You’re ready to get started with sourdough baking, but you don’t have a Dutch oven! This post will teach you how to bake sourdough bread without a Dutch oven using a manual steam method.
Or you’re making sandwich bread or another bread that doesn’t fit in a Dutch oven and need an alternative to avoid baking a dense bread.
This post will explain why a Dutch oven is used, what to substitute for a Dutch oven, and more baking tips to achieve a beautiful bake with oven spring and a crisp crust.
What is a Dutch oven, and Why Does it Matter?
A Dutch oven is a heavy cast iron pot fitted with a matching lid. Some Dutch ovens are raw uncoated cast iron and some are coated with enamel.
The cast iron holds heat very well for even baking and creating a hot environment. The heavy lid helps lock in the steam as it escapes in the hot oven.
Steam is critical to get a good bake. Without the Dutch oven, you will need to add steam manually.
Why does bread need steam?
If you’ve ever baked a loaf of bread but ended up with a heavy, dense, thick crusted bread, you may know a thing or two about steam.
Home ovens are made to remove moisture to create a dry hot baking environment. In bread baking the baking has two stages:
- First stage: High heat, high steam (the oven spring stage)
- Second stage: High heat, no steam (the crusty stage)
Steam keeps the outside of the bread soft so that it can expand like a balloon in the high heat oven in order to achieve great oven spring and a soft open crumb inside.
Without steam in the first half of the bake, the crust will form too quickly and early which won’t allow your bread to expand during the bake leading to a dense, small loaf.
If you don’t have a Dutch oven, you must use a manual steam method.
What is manual steam?
Manual steam is a way to create steam in your oven without the use of a Dutch oven or an automated professional baking oven.
To manually steam bread and avoid bread that hardens too quickly or comes out dense with a thick crust, there are a few methods that can be used.
It is done by using water or ice and basic tools like a metal pan, spray bottle, lava rocks, or towels. These tools help add steam while the oven preheats and in the first stage of baking.
6 steamy substitutes for a Dutch oven
- One way to add steam to a home oven is to fill an oven-safe metal pan with 1-2 inches of water, and preheat in the oven on the bottom rack. By the time the oven is preheated, the water should be steaming.
- To create a consistent slow release of steam, you can roll up kitchen towels, place them in the pan, fill pan with water and make sure towels are completely saturated, and put them in the oven for 30 to 60 minutes while the oven is preheating until the water is steaming.
- Lava rocks can also be used in place of towels. Lava rocks are great because they will slowly release the steam and hold it for a long time, and they don’t have a risk of burning.
- Another method that can be used on its own or combined with other steam methods is to generously spray the walls of the oven with water using a spray bottle before quickly closing the oven door to trap the moisture.
- Some bakers will add a pan of ice when they put their bread into the hot oven to create steam.
- Combination of a pan method above and the water spray bottle.
How to manually add steam without a Dutch oven the easiest way
- Preheat your home oven (most sourdough bread recipes call for a temperature of 450-500 degrees F)
- Fill a metal pan (brownie pan or similar) with 1-2 inches of water
- Place pan on lowest oven rack (make sure there is room for your bread on the center rack, you may have to remove the top rack if its too tight)
- Fill a clean spray bottle with water and set aside
- Once oven has preheated for 30 minutes, check to see if the pan of water is steaming. If its steaming, its time to add your bread. If your water isn’t steaming yet, wait 15-30 more minutes.*
- Transfer your proofed dough to a parchment lined cookie sheet
- Place the pan of dough onto the center rack above the steaming pan of water
- Close the oven door until its only open a crack, then quickly spray the walls of your oven with 4-6 sprays of water, then quickly close the door to trap the added steam
- Bake your bread for 20 minutes (or the time amount the recipe directs for using the closed Dutch oven) without opening the door
- Then remove the pan of water and finish your bake as the recipe directs
*If the water evaporated, carefully add 1 inch of water (use oven mitts as the water may splatter on the hot pan) and wait 10-20 more minutes for it to become steamy.
Some recipes to try out this method
Time for some steamy bakes
Now that you have some tools to get a great bake without a Dutch oven, you can get started on baking beautiful sourdough loaves that have great oven spring, a nice soft crumb, and a crisp crust.
Need more sourdough help?
A competent guide is the big difference from floundering in sourdough with information overwhelm to having confidence and ease in your sourdough baking.
If you are just starting on your sourdough journey, you can get my free Quick Start Sourdough Guide to begin learning some of the key terms and concepts in sourdough. Learn the difference between the sourdough stages of active sourdough starter and sourdough discard as well as how to care for a starter.
You can learn and improve your sourdough baking skills with my books or online courses.
My Intro. to Sourdough online course is comprehensive with video tutorials for each stage of the process to help new or aspiring sourdough home bakers gain a solid foundation for sourdough, the traditional way, to learn all the basics, language, techniques, and the process from start to finish to make sourdough bread. My teaching is straight forward and makes the whole process seem simple. I have helped launch hundreds of eager sourdough bakers onto their own inspiring sourdough journeys.
I also have a Once-a-Week No Knead Sourdough online course, which is my strategy for busy weeks to have sourdough on hand ready to make into country bread, sandwich loaves, English muffins, pizza, bagels, and more! This course is great for absolute sourdough beginners to just get familiarity with sourdough or for veteran sourdough bakers who need to simplify their baking schedule.
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