Sunday, October 5, 2008

Advances in baking technology

I just want to write a quick update here on how my baking is going. I finally bought the 7 quart cast iron dutch oven I've been wanting to replace my clay cooker as my steam-containing sub-oven for bread baking.

For my first trial with it I decided to stay simple and familiar and did a basic rustic loaf:
2 3/4 cups bread flour
1/2 cup rye
1/4 cup whole wheat
2 1/2 teaspoons yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/4 cups water.

It came out a rather wet dough this time around, but I'm not sure if that's due to the rainy weather, loosely packed flour or if I accidentally shorted the flour by a quarter cup. It didn't matter all that much since I wasn't going to be handling it much by hand. And since wet doughs have been pretty standard for me it's not a bad idea to change that constant as I change the baking vessel. I found it substantially easier to work with when I reshaped it after the first rise. Maybe that's just because I was well dusted with flour, but maybe it helped that the flour had time to absorb some moisture and the protein strands had a chance to relax. I think I should start letting the dough rest between the first knead and shaping into a loaf like some recipes suggest.

I had hoped that I'd be able to make a round loaf now that I've got a round pot to bake in, but the dough folded in on itself a little as I dumped it out of the plastic bucket it rose in. I think the larger open space of the dutch oven was a help here. The dough would fill up the clay cooker so much of the sides were in contact with a hot surface which broke more bubbles upon first contact.

Getting the lid off was much easier now that I'm using a lid with a handle. And the bread was ready after only 30 minutes with the lid off, a good 5-10 minutes faster. That translates to a thinner, no-longer-verging-on-burnt crust so that's another plus.

The bread itself is dense and chewy with a fine grain. It's really good for sandwiches, but that's not really what I'm looking for. I think I'm going to let my next loaf rise longer to get that airy interior you sometimes see in really high-quality store-bought loaves.

I'm going to put my plans for butter rolls and pumpernickel loaves on hold for a bit so I can try out some variations of technique on this basic recipe. Once I've got a better handle on the baking basics I'll start playing around a bit more with recipes.


kat said...

That does look like a good loaf for sandwiches. I haven't done bread in my dutch oven in so long, maybe its time to start playing around with it again.

billjac said...

Keep in mind that I'm using the dutch oven to compensate for the inadequacies of my oven. If you can decently approximate a coal fired brick oven (particularly in retaining steam) then you won't see much benefit from using this baking method.