Baking Bread in a Closed Clay Pot (“Cloche”)– the best crust yet!

cover-cloche-baked-boule.jpg

So many people asked us about baking our dough inside a closed cast-iron pan that Zoe did a beautiful post on the subject a few weeks ago.  The cast-iron pan method is based on a much older method, where bread is baked inside a closed clay pot (or “cloche,” meaning “bell” in French).  Both methods depend on trapped steam from the dough to create a perfect crust, but the clay pot has the added benefit of being porous, so moisture is trapped, but also conducted away from the surface as the bread bakes.  I tested the Sassafras brand “La Cloche” product, and I’m very impressed with the crust I’m getting –take a look at the picture above; this crust is thin and shatters when broken (the burned bits are perfect in artisan loaves; that’s how you know you’ve baked long enough).  Keep in mind that these crust results are hard to re-create with loaves very high in whole wheat (because of oils in the wheat’s germ).  The bread above is about 15% whole grains– it’s a light version of the Peasant Loaf on page 46 of the book.  Whole grain breads perform beautifully in “La Cloche,” but the crust tends to be softer and thicker.

For crust aficionados, I think the “La Cloche” results are a little better than what I get inside closed cast-iron.  We didn’t put these two methods in our first book, because we wanted to keep things as simple as possible.  But with results like these, they’re going into he second one (publication date is 10/13/09)!

Sassafras claims that James Beard once said that the “La Cloche” product gave him bread that was “nothing short of phenomenal.”  “Beard on Bread” was the first bread cookbook I ever used–my wife brought it to our marriage, and then taught me to use it (click here and scroll down to meet Laura).

If James liked a product, I have to give it a try, though I should also say that readers have written me on Twitter (click to follow ArtisanBreadin5 there) to say that the Romertopf clay vessel works just as well, though I haven’t tried it myself.

Before using “La Cloche,” rinse it in hot water to get rid of any ceramic powder left over from manufacturing, and let it dry overnight.  The first time you use it, apply a light coating of vegetable oil to the inside of the bottom piece (the bell-shaped top part doesn’t need it).  The ceramic is very fine-grained and won’t absorb a lot of oil so it didn’t smoke when I pre-heated this thing to 450 F.  You don’t need to cure the oil coating before you bake your first loaf.  You’re ready to bake.

There are two ways to use La Cloche:  the way that Sassafras officially endorses (putting a cool cloche into a preheated oven bearing raw dough that has rested/risen on cornmeal inside), or what I’ve found works better:  preheating the top and bottom pieces of La Cloche to full baking temperature for 30 minutes, and then transferring fully-rested loaves into it (carefully, as in Zoe’s post).  The crust result is fantastic; you can rest/rise in a banneton, then drop the dough into the hot bottom tray of the cloche, then cover (click here for my post on how to use a banneton).  Baking time is the usual as written in our recipes.  The other easy method is to rest/rise the loaf on parchment paper and just drop the loaf, with the paper, into the hot cloche.  Cover and bake.

You don’t need a baking stone, you don’t need to introduce water into the oven for steam, and you don’t need to dampen the cloche; all the moisture you need comes from the dough and is trapped inside.  One important point:  Open the lid for the last third of baking, or the bread will not brown.

This is a very romantic baking dish (is that possible?); using it makes you think you’re in a different century.  It’s heavy, and very tactile– here it is with an unbaked boule sitting in it (cool-cloche method):

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Here’s the banneton-risen bread after the lid was removed to finish baking open to oven air:

2-slashed-boule-after-baking.jpg

There are two problems with the Sassafras-approved cool-cloche method:  first, baking time is longer than written in our recipes, because the clay vessel has a lot of heat to absorb before the interior is up to baking temperature.  Second, the crust just isn’t a crisp.  So, even though the Sassafras instructions say to use a cool cloche, I’m going with a hot one.  Keep in mind that this product doesn’t appear to be warranted against cracking, whether you follow their instructions or not.   One important care instruction:  never use soap on pottery baking vessels, just hot water and a clean scrub brush.

