Cast iron pot-baked peasant loaf: outside, on the grill! NEW VIDEO

It’s basically summer, even here in Minnesota, and I’m baking loaves outside on the grill already.  Last summer, we did a lot of grilled flatbreads (and there’ll be more to come), but a few days ago I baked a peasant loaf in a closed cast iron pot, right on the gas grill.  We’ve had lots to say about baking in a closed vessel, which works great indoors.  Well, it works great outdoors too.  Use any lean dough you like; try our regular white recipe, from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, or the whole-grain version, from Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  After you view the video, come see the finished product (picture at the end of this post).

In the video above, I’m not entirely clear on baking times.  You bake with the lid on the pot for the first two-thirds of baking, then remove it so the top crust can complete its browning for the last third of baking.  If the loaf takes 30 minutes, then the first 20 are covered.  Play with your grill to get the temperature stabilized around the level called for in our recipe (you need a grill with a thermometer), but be aware that you may need a lower temp than what’s called for– in some gas grills the bottom will scorch at full temp.

If you don’t have a cast-iron pot, you can use any oven-proof lidded vessel, including a cloche, but simple inexpensive things work as well.  For cast-iron, you can use an enameled pot as in this post, or simple un-enameled black cast-iron.

If you do go for the Le Creuset enameled cast-iron pans (here’s a two-quart version on Amazon), they’re terrific, but you might need to replace the standard composite lid-knob with this metal one for high-heat baking, on the grill or otherwise.  The composite degrades at temperatures above 375F or so, though some seem to say otherwise in the product literature.  Check with the company if you’re in doubt.

If you use the 1-quart pan, that’s about exactly right for a 1-pound loaf, and will contain sideways spread.  But… larger pans also work beautifully– the pan will be larger than the loaf and won’t contain sideways spread.  You’ll see what I mean…

But here’s what the final result looks like (yes I’ve switched pots on you here, this is from a different baking session–the slashing on this loaf was parallel cuts rather than the cross I did in the video):

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How we measure our flour using the “scoop-and-sweep” method

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When people write to tell us that their dough seems “too wet,” the first question I ask is: how are you measuring?  Because we measured with the “scoop-and-sweep” method, not the “spoon-and-sweep” method.–view the video to see exactly how we do it.

American recipes usually are based on volumes, measured with standardized measuring cups.  If you press down into the flour bin (use a flour bin, not the flour’s bag), you’ll compress and get too much flour.  If you use the “spoon-and-sweep” method, where a spoon is used to gently fill the measuring cup before sweeping, you’ll get too little flour into the cup.  Likewise, don’t “aerate” the flour by mixing it or whisking before measuring; that will lighten the cup.

If you do it the way we tested it (and use flours like the standard ones we tested with), you’ll get results like you see in our photos and videos.  You can also consider weighing flour, using the weight equivalents that appear in all our books starting in 2009. We go through the use of the digital scales (we like the Escali or the Salter) in this post from last year.

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My favorite rye isn’t in our books–here’s how to slash it (careful, it’s sticky)

The rye flour available in supermarkets is delicious, but it’s whole-grain, and that’s not what we grew up with as kids.  Those rye breads from yesteryear were made from “medium” rye (bran and germ-depleted), and the result was lighter.  Bob’s Red Mill and Hodgson Mills rye flours make great breads, but you have to go light with them to re-create what we used to get years ago.

We figured that wasn’t what people were looking for in our books, so we went a little heavier in the recipes we published in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, and of course, with much more whole grain in Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  In this video, I’m talking about using relatively little of the Bob’s or the Hodgson product.  Follow the recipe at our Back to Basics post, but subsitute 1/2 cup of rye flour (Bob’s or Hodgson Mills) for 1/2 cup of unbleached all-pupose (in the book, the swap is for a full cup). Then, add 1 1/2 tablespoons caraway seeds to the initial mix.  Everything else is the same (in Artisan Bread in Five, we used a whole cup of rye flour, and it’s also a great result– just different).

To clarify a couple of things from the video:  I said to turn and shape the loaf pulling around on three sides– I meant “on four sides;” turn the loaf in quadrants and pull the top around to the bottom to create a “cloak.”  And of course, rest the loaf on on cornmeal or parchment, not on the board where you shaped it or you’d have to lift the fully proofed loaf, which isn’t a good idea.

20 to 30 minutes before baking time, preheat a baking stone to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C), with a metal broiler tray on any other shelf that won’t interfere with rising bread (do not use glass for this purpose or it will shatter).  Using a pastry brush, paint the loaf with water and sprinkle with more caraway seeds.

Slash at least 1/2-inch deep with a serrated bread knife, making perpendicular, not angled cuts, as in the video. Slide loaf onto the baking stone and pour 1 cup of hot water into the broiler tray and close the oven door.  Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Allow to cool before slicing, and enjoy!

New video: How to shape a loaf (using whole grain dough)

So many of you have asked for close-up video of someone shaping a loaf  (what we called “gluten-cloaking” in the first book).  Doing this quick shaping step is the same with whole grain doughs, but the feel is different– it isn’t quite as resilient.

But as you can see in the video, it’s basically the same process with this 100% whole wheat dough (the honey-enriched variation on page 80 of Healthy Bread in Five Minute a Day).