Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Bread Baked in a Pot--Listen to It Crack

Every year my neighbors organize a soup party. They serve an interesting menu of soups (guests are invited to bring they own specialties) and a self-made bread. It is very fresh, often still warm and it is so good that it disappears fast. It tastes great as a starter with a glass of wine and I usually eat so much of it that by the time soups are served I am already so full that I am hardly able to taste anything else.

I had to ask for the recipe and try to make this fabulous bread. Unfortunately, it did not come out too good first time I made it. This bread comes from a French tradition and is baked in a pot. Perhaps it did not come out exactly as my neighbors' masterpiece because I did not have the right vessel.

Last Christmas Eve, my neighbor came over and offered to teach me how to make it. He made it. I watched. It took his three visits, before the bread was ready to be baked. When I took it out of the oven and finally tasted, it was perfect. Again, my whole family, including my sister who was visiting us from Poland at that time, did not even let it cool down. It was gone to the last crumb, still hot. Now that I finally learned its secret, I make it from time to time over the weekend and we have it warm and aromatic with our Sunday brunch.

Talking about secrets, there are two that you need to learn about its preparation. First, the dough has to rise for a long time, so the best way is to make it a day before in the evening and let it stand overnight. Second, it must be baked in a pot with a cover that can tolerate very high temperature--450F. I was able to find such pot at Home Goods for just eight dollars and it works perfectly. Beside that, you do not even need any mixer or bread machine to make it. And when the house smells like a bakery, and the bread is already cooling down, just listen to it crack.

Bread Baked in a Pot

3 and 1/2 cup bread flour, preferably King Arthur flour,
1/4 tsp dry yeasts,
1 and 3/4 cup water,
1 tsp salt.

1. Put water, flour, and yeast in a large and a relatively deep bowl (because the dough will grow overnight) and using a wooden spoon combine all the ingredients thoroughly. Leave it overnight covered with a dishtowel.
2. Dust a wooden surface with flour and dump the dough on it. Cover the dough with a dishtowel and let it stand for 15 minutes.
3. Spread a dishtowel over a round bread basket, dust it with a tablespoon of cornflour, put the dough on it, fold the ends of the dishtowel on top of it and leave it for 30 minutes.

4. Preheat oven (preferable a convection oven) to 500F and put an empty baking pot in it for about 15 minutes.
5. Lower the temperature to 425F, take out the pot and gently dump the dough in it. You can draw a cross on top of it or make a couple of diagonal cuts. Cover the pot with the lid and put it back in the oven.
6. After 30 minutes take the lid off and bake the bread in an open pot for another 15 minutes.
7. Take the pot out of the oven. Let the bread cool down and listen to it crack.

Cut a slice, spread butter on it, and enjoy.