Sunday 24 May 2020

RECIPES - Baking bread in a cast iron pot (Dutch Oven) 1. Basic White

Baking bread in a cast iron casserole dish - a basic White loaf

My first loaf using this method

This unusual method of baking bread was given to me by my nephew, Lyndon, who works in the catering, restaurant and hospitality industry in France.  He sent me a photo of a loaf he had made in his Staub cast-iron stew pot and some basic instructions regarding the method.

Lyndon's loaf
Lyndon advised that this method works well as it keeps the moisture inside as the bread is cooked with the lid on (except for the final 10 minutes).

Another advantage of this method is that it doesn't require a second raise.  Lyndon suggested an initial kneading of 20 minutes, then leaving the dough to rise, "knocking back" - a brief 5 minute kneading - shaping into a ball then placing in the pot which had been lined with non-stick baking paper, putting on the lid, placing in a cold oven, turning the oven to 240C, cooking for 35 minutes, then removing the lid and continuing to cook for a further 10 minutes.  All that is then needed is to remove from the oven and place the loaf on a rack to cool.

For my first venture I decided to make a basic white loaf using my bread machine recipe.  In the past, I have tried using the bread machine for the whole process but have never found the results satisfactory (and you get a strange shaped loaf!).  But where the bread machine really comes into its own is using the dough setting which takes away all the hard work up to and including the first rise and then you continue as for a normal loaf and bake in the oven.

On the dough setting, my bread machine mixes the ingredients for 6 minutes then kneads for 34 minutes and then leaves the dough to rise at 32C for an hour.

For my basic white bread the ingredients for a 1lb loaf are:


¾ cup water
2 tbsp skimmed milk powder
2 tbsp butter
1¼ tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 cups Strong white bread flour
1 tsp dry yeast

I followed the instructions that came with the bread machine, using the measure provided, and this basically means putting all the ingredients in the baking pan in the order listed above.

If you are using a bread machine, follow the manufacturer's instructions and use the "dough" setting.  Alternatively, find a recipe for a traditional white loaf and follow to the end of the first rise.

Lyndon has a Staub cast-iron pot, I used my Chasseur cast-iron casserole dish. Basically the pot serves as a Dutch Oven.

My cooking pot

When the raise cycle had finished, I took the dough from the machine, knocked back the dough for a couple of minutes, but did not really knead it, shaped it into a ball and placed inside the casserole dish which I had lined with baking paper.

I have a fan oven and a smaller conventional oven and decided to use the latter.  I thought the temperature in the fan oven might rise too quickly and interfere with the rising of the dough whereas the conventional oven would heat up more slowly enabling the dough to rise.  I placed the dish in the oven with the lid on as instructed, set the temperature to 240C, set my alarm for half an hour, poured myself a glass of wine and relaxed.

After 30 minutes I took a sneaky peek to check that all was well - and as it looked OK,  replaced the lid and let it cook a further 5 minutes (ie completing the full 35 minutes advised by Lyndon) and then removed the lid leaving it to cook for a further 10 minutes.  I then took the dish from the oven, tapped the loaf to see if it sounded hollow - which it did - and left it to cool slightly for a further 5 minutes.

My loaf straight from the oven
After 5 minutes, I lifted the loaf from the dish and placed on a rack to cool.

My first attempt
It was a great success. My wife, Sylvi and her son, Luke, have both seen recipes using this cooking method but which follow a recipe needing no kneading at all.  We will give that a try soon.

In the meantime Luke has followed Lyndon's method and baked a loaf using two thirds white flour and one third light rye flour.  I fear this may have precipitated a loaf war on twitter!

Luke's loaf as seen on Twitter @Luke1972

Tonight I will have a go making a 50/50 loaf using strong white bread flour and strong wholemeal.  Watch this space.

John Austin

Hove, 23 May 2020

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