Ten years ago, Daniel Wing and Alan Scott wrote “The Bread Builders,” which was mainly about building your own wood-fired masonry and brick bread oven in your backyard (gotta do that someday).  But they also had lots to say about the “La Cloche” product, which they thought was almost as good as their wood-fired masonry ovens.  They interviewed the product’s inventor at Sassafras who told them that the fully-preheated method for using this product “…is fine.”

Good enough for me.  Look at this bread!

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106 thoughts on “Baking Bread in a Closed Clay Pot (“Cloche”)– the best crust yet!

  1. I definitely want to try the covered method. My crusts tend to be really pale.

    I have this stone covered baker from Pampered Chef. Do you think it would work? It’s glazed on the outside, but the inside is not:
    http://tiny.cc/tmYmE

  2. I’ve been using one of the older, completely unglazed Pampered Chef stoneware bakers with great success. Through trial and error, I arrived at the same preheated approach that Jeff describes. Highly recommended!

  3. Can someone help me? I have an old Romertoff clay cooker that I never thought too much of and it seems people are using them for bread baking. Can I use it and if how? I used to soak it in water prior to use and do I do that same thing for baking bread? Or, do I just preheat it in the oven and pop the bread in it on parchment paper? I sure don’t want to buy more stuff than I have to have! I’ve added too much already doing this bread that I absolutely love!

    I baked another loaf of olive oil dough rolled out with Herbs de Provence in it and then made into a boule and it was/is glorious and smells so good. It made a good supper with some Roma tomatoes, cheese and oil to dredge it in!

  4. Hi Jeff

    You light be interested in the picture I posted in this forum: http://www.completefrance.com/cs/forums/3/1589215/ShowPost.aspx#1589215.
    This picture is not the best for “grignes” (ears) and other breads I have baked have come up with some similar to your own picture at the top of this page.

    The bread is baked from a cold start, after a 60-90mn rest, in what is called a Remoska, which is a small electrical appliance with a heating element in the lid, sold in the UK (http://www.hoorayforhomecooking.co.uk/index.html)
    The lid forms a tight fit with the pan and in effect, acts just like a cloche or Dutch oven would in a full-size oven.
    Although the maximum temperature is “only” 200°C/375°F, I get the most satisfyingly crispy crunchy crust on all the breads I bake in it. In fact, I haven’t used my full-size oven for 3 months and yet, I bake your bread and pizza recipes two or three times a week!
    PS: the main reason for not using the big oven is purely household economics, which is where your bread recipes also come in handy…

  5. I’m curious … did you transfer the dough on a parchment, as Zoe did with the cast-iron pan method, or did you dump it in? The cold photo looks transferred, while the final finished bread looks like the bread I flip and dump into my cast-iron pan. Both are lovely.

    Last night I made some quick ficelles for dinner that were a huge hit. Even cooking in the oven with another dish, they got a great chewy crust that my daughter discovered was perfect for first eating half the crust, then ripping the insides out of the other half and turning the shell into a fake nose. :)

  6. That Pampered Chef product should work, whether or not it’s glazed.

    Pat: The Romertopf should work exactly as above– skip the water inside, it’s not needed. Preheating first, dropping the rested loaves is my favorite technique.

    Claire: Interesting little gadget!

    CLM: I proofed the one with floury cirlces in a Banneton, then flipped it into the bottom piece. The “cover photo” was proofed on parchment, then dropped in.

    Gotta try that fake nose disguise!

  7. Hello!
    Anxiously waiting for your new book! Do you know will it be possible to pre-order via Amazon for instance?
    Regarding Romertopf: A few years back I asked directly from the producers could I bake bread with it. The answer was: “yes, You can bake bread in any ROEMERTOPF but omit the lid.”
    Also I have heard that the pot should be soaked and oiled before putting the dough in. I honestly do not know what would be the right way. I have always been taught that the pot must be soaked and placed in cold oven, otherwise it will crack..

  8. TIV: We plan on having pre-order through Amazon, as we did for the 1st book. The instructions from the Sassafras cloche didn’t say to wet the vessel, so I didn’t do it. I haven’t bought the Romertopf, so I can’t say.

  9. Hi Jeff
    As you know I’ve been a fan for months now – baked uncovered on a stone, covered with bowl on stone and parchment and silpat on stone – all great – love the breads – been thinking about clay pots and now I am sold – my birthday is around the corner and that will be my gift – the heck with that economical flower pot idea I’ve been toying with – it’s La Cloche time!!

