We all know that baking bread in a cast iron dutch oven was popularized by Jim Lahey and his no-knead bread. However, getting the dough into a hot hot dutch oven is a hassle. Know what? You don't need to preheat that dutch oven to make great bread (and you can just use your favorite sourdough recipe too).
Here's what I do...
> [b]preheat the oven[/b]
> [b] do NOT preheat the cast iron dutch oven and lid[/b]
> [b]grease the dutch oven and let your dough rise directly in it[/b]
Here's my detailed illustration of this method with photos.
=== [b]EQUIPMENT[/b] ===
I used a two-quart capacity non enameled cast iron dutch oven. For the lid, I used a non enameled cast iron skillet, placed upside-down on the dutch oven (I don't own a heavy lid that fits the two-quart dutch oven). The diameter of my dutch oven and skillet are identical, so I get a good seal during the initial baking. The dutch oven is 3 inches high and the skillet is 1 & 1/2 inches high, so I have 4 & 1/2 inches [i]interior[/i] height in total. Here's a photo of the assembly...
[u][i]CAST IRON DUTCH OVEN AND CAST IRON SKILLET ASSEMBLY[/i][/u]
=== [b]INGREDIENTS[/b] ===
The bread recipe I use is a fairly standard sourdough. Ingredients are refreshed sourdough starter (at 100% hydration), commercial unbleached white bread flour, organic whole wheat flour, water and salt. Whole wheat flour is 20% of total flour. Dough hydration is 72% (this includes the water in the levain).
I baked two loaves. For each two-quart capacity dutch oven, I had 18 ounces (prebaking weight) of dough.
=== [b]FINAL PROOF[/b] ===
The dutch oven was lightly greased. After shaping, the dough proofed directly in the dutch oven. During proofing, each dutch oven was slipped into a food grade plastic bag. (I help myself to these bags from the produce section of my favorite supermarket - they're just the right size).
When ready to bake, the dough had risen close to the top of the dutch oven.
[u][i]RISEN DOUGH IN CAST IRON DUTCH OVEN READY TO BAKE[/i][/u]
=== [b]INITIAL BAKING[/b] ===
The oven had been thoroughly preheated to 500F so it was ready when the dough was ready.
The dough was slashed, lightly misted, covered and loaded into the oven. The oven temperature was lowered to 475F, so it baked at somewhere between 500F to 475F for twenty minutes. At the end of this time, the dough had risen about 1 & 1/2 inches, slashes had opened and the dough was just beginning to color.
[u][i]BREAD 20 MINUTES INTO BAKING CYCLE[/i][/u]
=== [b]FINAL BAKING[/b] ===
The lid was removed, temperature was lowered to 450F and the bread baked in the uncovered dutch oven for 20 minutes more. At the end of the bake, when removed to the cooling rack, I was delighted to hear the (greatly desired) crackling as the crust cooled. After cooling, the post-baking weight of each loaf was slightly over 16 ounces.