I knew the time would eventually come. The time when I moved from wishing I had a bigger oven to actively searching for the thing. I was dreaming of easily baking six loaves at a time, certainly meager by a proper bakery’s standards but formidable in a home kitchen. Once you move to handle larger dough quantities, you naturally start to yearn for the right tools to amplify efficiency.
I’m not saying it’s impossible to bake large quantities of bread in a home kitchen (I know many bakers who do!), but having the right tools means I can spend valuable focus on other baking areas: flavor, fermentation, handling, and shaping. Baking larger quantities of Baking bread in a Rofco oven in ever-increasing quantity seemed like the natural progression in my baking evolution.
Those bakers who go down the path of expanding their home baking might suddenly arrive at this point through the subtle, slow takeover of an ever-increasing obsession, as in my case. Some might take it even further and expand into a nano or micro-bakery; some might venture into selling at their local farmer’s market. Whatever the reason behind scaling up, I’ve written this guide as a single spot to outline the tools, times, temperatures, and other tips I’ve found over time when using my Rofco bread oven.
Also, to help others decide if a Rofco is right for them, or if they just purchased one, a place to learn how to start using it, and eventually, start developing their process for baking bread in a Rofco oven.
Steam burns hurt. Like really, really hurt. The small mark on my left forearm begs the question daily: Maurizio, was it worth it? But before we talk about my new baking badge of honor, let’s concentrate on overcoming the challenges of baking good bread at home. While many of these challenges present themselves early in the two-day process (fermentation, flour selection, mixing, shaping, and so on), there is that crucial component at the end of this ordered procession: baking bread with steam in your home oven.
For your bread to rise to its potential, that outer, taut skin on your loaf needs to be able to expand and stretch before hardening off. Steam in the oven and subsequently on the surface of your loaves helps keep that skin pliable and stretchy during baking. If your dough dries and bakes too quickly on the exterior, it can harden off before it rises to its full potential (and you may not see a satisfying gringe, either).
So how can we get enough steam in the oven to keep those loaves rising? There are indeed methods abound, and each person has a different approach, but arguably the most popular choice at the moment, and the one I started with, is baking bread in a Dutch oven (see my guide on how to bake bread in a Dutch oven if you’re not familiar). However, there comes a time when you might want to bake two (or more) loaves at a time, or perhaps your loaves are scaled more substantial than your Dutch oven can comfortably hold. An alternative is to bake directly on stones and generate sufficient steam in your home oven by some other clever means.
Professional baking ovens have steam on tap. Press a button, and a wave of steam sprays over the decks of newly loaded dough (however, there are always challenges, no matter what oven you use). Now there are home ovens that are “steam ovens,” but the ones I’ve looked at are incredibly small. You might be able to fit two loaves, but I could also fit two Dutch ovens in my current home oven; no advantage there. Some other alternatives can’t inject steam at a button press, but they are sealed to trap steam and have a method for generating steam. These look very promising but are on the expensive side.
Since most of us bakers out there do not have one of these fancy ovens, we have to make do—read on to learn how baking bread with steam in your home oven can be a straightforward process.
Baking Steam Method
Below is a quick visual showing where I have my pans, where the loaded dough goes, and where my baking stones are.
Now that we have a list of what things we need, where items will be placed, and why, let’s get to the actual method (with the animated version below!).
Home oven steaming method
- An hour before baking, turn on your oven (preheat)
- 10-20 minutes before loading your bread, boil water, pour over the towels in your rectangular baking pan, fully saturate them, and place them in the back corner of your oven
- 10-20 minutes after loading the pan, put each mass of dough on a separate piece of parchment paper
- Place the dough and parchment underneath on a pizza peel
- Score dough
- Open the oven and slide the dough (with parchment) onto baking stones
- Carefully toss 1 cup of ice into your cast iron pan with lava rocks
- Quickly spray loaves a bit with a hand spritzer (optional)
- Close the oven door and watch your dough rise
- 20 minutes later, remove both steaming pans (careful these are extremely hot) to stop steaming
- Bake as usual until done
Whew, that’s it! Here is the whole process (minus the preheating and drenching of towels) in one trendy baking-with-steam GIF:
Why do we use two sheets of parchment paper for our dough? When you use two sheets, you can adjust the space between the loaves as they bake, if necessary. One of the worst things to happen is when the dough expands and joins with another loaf; this reduces the overall rise of both loaves. If you notice the loaves start to get a bit close as they rise, quickly slide them apart.
After 20 minutes of baking, we remove the cast iron and rectangular baking pan, so no more steam is generated, allowing your loaves to crisp up and harden off.
Caution: Please be careful with this method: if you drop too much cold water on your oven door, you might crack the glass. I have never had this happen to me, but I know of at least one baker who had this issue. Be sure to keep the water off the glass.
Straight to the Point
Despite my lack of enthusiasm for the Le Creuest oven, you might be surprised to know that I actually bake my breads in similar dedicated bread-baking vessels all the time, and recommend them to just about anyone within shouting distance. Regular old cast-iron Dutch ovens work pretty darn great for baking bread, but I still prefer using a vessel designed specifically and only for the task, for a bunch of reasons I will get into below. But first, a brief primer on why you’d want to bake bread in a pot in the first place, from that earlier article of mine:
Lean breads—meaning those without a large amount of fat from eggs, butter, or oil in them—need to be surrounded by steam for the first half or so of the bake for best results. The steam serves to promote good oven spring for a tall, open-crumbed loaf, and to produce a thin-shelled and shiny crust. After a while, the steam is removed in order to let the crust brown and crisp up.