  10. I absolutely love my cloche. It is one of my favorite kitchen tools and the bread always comes out so beautiful. I also use my baking stone with a roasting lid over the top when I want to make the baguette shapes. mmm

  11. I have been using the cloche top for months with excellent results. I place my dough on parchment to rise. About 20 minutes before baking, I place the cloche top in the oven on top of my pizza stone and turn the oven to 500 degrees. When ready to bake, I slash the top of the dough, remove the very hot cloche top carefully from the stone and using a peel, place the parchment with dough directly on the stone and cover with the cloche. After about 15 minutes, I carefully remove the very hot cloche top, turn down the oven to 450 and finish baking. Excellent crust.

  12. Hi Jeff
    I tried yesterday Zoe’s Cast Iron pan with a boule and the result was spectacular; both crust and crumb. Today I tried a batard in a Romertopf (soaked in water for 10 mins) pre-heated for 30 in 500F and 15 min. covered + another 15 uncovered; had a great loaf, the crust as you say is not so crisp but otherwise it’s great, good idea.
    Thanks,
    Stefan

  13. Hi Jeff
    Just when I think I’ve found the perfect method , you come up with a gorgeous looking loaf that beats everything ! Very impressive.
    And you’re right. . .there’s really something romantic about this method of baking. . .a real connection to the past.
    Thanks Jeff -I’ve got to try it !

  14. I have had good results using a large dome shape unglazed clay flower pot. Using some hardware to make a handle through the drain hole. (See pic on flickr group Artisan in Five.)

  15. Amy and FG: Give it a shot!

    Anne: Love the idea of re-purposing kitchen stuff that way.

    Mary F: I have a feeling that the crumb will be better if I start hotter, as you do– more oven spring.

    Stefan: See what you think without the extra liquid…

    Paul: Thanks for putting that up! Great idea.

  16. Thank you again for your wonderful book. Today was a hectic day and I made a simple Indian meal for dinner. I reached into my fridge, pulled out some peasant bread dough and whipped up some yummy naan to go with the tandoori chicken and carrot and tomato salad and my quickie dinner was much improved by this addition.

  17. Jeff & Zoe,
    Just wanted to “thank you” for a fantastic book, and fantastic help! What other authors are available for question & answers?? You’re the first I know.

    Anyhow, a friend of mine bought the book same time I did (3 months ago), and she was scared to try the recipe. I made her a loaf the other day, and yesterday, she made her first batch. She’s hooked, like the rest of us! Thanks again.

  18. Today I didn’t have a chance to make new dough and what I had was looking a bit ragged so I bought a loaf of well known artisan bread in our local produce store – and you got the highest compliment ever — hubby declared my bread (yours actually) much better!

    I’m thinking of trying the buttermilk one tomorrow…

  19. On the contacts page, it said if a person has a general question to come to this part of any page and type a suggestion or a question. So, here goes: 1 comment and two questions.

    Comment: Be careful when you spritz your oven when you have a ceramic baking stone in the oven. I hit our Pampered Chef stone with a shot of water from a spray bottle a while back and it instantly broke into about 5 pieces.

    Now for the questions: How does this method work with Russian Black Bread, and does anyone have an authentic recipe? I was one of the first westerners into Gorky after paristroyka (I know totally wrong spelling). I was there to conduct a seminar and after I started raving about the Russian Bread being the best I had ever eaten (I grew up in a bakers family so it is saying something), anyway, I was offered a tour of the state bakery. (Which made several thousand loaves a day) As part of the tour, the bakery manager gave me her personal recipe book. Unfortunately, the recipe for Black Bread makes about 1000 loaves. Anyway, their bread was a black sourdough that was superb. Since the bread made with this method takes on many of the characteristics of sourdough, I wondered if it would work for Black Bread.

    Question 2: I am looking for a multi-grain artisan style bread that works with this method similar to that made by The Original La Brea Bakery in Van Nuys, California. It is a sourdough multi-grain bread that contains about the whole kitchen sink of different grains, but is spectacular bread.

    Thanks in advance for your help.

