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Cast iron Dutch ovens are as indispensable to home bread bakers as they are to home cooks who make braising and stews. The thick enamel pots do a great job of retaining heat to promote good “oven spring” in the bread, and the snug-fitting lids retain moisture and contribute to a wonderfully crispy crust.
But traditional Dutch ovens have some flaws in bread making. Namely the high sides because they get in the way of baking. The popular Lodge Double Dutch solves this problem with a knobless lid that does double duty for baking bread. The elongated Challenger loaf pan is a similar size but adds strategically placed handles on the lid and offers the ability to accommodate bread of various shapes and sizes.
Then. Then! Earlier this March, Le Creuset introduced its new bread oven. Made from the same sturdy cast iron as his Dutch Oven, it has a flat bottom and a large domed lid (just like the inverted Double Dutch and Challenger Pan). The bread oven is dishwasher safe, compatible with all hobs and oven safe up to 500°F. As would be expected with all things Le Creuset, it is available in 16 (!!) beautiful colours, including the signature Flame.
What makes the Le Creuset bread oven so great?
After using the Bread Oven for months, I can tell you that the beautiful enamel has no effect on the actual baking performance. HoweverI am a big believer in the power of the pleasure that comes from using beautiful cookware. Sometimes just looking at my favorite kitchen utensils is enough to spark a craving and inspire me to spend an afternoon cooking or baking. But if Le Creuset’s pot was all form and no function, there would be no point in using it. Fortunately, that is not the case here.
The first thing I noticed about the oven is that it is actually quite small. The base is 9 inches in diameter, while most 6-quart Dutch ovens are about 10 inches wide. But the domed lid creates an interior height of about 6 inches, while most Dutch ovens are only about 5 inches deep.
I was concerned that the narrow but tall shape would be restrictive, but after baking more than six loaves of bread, I found it didn’t negatively affect my usual loaves at all. In fact, the narrow profile was a serious asset, as it kept the heat and steam close to the loaves and provided plenty of room for plenty of lift.
I baked my usual sourdough dumpling with the lid on for the first part of the tray as usual, and the big knob on top made it super easy to lift the lid with one hand – I love that! I made a few more sourdough loaves and they were all exceptional – moist and chewy on the inside and super crispy crunchy on the outside, with a little more loft than usual.
I also baked non-knead bread with packaged yeast and was once again impressed with the ultra-cracking crust and moist crumb. When I used the bread oven to make a seedy whole-wheat loaf (which I usually bake on a baking sheet), it took on an even better color and height, and it also became more moist.
I appreciated that the low profile base didn’t get in the way of transferring the formed dough to the preheated pot. It was genius to coat the inside of the pot with a layer of black matte enamel. It promotes an even tanning excellent, is non-stick and does not discolour like white enamel. This bottom can also be used as a grill pan for burgers, tofu, vegetables and more, so the pan is not as disposable as the name suggests.
The inside of the base also features a raised concentric circle design and “Le Creuset” spelled backwards so your bread gets a nice little surf as it bakes.
Is the Le Creuset bread oven worth buying?
Yes! There are only two drawbacks I could find with the bread oven: it is ideal for round breads and it is an investment if it is not on sale. It’s definitely a splurge – you’ll definitely have to spend a bit dough (sorry, had to!). However, it is a beautiful and versatile piece that helps deliver high quality bread and is likely to inspire you to keep your sourdough starter alive for years to come.
What do you use to bake bread? Tell us in the comments below.