Not much beats the aroma and beauty of fresh-baked Artisan Bread. Using a Dutch Oven lets you create these crisp-crusted delicious loaves in your own kitchen. Learning how to prepare your bread dough ahead of time, and letting it ferment and proof in your refrigerator makes prepping and baking a fresh loaf of bread whenever you want it a breeze.
Easily turn this into an Herb bread by adding 1 teaspoon thyme and 1/2 teaspoon rosemary to the mix.
3 cups (680 g) lukewarm water, between 90˚-10˚F (30˚-35˚C)
1 tablespoon (10 g) granulated yeast
1 to 1 ½ tablespoons kosher salt
6 ½ cups (910 g) all-purpose flour (either weighed or using scoop-and-sweep)
Optional additions for Herb Bread Dough Mix: 1 teaspoon thyme and 1/2 teaspoon rosemary
*This recipe makes enough for approximately 4 loaves, slightly less than 1 pound each. You can easily halve it, especially if you are just starting out and uncertain of timing, usage, etc.
To halve the recipe use:
1 ½ cups (340 g) lukewarm water, between 90˚-10˚F (30˚-35˚C)
1 1/4 teaspoon (5 g) granulated yeast
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
3 1/4 cups (455 g) all-purpose flour (either weighed or using scoop-and-sweep)
MIXING AND STORING THE DOUGH:
1. Warm the water slightly: It should feel just a little warmer than body temperature, about 100 ˚F. By using warm water, the dough will rise to the right point for storage in about 2 hours. You can use cold water and get the same final result, but the first rising will take longer.
2. Add yeast and salt to the water in a 6-quart bowl or, preferably, in a lidded (not airtight) food container or food-grade plastic bucket. Don’t worry about getting it all to dissolve.
3. Mix in the flour – kneading is unnecessary: Add all of the flour at once, measuring it in with dry-ingredient measuring cups, or by weighing the ingredients on an inexpensive kitchen food scale. If you measure with cups, use the scoop-and-sweep method, gently scooping up flour with a spoon, putting it into the measuring cup, then sweeping the top level with a knife or spatula; don’t press down into the flour a you scoop or you’ll throw off the measurement by compressing. You can use a wooden spoon or even your stand mixer with the paddle attachment to mix together, but I’ve found the easiest and simplest method is to simply use your hand. Don’t knead! It isn’t necessary. You’re finished when everything is uniformly moist, without dry patches. This step is done in a matter of minutes and will yield a dough that is wet and loose enough to conform to the shape of its container.
NOTE: The hand-mixing process doesn’t take long at all, and is not complicated. I use only one hand to mix, leaving the other hand free to help scrape the dough off my hand when I’m finished mixing.
4. Allow the dough to rise: Cover the dough with a lid that fits well to the container but can be cracked open so it’s not completely airtight. If you’re using a bowl, cover it loosely with plastic wrap. Towels don’t work – they stick to wet dough, and as your dough rises it will likely press against the top of the bowl, depending on the size bowl. Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flattens on the top), about 2 hours, depending on the room’s temperature and the initial water temperature — then refrigerate it and use over the next fourteen days. If your container isn’t vented, allow gasses to escape by leaving it open a crack for the first couple of days in the fridge — after that, you can close the lid.
NOTE: If you forget about the dough rising on the counter, don’t worry: longer rising times at room temperature, even overnight, will not harm the result. You can use a portion of the dough at any time after the 2-hour rise. **I have found that fully refrigerated wet dough is less sticky and much easier to work with than dough at room temperature. Even more importantly, I’ve found that the loaf will not spread and flatten nearly as much while it is baking as it does when baking it from room temperature.
The first loaves of bread I baked using my 6-quart Dutch Oven were delicious, but because I used the dough straight from mixing to oven without first refrigerating it, the loaf spread as it baked. Instead of rising up, it rose out. Since switching to using cold dough, my loaves pop up beautifully in the Dutch Oven and hold their petite round shape amazingly well.
5. Once refrigerated, the dough will seem to have shrunk back upon itself, and like it will never rise again. That’s normal and okay. Whatever you do, do NOT punch down this dough. With this method, you’re trying to retain as much gas in the dough as possible, and punching it down knocks gas out and will make your loaves denser.
PREPARING AND BAKING THE LOAF
6. PREPARING FOR THE DOUGH SHAPING AND FINAL REST/RISE: You have two options here. I’ve tested them both and either works quite well. This step is to prepare a surface for your loaf to be put on once it has been shaped so it can to its final rest/rise before going into the oven.
Option 1: Lay a piece of parchment paper over a 10-inch skillet (I use my 10-inch cast-iron skillet for this step), press the parchment paper down into the skillet to shape it a bit and prepare it for where the dough loaf will sit as it does its final rest/rise, and sprinkle the parchment paper lightly with some flour or cornmeal. Option 2: Use a proofing basket for the dough’s final rest/rise. If you are using a proofing basket, coat it liberally with flour so the dough won’t stick when you are ready to flip it out for baking.
7. It’s time to preheat your Dutch Oven. You will want it to preheat for 45 minutes to 1 hour before baking hour loaf. I’ve found that if I start the preheating processing just before I take my dough out of the refrigerator, the timing works out perfectly. Place your oven rack to the MIDDLE of the oven. The bottom of the oven is the hottest part. If you set your rack too low, your bread loaf will scorch on the bottom from the intense heat down there. I learned this very important tip through much trial and error. Once your rack is set to the middle of the oven, set your Dutch oven on the rack and the lid next to it inside the oven. Preheat the oven with the dutch oven and lid inside at 475 degrees F. Now it’s time to prepare your dough for baking.