    Dan

  20. Rho: Thanks Rho, and thank hubby too!

    Dan: Welcome to the site! Sorry about your stone– has anyone else had this experience?

    Have your tried our pumpernickel recipe as a substitute for Russian Black Bread? I’m guessing that there is a fair amount of overlap there? Also, why not just use the proportions for your huge recipe– scale it down?

    We’re working on a multi-grain loaf for our second book, due out 10/13/09, and focusing on whole grains, so please stay tuned! Jeff

  21. For those who have the PC 9×13 cake pan and roaster top, it makes a beautiful baguette (about 15″ limit going diagonally). I tried this last night for the first time and the results were spectacular.

    I have almost all the PC stoneware as I used to sell it. I LOVE it. I will be trying rolls in the 9×13 with the roaster lid for Easter as my extended family has fallen in love with the bread as well.

    Thank you, thank you , thank you!

  22. I love, love, love my long rectangular Sassafrass cloche. I have been using it for several months with your recipe. I grew up in San Francisco near Boudin Bakery on 10th and Geary, so it is awesome to freak out my family and friends with my bread. I sent an email with attached pictures to Zoe and she said that it had the most gorgeous crust. Made my day! Thanks Zoe. I pre-heat the cloche and then let the dough rise on parchment, scattered with cornmeal. I take out the hot bottom part of the cloche and place the risen dough, parchment and all, in the pan. Cover and bake; uncover toward the end. Perfect every time. Happy Spring to all!

  23. Jeff,

    I will try the Pumpernickel.

    I have a new extra interest in the whole grain breads and would love to be a beta tester if you ever need one. Was just diagnosed as borderline diabetic and told to go for whole grains if I am going to eat them. So, I have real motivation to collect good multi-grain recipes so that I don’t go into withdrawal. It is hard enough to look at some of the great loaves on this site and in your book. Good bread is one of life’s real pleasures so I want to be able to continue to enjoy it, but in a more healthy manner.

    Also, I have appreciated Peter Reinhardt’s books. His suggestion to proof bread overnight in a refrigerator to allow gluten and flavor to develop have a lot of similarities to what you are suggesting. Is what you are doing a refinement of some of the same things he suggests. I realize that your “scoop” method of measuring is not nearly as precise as his, but the proofing is very similar – and both methods seem to work well. All I know is that what both of you have come up with is revolutionary when it comes to increasing the flavor of homemade breads and pizza doughs. Thank you!

    Dan

  24. Hi Dan,

    While writing this new book about whole grains my husband was also diagnosed to be pre-diabetic and therefore required to eat more whole grains. Great timing for such a prescription. We are nearly done with the testing, but thank you for the generous offer!

    The new book will be available in October of this year.

    It is a great honor to be mentioned in the same sentence with Peter Reinhardt. He is a master baker and artist! The method of fermenting the dough in a “retarded” or cold state is very old and none of us can lay claim to that discovery. What we have done is to extend that to a really long storage, which is what makes our method truly different from what has been done in the past.

    the only way to get an accurate measurement every time is to use a scale. One day all home bakers will use them, but until then we will use cup measures. In the new book we will have a chart so that you can convert the recipes to weights.

    Thanks! Zoë

  25. Hi Jeff and Zoe !!I have a question but not regarding this article,it just came up now!!
    I would like tobake hot cross buns ths easter and was wondering what dough from the book could I use?? brioche mixing dried fruits? pannetone?
    any ideas?
    hugs
    Maria

  26. Maria: Depending on how rich you want your hot cross buns, you could choose either the challah (a little leaner) or the brioche (richer). Pannetone has all the dried fruit already in it, so that’s an option too.

    Happy Easter!

  27. Hi Guys, Love your bread! You are geniuses. My book is coming and you probably answer this question within it, but my husband and don’t want to miss a crumb in the meantime and we have been told that salt is out for us. Can we use your recipes without it or will its lack have some dire effect?

    Thanks! Margot

  28. I’ve tried to find this type of cloche for sale in Europe (UK) but no luck through Google. Anyone knows where I can find one? I don’t want a Romertopf.

    Thanks!

