to convert the condensation on the surface from liquid to gas(steam), and during that process, the water is withdrawing heat from the surface of the loaf as it evaporates.
  2. Steam condensing on the cold surface of the crust also slows crust formation. This is important because we want the crust to stay pliable and continue to expand during the first part of the baking process. At the beginning of the baking process, the yeasts in your dough undergo a final fermentation before they die off due to heat, and the gas bubbles that are already trapped within the dough expand further, this is known as oven spring. Having a crust that sets too quickly will hinder the expansion of the dough.
  3. Steam helps to give us that golden blistered crust that all sourdough bakers cannot get enough of. Condensation steam on the crust interacts with starches in the dough, and as the crust bakes, it develops a brittle, crispy, delicious crust. Strangely enough, steam also helps achieve the color in the crust despite cooking at very high temperatures - the steam helps the sugars to caramelize (Maillard reaction - like in my Instant Pot Coffee Creamer) without burning.
Overhead view of two open oven baked sourdough loaves.

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Why Does Bread Need Consistent HIGH Temperatures During Baking

Bread has a short window while baking to expand before the crust begins to set. A consistent high temperature forces the bread to increase rapidly in volume, ensuring a good oven spring!

This is why it's so important to ensure the oven is properly preheated before baking bread!

Why Use A Dutch Oven For Bread Baking?

So you can see now, how high temperatures and steam work together to create the perfect loaf, but where does the dutch oven come in?

Most home cooks don't have access to commercial bread ovens with fancy features like steam injection! But baking sourdough bread without a commercial oven is still possible. The baking environment needs to be controlled so that the moisture in the dough doesn't evaporate quickly and the loaf can develop properly.

We need steam and high temperatures throughout a bake cycle for this to happen. A heavy cast iron dutch oven provides the perfect high temperature and steamy environment. Its weight acts as a heat sink, negating temperature swings and radiating consistent heat, while the heavy lid clamps the pot closed and retains steam.

This baking environment is ideal for baking sourdough and any crusty, artisan, no knead bread.

Open oven baked sourdough boules.

I Don't Have A Dutch Oven!

This is not a problem! There are workarounds that will help create the steamy, high-heat environment your sourdough deserves!

We just need to control the baking environment on a larger scale.

High Heat

First, let's examine how to ensure we have a steady, high heat environment because that's the easy part!

If you're going to be baking without a dutch oven, you definitely want to invest in at least one baking stone or baking steel. Baking stones are useful because they provide a steady baking surface that absorbs heat, and then radiates it evenly. This helps the oven to quickly recover heat loss from the door being opened.

Your baking steel or stones can be placed above and on the rack that you'll be baking your bread. This ensures consistent heat all the way around your loaf. If you've only got 1 baking stone, use it to bake sourdough bread on, and place a heavy baking sheet on a rack at the top of the oven - it's not going to work as well as two baking stones, but it will help!

Another way to ensure you have the high heat required for sourdough perfection is to preheat your oven properly. While the thermometer inside the oven might say it's at 450f, if the components inside aren't at 450f, then the temperature will fluctuate a lot when the door is opened and closed. Allowing the oven to preheat for 45 minutes to an hour is a great way to ensure that the oven is properly heat soaked and will be quick to recover heat loss from the door.

Two unbaked sourdough loaves on a pizza peel.

High Humidity

Next is the harder part. Have you ever opened an oven while roasting a high moisture vegetable and felt the blast of hot, moist air rushing out at you? Hot moist air is always going to travel to cooler, dryer places, and cooler, dryer air will rush in to fill the void left by the hot, moist air.

You can see how that's a struggle when trying to create a steamy environment in the oven!

Basically, the moisture in the oven needs to be consistently added after the door is opened to add the loaf. Otherwise, you'll lose it when you open the door.

This can be accomplished in a few ways:

  1. The moisture can be added during preheat and last through the first 30 minutes of baking.
  2. Moisture can be added to the oven after the loaves have been added.

In my opinion, it's easier and safer to add the steam at the beginning of the baking cycle than try and fiddle with it while the oven is hot. If you've been burnt by steam (ahem, pressure canning), you'll know what I mean!

Adding moisture during preheating is as simple as adding a heavy, but shallow skillet, and filling it with 4 cups of water. I've found 4 cups to be almost perfect for my oven, by the time it has preheated, and I've let it heat soak for a bit longer, there's always enough water to steam the bread for the first 30 minutes of bake time.

There are a couple of considerations for this, namely, we need to ensure the skillet can handle the high heat, as sourdough usually cooks at 450f, and it needs to be large enough to hold enough water to last through the preheat and 30 minutes of baking.

Another way to add steam during an open oven bake is to use a spray bottle to spray the entire inside surface of your oven and your loaf itself immediately after adding. The water mist will quickly turn into steam helping to create a steamy environment. I always spritz my loaves before the go into the oven when I'm open baking.

