Clay Baker

(Danelia Huerta) #1

I have a question. Can I put a clay baker in an oven that is already hot without causing damage to the clay baker?
I would really appreciate your insightx and experience.

Thank you,


(Charlotte Farago) #2

My take is that putting a clay baker into a hot oven will most likely crack it. Same with cast iron. It’s too much of a shock. Generally, the clay baker as well as cast iron is placed into a cold oven so that the temperature slowly rises, preventing the heat shock.

(VroomT) #3

I put my clay bakers in a hot oven all the time, well every weekend when I can bake. I’ve not had a crack yet. That being said mine are made out of porcelain, unglazed if that makes a difference. I’m not a potter so I don’t know the different clay reactions to heat.

(Melissa) #4

My husband (aka Mr Science lol) believes that cold cast iron into 500F water might cause cracking from thermal shock because of the mass of water, but into a 500F oven wouldn’t do it.

Speculation only, not planning to test this. Nor has any googling been done.

(Paul) #5

My guess is that if cracking happened, it wouldn’t be because of the heat of the 500 degree air which would be blanketing the whole baker equally and slowly permeating the thickness of the clay, but instead it would happen in the base and as a result of direct contact and instantaneous large heat transfer between the small amounts of clay that would be in direct contact with the hot metal of the oven rack.

BUT… my question is why would one want to put a cold baker in a hot oven in the first place, when it is a better practice to pre-heat the clay baker with the oven anyway?

See this recent YouTube from @eric:

(Danelia Huerta) #6

Hey everybody!

Thank you so much for your insight and advise. I had a situation with two different shape dough and different time rising. The oven was already hot with the first baking when I found myself with the other one needing to go in, but with a different shape, agh!! I panicked and launched my question to the forum. But you know everything worked out. The clay vessel withheld without cracking.

Thank you again!

Danelia Huerta

(Charlotte Farago) #7

Yes, your husband is right! Water, for sure, in either hot cast iron or clay bakers is not a good idea. I bake a lot of artisan bread where either the clay baker or cast iron is heated slowly and then the dough is dumped into the hot pot to bake. I’ve not tried putting either cast iron or clay straight into a super hot oven either. I think, too, it might depend on the quality of the clay and cast iron as to how it’s going to behave under heat stress. Good point! Thanks.

(SingKevin) #8

There are recipes from reputable sources that suggest putting dough in a room temperature dutch oven into a pre-heated oven. The Bread Baking Basics app for iOS by Michael Ruhlman (sadly never updated since iOS 11) was my first bread baking guide and is an example. While he is not know for baking specifically, Michael Ruhlman is a pretty good source. But this approach is certainly in the minority.

In any event, I have done this with a cast iron Dutch oven as well as a Sassafras clay baker many times without any problems.

Currently, I use a Lodge 5 Quart Cast Iron Deep Skillet with Lid. I use the lid as the base that I put the dough on and use the “pot” as the lid. This makes it much easier to lower the dough onto a 500F piece of iron as you don’t have to fit your dough and your fingers inside the sides of a hot pot. I do find better results using pre-heated cast iron.

With all due respect to Melissa’s husband, 500F water would just be a superheated steam unless you are really doing a science experiment at a extremely high pressures. From what I have seen at steel mills, I think you would need the iron to be seriously cold (i.e., out of a freezer cold) to get it to crack when added to an extremely hot liquid (like molten iron). But I am definitely not Mr. Science.

(Melissa) #9

Good points! I think you ARE Mr. Science also :slight_smile:

(Lisa) #10
  1. Depends on the equipment. An Emile Henri cloche or baker can go from room temp into a hot oven, no problem. I have several pieces of Emile Henri flameware and tell friends they will have to pry them from my cold, dead hands when I go. They are very expensive (I save for a year or so to buy one, and you’ve never had a tagine till you’ve had one made in theirs), but taken care of, can be handed down to grandchildren and beyond.

  2. Cold bake. Dough loves it. EH doesn’t make an oval I love (yet) but I have a good sized oval clay baker. Especially nice in summer. Just add 10-15 extra minutes to the bake and get stunning oven spring.