  29. I found a clay baker at a Goodwill store for $3.99 and had to give it a try.

    I was very impressed with the oven spring (more than doubled!), lovely crumb with nicely distributed big holes and thin crackly crust.

    However, my bread had a lot of “blistering” on the crust and I think I see that in your close up photo, too. So it was more like a “toad” than a “prince”. It tasted fine and had lovely texture, but it’s just something I noticed. It wasn’t quite as pretty as my other breads.

  30. Some people suggest soaking the La Cloche first.
    I remember I used to soak my clay pot when I would cook a chicken in it.
    I’d forgotten that suggestion and may try it, as well as the preheated method since my crust is less then stellar.
    Actually I still have problems with the center not getting cooked all the way through.

  31. I am wondering if could try using the cast iron pot tipped over as more of the cloche-style cover onto my pizza stone. If I slide the bread onto the preheated stone, then cover with the preheated pot, I wouldn’t have to manipulate it into the pot or have too much parchment paper pulling on it. But — would I crack the stone with the steam inside??

  32. Hi Jeff and Zoe !
    Thanks so much for shraring all your recent baking experiences !
    I am so tempted to spring for the La Cloche – but it looks like a tough shape to store ( on top of the fridge, perhaps ?) And there were so many posts on Amazon about people receiving shattered pots? Did they improve their packaging ? Its so tempting- your loaf is gorgeous !
    For everyone interested in adding more whole grain to their bread, I use 1/4 cup of either Whole Food organic 7 grain cereal (in the bulk bins) DRY-not soaked or cooked or Bob’s Red Mill 7 grain cereal for every 3 cups of bread flour in the basic boule recipe. I bet you can even try adding a bit more. . . I also add a few tbs. of miller’s wheat bran flakes.
    I find that this gives a nice balance of fiber, texture, and chewiness without the heaviness or bitterness of whole wheat flour. It really works beautifully. Healthier bread-but still very light .

  33. I am skeptical of the science behind the claim that unglazed clay covered pots can produce a better crust than glazed clay covered pots when both are preheated before adding the dough (esp dough on parchment). Porous or not I don’t see how the very hot surface of the vessel will absorb water.
    I love your book and this website. I am trying to work my way through the recipes but we get stuck on brioche a lot… I just wanted to know if there is any science or testing behind this unglazed is better than glazed idea.

  34. Lisa: Have at it, and let us know how it goes!

    FG: My Cloche arrived intact, don’t know what to say. Check with Amazon as to the return policy if it arrives damaged.

    Matt: Not sure why you don’t think hot vapor will penetrate the porous material, but I’d be the 1st to admit that there’s no published science on this!! Just educated guesses. My guess is that the difference isn’t radical– if you like the result you get in a glazed vessel, stick with that. Jeff

  35. I think I’m on my 5th batch of bread and am loving it, but I find that my bread doesn’t brown as much as the pictures on the site. I usually do a 2 lb loaf and bake it on the stone with a cup of water and I up the baking time quite a bit. Usually 45 minutes to an hour….should I be cooking it longer? It’s nicely browned but definitely not dark, and it is very crusty. I do notice that the top element in my oven is rarely on…..that could be it I suppose?

  36. Hi Abby,

    the first thing to check is your oven thermometer. I’ve noticed that my oven dropped 25 degrees recently! ;( You need to monitor the oven all the time, especially if you are using it a lot.

    If you know that your oven is baking at the right temperature then you may want to move the oven rick up another rung. If you do this you need to watch it the first time and it may not need to bake as long as you have been doing.

    Thanks, Zoë

  37. Well, I’ve totally abandoned the broiler pan method and am using clay instead. The crust is amazing. I did a pain d’epi last night and everyone was so excited to get “an end”. That’s what the kids fight over. Also did 12 buns in a 9×13 covered PC stoneware baker for Easter and they were fabulous.
    Thank you!

  38. How would you recommend cooking buns? Should I do them in a dish? I want them to be wonderful and crusty, I’m just not sure how to get them into the oven!
    Also my bread doesn’t really have the nice big air holes. I’ve tried wetter dough, dryer dough…nothing seems to make a difference. There are some nice holes near the outer crust but only tiny ones in the center of the loaf, what am I doing wrong? Thanks

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