Thursday, December 30, 2010

Crackling Bread

In The Bread Bible, Rose Levy Beranbaum raves about baking in La Cloche. I'd also read online about people baking in Dutch ovens. The purpose of baking in these is to approximate baking in a steam-injected commercial oven or in a wood-fired brick oven.

For Christmas, my father and step-mother gave me a Le Creuset 5-qt casserole. When I baked in that, any part of the loaf that touched the pot become too well done. The bottom in particular was inedible.

From my ancestral home in Arlington, VA we headed up to Sheila's family in Troy, NY. There, my mother-in-law gave me a 5-qt Lodge Dutch oven. Clearly I had some learning to do now that I owned all these fancy pots.

I decided to try out the Dutch oven with one of my favorite and most reliable recipes: Beranbaum's basic hearth bread recipe.

The recipe calls for instant yeast. I have instant yeast at home, but I only had active dry with me. This never seems to make any difference to me. I did proof the yeast for the sponge, but I couldn't do that with the yeast that goes in the flour mix that is spread on top of the sponge. It worked out just fine, and I didn't notice that the dough took any longer to rise.

One problem I have in following this recipe is that you don't add the salt until you mix dough. It's easy to forget. So I measured out the salt in a ramekin and set it right next to the fermenting sponge.

In some of the forums, I found discussions about pre-heating versus not pre-heating the pot. It didn't seem to make much difference, so I decided to not pre-heat. I did, however, use a baking stone.

I also read that the stone might decrease charring the bottom of the loaf by providing a buffer between the heating element and the pot. I'm not sue I buy that, but using a stone is a good idea anyway so I went with it.

I also read about someone who had good success avoiding charring by putting corn grits in the bottom of the pot. We didn't have any, or even any corn meal. But we did have some taco shells that I tossed in the blender to create a make-shift corn meal.

By not pre-heating the pot, I was able to proof the dough right in the pot. I was concerned about getting the fully proofed loaf into the pot without burning myself or deflating the loaf by dropping it into the pot.

It wasn't until I was at this point that I read Beranbaum's warning not to use parchment in La Cloche. She says it will stick to the bread. Well, I wasn't using La Cloche, so I crossed my fingers and went with it.

I guess I'm absent-minded. I forgot to slash the loaf before baking. Oh well.

After about 20 minutes I removed the bread from the pot and finished the bake directly on the stone.

After 20 more minutes I removed the loaf and took its temperature. It registered about 200 degrees.

The result was glorious. The loaf is large, round, and beautifully browned all around.

It crackled as it cooled. I've heard that sound before, but never to this extent. I'll definitely be baking in this pot again many times.

- Bob

Location:Troy, NY

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