Oh bread baking, it truly is a science and there is a reason so many people (myself included) are scared to attempt it! I have always loved the idea of making my own bread, but I am pretty picky about my bread. It needs to have a good crusty, crust on it, be doughy and chewy on the inside and have nice big slices! I love sourdough and attempted my own sourdough starter and bread last year, but just couldn’t keep up with looking after my starter and it died – I know, I am a bad sourdough mum! After playing around with some simple bread recipes, I have finally nailed it. This beginner dutch oven bread is the perfect loaf and is very simple to make! It has lots of sourdough characteristics but without the hassle. A big, crusty, chewy loaf with lots of air pockets. Ready in a few hours and all you really need is a dutch oven to bake it in.
Dutch Oven Bread Baking
Why is a dutch oven necessary you may ask? The dutch oven is really what helps make this a foolproof beginner recipe. Preheating it in the oven and then plopping your dough in to bake creates the perfect environment for the perfect loaf. It locks in the heat and most importantly, locks in steam to create a hot and steamy environment for a good rise and that crusty crust. Dutch ovens are useful for so many dishes, they are one of my kitchen essentials so I do recommend getting one, but you can use a hot pizza stone with a metal bowl on top in a pinch. See below for my bread making equipment recommendations.
- Dutch oven: this is somewhat essential to this recipe and really makes it so much easier to get the baking of this bread right. The hot dutch oven creates the perfect steamy environment for a good rise and a nice crispy crust! This recipe is for a large loaf so you will need a 6-8 quart (5.5-7.5L) dutch oven. My favourite is the Staub Cocotte, I have the white truffle colour in the 28cm size, but any dutch oven with a lid works.
- Pizza stone: if you don’t have a dutch oven, you can preheat a pizza stone and use that instead.
- Banneton: these make bread proofing easy and add a nice pattern, but aren’t necessary. This kit comes with a scraper and lame too!
- Dough scraper: again, not necessary but it makes it easier to shape the dough and to clear your worktop afterwards!
- Dough lame: a blade used to score the bread for decoration and to allow it to rise well. Not necessary either but nice to have! Use a sharp knife or razor blade if you don’t have one.
- Flour: you can use a 50/50 mix of white and whole wheat flours in this recipe or 100% white. Bread flour is best, but a plain flour will work in a pinch. My preferred flours are by Dove’s Farm, which are available in most supermarkets in the UK.
- Yeast: a dried active yeast is the best option for this recipe. You can also use instant yeast, just don’t mix it with the water first, simply mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl.
- Honey or sugar: this helps activate the yeast, but you can leave it out if you would prefer to.
- Salt: don’t underestimate the importance of salt in bread recipes! It may seem like a lot, but this is a large loaf and it needs it. Use a good quality, finely ground salt so that you don’t have large chunks of salt in your bread.
- Timing: This recipe takes roughly 5 hours from start to finish, so if you want your bread to be ready at lunch, I recommend starting first thing in the morning.
- Servings: This makes a large loaf and needs a large dutch oven, if you want a smaller loaf or have a smaller dutch oven, simply half the recipe and reduce the cooking time to 30 minutes covered and 10 uncovered.
- Oven proofing: The easiest way for perfect proofing, see the steps below.
- Storage: Store your cooled loaf in a bread bag, paper bag, or wrap in a linen or cotton napkin/tea towel. I then pop mine inside my bread bin. This allows the bread to breathe and maintains the crunchy crust.
Oven Proofing your Bread
Unless it is the height of summer or you keep your house very warm, you may find your bread proofs very slowly out on the side. My favourite method is oven proofing which creates a lovely, steamy environment for a good rise. Simply place the covered bowl in a cold oven and place a bowl of boiling water underneath or next to the bread bowl. Shut the oven and keep it shut to lock in the steam! Replace the water for each additional proof.
Beginner Dutch Oven Bread
- 6 cups bread flour
- 3 cups lukewarm water
- 1 tbsp dry active yeast
- 1.5 tbsp salt finely ground
- 1 tbsp honey or sugar
Mixing and First Proof
- Mix the yeast, water and honey in a small bowl or jug. The water should be cooler than what you would run for a bath, but warm to the touch. Let sit for 5 minutes, if your yeast is still active, foam and some bubbles will appear on the top of the water. If nothing happens, your yeast is likely out of date or has been open for too long and your bread may not rise as well.
- In a large mixing bowl, mix together the flour and salt. Create a well in the centre and pour in the yeast mixture.
- Use your hands or a rubber spatula to mix the dough thoroughly. Mix it for a good 2-3 minutes to ensure there are no pockets of flour. The dough should be shaggy and wet, but not runny. Add more water if it is still floury, or a sprinkle more flour if it is wet.
- Cover with a tea towel and proof somewhere warm for 2 hours, or until it has doubled in size and seems inflated. I recommend only proofing out on the side if it is summer and your house is warm, if not, place it in your laundry room, airing cupboard or use the oven proofing method (my favourite). Place in the cold oven and place a bowl of boiling water next to it or beneath it. Shut the door and do not open it until the 2 hours are up.
- Uncover the dough and use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Lightly flour your hands and perform 8 "stretch and folds". Simply scoop up one side of the dough, stretch it up slightly and fold it over towards the other side like a calzone. Repeat 7 times, rotating round the dough.
- Recover with the tea towel and proof for 1 hour, or until it has doubled in size again. If putting it back in the oven, replenish the boiling water.
- Remove from the oven and preheat to 220c/430f. Place your dutch oven/casserole pot in the oven with the lid on. Let it preheat for 45 minutes-1 hour.
- Meanwhile, lightly flour your work surface. If you have a round banneton/proofing basket, lightly dust the banneton or the liner with flour. If not, wipe 1 tbsp olive oil around a large mixing bowl and lightly dust with flour.
- Use the rubber spatula to scrape your dough out carefully on to your work surface. Dust the top of the dough with flour.
- To shape your bread, use your hands to scoop round and under the dough in a scooping/bowl motion. Do this several times around the edge of your dough. This creates surface tension on top of the bread for that lovely crust!
- Once your dough is a tight, formed ball, scoop it up and carefully drop it in to your banneton or bowl.
- Cover and let sit while your dutch oven finishes preheating.
- Once the preheating time is up, use oven gloves to remove your dutch oven from the oven and place it down on the side. CAUTION: it will be VERY hot so place it on a trivet or heat safe surface and watch your hands!
- Remove the lid (again, be careful!) and gently pick up your dough and plop it down in the dutch oven. Score the top of your dough in whatever pattern you prefer – a simple cross is the standard. Replace the lid and put in the oven.
- Bake for 40 minutes (30 if you are doing a half size loaf), then remove the lid and bake uncovered for another 10-15 until golden.
- Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 15 minutes before picking up and letting it rest for another 30 on a chopping board. Although you are going to want to slice in to it immediately, don't! The texture finishes up in the resting period.
I hope you enjoyed this recipe, tag me in your creations on Instagram @essentially.emma or let me know down below what you think!