The 4 Best Bread Cloches of 2023, Tested & Reviewed

From cast iron to clay, these picks yielded the best loaves.

Antara Sinha is a New York-based food writer and editor who has been working in print and digital media since 2017. Her articles and recipes have appeared in Food & Wine, Bon Appétit, MyRecipes, MSN, Yahoo News, Real Simple, Allrecipes, and Southern Living. She is an associate cooking editor at Bon Appétit. Cake Baking Equipment

The 4 Best Bread Cloches of 2023, Tested & Reviewed

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When you've got a little time at home, whipping up some freshly baked bread is one of the most satisfying and simple cooking projects we can recommend. Once you've let your dough rise and kneaded it to the perfect consistency, a bread cloche can help it bake into a crispy, crunchy loaf. Traditionally, a cloche is an unglazed stoneware dome that is first soaked in water and then placed over the dough as it's baking to mimic the quality of a professional oven. These containers are meant to support the dough while they bake for a perfect rise and crispy crust.

A solid bread cloche should have a tight-fitting lid that can trap steam—giving the bread a crackly, blistered, golden-brown crust. It should also have a heavy-duty bottom that ensures a thick, crispy, golden base. In search of the best bread cloche, we tested a few of the most popular bread-baking vessels using a traditional sourdough recipe. The cloches we tested ran the gamut from cast iron to silicone, with shapes that ranged from deep and circular to rectangular or oval. Read on for more on how we tested the best bread cloches.

This cast iron bread pan has a heavy-duty, tight-fitting lid that helped produce bread with beautiful, golden crust and soft, pillowy insides.

It's one of the heavier cloches on our list, so use caution when transferring it in and out of the oven.

Out of the bread cloches we tested, the Challenger Bread Pan yielded our favorite loaf of bread. The loaf had an open and uniform crumb, an impressive oven spring, and a crisp crust. The dark cast iron helped achieve a rich color. While it was the heaviest cloche we tested, the handles on the lid made it easy to cover and uncover even when hot, and the short sides made it convenient to safely score the dough without burning your wrists.

We found that the lid had the tightest seal, which resulted in the perfect amount of moisture. The oblong shape makes it possible to bake both boules and bâtards, and though it's a single-use piece of cookware if you're looking for consistently impressive bread, the Challenger delivers. This is a great buy for enthusiastic and frequent bakers. We've done a deep dive on the Challenger pan, and we still stand by this pick as the best of the best.

Material: Cast iron | Weight: 22 pounds | Width: 9 inches

Food & Wine / Paige Grandjean

Since the lid doubles as a skillet, you can use this pan for much more than just baking bread, which makes it a great value for the price.

The shape of this pan only allows you to make one style of loaf, so you won't be able to make bâtards or baguettes.

Despite the difference in price between the more expensive Challenger Bread Pan and the affordable Lodge, these two were neck and neck when it came down to producing top-quality boules. With a pleasantly springy crumb and a dark, crisp crust the Lodge Cast Iron held its own against the pricier cloches in our test.

This is a heavy-duty piece of cookware that can be used to bake, braise, roast, or fry, and it comes with a pre-seasoned, nonstick surface. Handles on the lid make uncovering the hot Dutch oven easy, though we found that the placement of the handles is not as convenient as the Challenger. While the shape of the Dutch oven restricts you to boules only, having a more multipurpose piece of cookware makes this a great value.

Material: Cast iron | Weight: 13 pounds | Width: 10.5 inches

Food & Wine / Paige Grandjean

This multifunctional tool can perform a variety of tasks like baking, frying and braising, so it's a great option for someone who isn't ready to commit to a dedicated bread cloche.

It's the most expensive piece of cookware on our list.

Though this is a pricey piece of cookware, the Le Creuset Dutch Oven is a classic piece that many passionate home cooks already have in their kitchen. It's a multifunctional device that yields a fantastic loaf, ideal for home cooks who want to dabble in bread baking without adding another gadget to their collection.

During our tests, we found that the Le Creuset baked a chewy loaf; the quality surpassed bread made in some cloches specifically designed for the task. The lid seals tightly, trapping steam for an open crumb and good oven spring. However, the tall sides make it a little trickier to score than the others. Note that this model features a stainless steel knob, which is oven-safe up to 500 degrees; meanwhile, the phenolic knob on the standard model can only withstand up to 390 degrees. Overall, this is a solid cloche to entrust with your bread baking.

Material: Enameled cast iron | Weight: 11.5 pounds | Width: 10.25 inches

Food & Wine / Paige Grandjean

The scratch-resistant cloche is lightweight and designed to make perfectly shaped boules.

A single-use kitchen gadget, it can only be used for making one style of loaf.

This dedicated bread cloche is made from Burgundy clay, which promotes gentle, even heat and is oven-safe up to 500 degrees. It has a tight-fitting lid that encourages a moist baking environment, and the scratch-resistant glaze creates a nonstick surface. The Emile Henry Bread Cloche is lightweight, with a handle and short sides that make it easy to maneuver when hot.

Though the surface is nonstick, we found that the grooves in the bottom of the pan can make it tricky to clean. The pan is well-made and produces solid loaves, but the shape of the pan limits you to only making boules. Overall, we found that the loaf had a decent crust but didn't compare to the cast iron contenders on our list.

Material: Clay | Width: 11.25 inches | Weight: 6 pounds

Food & Wine / Paige Grandjean

Overall, we found that the Challenger Bread Pan was the easiest to use, clean, and care for, and it produced our favorite loaves of bread. The lid sealed completely to lock in the right amount of moisture, and the cast iron material imparted a crispy, golden crust.

