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Why Does the Dutch Oven Technique Work So Well?

By Tabitha Alterman

The protein structure, or gluten, in baked breads is normally developed through lots of kneading. The Dutch oven technique requires no kneading, but the gluten does strengthen. Simply stretching and folding the dough in half a couple times throughout the rising, or fermentation, process strengthens its structure enough to allow a web of proteins to trap the gas produced by the active yeast. (Click here to watch a short video demonstration of the no-knead technique.) Allowing a long fermentation helps to trap even more gas, which creates the bread's volume. It also gives the loaf enough time to develop organic acids fully, which imparts fabulous flavor.

It's essential to have steam during the beginning of baking a loaf of bread. Yeast activity accelerates as soon as the bread enters the hot oven. If you put the dough in a dry oven, the crust sets immediately, preventing the yeast from expanding the bread. By using a covered Dutch oven with this wet dough, the all-important steam is trapped inside, surrounding the loaf. This keeps the crust soft and cool longer, allowing the yeast to go to work and the loaf to grow. Enzymes in the dough are also active at this time, particularly on the warmer surface, busily working to convert starches into dextrins and other simple sugars. These compounds contribute to crust coloration and flavor. Eventually (at about 140 degrees), the yeast die off. Then the starch granules absorb water, becoming swollen and glossy. This process is known as gelatinization, and lasts until the temperature is about 158 degrees.

By preheating the heavy Dutch oven before putting the loaf in, you replicate the direct heat of professional stone hearth ovens. The heat of a Dutch oven remains much more constant than the heat in a conventional oven. It also traps much more steam inside than can be achieved by putting a pan of water into a regular oven. Regular ovens vent, so it’s difficult to keep enough steam inside. Combined with a wet dough, the superhot pan traps plenty of humidity inside. Plus, the higher the internal temperature of the loaf, the more webbing and sheen will be created in the crumb.

When most of the moisture in the Dutch oven is absorbed, the crust reaches higher temperatures, becoming crisper and firmer. The sugars on the surface begin to brown, creating tremendous flavor. The loaf is finished uncovered to allow maximum heat and evaporation at the surface, and thus maximum development of the scrumptious crispy crust.

This handy chart from Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes (John Wiley & Sons, 2004) will help you better understand what’s actually happening to a loaf of bread as it cooks. This excellent cookbook was written by Jeffrey Hamelman, director of the bakery and Baking Education Center at King Arthur Flour. Read our editorial recommendation of the cookbook here.


This easy bread recipe requires no kneading, and uses the heat and humidity of a Dutch oven to achieve the perfect crispy crust.





Post a comment below.


4/9/2015 11:48:14 AM
I love the no knead dutchoven bread, but it has such a hard crust. How do you keep from having such a hard crust?

4/18/2008 12:11:53 AM
I saw a few comments about the burnt bottoms...any suggestions to prevent that?

4/17/2008 8:55:03 AM
I love the no knead bread, my wife and I make it once a week. We use it with beef stews or chicken soups. We didn't have a dutch oven so we used a ceramic casserole dish with a see through cover and it come out great.

Don Zimmerman
4/7/2008 3:45:00 PM
Can anyone (Roger Doiron) tell me what the size of the Dutch oven is that is shown in the opening photo? I would also like to know the brand name and what it is made of, cast iron, ceramic or enamel. It looks like it might be a little big to fit in a home oven. Is that the loaf made with the 3-cup flour recipe?

2/22/2008 4:54:18 PM
I have been baking bread all my life and I have never been so impressed with a bread recipe/technique. This is just so good! My family can't get enough of it. I tried it with white flour- great. I tried it with homeground white wheat flour- great. I tried it with half homeground winter red wheat half white flour- great. This is so impressive. This is not a recipe this is a whole new technique. The long fermentation makes the bread just taste better. And it is not just my family. I made a couple of loaves (rounds?) for my home school group and the kids and adults devoured it. Don't get me wrong, everyone loves my normal bread, but this recipe is something very special. AND EASY!

Jeff Dustin
2/18/2008 12:21:19 AM
I have made 3 loaves of no-knead bread and have had tremendous success. The first was a 100% stone-ground wheat, the second a 2/3 white, 1/3 wheat, and the last was a 100% all-purpose flour loaf. The best of the three was probably the second loaf. I have noticed a slight burning on the bottom of all the loaves, however and I wonder if there is a simple solution for that? I intend to keep cranking out loaves from my Lodge Logic Dutch oven for many years to come. One point about which I am curious: are there easy ways to increase bold flavors in a loaf of tongue craves powerful, punchy taste and I abhor the bland.

2/12/2008 10:10:30 PM
I am from Europe and for years have been searching and trying for a method to bake our breads(artisan)thought it was because of the different flours. I found this article here as well as the recipe and a couple of days ago decided to make this. I am thrilled !!! I finally found the perfect way to make this bread. I baked it in a Roemertopf and it came out fantastic. The taste is more hearty too.For my next loaf I will experiment with different flours, for white flour has very little nutritional value. I made the first loaf with all wheat flour. Thank you !!!!!!!

