The Power of Pots

The Power of Pots

Pot2

If you’ve read my book (did you know I’ve got a book out?), you might have noticed I’m a fan of baking bread in cast-iron pots. It’s simple: all you’ve got to do is preheat your pot, lid and all, to as hot as your oven goes. Then, slide your risen loaf into it and bake with the lid on for 20 minutes and another 20-30 minutes with it off.

Cooking on a thick, hot surface helps give you a good crust and even bake all round. The pot’s heavy lid keeps any steam inside, helping to caramelise the sugars on the surface and give a crispy, tasty final crust. On top of that, the humidity delays this crust’s formation to give you a better ‘oven spring’ (the rise of the loaf in the oven).

What I didn’t emphasise enough in the book is just how AWESOME cooking in pots is.

If you’ve read all those wandering words, you might notice I also talk about the two proves and how underappreciated the first prove is. It is far more important than the second. To emphasise this, and the power of the pot, I did a wee experiment.

 

I made a loaf with the following ingredients:

420g strong white flour

80g plain wholemeal flour

10g table salt

7g instant yeast

390g tepid water

And I didn’t knead, I left the rough dough for ½ an hour, gave it a few stretches and folds in the bowl until it had a smooth surface and then I proved for not-far-off 2 hours. By this time, it had got big, but not to the point of collapsing. I scraped it out, shaped into a tight ball and placed it in a proving basket to prove.

Straight away, I put this in the fridge and I put my Le Creuset pot in the oven at 250C for 20 minutes to preheat.

Then I scored and slid my loaf into the scorching pot and baked. When I closed the lid over it was barely bigger then when I put in the fridge and a little squint due to the way it had fallen (not a concern). And then the next I saw, it was spectacular.

Pot6

Explanation:

In that first prove, there are loads of bubbles that you then smoosh whilst shaping. But if you’ve shaped well, those bubbles aren’t gone, you’ve just squeezed most of the CO2 out of them. The potential space is still there. Then, because of the steam that’s kept in by the pot, you’ve got a humid and unrestricted environment for what little gas is there to expand HUGELY. As a result, you get the most phenomenal oven spring.

The result is a loaf that is just about as massive as a loaf that has had a 2nd prove that is 3x as long. So check out these pictures (sorry, just taken on my iPhone) and remember: take your time with the first prove.

 Pot1

Pot3

(you’ll notice it’s a bit wonky – this is due to the sliding and will affect it’s appearance but not it’s overall texture)

Pot4

Pot7

NB: Some bakers don’t like this. Some would say this loaf was “underproved”. But it’s not – it has been proved enough to plenty it a good flavour and good structure. It’s just been baked and shaped at different times. It is still of exceptionally light texture.

 

Order Brilliant Bread here!

43 thoughts on “The Power of Pots

  1. I bake with the cloche from Baking Bits which obviously works in the same way and it is brilliant but I haven’t taken the loaf from the fridge and baked it. I’ll give it a go, do you think it will work with sourdough loaves?

    1. It works brilliantly with sourdoughs! In fact, if the dough’s really wet and a bit tricky to handle, it’s a great cheat because it supports the sides even when it’s in the oven and stops it splaying out, giving excellent height

  2. Hi James, congratulations on the book. My friend was inspired by one of your talks and has now got the bread baking bug.

    I experiment a good bit and wondered if you’ve tried any of the breads doing the second prove in the cast iron and putting it into the oven cold?

    The one I did had a strange flat top but the recipient said it was great.

    I’ve seen it demonstrated in le creuset on YouTube but just wondered if you’ tried it as I’d like your opinion.

  3. Tried this today and honestly can’t recommend it enough. I’m in awe. Never baked bread so successfully at home. Beautiful.

  4. James, We loved watchin u on the great British bake off, Just find out u had a website today, Can I add Ingredients into this bread,
    😀

  5. Excellent recipe, used spelt instead of wholemeal and worked very well. Looking forward to receiving the book. Congratulations on the book!

  6. Excellent suggestion, I’ve been having trouble getting s good crust. No problems in a pyrex casserole dish. Love this method!

  7. I don’t have a proving bowl, I use an 8 inch frying pan which I line with greaseproof paper, when the pot in the oven is hot I lift the bread dough out on the paper and place it, still on the paper in the pot. It makes the cooked bread easier to get out of the pot.

    1. Two great ideas, Lynne! Thank you. Haven’t used my Le Creuset yet for breadmaking but I will – and i can imagine getting the cooked bread out could be tricky -, and i’ll also use a frying pan plus greaseproof. Love not having to buy special equipment.

  8. This looks wonderful! 🙂

    Your book arrived today (ordered from Brick Lane Bookshop in London which I stumbled into a week or so back) rather than the omnipresent Amazon. Much nicer.

    It encouraged me to have a look to see if you had a web site and then I spotted this. I don’t have a cast iron pot but this looks and sounds (and almost smells) so good that I can see I will be getting one.