Two sourdough loaves on a pizza peel.

What Are The Benefits Of Open Oven Baking?

There are a couple of benefits to baking using this method:

  • You can bake more than one loaf at a time. It can be a challenge to fit 2 decent-sized dutch ovens in a single home oven, using the baking stone method you can bake at least 2 loaves at once.
  • You can bake different sized and shaped loaves when you're not limited by dutch oven size! Round dutch ovens are great for boules, ovals can bake boules and batards, but neither can bake baguettes, buns, or rolls. Having more space means you can bake larger loaves, and honestly, when it comes to sourdough, bigger is better!

Safety Tips

Any time we are playing with high heat and water or steam, we need to be very careful. Here are some ways to reduce the likelihood of injury or damage to your oven and bakeware.

  • Always, always wear good quality high heat oven mitts. I personally prefer the ones with the silicone grip on the outside when I'm working with liquids because they are waterproof, while my fabric ones are not.
  • Exercise caution when using water in the oven burns aside, water can damage bakeware and your oven.
  • Use a pizza peel if you have one, it can make transferring the sourdough loaves to the oven quick and easy, reducing the likelihood of burns and keeps more steam in the oven.

Need A Sourdough Recipe?

Baking Steel:

I've had baking stones in the past and if that's what you've got, by all means use them! I loved my baking stones, but you know what, they are not indesctructible like a baking steel. So when my second baking stone got broken, I replaced it with two 14 by 16 inch baking steels. They do exactly the same job but are much more durable!

Pizza Peel:

I have a 14" pizza peel because of my Traeger pizza oven, and it really does come in handy for other cooking projects like this one. The pizza peel allows me to quickly, safely, and easily slide the sourdough right onto the baking steel in the oven without risking touching anything hot or burning myself. It also makes them easy to remove.

As an added bonus, quick in and quick out with the pizza peel helps to keep in more steam that we are desperatly trying to create!

Final Thoughts

Knowing how to bake sourdough without a dutch oven can be very useful, even if you do have a dutch oven. It can only increase your sourdough baking prowess!

And even though baking sourdough bread without a dutch oven can be a challenge, with these tips, you'll be able to get perfect results every time! By using high heat and humidity methods, you can create the perfect environment for your loaf to rise and develop that beautiful crust. Just remember to exercise caution when working with high temperatures and steam!

Happy baking, friends!

📖 Printable Recipe

Cross section of sourdough baked without a dutch oven.
Yield: 1

Baking Sourdough Bread Without a Dutch Oven: How to Get Perfect Results Every Time

Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 25 minutes

If you've been wanting to start baking your own sourdough but don't have a dutch oven, don't worry! These tips will help you create perfect results without one.

Ingredients

  • Favorite sourdough recipe

Instructions

  1. Prepare sourdough as directed in your favorite sourdough recipe, I like my small batch sourdough recipe.
  2. When ready to bake, place one oven rack on the oven floor, and place a cast-iron skillet on that rack. Add 4 cups of water to the skillet.
  3. Then place one baking stone or steel on a rack in the lower 3rd of your oven and another or a heavy baking sheet on the very top rack of your oven.
  4. Preheat the oven to recommended temperature in the recipe, usually, that's 450f, with both the baking stones in the oven for at least 45 minutes.
  5. Once the oven is fully preheated, turn the proofed dough out of the banneton onto a sheet of parchment paper. Score the sourdough and spray the loaf with a water bottle.
  6. Quickly, but carefully, open the oven and using a pizza peel or the parchment paper as a sling, place the sourdough onto the lower heated baking stone and bake uncovered with the water-filled skillet for as 30 minutes, then carefully remove the skillet, and continue baking until the crust has reached your desired color, usually another 10-15 minutes.
  7. Remove cooked sourdough loaf from the oven and cool on a wire mesh cooling rack.


An oven with 2 baking steels and a skillet of water.

Notes

When To Use Open Oven Baking Methods?

  • Use this method when you want to bake more than one loaf at a time!
  • Use this method when you want to bake different shapes and sizes of loaves as they will not be hindered by the volume of the dutch oven.

    safety tips

    Any time we are playing with high heat and water or steam, we need to be very careful. Here are some ways to reduce the likelihood of injury or damage to your oven and bakeware.

    • Always, always wear good quality high heat oven mitts. I personally prefer the ones with the silicone grip on the outside when I'm working with liquids because they are waterproof, while my fabric ones are not.
    • Exercise caution when using water in the oven burns aside, water can damage bakeware and your oven.
    • Use a pizza peel if you have one, it can make transferring the sourdough loaves to the oven quick and easy, reducing the likelihood of burns and keeps more steam in the oven.

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    Nutrition Information:

    Yield:

    5

    Serving Size:

    1

    Amount Per Serving: Calories: 35Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 77mgCarbohydrates: 7gFiber: 0gSugar: 1gProtein: 1g

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