Professional bakers use specialized ovens that rapidly fill the oven with steam on demand, and vent it away just as quickly when it’s no longer needed. Home bakers have devised all sorts of techniques for steaming their ovens—pouring boiling water onto superheated lava rocks is one of the best I’ve found—but no matter how good, these tricks all fall short, for two reasons. One, it is hard to generate enough steam to fill the relatively large space of a typical home oven. And two, home ovens are vented by design, so they do not retain enough steam to have the desired effect. (Electric ovens are better than gas in this regard, but neither is great.)
Enter the Dutch oven. Instead of baking the bread in the “open,” you preheat the empty pot and lid in the oven, add the loaf, cover it, and return it to the oven. After half an hour or so, you remove the lid and continue baking the bread until it is sufficiently browned.
But what about the steam, you ask? Ah, but it comes from the bread itself! Bread baked in an enclosed container “self-steams,” because some of the water in the dough evaporates as the loaf heats up, filling the surrounding space with water vapor. Baking bread in a Dutch oven produces results that rival breads made in fancy, steam-injected bread ovens. It’s something of a miracle of science that such a simple and common device could be so effective, especially with so little effort required.
So, Dutch ovens are great for baking bread, and I think that if you are new to the practice or only bake once in a while, they are the ideal choice, especially since you might already have one on hand. And even if you don’t, there are numerous reasonably-priced and well-made options. But you might find yourself eventually wanting something more out of a bread-baking vessel, especially if, like me, you bake on a regular basis. That’s because there are a few limitations to how you can bake bread in a Dutch oven (some that are gotten around with effort, one not so much).
Baking Bread in a Rofco Oven
Turn the left knob to control the top heating element and turn the right knob to control the bottom heating element. The left and right light turn on when the left and/or the right heating element is active, respectively.
To turn the oven on first, be sure it’s empty inside (don’t make the mistake of leaving the silicone sheets inside!) and turn both left and right dials to 240°C. I preheat for 1.5 hours to ensure the bricks are thoroughly saturated with heat.
Once preheated, I lay my pizza peel (see Tools below) on a table next to the oven with one silicone sheet on top and place the other two sheets in an assembly line next to the peel on the table. Then, gently turn out your dough to each sheet, score each loaf, and start with the sheet on the peel; slide it off the peel into the oven. Then take the peel, slide it under the next sheet, and continue down the line loading the oven.
Steps to baking bread in a Rofco oven
When the loaves are fully baked, I’ll remove them and the silicone sheets using the peel and place them on the wire racks to cool. Then, I turn off the oven (or heat it up to 240°C if baking more loaves) and close the door.
Commercial Strength Sprayer for Steam
If you choose not to use the Rofco steam pods, this is the best sprayer I’ve found for the oven2: the German-made Gloria Prima 3 Liter Pressure Sprayer. It’s a little expensive with shipping from Europe, but let me tell you, it’s worth the cost. I went through 3 or 4 of these from all over until buying this and wondering why I wasted so much money on the others—highly recommended.
Oven Equipment Stand
I raised the oven about 20″ with custom-cut stainless steel equipment stand from WebstaurantStore. The Regency 30″ x 30″ 16-Guage Stand is extremely sturdy (it will slightly wobble if the oven door is slammed shut forcefully, but likely only because I installed casters). When ordering, I submitted a custom cut of the steel legs to 18″, which worked perfectly to raise the oven comfortably off the ground for loading and unloading.
When baking bread in a Rofco oven, it’s convenient to have the locking casters on the bottom should I relocate the oven. Still, if I were to do this repeatedly, I would not get them to increase structural rigidity (if you don’t get the casters, be sure to measure the legs’ height to suit).
Large Wooden Peel
When I first received the Rofco, I used the included square steel baking trays, inverted, so the flat side was up to hold the silicone sheets. Then, I would drop the dough on top of the sheet on the steel tray and slide the sheets into the oven off the trays. This worked well, but the steel trays were rather cumbersome.
I purchased a wooden pizza peel that I initially thought was too long, but I have since grown to appreciate the size. It’s an American Metalcraft 1836 18″ x 29 1/2″ peel with a 6 1/2″ long handle. The wonderful thing about this peel is that it’s the exact width of the Rofco B40’s decks (the decks are 18.9″ wide, the peel is 18″ wide), it’s light and very durable. When baking bread in a Rofco oven, I lay the peel on a table next to the oven. Then, I place a silicone sheet near the top, unload my dough, score, and slide the sheet with dough on top into the oven with the peel.
The Le Creuset Bread Oven makes beautiful loaves, but it’s a unitasker and unless you have the cash and storage space, investing in a Dutch oven is probably a better bet. For those interested in investing in a dedicated bread baker, we reviewed three popular, cast iron options here (all of which we recommend).
Le Creuset recently launched a fancy, enameled cast-iron, “bread oven”—a pot specifically designed for baking crisp, crusty loaves of bread. I tested it out to find out whether it’s worth the nearly $300 sticker price. But, first, some background.
By now, most people who make bread at home already know that baking a rustic loaf is best done in a heavy, covered Dutch oven-style pot. Baking “under a cloche” is as old as the hills, but it was popularized in recent years by Jim Lahey and Mark Bittman’s 2006 New York Times no-knead bread recipe and Chad Robertson’s 2010 book, Tartine Bread.
