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In Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, we talked about one way to get steam into the oven to create a great, crispy, caramelized crust on lean (un-enriched) loaves: pouring water into a pre-heated METAL (not glass) broiler tray or other pan just before you close the oven door. To be extra-safe about your glass oven window, protect it from the water with a towel before you approach with the water–some older non-tempered glass windows can crack if you get water on them when they’re hot. This metal-tray method works well in most ovens.
But some ovens are a bit temperamental about this. Really large ovens, or really well-vented ones, and in many cases, professional-quality ovens installed in homes, seem to let the steam escape and you end up with a dull, pale-colored crust that never gets crisp. We’ve got a video of some excellent alternatives… Continue reading
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)! Continue reading