The Reason You Should Preheat Your Dutch Oven When Baking Bread

Did you know that it is possible to make bread without an oven? It sounds impossible, but it's true. Sure, countertop bread machines have been doing this for years, but electric bread makers aside, it's actually possible to produce loaves of bread in a toaster oven, slow cooker, air fryer, and even a microwave. These methods will yield bread with good texture and flavor, and even some browning around the crust, making it fine for toast, sandwiches, and fresh, warm loaves for the dinner table. But if it's artisan bread you're craving, with deep brown, sturdy crust, lots of air pockets, and a chewy texture, an oven is probably necessary. 

In order to achieve a loaf of bread like this a lot of heat is necessary — and it's not just your oven that needs to be piping hot. It's no new secret to bread bakers that using a Dutch oven as a baking vessel will give them the results they want. But it goes beyond simply placing your kneaded and risen dough in the pot that goes into the oven. For bread results that can rival those of any professional bakery, you'll actually need to preheat your Dutch oven. 

A preheated dutch oven will create steam

Picture-perfect, pristine loaves of bread are partially the result of steam at work. In bread baking, hot steam reacts with the dough to quickly expand it, leaving behind those signature air holes inside the bread. It also produces a shiny, crisp crust on the exterior. In short, steam makes bread look and taste gorgeous. Professional bake houses use ovens that have built-in steam injectors that create the perfect amount of steam at the right time at the touch of a button. Most home ovens aren't that fancy, but they do allow plenty of room for Dutch ovens which can work the same way.

When you preheat your Dutch oven, you are creating an environment that will work similarly to a professional bread oven. When your bread dough is ready for baking, you place it in your preheated Dutch oven. The intense heat combines with the moisture of the dough creating -– you guessed it -– steam. The dough will immediately spring into life, so to speak, and rise beautifully. In addition, the steam essentially gives the yeast more time to reduce flour starch into sugar which caramelizes or gives bread its browned crust. Most Dutch oven bread recipes will instruct you to remove the lid of the pot at some point to get the crust super golden and crispy. Prepare to be amazed at how preheating your Dutch oven will change the results of your homemade bread for the better.