I’ve been baking bread at home for around four years now. While I enjoy using sourdough starters and emulating a stone based oven with a thick tile, the holy grail for me has always been a proper bread oven, something with a brick interior that absorbs the heat of a long firing and radiates that ferocious heat back to the bread for maximum crust formation and oven spring. There are many shapes and sizes, dating back to Roman times, but I would ideally want something like this. Hey, it’s my dream.
One alternative to baking in a proper Roman oven, so I’d heard, is to use a heavy enamelled crock, such as a Le Creuset. Left in a HOT oven, the entire pot becomes a sort of mini oven in itself, so when the bread is dropped in and the lid replaced, the radiant heat from all sides, not to mention the trapped steam, cooks the bread far more intensely than a normal domestic oven can. Well, it turns out I got one of these for Christmas, so let the baking fun begin…
Not being much of a scientist, of course my first foray was a rubbish experiment. I couldn’t get hold of my normal flour (Burcott Mill’s wonderful Glastonbury spelt) and ended up using Dove’s farm spelt, which I’ve never used before. As all flours are different, it’s hard to get consistent results when you use a new one, especially the first time.
Anyway, to cut a long story short (if you really want to know about sourdough bread baking, my best advice would be to get yourself a copy of Dan Lepard’s excellent The Handmade Loaf) I ended up making a very wet dough (70% hydration) which might have scuppered my desire to get a really dramatic oven ‘spring’ (the magical bit when the heat of the oven expands the air trapped inside the loaf and it blooms). As you can see from the pic above, the loves came out a little flat, but having said that, the quality and colour of the crust itself was very encouraging.
And the results? Well, I definitely need to experiment more here, but as a first foray, I’m simultaneously impressed and underwhelmed. I guess I was expecting miracles, but that’s not how bread works. It’s a process, and when you change any part of the process, you change the finished loaf. I guess I’ll just have to adjust my method. But as you can see, the crumb is lovely and open, even though the dough ‘flowed’ more than ‘sprang’ in its first stages. The overall bread is different to usual, it definitely feels like it hasn’t dried out as much and has retained more moisture in the crumb, but at the same time it feels like it’s better cooked.
As to the taste, well, that was never in question really. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that good organic stoneground flour, made overnight with sourdough starter and plenty of salt, is always going to taste good, no matter how it’s cooked. But with the added sweet dark crust, this is a lovely tasting loaf, perfect for cheese and ham sandwiches. And as it’s nearly lunchtime, that’s exactly what I’m going to have. Right. Now.