For those unfamiliar with the baking method, here’s why it works so well: Lean breads—meaning those without a large amount of fat from eggs, butter, or oil in them—need to be surrounded by steam for the first half or so of the bake for best results. The steam serves to promote good oven spring for a tall, open-crumbed loaf, and to produce a thin-shelled and shiny crust. After a while, the steam is removed in order to let the crust brown and crisp up.
Which brings me to the subject of this review: If a simple, humble, and versatile Dutch oven is such an effective tool for bread, do you really need to spend $290 on a “bread oven” that does the same thing? That’s what I wanted to find out.
A look at the shallow base of the Bread Oven.Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian
The main advantage to having the bottom half of the device be shallow is that once the lid is removed, the loaf is nearly fully exposed to the heat of the oven, allowing it to brown quickly and evenly. And it makes loading and unloading the loaf easier, since you don’t have to navigate the high (and scorching hot) sides of a deep pot. (Another possible advantage is that the “lid” in this case weighs more than the base—2,350 grams, or 32.5% heftier than the 1,774-gram lid of my seven-quart Dutch oven—which might allow it to hold the steam in better, thanks to gravity.)
How to bake without an oven – Whether you want to try something new or your oven is temporarily out of order, you’ll be amazed at the different ways to bake without an oven! Baking using a gas or electric oven gets expensive. And many alternative methods produce excellent results without the huge fuel bills.
But – what’s the best way to make homemade cookies, bread, and muffins without an oven?
We’re about to look at the most fun and innovative ways.
To bake without an oven, dutch ovens covered with coals work the best! But they’re not your only option. When baking without an oven, surprising results can get achieved using a cast-iron skillet or large pan on your stovetop.
Cast iron cookware can also be used for baking food on a campfire. And it’s also possible to bake cookies in the microwave and cakes in a crockpot.
Contrary to popular belief – you can bake without an oven! You can cook bread, cookies, cake, homemade stew, and even bake peach cobbler! We also found a borderline-genius stovetop bread recipe from Food Network. You can tweak the stovetop bread recipe to add homemade flavors, savory additions, or your favorite (or secret) ingredients.
Can You Bake Without an Oven?
Yes! We’re about to show you how! Luckily there are many ways to bake without an oven! Just a few simple hacks will help you bake cookies, cake, biscuits, or pie using equipment most people already have in their kitchen at home.
And if you’re camping out, we’ve got some top tips for campfire baking without an oven too!
How Can We Bake in the Microwave?
If your oven is out of order, or you’re staying somewhere with only rudimentary kitchen equipment, turn to the microwave to solve your baking problems.
This technique can be helpful for smaller kitchens that do not have space for an oven, such as those in tiny homes, RVs, and trailers.
Most of you will have heard of the legendary microwavable mug cake, but did you know that you can bake bread, pizza, cake, and brownies in the microwave too?! And it tastes okay! (Obviously – it’s not as good as fresh homemade pizza from the oven. But – it’s much better than nothing!)
Silicone bakeware is perfect for baking with a microwave. Silicone helps your homemade baked goods cook evenly. And it’s also surprisingly easy to clean.
The main difference when you’re baking bread, cookies, or other foods in the microwave is that the food will not develop the same brown crust you get in the oven. And don’t forget to cover food with cling wrap to prevent it from drying in the microwave. Use your microwave’s highest setting to emulate the heat of an oven. (Also, make sure that your cling wrap is microwave safe!)
Here’s the best way to bake without an oven. Use a Dutch oven instead! It transforms any campfire into a mean baking machine. Now you can bake homemade bread and cakes. Without a gas oven! You can also use it for cooking homemade soups, roasted meats, or heat a savory breakfast. The lid also holds coals – so you can bake your food evenly. It’s perfect for baking off-grid, during a power outage, or at the campsite.
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Can You Bake a Cake in the Microwave?
Most cakes can get baked in the microwave. And we’re not just talking mug cakes here! While making individual cakes in mugs can be fun, it is a lot of mess and washing up for just one small cake. So why not scale things up and try baking a full-size cake in the oven?
Most cake batters can be cooked in the microwave, although you will get the best results from a recipe including baking powder as the raising agent. Remember to keep your cake covered while it bakes in the oven to help retain moisture.
We also found a collection of yummy Betty Crocker muffin mixes for the microwave. The flavors are hot fudge brownie, cinnamon roll, chocolate chip cookie, and triple chocolate cake. Sounds good to us!
How Long Does It Take to Bake a Cake Without an Oven?
Baking cakes in the microwave is a super-speedy method, and a standard single cake layer will cook in just ten minutes at full power!
(We found another yummy microwavable chocolate pudding cake recipe on Food Network. The cooking time is also about ten minutes.)
Mug cakes are even faster! They will cook through in under two minutes. However – we always advise that you read your recipe carefully. Sometimes, the cooking time varies. And – your microwave may have different baking settings!
If you want to bake without an oven, you might want to cook more than homemade cookies! Luckily, you can also bake meat on fire using hot coals. We found more details on back-country baking strategies in an article from the NOLS University blog. They even show how you can bake homemade bread and muffins using nothing but hot coals and an orange peel. Crazy! And neat!
When baking bread in a Rofco oven, expect your bake quality to take a slight dip while you get accustomed to the new oven (as is the case when changing most baking equipment!). Pick a straightforward sourdough recipe and practice that for a while until you get the hang of the new process. If you’re in the market for a new Rofco, head over to Pleasant Hill Grain, where I couldn’t recommend their service highly enough.
If you aren’t baking bread in a Rofco oven, check out my guides to steaming a regular home oven and using a Dutch oven, two alternative methods for baking bread at home.