Bread cloches come in a variety of different styles, from clay Römertopfs to cast iron boule bakers to versatile, multifunctional Dutch ovens. Having a devoted bread cloche is an easy way to make restaurant-quality fresh bread at home, but a Dutch oven can serve as a multipurpose solution as well. Before selecting the best bread cloche for you, make sure to assess how often you'll use it and what style of bread, from baguette to bâtard to boule, you intend to use it for. If you prefer circular boule styles, a Dutch oven is a viable option. If you want something with more room to play with shapes like a longer baguette or a rectangular loaf, you'll need a cloche that allows for different styles.

The design and overall ease of use play a huge factor in selecting a bread cloche, and we took both into consideration in our testing. Low-sided pans make it safer to score the dough without burning your wrists on the hot pan, and convenient handles are a must when handling pre-heated cast iron.

Traditionally, bread cloches are made from unglazed stoneware that gets soaked in water. The dome shape helps trap in moisture, and the steam gives the bread its crispy texture. However, bread cloches can also be made from cast iron, silicone, and ceramic, and we tested one of each. Though silicone is flexible and can yield different shapes, we preferred the durable and heavy-duty cast iron, because the dark material imparted a rich, golden color on the bread.

A tight seal is essential for creating crusty bread, so we evaluated each cloche on its accompanying lid. Bread cloches should have a solid, heavy-duty cover that traps in moisture and doesn't let steam escape. Our least favorite loaves were baked in cloches that leaked steam, resulting in flatter bread.

Food & Wine / Paige Grandjean

We put these bread cloches to the test by trying out a trusty, basic sourdough recipe in each. We ranked them by how convenient they were to use and clean and how heavy they were to transfer in and out of the oven. We assessed the quality of the different materials and the effects that material had on the color of the loaf. Lastly, we assessed the shape of the cloche and how effectively each lid trapped in steam as well as the quality of the resulting loaf.

Three of them produced stellar results: The Challenger is best for the baker who's looking for reliably flawless boules and bâtards; the Lodge is our versatile value pick that resulted in bread just as beautiful and delicious as the kitchen splurges, and the Le Creuset is a reliable workhorse for first-time bakers that you may already have in your kitchen.

While the Lekue Silicone Bread Baker boasts many features that promise convenience—it's dishwasher safe and can act as an all-in-one mixing bowl, proofing basket, and baking pan—the bread was disappointing. It was heavy, dense, gummy, and noticeably more sour. While it's the cheapest of the cloches we tested, we think it's worth splurging on slightly pricier bakeware for better bread.

A Römertopf is a clay pot that gets soaked in water and is used to cook a variety of different dishes, from bread to roast chicken. We found that this method produced a flat, dense loaf, which was our least favorite of the bunch. The bottom crust was charred and crumbly, while the top was unevenly browned and steamed rather than crispy. The loaf itself stuck to the bottom of the pan and had to be pried off. While the Römertopf is a great piece of cookware to have in your kitchen for another purpose (like this Römertopf-Roasted Chicken and Root Vegetables), we don't recommend it as a go-to for bread baking.

"A bread cloche is a specialized piece of bakeware that creates the ideal baking environment for making bread, one which is quite hot and steamy," says Ted Burdett, founder of Fourneau, known for cast iron bread ovens that bakers can use right in their wall oven or range. "Bread dough needs sufficient heat to spring quickly and sufficient steam to develop a good crust. A cloche is particularly useful in the home baking environment, in which baking temperature can be slow to recover and steam easily dissipates," he says.

"Smaller than an oven, a cloche provides a right-sized enclosure in which steam, either released from the bread or introduced, is more effective. The enclosure recovers and maintains temperature nicely because there is less air inside to heat," he says. The hot surface of the cloche also helps, as cloches are often made of materials with thermal properties, such as earthenware, cast iron, and steel, which control how heat is released into the baking chamber, according to Burdett.

You can use a bread cloche in an oven, including a wood-fired oven, and on a gas grill, according to Burdett. "Prepared dough (fermented, formed, and rested) is placed within the cloche and baked in the oven. A loaf of bread can be baked to completion in the cloche, but often the cloche will be opened after the loaf is sprung (roughly halfway through the bake) to facilitate browning of the crust and drive excess moisture out of the bread. Once a loaf is removed from the cloche, the cloche is either used to bake another loaf or allowed to cool," he says.

Yes, according to Burdett, who takes inspiration from Jim Lahey and Mark Bittman. "I've seen numerous instruction sheets that direct users to bake in a cloche without preheating. I have not had success with that method," he says. "You absolutely want to preheat a bread cloche to reap the benefits of the device. Of course, you need to be extremely cautious with loading, unloading, and manipulating the hot (typically 500-degree) bakeware."

Antara Sinha, the author of this piece, is a cooking editor with four years of experience writing for brands like Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, and Cooking Light Magazine. She used her own expertise as well as the results gathered during testing to make these recommendations. Recipe editor and developer Paige Grandjean evaluated the bread cloches on this list, baking sourdough loaves in each one and rating them on quality and convenience. In her six years working at the Meredith Food Studios, she has tested and developed more than 2,500 recipes for over 15 nationally distributed magazine brands including Food & Wine, Real Simple, Eating Well, Southern Living, and People.

This piece was also updated by Stacey Ballis, a freelance writer, recipe developer, and product reviewer. Stacey has been published on Food & Wine, Eating Well, Allrecipes, MyRecipes, Delish, and more.

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The 4 Best Bread Cloches of 2023, Tested & Reviewed

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