We’ve long been fans of Le Creuset’s enameled cast-iron cookware—it’s well designed, durable, and beautiful to boot. Their Dutch oven has been our favorite for decades, and we also love their skillet and braiser. So when we heard that Le Creuset had come out with a specially designed enameled cast-iron bread oven, we were intrigued. And we weren’t the only ones—we’ve come across it a ton while scrolling through our social media feeds since it was announced.
Did we need this new toy? And could it compete with the Challenger Bread Pan, which we’ve already found to be a truly valuable piece of equipment for serious bread heads?
We’ll be publishing a new comprehensive review of different dedicated bread ovens soon. But with all the hype about Le Creuset’s bread oven, we wanted to give you a sneak peek at our findings based on what we’ve observed so far.
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What Is a Bread Oven?
First, a little about bread ovens. As the name suggests, they’re dedicated bakeware that you use specifically for making bread. They can be made from a variety of materials but are most often made from cast iron, which does a great job of retaining and radiating heat onto the dough as it bakes. They also have tight-fitting lids, which trap steam, ensuring that your bread expands properly and gets a crisp, crackly crust.
You can always use a Dutch oven to make bread. But we’ve found that if you also use that Dutch oven for other purposes (making stews, soups, etc.), any traces of fat left over from cooking will polymerize in the high heat used while baking bread, discoloring the cooking surface unpleasantly. And it can be a pain to load bread dough into a preheated Dutch oven, as you can burn your arms on the Dutch oven's high walls in the process.
By contrast, bread ovens are easier and safer to use. They have flat bottoms that serve as platforms for your bread dough: all you have to do is unload the dough onto them and cover with the domed lid. Even if the metal has preheated for a while, there's much less risk of burning yourself. So if you make bread often, it may be worth investing in a separate bread oven.
Challenger Bread PanDo you need a special vessel to bake your bread?
What We Liked About Le Creuset’s Bread Oven
There was a lot we liked about this piece of equipment, from the quality of the bread it produced to its aesthetically pleasing look.
- It works well. It turns out well-browned, nicely blistered bread in times consistent with those indicated on our recipes.
- It’s light. At 9 pounds, 12 ounces, it weighs less than both our favorite Dutch oven and the Challenger Bread Pan, so it’s especially easy to maneuver in and out of the oven.
- It’s compact. If you’re on the fence about whether you really need an extra piece of equipment, this bread oven might convince you—it takes up a lot less space than another Dutch oven or the Challenger would.
- It has large, well-placed handles. These make it easy both to lift the domed lid so that you can insert the dough and to move the whole shebang into the oven when you’re ready.
- It’s easy to maintain. Le Creuset’s model is made from enameled cast iron. This means you’ll never have to season or maintain it the way you would with more conventional bread ovens, which are made out of raw traditional cast iron.
- It’s pretty. Most bread ovens tend to be fairly utilitarian affairs, made solely from black cast iron. Le Creuset’s bread oven comes in a number of fun colors. (That said, be aware that like any other enameled cast iron, the pretty exterior may discolor if any oil gets on it and polymerizes at high heat.)
Bread IllustratedOur first cookbook devoted solely to bread baking highlights more than 100 meticulously tested recipes that will enable you to bake artisan bakery–quality bread at home.
What We Didn’t Like About Le Creuset’s Bread Oven
Though there was plenty we liked about the bread oven, there were certainly some drawbacks.
- It’s not quite as versatile as some ovens. Because of its domed “cloche-like” shape, you can only make round loaves (boules). Batards—the longer oval-shaped loaves that many bakers prefer—just won’t fit properly.
- That compact size has a downside. While we were able to bake up to a kilogram of dough—a fairly standard baking size, and one we use for most of our sourdough recipes—the loaves fit pretty snugly. We’d prefer a little more wiggle (and steam) room. If you bake smaller loaves, though, it’ll be fine.
- It has a raised logo on the base. The words “LE CREUSET” and three concentric circles stand up in relief from the base. We found this to be a fairly annoying bit of, well, branding—even when you use parchment, the circles imprint darkly on the bottom of the bread, as if scorched by an electric coil. (Thankfully, the Le Creuset logo itself won’t be terribly clear unless you forgo parchment and oil the bread oven base before use, as the company suggests.) We like Le Creuset, but not at our bread’s expense—we’d rather turn out loaves with flat, evenly browned bottoms.
- It's expensive. If you bake a lot of bread, it may be worth investing $290 in this bread oven--it'll certainly last a long time. But that cost is still a significant investment for many home cooks.
Should You Get Le Creuset’s Bread Oven?
Maybe! We think having a dedicated bread oven is a good idea if you make a lot of bread, since they make it easier to bake bread than a Dutch oven does. If you want a bread oven that makes good bread and is pretty, relatively lightweight, compact, and easy to maintain, Le Creuset’s bread oven is worth considering. It’s not as versatile as the Challenger, though, and if we’re investing in a separate bread oven, we’d like to be able to bake both round and oval loaves in it. Still, both models are quite expensive, costing nearly $300. And there are a lot of other bread ovens on the market. Will we be able to find a better (or even a cheaper) option? Stay tuned for our full review to find out.