  3. After thinking about it awhile, I’ve devised a third option (just call me Jeanette Luc Picard. :sunny:) to get the best of both worlds, and use any clay baker with safety. Simply turn on your oven 15 or so minutes before baking - when the dough is just about ready, but you still need to score and maybe brush with water or egg wash. By the time you’ve done that the oven is very warm but not yet hot, and the spring gets to rise and rise as the temperature does. Amazing! This is now my go-to for all bread. I plan to try it on quick breads and cakes this winter, but I’m guessing it will work nicely. Give it a try.

(Arlo48) #11

Just wondering how you know how long to bake it when you do a cold bake? I’m guessing you have an electric oven that heats relatively quickly. I have a gas oven and it takes an hour to get it to 500. I’m not sure how this would work with a cold bake and wonder if anyone has any experience with this. One more question: is your dough slightly underproofed? How would a cold bake work with a dough that might be a bit overproofed? Lots of questions! I’d really like to try it to avoid that hour of preheating, but would like to hear from others before experimenting.

(Lisa) #12


I have a gas oven, too. As for how long to bake, keep in mind that how long it takes for your oven to reach 500 (mine takes an hour also) doesn’t matter here. That’s because your bread is baking the entire time it’s in the oven, as the temperature slowly rises.

It’s what new pressure cooker users often fail to understand about timing. Sure, it may take 10-20 minutes for it to get up to full pressure and start the countdown timer - but the food is cooking the entire time! And during the depressurization time as well. That’s why I set the timer for chicken thighs to 5 minutes. Five minutes under pressure, but they’ve been cooking for at least 30 minutes when done.

Same with a cold bake. I add 10-15 minutes to the initial covered bake, depending on the dough weight. Then remove the cover and lower the temp as the original recipe calls for, including remaining time to finish.

How to know it’s done? Easy - take its temp with a digital thermometer, as we all should do anyway. I use the Thermo Pro - about $10 on Amazon. Enriched breads: 198 F. Unenriched: 200 to 210 F, depending on how you like your crust.

Your oven may or may not reach 500 during the bake, but I hope you can now see why it doesn’t matter.

As for overproofing, I’ve done that many times. :frowning: I just reshape and let proof again for a short time before baking, underproofing slightly, which I always do for cold bakes anyway. It’s wonderful for saving overproofed dough!

Hope this helped, and that if you give it a try you return here and let us know how it went. Happy baking!

(Arlo48) #13

Thanks, Lisa, for the explanation of the concept of the cold bake. My question about how long to bake really had to do with the covered bake (which I should’ve said) since I wouldn’t want to lift the lid too soon and lose any steam that’s in there. Typically I bake it covered around 20 minutes, so I’ll take your suggestion of adding 10-15 minutes to that before removing the lid to get it to brown. By then the oven will be on about 45 minutes, so probably around 400, hopefully enough to get it to brown.

I definitely will report on the results!

(Arlo48) #14

I thought I’d write in to tell my experience with the cold bake. I’ve done two, both with 100% whole grain doughs. For the first, I made the unfortunate mistake of not using parchment. The bread really stuck and was a disaster, although we were able to salvage edible chunks.

The next time I used parchment and was able to do the final rise in the parchment-lined bottom of the clay baker. Very nice to not have to transfer the dough before baking. On the one hand, the dough rose nicely during baking (35 minutes, covered, then about 8 minutes uncovered), but I would say no oven spring given that the slash I made right before baking not only did not open, but it actually almost disappeared! The crumb was very regular, not particularly interesting, but the bread tasted fine.

However the biggest disappointment was the crust. I like a thick, hard crust and this was the complete opposite. If someone has tips on how to improve the crust on a cold bake, I will definitely try this method again. Otherwise, I will keep it as a back-up method, knowing that it works in general.

(Arlo48) #15

Another update: for today’s bake, I decided to try something in between, I.e., preheating for 15 minutes (as opposed to the usual hour it takes to reach 500). I baked it for 35 minutes covered. I then removed the bread from the baker and parchment and returned it to the oven for six minutes. The oven spring is better as is the crust.

(kapalmer7151) #16

I just received the oblong Breadtopia clay baker and can’t wait to try it! Questions!
Where in the oven do I place the baker/rack during the bake of bread? —bottom 3rd? middle? lower?

(Melissa) #17

I use the middle rack

(kapalmer7151) #18