Here is yet another way to get a fabulous crust on your bread without using any steam in the oven. I mentioned my very unsophisticated disposable lasagna pan as an option and now I present you with yet another ingenious idea. Baking bread in a Dutch oven was made popular by a Mark Bittman’s article in the New York Times about baker Jim Lahey. He introduced home bakers to a professional style bread that didn’t require a steam injected oven. All the iron-pot methods are based on the old European technique of baking inside a closed clay pot. Most people don’t have one of those, but enameled cast-iron pots are readily available—and they trap all of the internal moisture in the dough and that creates the steam you need to get a crisp and shiny crust. It really is fantastic and it works perfectly with our stored doughs from the book.
As you can imagine, the only drawback to baking bread in a dutch oven is that you are limited to a bread that is the shape of your Dutch oven. Luckily, Le Creuset has several shapes to choose from and I’m determined to try them all! The company even sells a special knob that can withstand the 500°F baking temperature of this method. All of these items (including the metal replacement knob) are available in Minneapolis-St. Paul at Cooks of Crocus Hill or nationally through Amazon (which offers a 7 1/4 quart pot, a 6 3/4 quart oval, a two-quart, and others. There are other brands, but I have not tried them!
Using a metal replacement knob is really essential to baking with this method, the hard plastic knobs will smoke at 500°F. Otherwise you’re limited to the maximum temperature recommended by Le Creuset (usually 450 degrees), and the crust won’t get as crisp.
Preheat the pot with the lid on to 500°F for about 20 minutes. I used a 7 1/4 quart pot to bake a 1 1/2 pound loaf of bread.
Shape your boule from any of the non-enriched doughs from the book and allow to rest on a piece of parchment paper as suggested in the recipe. I used the master recipe for this loaf and let it rise for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, because it was larger than normal. I find it easiest to get the dough into the very hot pot if I can drop it in right on the paper.
Slash the dough 1/4″ deep.
VERY carefully lift the dough and drop it, with paper and all into the preheated pot. This can be awkward the first time you do it. I took the pot out of the oven and rested it on a cooling rack so that it was at a comfortable height to get the dough in without fear of touching the hot pot! It is very easy, but just be careful! Replace the lid and slip it back into the oven.
After 15 minutes of baking remove the lid. The dough only needs to bake in the steam for that amount of time. now it is time to get a lovely caramel color to the bread. Turn the heat down to 450°F and bake for another 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of the loaf.
Once the loaf is nicely browned, carefully remove it from the pot with a spatula.
Peel off the parchment and allow to cool on a cooling rack.
Once the bread is totally cool, cut and you can see how fantastic the crumb is! Enjoy!!!