    I’m really looking forward to abandoning the bread machine and getting my hands sticky. 🙂

    I’ve only read the forward and introduction so far but it put a grin on my face. Thank you for sharing your love of bread with the world for us to benefit from. Thank you.

  9. Hi James,

    Great post – and this certainly does help create great bread. I just tried this with my Le Cresuet though and the handle exploded! I hadn’t realised that the phenolic handle can only take a maximum temperature of 190c!! (It looks from the picture that your handle may have been damaged as well?)

    As I’ve looked at other cast iron pots without phenolic handles, it seems that lots of them are only guaranteed to a max of 200-220c. Do you have any guidance for what pots are good for a higher heat?

  10. I was just wondering about washing the bottom of that lovely pot – looks pretty bad in the pictures… 🙂 Sorry if it does not seem bread related:) I have been baking dark rye sourbread for a good while and decided to try the white one. The fridge-to-pot idea sounds very interesting, but I would hate to ruin my precious Le Creuset… 🙂 Is there any hope for it afterwards?

  11. Well I use my heavy pot too in a slightly different way. I oil the surface with kitchen roll paper and sunflower oil then lightly sprinkle flour on the bottom to prevent the bread from sticking to the pot. I let my bread prove for the last hour in the uncovered pot for an hour. After proving the hour, I score it with a sharp knife, cover the pot and place it in a very hot oven for 30 min and remove the lid and cook it for an extra 10-15 minutes, or until the crust is a beautiful golden brown.

  12. Liam,

    On Le Creuset’s web site they say that their cast iron pots with stainless steel handles can be used at any temperature. They do, as you point out, say that their phenolic handled pots are only safe up to 190°.

    What I’d like to know is what sized pot to buy? Le Creuset’s range from 18 to 28 centimetres .. And from £100 to £175 pounds. Clearly, I don’t want to buy a pot too big or small. Any help here is appreciated.

  13. Love this recipe, definitely the best crust I’ve been able to achieve at home. Question – how would you keep the crust until the next day? I’ve never managed a reasonable crust that lasts beyond about 6 hours!

    Thanks,
    Merry

    1. I have had excellent results from a stainless steel pot although it does discolour a bit. I also bought a really cheap cast upon oval pot in Sainsbury’s sale. Seems to work OK.

  14. Your no knead philosophy has extended beyond the cast iron pot although I still often bake that one. I now regularly make a half Wholemeal half white with the occasional additions of Malthouse flour. It is A 500gm 7-8 gm yeast 8-9 gm salt recipe to which I add 1 .5 tablespoons of light olive oil and a couple of good squirts of mild flavoured honey plus 375-400ml water. I sometimes give it a bit of a bash around after 30mins but often just leave it for at least two hours. Shape as per Dan Leppard by rolling up and put in tin for another 1.5 or until it looks right ie before it collapses over the edges of the tin. Bake in hottish oven 220 for about 30 mins. I make this loaf twice a week and would never have gained the confidence I have were it not for your writings. It seems if you have the time( I often leave the dough to rise and then go shopping) there is no need for all that off putting kneading. Morton was my maiden name . My dad came from Broughty Ferry.

  15. Hi James, I’ve just baked your sourdough loaf, following it to the letter, having made sourdough plenty of times successfully before (though I admit with lower hydrations of normally 55-60%). This one today came out flat after using the La Cloche. Please can you tell me why? Should I cook it in a pot in future to support the sides? By the way I loved the Stollen recipe.

    1. Hi and sorry for the late reply! I don’t check comments here all that often. Managing a dough that’s as wet as my sourdough is simply down to strengthening it properly. During the first prove, try giving it a couple of stretches and folds, maybe half an hour apart. Then, before you shape it, ‘preshape’ it into a loose boule using as little flour as you can, then bench rest for another 20-30 minutes smooth-side down, before finally shaping. That should do it. Otherwise, if you still can’t get something that isn’t flat, check the viscosity of your starter.

  16. Has anyone tried this recipe with mixed whole grains? Also would like to lesson amount of yeast and ferment longer, say overnight for improved flavour. What do you think?
    Glyn

  17. This recipe works great for me – fantastic crust ! I’m curious why you prove it in the fridge before putting it in the oven , is there a reason for that , rather than just leaving to one side at room temp in the kitchen. Thanks , Pete

  18. Does baking bread work in a regular cast iron pot with lid (I have creuset too). Have been baking bread for a long time but not very well. Since watching GBBO have started baking a weekly loaf and seem to be improving.

    Are your books available in USA as I live in California.

  19. I love this recipe so much and prefer it even to sourdough as it’s so much quicker and the bread seems really similar to a sourdough. I tend to double the recipe and put one loaf in the freezer for later in the week. I wondered if there was a similar recipe for wholemeal or rye at all? Thank you again from all of family who love baking days when this bread is the result!

    1. I have one of those heavy duty Jamaican Dutch pots that are made of cast aluminium. Has anyone baked with one of these? I wonder if temperature or baking time needs to be amended? Thanks

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