8. THE GLUTEN CLOAK: Don’t knead, just “cloak” and shape a loaf in 20 to 40 seconds. Have your container of flour on hand and ready to assist you with this next step. Now, take your bowl or bucket of dough out of the refrigerator. Dust the surface of the dough in the bowl with flour. Pull up and cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-size) piece of dough, using a serrated knife or kitchen shears. Hold the dough and add more flour as needed so it won’t stick to your hands. Gently stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. Most of the dusting flour will fall off; it’s not intended to be incorporated into the dough. The bottom of the loaf may appear to be a collection of bunched ends, but it will flatten out and adhere together during the resting and baking processes. The correctly shaped loaf will be smooth and cohesive. The entire process should take no more than 20 to 40 seconds — remember, NO KNEADING! Don’t work the dough longer than this or your loaves may be dense.
9. If you are using Option 1 from step #6 above, place the shaped ball of dough on the prepared parchment paper in your 10-inch skillet. If using Option 2, gently and carefully set your shaped dough ball into the proofing basket, seam side down. Now let the dough rest for about 40 minutes. It doesn’t need to be covered during the rest period unless you’re extending the rest time to get a more “open” crumb. You don’t need to be monitoring the dough for doubling or tripling of volume as in traditional recipes. You may not see much, if any, rising during this period; much more rising will occur inside the Dutch Oven during baking when the loaf experiences “oven spring” from the sudden high heat and steam created inside the covered Dutch Oven.
10. DUST AND SLASH: If you used option 1 and your dough has been resting on the parchment paper in the skillet, all you need to do now is dust the top of the loaf liberally with some more flour, which will prevent the knife from sticking. Slash a 1/2-inch-deep cross, scallop, or tic-tac-toe pattern into the top, using a serrated bread knife held perpendicular to the bread. You can also use your kitchen shears for very easy and quick slashes.
If you used option 2 and have rested your dough in a proofing basket, you will now want to prepare a piece of parchment paper (approximately 20-24 inches long). Lay the parchment paper on the counter, dust it lightly with flour or cornmeal, and very gently flip the proofing basket over so the dough ball will fall out into your hands onto the center of the parchment paper. Use your hands to gently ease the dough out of the basket and into position on the parchment paper. This should not be an air-drop from above, but more of a gentle easing.
Now dust and slash the top of the loaf liberally with some more flour, which will prevent the knife from sticking. Slash a 1/2-inch-deep cross, scallop, or tic-tac-toe pattern into the top, using a serrated bread knife held perpendicular to the bread. You can also use your kitchen shears for very easy and quick slashes.
Leave the flour in place for baking, and just tap some off before eating.
11. BAKING THE LOAF: You will be baking your loaf on the prepared parchment paper. Using heavy duty oven mitts, take both the dutch oven and lid out of the oven and set them on the stove stop side by side. Grasping the edges of the parchment paper, lift the dough and set it into the Dutch oven. There should be enough parchment paper so that it sticks out of the top. With your oven mitts on, put the lid onto the Dutch oven and place the Dutch oven back inside your oven.
12. Bake for 25 minutes with the lid on (for a 1-pound loaf). If you are making a 1 1/2 pound loaf, bake for 30 minutes with the lid on. With your oven mitts on, take the lid off of the Dutch oven and continue baking the bread loaf uncovered for an additional 25-30 minutes. You want the bread crust to be richly brown, like caramel or dark honey.
13. Using your oven mitts, take the Dutch oven out and set it on your stovetop. Carefully remove the bread loaf from the Dutch oven by grasping the ends of the parchment paper. The parchment paper will have darkened and turned brittle from high-heat baking time, so make sure you grasp it in sections that won’t break off as you transfer the loaf from the Dutch oven to your wire cooling rack.
14. This is the part I absolutely love the best! When you remove the loaf from the oven, a perfectly baked loaf will audibly crackle, or “sing,” when initially exposed to room-temperature air. For a bread baker, novice or expert alike, this is a moment of pure joy.
15. Allow the loaf to cool completely (2 hours, if possible), preferably on a wire cooling rack, for the flavor and texture to set before slicing. The crust may initially soften but will firm up again when cooled. If you’re not getting the browning and crispness you want, test your oven temperature with an inexpensive oven thermometer.
16. Store the remaining dough in the refrigerator in your lidded or loosely plastic-wrapped container and use it over the next 14 days: You’ll find that even one day’s storage improves the flavor and texture of your bread. This maturation continues over the 14-day storage period.
TIP: For the life of me, I can’t remember where I found this particular tip, but — If you store your Artisan bread in a plastic bag or even in a bread container on the counter, the crust will soften and lose its crispness. If you do not finish the bread at one sitting and will be eating it within the next few hours or day, simply set the remaining portion of the loaf on its side so that the cut side is down and not exposed to air, which will slightly dry it. It won’t go stale and the crisp crust of your loaf will keep the bread fresh for some eggs and toast for breakfast in the morning.
EQUIPMENT NEEDED: 5 to 6-quart Dutch Oven, proofing basket, large capacity bowl, or food-quality tub with lid. I use the Cambro 6-quart container with lid as my dough tub.
Keywords: artisan bread, dutch oven bread