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.