Do you use a Rofco and have any tips I haven’t discovered yet and something I should know about when baking bread in a Rofco oven? If so, I’d love to hear them in the comments below. Happy baking!
A huge thanks go out to all the bakers I’ve chatted about using the Rofco: Adam from Grain and Hearth Bakery, Noah, Lieschen from Lizzy’s Bakehouse, Campbell from RackMaster, and more. Their input has helped tremendously.
Baking Without an Oven or a Microwave
If you have a heat source, you can bake. Even without an oven or microwave! So whether you’re trying to bake on a stovetop or campfire, we’ve got everything you need to know right here.
Can I Bake on the Stove Top?
No oven or microwave? No problem! There are so many ways to bake on a stovetop. You’ll wonder whether you need a baking oven or microwave at all.
The basic principle of baking on the stovetop is ensuring the heat is evenly distributed, with just the right amount of moisture to bake the food perfectly.
You must take steps to regulate the heat carefully. We advise using low heat to prevent uneven baking! And to make sure that your baked goods do not burn on the bottom. But with practice, you’ll cook beautiful loaves of bread in your crockpot and delectable cakes in the skillet!
We found another yummy recipe on Food Network for baking without an oven! This time, they show how to bake slow cooker bread. Perfect!
How Do You Bake on the Stove?
The easiest way to bake on the stove is to use a cast-iron skillet. They can help cook thinner items such as cookies, brownies, and drop scones. Iron skillets will offer great results, as the baked goods will have a delicious crisp base and a light and fluffy center.
My favorite item to bake on the stovetop is flatbreads! When we don’t have the time to bake bread from scratch, I can have a batch of flatbreads sizzling away in the skillet in under five minutes. They are also great fun to make while camping out under the stars!
Can You Bake a Cake in a Saucepan?
A super-easy way to bake full-size cakes in a saucepan is to create a mini oven that sits on your stovetop!
- Take a large saucepan with a tightly fitting lid.
- Place a small wire rack in the bottom of your pan.
- If you don’t have a wire rack, use a few balls of rolled aluminum foil instead.
- Then all you need to do is place your baking tin inside the saucepan, resting on the rack.
- Pop the lid on lightly.
- And hey presto, you’ve got a stovetop oven!
Cast iron pans (with covers) are another genius way to bake without an oven. Cast iron can also help you cook homemade stews, soups, and stir-fries. We also read that cooking with cast iron adds 20 times more iron to your food. It’s perfect if you have iron deficiencies. Who knew!
Can You Cook a Pizza on the Stove?
Yes! We’ve made dozens (or hundreds) of grilled cheese sandwiches and quesadillas on the stovetop. Homemade pizza is no different! You can cook a pizza on the stove, and you’ll be surprised when you realize just how simple this method is!
All you need is a large skillet, preferably made from cast iron. Cast iron will give you the perfect heat retention and distribution to cook your pizza evenly, resulting in a delicious crispy crust.
If you don’t have a cast-iron pan, then any good non-stick pan will do. Wipe it with cooking oil first to help your pizza dough slide easily off the surface when cooked.
One common complaint about stovetop pizza is that the top does not cook properly, but there is an easy solution to this baking problem. Place a lid on your skillet to retain heat. And the top of your pizza will be bubbling and golden in no time.
Are There Other Oven-Free Baking Methods?
With a bit of imagination, there are many ways to bake without an oven! For example, the stovetop methods we’ve outlined can be adapted to use on an outdoor grill or campfire. So if you’re camping, there is no excuse for surviving solely on bacon sandwiches and other fried foods anymore!
Dutch ovens are one of our favorite ways to bake without an oven. The best-kept secret for baking with Dutch ovens is to place coals atop – and below! The idea is to heat all sides. The best source we found says to place coals atop the Dutch oven with one to three ratios. In other words – most of the coals should go atop the Dutch oven.
How Do You Bake a Simple Cake Using a Jiko?
A Jiko is a charcoal burner that can get used for creating everything that your standard oven would! The efficiency of Jiko burners means that it is perfect for baking cakes, although the technique requires a bit of time and practice.
Cooking with a Jiko is an art form that deserves a full-length blog all to itself, but fans of this method swear by the versatility of these little cooking devices!
The best technique for baking a cake in a Jiko is to use a large pan – called a sufuria – filled with sand. A smaller sufuria filled with cake batter gets nestled inside, and the setup gets cooked inside the Jiko burner.
When researching how to bake without an oven, we found a fun article from the University of Nebraska (UNL Food) blog. They talk about how to toast nuts using a microwave. And stovetop! We figured if you bake homemade cookies using silicone and a microwave – you may need a salty snack to go along with them. They’re not as good as roasting nuts over an open fire. But – it’s the next best thing!
Baking in a Rice Cooker, Crockpot, or Pressure Cooker
We found an excellent article on Today that reveals 13 baking recipes for slow cookers. It’s perfect if you’re baking without an oven. Or if you’re baking on a budget!
However, I must admit that this method takes a bit of trial and error, as the settings on every type of slow cooker, rice cooker, or crockpot are so variable! If you’re lucky enough to have a bake setting on your machine? Then the process gets simpler.
The secret to baking in an Instant Pot or similar gadget is to add a cup of water to the pan and use the metal trivet to raise the cake tin off the bottom. The trivet creates the ideal conditions to bake cake and bread to perfection.
What Are the Limitations to Baking Bread in a Dutch Oven?
