It seems to be the way of the world at the moment that people are looking into the past to find “new” ways of doing things and baking is no exception.
We’ve been looking into a method that appeared in New York a few years ago, which combined 2 unusual ideas to produce great bread with very little effort: first, don’t knead your dough, just mix it; and, secondly, bake it in a pot.
We have had great success with our version of the New York method, which you can find here, but we are now trying to perfect an even easier method. Early results have been very tasty, if aesthetically challenging, and we’d like to invite you to join us on our mission to uncover the easier way to make bread ever.
No kneading required
The no knead technique takes the effort out of making bread and reduces the handling time dramatically.
The mixing is brief, simply mix it all together into a rough dough. We’ve had great results with as little as a minute of mixing! No kneading or heavy stirring is required, instead you leave your dough for a long ferment during which nature does all the hard work that you normally do when you are needing; the gluten/gliadin molecules line up nicely of their own accord, and the dough acquires plenty of strength.
This is a challenge to those of us steeped in the conventions of bread making, which can induce too much rigour. The “no knead” method is here to free us from the tyranny of those conventions!
Pot baking is a very ancient way to bake bread. The Egyptian bakeries of 1000bce used a similar method and Irish soda bread was usually baked in the pot. Granted these pots or the cloche were placed in coals and then covered with more coals, but a very good loaf results with a lighter texture than usual from following this procedure.
Why use a pot
The idea is that the loaf is baked in a sealed container for the first 20 minutes, which allows the loaf to billow and gain volume without being restrained by the formation of a crust, as happens immediately in conventional baking….unless the baker adds steam, which many do in order to produce a similar (but not as good) result. This is also far easier safer and more effective than the contrivances some home-bakers use to put steam into the oven.
After 15-20 minutes of undercover baking, the lid is removed to allow the loaf to fully bake, dry out and form a crust, which is always thinner and can be crisp and boulangerie-like.
What sort of pot
A heavy cast iron pot is ideal and non-stick is a good idea, making a LeCrueset pot a perfect choice. But we have also used ceramic pots, which suggest you can use anything that is over proof.
The basic method
This method uses an 8 hour ferment, so it works really well as an overnight loaf.
The pot has to be well-oiled with a good Virgin oil and I cut a round of baking paper to place in the bottom just to make sure. Simply mix the ingredients with a wooden spoon, keeping the mix a bit more moist than usual for a dough, place in the pot, put on the lid and go to bed! (See note on temperature below.)
At good-day sunshine, the loaf has risen for 8 hours and is of superb holey texture. Put the pot into a pre-heated 240 oven, set the timer, and at 15 minutes remove the lid. Turn the oven down to 200 and bake a further 30 minutes. Usually this requires a knife to be slipped around the edge to loosen, and will turn out of the pot. Remove baking paper and its there!
(There are more detailed instructions in the recipes linked from the bottom of the page.)
That’s the basic method, but, as we all like our bread in our own individual way, there are a few things that you might like to consider.
If you are into crust, you can put it back in the oven after you have taken it out of the pot … about 5 minutes for an excellent crust or more if you are committed to serious crust. Much depends on your idiosyncratic oven and the texture of the bread you have made, and personal taste. Bread making always requires some “tweaking” which is beyond recipes to get the perfect result, so remember to be flexible and adjust intuitively.
Hardly any yeast is used for the yeasted bread and a minimum of sourdough leaven for a great sourdough loaf.
The ambient temperature is significant here, and in very cold kitchens and in winter, this loaf may well go to sleep. In this case, find your warm-ish spot and use warm water. This warm spot must not be warmer than 25 ideally, but below 20 as many kitchens are invites somnolence! Perhaps wrap the loaf in a blanket or other contrivance to maintain some temperature.
Yeast or leaven
You can make pot bread with yeast or a sourdough leaven.
If you use a leaven, much depends on the activity and strength of your leaven as well as temperature; a good leaven will rise nicely in the overnight time-frame and the cooler temperature will simply enhance it. Sourdough is very organic in the sense that it requires you to be present and aware of its needs. Once your relationship is established however, the sourdough technique is very flexible and the relationship becomes more relaxed.
Speed it up
Recently I ran out of bread and did not want to face breakfast without it, so I made this recipe with very warm/almost hot water. This was at 6.15 in the evening and I wrapped it in a blanket.. The loaf was ready to bake by 9.45 and I went to bed re-assured about breakfast.
This demonstrates the flexibility of bread baking and the importance of temperature, so please follow the directions but boldly strike out on a time scale which suits you. This type of baking is all about convenience, and shows how good bread can be made easily within your schedule. It is so good to have proper bread always on hand as the cornerstone of good health.
This works well with all Shipton mill flours, and with our wholemeal or white spelt, makes a very excellent bread. Archaeo-gastronomes can make a special bread either with Einkorn or our Emmer flour…these will be much the same as the pharaonic breads, which were baked in clay cones with an identical conical lid. A very good white loaf results from our Traditional organic white bread flour, and a special one by substituting 75g of Shipton mill chestnut flour for an equal amount of white flour or by adding a proportion of rye.
The steam effect
These pot breads can be quite “cakey” because of the steam-baking effect, which actually makes them very edible and I’ve noticed the bread disappearing rapidly of late. I attempted a very big loaf, at two kilograms in the biggest of the LeCreuset pots. It hit the lid overnight and while giving massive slices of very cakey bread, wasn’t as cooked in the middle as I would have liked, so I keep the large loaves to 1.5 Kg at most.
This method was re-popularised recently in a New York Times article, and has gone viral amongst bread heads. Good luck with it, and try some novel combinations, especially fruit-breads and Rye.
Pot baking other breads
The pot baking technique can be used to bake your regular breads as well. In this case, follow the directions for your favourite loaf and do the last/final proof in the pot with the lid on. Allow the loaf the usual final proof times, but in the pot. When the loaf has risen, simply place in the pre-heated oven and bake as per the method described above. This allows for a better rise during the initial baking phase and lighter/cakier bread than usual.
Convention challenging in its simplicity
Pot baking is a very simple and low-input process. It challenges our existing baking methods, which are both time consuming and complicated to the outsider.
I’ve taken to cutting straight to the chase in busy times…I REFUSE not to have my own bread!...and proofing the loaf overnight, placing it in the oven in the morning, while doing everything else, and having good fresh bread always.
We’ve added four recipes to get you started (really 4 versions of the same one!), but once you’re off I’m sure you’ll want to adapt it to your favourite recipes. And if they come out well, please add them to our site, so we can all share and enjoy them.
- Overnight wholemeal yeasted pot loaf
- Overnight white yeasted pot loaf
- Overnight wholemeal sourdough pot loaf
- Overnight white sourdough pot loaf
I, for one, am in love with the simplicity, tradition and results of the pot-baking method, and look forward to hearing how you get on with it.
Please share your experience with us and everyone else on our Facebook Page (www.facebook.com/shiptonmill), add comments to the recipes or email us with your feedback.