1. Preheat Your Oven and Dutch Oven:

    • Before baking, preheat your oven with a dutch oven inside. The dutch oven should be preheated for at least 30 minutes, but an hour is even better. The temperature will depend on your recipe, but it's typically around 230-260°C (450-500°F).

  2. Scoring the Dough:

    • Once your dough has finished proofing and your oven and Dutch oven are preheated, it's time to score the dough. Turn the dough out onto a piece of parchment paper, taking care not to deflate it. Using a sharp blade or bread lame, make one or more slashes on the surface of the dough. This allows the bread to expand in a controlled manner during baking.

  3. Baking with Steam:

    • Carefully place your scored dough (along with the parchment paper) into the preheated Dutch oven. The Dutch oven creates a steamy environment which is crucial in the initial phase of baking.

    • Cover the Dutch oven and bake for about 20-30 minutes. This is the initial phase of baking where steam plays a vital role.

  4. Developing the Crust:

    • After the initial baking phase, remove the lid from the Dutch oven. This allows the steam to escape and the crust to develop. Continue baking for another 20-30 minutes, or until the loaf is deeply browned and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.

What's Happening during this phase:

Baking is where all the careful preparation and patient waiting pays off. The bread dough transforms into a crusty, flavorful loaf, with a satisfyingly chewy crumb. Each step in the baking process, from scoring to steaming to developing the crust, plays a crucial role in achieving the perfect sourdough loaf.

  1. Oven Spring and Scoring: Oven spring is the rapid expansion of the dough during the initial phase of baking due to the heat of the oven. Scoring the dough helps control this expansion, allowing the bread to expand where you want it to. It also adds an aesthetic element to the final loaf.

  2. Steam and Crust Development: In the initial phase of baking, steam is crucial because it keeps the surface of the dough moist, allowing it to expand fully before the crust sets. Once the crust starts to form, removing the lid allows the crust to dry out and caramelize, developing a rich flavor and color.

  3. Maillard Reaction and Caramelization: The Maillard reaction (a reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars) and caramelization (breaking down of sugars) occur when the crust is exposed to dry heat. Both contribute to the flavor, color, and texture of the crust.

  4. Internal Temperature: The internal temperature of your bread should be around 93-96°C (200-205°F) when it's done. This ensures that the starches have fully gelatinized, giving the bread its structure. If the bread is removed from the oven before reaching this temperature, it can collapse as it cools.