A Dutch oven is a pot (obviously), which means you bake the loaf inside of a deep cavity. This is problematic in two ways. For starters, there’s always a risk of burning hands or wrists on the rim of the blazing hot pot as you load the loaf; using oven gloves and/or a long parchment sling can help avoid this. More crucially, once the lid comes off and it comes time for the loaf to brown, the sides of the pot shield it from the oven’s heat, which produces uneven browning and a potentially too-long bake (which can result in a too-thick crust). You can take the loaf out of the pot at this stage and bake it “naked”, though I have found it helpful to set it on a small baking stone or pan to shield it from the lower oven element and prevent burning.
But, a Dutch oven is also round. This is fine if you are happy making round loaves for the rest of your days, but it’s a serious bummer when you want to branch out shape-wise, or if you are like me and prefer a long, rectangular loaf, aka a bâtard. (I like my slices more-or-less identically-sized, sue me!) You can make long loaves in a round pot if you scale them down to fit, but not if you want a full-size loaf. Large, long ones crammed into a round pot will inevitably conform to the shape of the pot, ending up as a blob midway between round and oblong (bloblong?). I can live with the occasional singed wrist, but I need my bâtards, which is why I prefer a dedicated bread-baking pot.
Aside from the Le Creuset, there are currently two main options for bread-specific, cast iron vessels: the Challenger Breadware Bread Pan and the Fourneau Bread Oven. And there’s a third if you count the Lodge Double Dutch Oven, which is not a dedicated pot, but can be used like one. And the great news is that all three options work wonderfully, since they have plenty of heat-retaining mass for good oven spring and are sufficiently airtight to jacket the loaf with steam when it’s needed. That said, each of these has advantages and disadvantages worth considering before you decide to invest in one.
While the fact that I can make loaves of any shape and size (aside from a baguette, that is) is excuse enough for me to splurge on a Challenger pan, there is another reason I like the extra space it offers: there’s room to pull off the “ice cube” trick. Allow me to explain.
While it is true that Dutch-oven-baked loaves contain enough moisture to steam themselves during the start of the bake, it turns out you can improve the texture of the crust further with an extra burst of steam early on. I’m not sure who first figured it out, but the best way to do this in a Challenger is to drop a small ice cube or two into the open corners of the pan right before you set the lid on it. The heat stored up in the base will quickly melt the cubes and fill the cavity of the oven with steam. Loaves steamed this way will spring tall and proud with a beautiful gloss. (The one downside to adding ice and water to the base is that you’ll need to re-season the pan a bit more often than you otherwise might.)
The extra real estate of the Challenger comes at a cost, though, and not just on your wallet. The two halves of the Challenger weigh a combined 21 pounds, 13 3/8 ounces. I like to think I’m a pretty strong person, and even I find the Challenger a, well, challenge to move around, especially when it’s ripping hot. It’s doable, but it requires hand protection that gives you a solid grip on the pot—Challenger sells heatproof gloves that work nicely—as well as your full concentration in the moment. (It also helps to have oven racks that slide in and out easily, something mine definitely do not do.)
I love my Challenger pan, but there is no getting around its weight. Before investing in one, I’d practice loading and unloading your oven with another item of similar heft (like a Dutch oven filled with water) to be sure it’s something you’d want to do each and every time you bake.
There is one other flaw in the Challenger I need to mention. Because the base is heavy cast iron (and dark in color), it pumps heat rapidly into the loaf. This is a good thing when it comes to the initial oven spring, but it can be a problem later on in the bake, since the underside of the loaf can burn before the top and sides are sufficiently browned. If you find this to be the case, one solution is to move the loaf to a small baking sheet or cake pan and finish it outside of the Challenger entirely. (Pro tip: doing so lets you bake multiple loaves in a staggered way, steaming the next loaf while the first one browns.)
- Materials: Cast iron
- Weight: 21 pounds, 13 3/8 ounces
- Oven-safe temperature: 500°F
- Care instructions: Season with oil lightly before or after each use
Or maybe consider the $325 Fourneau Bread Oven instead, which, while nearly as hefty as the Challenger (the Fourneau’s about 20 pounds), does not need to be moved around during use, since it stays in the oven the entire time. Unlike Dutch oven-style bread pots, the Fourneau is more like an oven-oven in design. It consists of an ovoid cast iron dome, open on one end, a cast iron door that fits snugly over the opening, and a grooved corderite (ceramic) base into which the dome sits.
The Fourneau ships with three additional essential parts: an aluminum tray that fits inside the oven (with an angled lip along its front edge), a silicone mat that sits between the loaf and the tray, and a notched steel bar that fits into a slot along the front edge of the tray as a handle. Loading works like you’d expect: you invert the loaf onto the mat-lined tray, score it, use the bar to grab the tray and slide it into the oven, then set the door in place.
You still need a hot mitt or oven glove to protect your hands as you grip the oven door, but at about three pounds, it’s much easier to manipulate than the Challenger Pan is. And because the Fourneau doesn’t need to be moved around during use, it can stand to be much roomier than a bread pot: the tray is 11 3/4 by 8 3/4 inches at its narrowest and the dome is about 5 1/2 inches tall. (It is still too short to fit a 14-inch-long demi-baguette, but you can make very respectable semi-demi-baguettes in one.)
Because the baking tray fills the oven cavity nearly completely, you can’t perform the ice cube trick in a Fourneau oven, but you don’t need to. That’s because it’s got another trick up its sleeve: a second groove that runs around the inside of the corderite stone, into which you can pour water that turns to steam once it comes to a boil. You’ll need a gooseneck kettle or the $15 pitcher that Fourneau sells as an add-on to get the water into the groove, but it works just as well as ice cubes in the Challenger.
