I've been baking a lot of bread recently. I haven't bought a loaf for a couple of years, and these days my homebaked bread feeds not only the family but also the chickens and the dog. I use a bread machine for days when there isn't the time or inclination to bake by hand; in the winter in this cold house it's the most reliable place to nurture the yeast, so I often use the dough setting and then finish the loaf by hand.
Years ago, I was one of a multitude of bloggers entranced by the New York Times loaf, and this winter I've been reading Jim Lahey's wonderful book explaining how it came about, the journey of a lifetime. And so I've been playing with the core idea of that bread: baking the dough in a hot, covered Le Creuset pan in the oven.
It's the ultimate loaf for beginners: whatever dough you use, the end result is a beautiful boule of bread, a little cracked, full of air
- it even gives rise to a wholemeal loaf made with winter wheat, which normally makes the kind of heavy wholemeal loaf that gives home baking a bad name.
Try it: make your usual dough. After the first rise, shape it loosely into a ball,* dusting liberally with flour or semolina/polenta (it gives it a nice finish, but it also means you can pick it up easily). Leave it to rest while you heat the oven to 220C at least - if your oven will go to 240C, so much the better. Put a Le Creuset pan**** + lid in the oven**. When the oven and the pan are hot hot hot, remove the lid and drop the dough in***. Put the lid back, and bake for 30 minutes. Then remove the lid and bake for 10 more minutes. The crust will sing as it cools (on a rack).
* don't worry if the dough is shaggy, don't worry if you can't shape it, the heat of the covered pan will sort all this out
**no need to grease or flour, so long as your loaf has a good dusting of flour or cornmeal, it won't stick
***the dough should be as centrally placed as possible, for a perfectly circular loaf; if you drop it off-centre, you'll get a charmingly lop-sided loaf
****you can apparently also use a Pyrex casserole, but I've never tried this
Things to do with stale or leftover bread
Be warned, these suggestions only work with good bread - useless with supermarket pap!
Herb stuffing for roast chicken
Grilled trout with rosemary stuffing
Daily bread 2
Six seed rolls
Bread knots - another simple way to make beautiful and delicious rolls, using this dough, or your default dough
Yeast starter for bread - and the bread make your own sourdough starter
No-knead bread the famous NY Times recipe
Speeded-up no-knead bread and a different take on it
Yoghurt bread fabulous, easy, TRY IT
Quick oat loaf
Spelt bread - it's getting easier to buy this highly-flavoured flour
Anti-oxidant tea bread - I made this for my husband for a pre-surgery boost - delicious, too!
Yeast conversion - fresh/dried/quick
Oven temperature conversions - Centigrade, Fahrenheit, gas mark, descriptive
Susan at Farmgirl Fare has just updated her very good post of tips for better baking
She's one of the contributors to A Year in Bread, which is a very useful resource for anyone interesting in baking
Tanna at My Kitchen in Half Cups has been an inspiration to my baking, although our paths don't cross so much these days ... try her cornbread
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