13 April, 2020
Covered Baking Dishes: A Tale of Two Boules
You often see bread recipes that specify a dutch oven, baking cloche, or other covered baking dish. There’s invariably a suggestion in the recipe notes to put a pan of boiling water in your oven below your loaf pan if you haven’t got one. I’d love to report that I’ve tried it and it works great! But instead, I’m here to tell you that you may be terribly disappointed if you try that when you’re aiming for anything other than a loaf of smooth-crust sandwich bread.
I’ve recently baked two small boules, intended for gifting. The first one did indeed get gifted, because it turned out beautifully. I mean, look at that ear! It could be a model for Instagram-Ready Sourdough 101 or something:
That beauty was baked in my Lodge multi-cooker just after I baked a loaf of sandwich bread (which starts in a cold oven in my recipe) so the sandwich loaf basically pre-heated the oven for the little guy. But up next is the sad tale of a baby boule that was baked out in the bare, cruel oven, because the multi-cooker was already occupied with a batard baking at the same time. I made sure to put a pan of boiling water in the 500ºF oven, right underneath the baking sheet. I tried to ensure the little guy came out a very picture of crusty perfection…
I’m sure there are things you could do to improve the steaminess of your oven beyond a pan of boiling water. You could spray (or spill) water all over the inside of the oven right before you close the door. You could mist the bread itself to keep the crust moist longer. But I suspect you’ll get the most bang for your buck by just using a covered baking dish.
If you can afford to buy a new cast-iron multi-cooker, that’s the cheapest best option I know of for a perfect crusty boule. But if you only have a cast-iron pan, you maybe have a metal or pyrex mixing bowl that sits snugly just inside the rim? Or perhaps you have a covered roasting pan you only drag out of the cupboard when it’s turkey time, which would also fit a standard loaf pan inside easily?
If you have the means, and you’ve been eyeballing some pretty Emile Henry bakeware, this is a perfect excuse to splurge. Or if you have a friend who’s invited you to a Pampered Chef party, I enthusiastically recommend their Mini Covered Baker as a loaf pan! I love mine enough I’m thinking I’ll get the large covered baker for large batards that don’t want to fit in my multi-cooker. And PC’s stoneware bakers are very reasonably priced compared to other stoneware I’ve looked at. (Damn, I really wish they had an affiliate program. haha)
Hopefully, even if you’re not immediately able to buy a covered baking dish for your next loaf of bread, I’ve given you ideas for improvising. And if you are able to buy some new bakeware, I hope I’ve given you some ideas for your next purchase. If you improvise, let me know what you did, and how it worked out for you in the comments!