Unlike either the Challenger or the Lodge Double Dutch, you can’t uncover the loaf completely for the latter half of the bake in a Fourneau. Though they suggest just taking the door off, you definitely get faster and more even browning by moving the loaf out of the oven and setting it (on its tray) on the bare oven rack alongside it. (If you order a second baking tray and mat or transfer the loaf to another pan, you can do staggered baking this way too.)
The primary drawback to the Fourneau is the space it occupies when not in use. The Challenger is heavy, but it’s no bigger than any other large pot you might own, while the Fourneau—at 15 by 12 by seven inches in size, about the size of a large roasting pan—requires a lot of storage real estate. If I had a double wall oven (alas, I do not), I’d just leave it in the lower one the whole time, ready to go at a moment’s notice.
- Materials: Cast iron, corderite, aluminum
- Weight: 19 pounds, 6 ounces
- Oven-safe temperature: 500°F
- Care instructions: Season cast iron cloche with grape seed oil 2-3 times per year.
At $60, the 5-quart Lodge Double Dutch Oven is the least expensive of the three options, by a long stretch. While it is a Dutch oven, where it differs from most others is that its lid also doubles as a skillet, allowing the pot to be used in either orientation, lid up or down. Which means you can load and unload the bread without fear of burning, and the bread is exposed to the heat of the oven fully once the steaming phase is complete, so you can just remove the “pot” and carry on baking. It is not enamel-coated, but it is pre-seasoned, so there’s no fear of sticking if you bake the loaf directly on the pot. (I tend to use a parchment “sling” to load and unload my breads, so this isn’t an issue either way.) And the heavy-gauge cast iron provides plenty of mass for rapid oven spring and good browning. Even so—at 14 pounds, 7 ounces—it’s reasonably lightweight enough to move in and out of the oven without too much effort or brawn.
But in many ways you get what you pay for, at least if you are looking for a bread pot with some versatility to it. For starters, as should already be obvious, the Double Dutch Oven is round. And—with a 7-inch-wide base (on the inside)—it is also a little on the snug side. (Width-wise, that is; with more than six inches of headroom top to bottom, the Double Dutch is plenty tall enough for most breads.) Which means that those of us who dig long loaves are out of luck. Still, given the price point, the Lodge Double Dutch Oven is a great starter Dutch oven/bread pot for those who don’t have either yet, especially since you also get a nice cast iron skillet out of the deal.
- Materials: Cast iron
- Weight: 14 pounds, 7 ounces
- Oven-safe temperature: 500°F
- Care instructions: Season with oil before or after each use
Positioning Dough on Decks
This is a bit like a game of real-life Tetris: how do we bake the most amount of dough without it touching while still achieving an even bake? Because I don’t bake at a large scale very often, I’ve not pushed the boundaries of this, but I know some bakers who have this down to a science. Below are the three most common dough arrangements for the baking I do here at home, with the far left (2 x 900g batard per deck) being my most common baking scenario.
Note that ovals represent my typical batard shape, circles represent boules, and each deck is sized 18.9″ x 18.9″ in the Rofco B40. The top edge of each square in the diagram is the back of the oven, and the bottom edge is the front of the oven with the door.
Using the included square steel trays, you can fit several smaller buns, rolls, and even a large square pizza. I prefer to use these trays when making other goods besides bread; they make transferring many small items to the oven easier and contain spills.
The Bottom Line
As I’ve already said, all three of these devices can be used to make excellent crusty, crispy, and tall rustic loaves, especially once you understand how to use each of them best. The Lodge Double Dutch is the one I’d recommend to beginners or those with limited budgets, so long as round loaves are your thing. The Challenger is for those who want to bake longer loaves, don’t have a lot of storage space, and do have enough brawn to move the heavy pot around. And the Fourneau is my recommendation for long-loafers who have plenty of storage space—or a second oven to leave it in permanently.
The Le Creuset Bread Oven is dishwasher-safe, however hand-washing is recommended.
How do you make bread in a Dutch oven?
You can find the Serious Eats recipe and instructions for no-knead bread that’s baked in a Dutch oven here.
What’s the best Dutch oven?
Our favorite Dutch ovens include the Le Creuset 5.5-Quart Dutch Oven and Cuisinart 5-Quart Chef’s Classic Enameled Dutch Oven. You can read our full review here.
Should I grease my Dutch oven before baking in it?
It’s generally not recommend to grease the inside of a Dutch oven for baking, since it can cause your bread to char. Instead, line the Dutch oven with parchment paper before baking.
Another approach to baking bread with steam
Baking bread in a sealed post is possibly the easiest method of baking bread with steam at home. You place your dough in a preheated pot, close the lid, and put that in your oven.
That method works incredibly well, but the drawback is you can only bake round loaves this way. You’re limited to the realm of round pots.
Baking Bread in a Rofco Oven Tips & Tricks
After unloading my dough to the silicone sheets, I place my proofing baskets on the oven to help expedite drying. This quickly dries the damp liner/canvas so I can store my baskets quickly and helps prevent mold from forming.
Tools for Steaming Home Oven
We first need to have the right set of tools for the job. Let’s go over a few more additions to our home-baking arsenal:
The first is a cast-iron pan filled with lava rocks1. Lava rocks are a primo choice because they get extremely hot, don’t break down easily, and have tons of jagged sides and crevices for an incredible increase in surface area. What’s the big deal about surface area? As cooler water comes into contact with a blisteringly hot surface, it instantly turns to steam. The more hot surface area you have, the more steam you generate. I found these lava rocks, specifically made for home BBQ grills, and they have turned out to be a perfect choice. They come in a fairly large bag, and I am still on my first handful — I probably have lava rocks for life.
