Success! After my recent post about baking bread in a Le Creuset crock pot (here) I tried again and had much better results.
So why did it work this time? Well I changed my whole approach based on what happened the first time round. For a start, my dough was dryer than before, a wholesome blend of spelt, wholemeal, rye and plain flour (35/35/20/10, percentage geeks). I also baked the whole loaf as one (usually I turn a kilo of dough into two loaves, but given the size and capacity of the Le Creuset (a 27cm oval) the size of the fermented dough seemed to fit better (and therefore, I assumed, would benefit more from the proximity of the scorching hot cast iron enamel ‘walls’ surrounding it). Here’s the dough in all its glory, ready for baking:
The only tricky bit I’m discovering about baking like this is getting the dough into the pot. When a dough has risen properly, the last thing you want to do is over handle it and risk knocking any of that precious air out, but getting it into the Le Creuset isn’t as simple as turning it out onto a baking stone. What’s more, once it’s in the pot (which is fiendishly hot anyway, so trying to carefully place it in there is impossible) it’s difficult to get in there and make slashes on the dough. So what I did was flour my hands, turn the loaf out gently into one hand, quickly slash the top of the dough and then sort of slide it into the pot. Lid on, back in the oven…
So, temperatures: The crock-pot had gone into the oven cold and was brought up to the maximum oven temp (it’s a fan oven, so maybe it gets hotter than the 250°C on the dial). With the dough inside the pot, the lid on and the pot back in the oven, I reduced the temp to 220°C (fan) and left it for 30 mins. Then I removed the lid and gave it another 10 mins, before letting it cool completely on a rack.
And the results? Well, I’m very happy with this new way of baking. The spring of the dough seemed really pronounced, but also quite wild and irregular (you can see how it split beyond the slashes, always a good sign of ferocious expansion). I loved how dark and crackly the crust became, it seems much more ‘scorched’ than usual oven-baking. The texture is great too, it’s a strong, crunchy crust, but it’s also quite thin and chewy (to get the same crunchiness in the oven, I would have had to bake it for longer and risk drying out the loaf). And on the moisture scale, the crumb is lovely and soft here, and it has stayed that way for three days now. It’s not the most well-formed crumb in the world, but then again, I didn’t use much strong flour (only the spelt I guess, the wholemeal, rye and plain white are all quite ‘soft’ in gluten terms). Next up I’m going to try a strong white/spelt blend and see if I can get the bread to lift the lid off the Le Creuset!