1/21/2008 3:14:22 PM
BTW Not having the right measuring spoon I just made a guess using the palm of my hand on the yeast.

1/21/2008 3:07:51 PM
The water should be between 105 to 110 degrees. Any hotter and it will kill the yeast. I just use hot tap water put a little cooking thermometer in it and let cool to the right temp. All through the process I thought I screwed it up some how, but it came out perfect.

1/21/2008 12:38:14 PM
I am not an experienced baker. I made Roger's recipe yesterday - the bread we delicious and the family scarfed the whole loaf in amout 30 minutes! Roger says dissolve the yeast in the warm water. The New York Times food section, for the same recipe, adds the yeast to the flour. Is there any difference in the result?

1/19/2008 3:53:42 PM
Hi, I have had no luck with this recipe. I noticed that it has much less yeast than most recipes. Are you sure that it's 1/4 tsp. and not 1/4 oz? Thanks for any insights. Ann

1/6/2008 10:27:29 AM
Hi again.... I tried the no kneed recipe and it turned out great! I put the dough in a loaf pan for the rise period and baked the loaf pan in my large cast iron roaster. (Yes I am a cast iron queen with a 30 piece collection and growing ranging from antiques that were from both grandmothers to the new lodge pieces that I can't resist.) I agree with lowering the heat. I preheated the oven to 450 and the temp inside the roaster was about 375 when I put the bread in. I baked for about 15 minutes and when I took the lid off the temp inside the roaster was 400. Only took about 8 minutes or less to brown. Last night I quadrupled the recipe to make 4 loaves and will bake them later today - one at a time. About the salt - the amount of salt is necessary to control the fermentation process. Not enough and the yeast will eat the gluten too fast and die before it has a chance to leaven the bread. Too much will bring the fermentation process to a halt. I have heard that adding the salt to the yeast will kill the yeast but I have not proven it as yet. I used to add the salt to the dry yeast all the time but now I put it on top of the flour for extra insurance. Honestly I normally use a lot less salt than this recipe calls for so I might adjust it and see what happens. For further reading look for "The Panera Bread Cookbook" and "Prairie Home Breads" by Judith M. Fertig at the library. Happy baking!

1/6/2008 8:50:45 AM
I have tried the bread twice: first with regular white flour and second with 2 cups regular and 1 cup whole wheat. Both came out wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing this amazing recipe. I have a question: I have been told that the salt could kill the yeast if mixed in together. In your video, this did not happen. So was what i told mistaken? Salt does not harm the yeast? Please advise. Thanks again. sincerely, Martin

1/5/2008 1:55:22 PM
i'm a total novice and it turned out great!! first loaf was this morning, this afternoon i'll help my grandchildren with their first loaf. i sense a family tradition in the making. thank you rodger and mother earth news. jack

1/3/2008 10:30:18 AM
I have made this bread everyday since I received the Mother Earth mag. It's absolutely beautiful each and every time. i have passed this recipe on to friends after they have tasted my bread and commented on it's excellent taste and texture. Middle rack and pan of water on bottom rack is essential, also backing off on the temperature to 400, might help, I did. Adjust the time if need be. I have been experimenting with different flours, times and temps.,letting it ferment 18-24hrs, scoop and folding the dough with my dough cutter, just having fun with it. Its a great recipe to mess with and very forgiving.

1/1/2008 5:11:17 PM
I made two loves of bread today using my regular bread recipes. One in my cast iron dutch oven and the other in my cast iron chicken fryer. I already had the dough out to warm up from the fridge and I just wanted to see what baking the bread in a covered pot would do. I sprayed the pans with cooking spray and put the dough in. I put the pans( baking one at a time) in the oven on the lowest setting (170 degrees) till they had risen. Then I scored the top, gave it a spray of water and put on the lid. I preheated with the pan in the oven and baked it for about 15 min with the lid on, 10-12 min or less with the lid off. They turned out great! Nice crisp crust and good crumb. My only regret is that the loaves did not crown nicely but this was my recipe - not the No Kneed, and I had used a starter. I would keep track of your oven temperature with an oven thermometer to prevent burning on the bottom - mine turned out darker on the bottom than the top but not burned. Experiment and have fun! Happy New Year!

12/28/2007 10:37:47 AM
Can this method of baking be used with 'conventional' bread doughs that aren't so 'wet'? I haven't had very good luck with this recipe.....

12/27/2007 3:14:11 PM
I have made this recipe 3 times, each time it came out great BUT, having a problem with burnt bottom. I am using a well loved cast iron dutch oven. For the second loaf I did raise the oven rack to the middle. A little less burning but still had to cut off the black. Any suggestions?

12/14/2007 11:35:59 AM
Nope, no greasing required. Use plenty of flour or cornmeal on the cloths as directed in the recipe. Mine didn't even slightly stick to the pot. this bread came out BEAUTIFUL.

12/9/2007 9:29:19 AM
I wanted to ask the same question about "greasing the dutch oven first? " like Mary above has asked.

11/23/2007 7:02:36 PM
does the dutch oven need to be greased prior to placing the dough in it?

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