The second component is the heavy-duty stainless steel pan I use to hold the lava rocks. This stainless steel pan is great for a few reasons: it’s super thick-walled, retains heat well, and holds up to abuse.
Rectangular baking pan
The last component is an old rectangular baking pan with small dish towels rolled tightly. I use an old pan around the kitchen and roll up three small towels in the center. The more towels you add, the more steam you’ll generate. I use cheap, clean towels as these will eventually get scorched and need replacing.
Ten to twenty minutes before you start baking, you will boil some water and pour it over the towels in the rectangular pan, so they are fully drenched and steaming. You will then place this pan with towels back inside your oven. This pan will saturate the interior with steam before you even splash water on the lava rocks and will continue to do so well into the bake.
Optional Hand Spritzer
The final item is optional. A stainless steel hand spray bottle I use to spray in a bit more steam just before closing the oven door. I like to have the option to spray in a bit more steam if I feel it is warranted. Additionally, you could use this after 5-10 minutes into baking to quickly saturate the oven inside one more time. Some bakers, like Jeffrey Hamelman in Bread, recommend this second round of steaming in a home oven.
Not many new tools are needed, and if you think about it over the long run, you will probably save money as now we can bake 2-4 loaves at a time — no more wasting all that space in the hot oven. How do we do this now that we have the tool requirements squared away?
Steaming the Rofco
As I’ve mentioned in my other steaming guides, steaming the oven at the beginning of baking is incredibly important to ensure your bread dough rises to maximum potential. One of the benefits of the Rofco is that the oven chamber is completely sealed, and there’s no exhaust fan or place for the steam to escape (until you open the two front vents). However, here is where the oven falls short of other professional bread ovens: there’s no steam injection at the press of a button. However, there are many ways to manually inject sufficient steam into the oven to ensure your bread rises properly.
Recommended reading: How to Steam a Home Oven for Bread Baking.
My preferred method to steam the oven is using a commercial-grade pressure sprayer (see Tools section in this post). First, I set the sprayer to the finest mist possible at the nozzle tip and ensure it’s filled with water. Then, I pump the sprayer to pressurize and load my dough. Starting with the bottom deck, I spray in and around for about 10-12 seconds. Then, I move up and do the same for the bottom and top decks.
When doing the top deck, stay away from the glass-enclosed light fixture, as the glass will crack if hit with water (mine cracked long ago). After spraying the top deck, grab the door with the other hand, and just before closing completely, spray a second on each deck, then shut the door.
When I want to vent the steam in the oven, I’ll carefully open the door (steam will rush out at you, so give it a second to escape before looking in), close it, and then tilt the circular vents in the door to their open position (as seen in the image above).
The optional rectangular steam pods are long steel rectangular boxes placed at the left and right sides of each deck and designed to be preheated with the oven. When you want to steam, pour water (or ice cubes) into the boxes, shut the oven door, and watch as steam fills the oven. These pods work very well, with the downside being they take up valuable space at each deck’s side.
It’s possible to create quite a bit of steam with these pods, and I use them periodically to test, but I’ve found I need every inch on each deck and stick to using the pressure sprayer.
When I want to vent the steam in the oven, all of the water in the pods has finished evaporating, and I’ll open the two circular vents in the door.
Does it make beautiful bread? Yes. Do you need it? Eh, but it’s a personal choice.Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian
As I mentioned already, the Le Creuset Bread Oven works exactly as advertised: It is an easy-to-use and thoroughly effective bread baking tool, capable of cranking out perfectly baked rustic loaves with a delicate, crisp crust and a holey interior. As well it should be, since it is made with the usual quality and care as other Le Creuset products. And it is a beautiful, if unusual-looking, device, available in a wide variety of Le Creuset’s colorful finishes.
But is it worth the $290 sticker price? The answer is: it depends. Do you have the extra scratch to spend and room to spare in your kitchen cabinets to house one? Then sure, by all means, the Bread Oven won’t disappoint. But if you are short on funds and/or kitchen real estate, then I’d say you are better off getting a far-more-versatile and possibly much less expensive—at least if you opt for brands other than Le Creuset—cast iron Dutch oven instead (or using the one you might already have).
The crumb of a loaf baked in the Bread Oven.Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian
To evaluate the Bread Oven, I baked a dozen crusty, rustic loaves—sourdough and yeasted, white and whole grain—in one, and compared them to the same loaves baked in my Dutch oven. The good news? They were all excellent, as good as any I’d baked in any other well-made vessel, with a crackly-crisp crust and a nice open crumb! The bad news? They were mostly identical to those I’d baked in any other well-made vessel!
There were a few differences, none of which I’d consider selling points, alas:
A loaf baked in the Bread Oven was pretty much identical to one baked in a Dutch oven.Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian
Yes, the loaves did brown more quickly in the Bread Oven and its shallower base. Those that I baked in my Dutch oven took an average of five extra minutes to brown to the same degree. But there was no noticeable difference in the quality of either crust once fully baked. And sure, it was easier to load and unload the shallower Bread Oven, but with a good pair of oven mitts, using a Dutch oven without mishaps is no big deal either.
The bottom of the Bread Oven loaves got a little darker than I’d like in a few instances. The inside of the Bread Oven is coated in black enamel, unlike most Dutch ovens (including mine), which have a lighter-toned enamel coating. Dark-colored materials absorb and transmit heat more readily than lighter ones, which explains the extra browning. In this case, it is not a fatal flaw, since you can drop the oven temperature slightly—25°F less, in my testing—to avoid it.
