cast iron Dutch oven
Cold Dutch oven.

Recently, I came across a few Facebook posts advocating for baking sourdough bread by starting in a cold oven, that is, without preheating the kitchen oven and the cast iron Dutch pots first to some 500°F for an hour. So, I got intrigued. Could I save a few bucks by not preheating the equipment and thus reduce my energy bill?

I learned initially that preheating the kitchen oven very high was necessary for maximum oven spring. High temperatures at the beginning of the bake were what I thought generated the desired oven spring. In the meantime, however, I came to understand that oven spring comes primarily from an active and mature starter, high-protein flour, and proper dough developed via mixing and bulk fermentation.

flat sourdough bread
Kind of flat 100% whole wheat sourdough.

In the past, I have baked flat loaves out of ovens preheated to high temperatures. I even preheated my oven to an insane 550°F to intentionally try and force oven spring. It did not work. At this high temperature, the bottoms of the loaves got burned, and the dough’s crust seemed to have hardened too soon despite all the steam in the Dutch oven enabling oven spring.

I will try cold oven baking later this week. Folks say that it works just as well. The cold-retarded, scored dough is added to the unheated, cold Dutch oven in the unheated, cold kitchen oven. The dial is set to 475°F, and the dough is baked for an hour or so with the lid on. Baking time depends on the weight or volume of dough and the number of Dutch ovens. I bake two batches of 1,000g dough in two Dutch ovens at a time.

The loaf should be done when its internal temps hit about 205°F. I will use an infrared thermometer to check on that. And I may take the lid off and bake for a few more minutes to let a delicious, dark-brown, caramelized crust develop.

Cold oven baking does seem to save a little on energy costs. Does cold oven baking make a huge difference? I do not know yet, but I am all for trying it out.

I’ll keep writing about my experience here asap.

UPDATE – 12/30/23
I baked two 830g 50% whole wheat loaves in two Dutch ovens from a cold start at ~475°F for an hour with lids on, and an additional 10 minutes with lids off to caramelize the loaves’ crust a bit more. The loaves’ internal temperature registered already 207°F after an hour of baking, and the loaves rose a good deal with a nice lip and blisters and all.

Cold baked 50% whole wheat sourdough loaves.

However, they were a bit spread out, likely because the dough had time to relax in the cold pan before the slowly rising heat got to the latent wild yeast microbes, making them burst back to life and pop the loaves. Also, the loaves were a tad on the burned on the bottom − something that can be mitigated by trying lower heat, shorter bake time, and/or use of a trivet under the dough.

In any case, cold baking seems to be a fair option for many a home baker. I probably will resort back to the preheated oven option, though.


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