But what isn’t avoidable, unfortunately, are the impressions that the Bread Oven leaves on the underside of the loaf, thanks to the circular, two-millimeter high ridges and mirror-image “Le Creuset” logo located on the inside of the base. In its marketing materials, Le Creuset claims the ridges are there “for even browning,” though it’s not clear if they are supposed to lift the loaf up a little higher in the oven or to allow a little air circulation beneath the loaf.
Even for an extremely experienced bread baker, centering the loaf was challenging. Even if you were a fan of the Le Creuset logo and wanted it baked onto a loaf of bread, you’re more likely to get a result like this (here, the logo’s barely visible toward the bottom).Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian
They also state that they are there to mark “the loaf with the Le Creuset three rings.” And, as the accompanying photo makes clear, the inverted name is meant to imprint itself (unmirrored, of course) onto the underside of the loaf too. This is just plain silly to me. Why would I want to brand my loaves with the Le Creuset emblem at all, much less on the never-visible underside? (Oh, and, by the way, the Le Creuset name ends up more of an amorphous cypher than a crisp letterpress unless you use a very wet dough, something I almost never do.) More importantly: The rings and logo only leave a mark when you set the raw dough directly onto the base, rather than placing it first on a sheet of parchment that you use as a “sling” to load the loaf. The latter approach is a far safer way to make sure the loaf ends up perfectly placed; it’s too easy to miss the mark when you invert the loaf directly into the scorching hot pot.
Maybe this is a selling point for some people, but not for me. Fortunately, the marks are purely aesthetic, and not visible unless you turn the loaf upside down. Moreover, as I hinted at earlier, the raised ridges on the base make it less useful as a skillet, since they impede smooth stirring of the pan’s contents. (And because the ridges don’t cover the base of the pan completely, you also can’t use it as a grill pan.)
What is a Rofco bread oven?
A Rofco is a Belgium-made brick oven designed for baking bread. It comes in various sizes, where mine is the largest option, the B40, with three square baking decks. It’s a compact oven with no-nonsense construction and a sealed oven chamber. It produces minimal external radiant heat (the oven gets hot to the touch, but not so much you can’t place it relatively near a wall or other appliance). The three 1-3/8″ thick chamotte deck stones (refractory bricks) can retain significant heat after preheating the oven, even after opening the door and loading dough. Because the oven retains heat for hours, it’s great at multiple back-to-back bakes with a short rest period in between to get back up to full temperature.
The Rofco runs off typical 220V AC single-phase power (6-20P cord plug, 6-20R receptacle), similar to what other appliances run on in most US homes. I had an electrician come out to my house to install a new receptacle and breaker in my home breaker box specifically for the oven.
When baking bread in a Rofco oven, I’ve baked large scale batches for festivals, parties, and large gatherings, but I also use it to bake 4-6 loaves most often. The oven is efficient and convenient, it’s a bare-bones workhorse that does exactly what you need when you need it.
I purchased my oven from Pleasant Hill Grain in the US, which always has exceptional service. They’ve been incredibly responsive when I’ve emailed for questions about the oven and even when I’ve had a small issue with one of the door clasps. (Full disclosure: I received a discount from PHG on this oven, but this guide is written without their involvement or any expectation—all the information here is my own.)
What’s the best bread oven?
If you’re looking for a dedicated bread baker, we recommend all three of the models we tested for this review: the Lodge Double Dutch, Challenger, and Fourneau. They’re each best suited for different kinds of bread bakers, but all will produce beautiful loaves.
What’s the best vessel to bake sourdough bread?
For baking sourdough bread, you can use a bread cloche, bread oven, or Dutch oven. You should consider the shape you want to make (round, long, oblong), which will also determine which type of baking vessel is right for you.
Can you use a Dutch oven instead of a cloche?
Yes, you can use a Dutch oven instead of a cloche. There are some disadvantages to using a Dutch oven though (like it being harder to load and unload loaves and lack of airflow during the later baking stages), which we go into more above.
Video on baking bread with steam
In the video below, you’ll see my baking bread with steam from start to finish.
As you can see, not having an oven does not need to be a barrier to creating some delicious baked goodies! Anyone can bake with standard kitchen items. Either on the stovetop or in the microwave. And if you fancy taking things into the great outdoors, there are some fun and family-friendly ways to bake on the campfire too!
What about you?
Have you ever made fresh homemade pizza on a cast iron skillet? Or – have you baked any sweet and savory goodies outside by a fire?
Please let us know!
The cost of electricity and gas keeps increasing! And we love to hear any cash-saving tips from our fellow homesteading friends.
Thanks again for reading.
And have a great day!
I like this method for baking bread with steam in my home oven because it allows me to cook two large loaves of bread at a time. I plan to bake four loaves at a time, and this will let me do that with no problem. Baking with a Dutch oven (or combo cooker) works exceptionally well, and I might still use that method if doing only a single loaf or a highly hydrated one (the pan will help keep the dough together). Still, I find myself using this new method more and more. The results have come out smashingly.
Any other steam generation recommendations out there? What do you use and why?
Do I recommend a Rofco bread oven?
To state this right away: yes, I love the Rofco bread oven! It’s a fantastic little (though not all that little) oven for anyone looking to bake bread beyond just two loaves in the home oven. Its simple design, easy-to-repair components, and even baking make it a wonderful oven for any home—or professional—bread baker.