I’ve been successfully baking bread for some time using a minimal knead method. However I recently switched to an even better way of bread making that produces a tastier loaf with a looser crumb and wonderful crust … and also looks fantastic. The trick? A casserole dish.
Crusty Artisan Bread
The method below is based on a recipe in Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast by Ken Forkish. I highly recommend this book, it’s a great insight into how to bake awesome bread and has been a real game changer for me.
Ken’s book covers every aspect of his bread making process, including measuring water and dough temperatures with a digital thermometer to get the best, consistent loaf possible. If that’s appealing, check out his book or YouTube channel.
What I present here is what works in our kitchen (and Big Green Egg!) without needing to go to that level of detail each time, whilst staying true to Ken’s approach. The result is great bread every time.
- Heat-resistant gloves, e.g. oven mitts
- Kitchen scales
- Banneton (10 inch)
- Large mixing bowl (5+ litres)
- Dough scraper
- Measuring jug and spoons
- Casserole dish or Dutch oven
A banneton is a shallow container used for proving dough before baking it (pictured below), and is what gives loaves those neat looking rings of flour. If you don’t have a banneton, you can use a flat-bottomed shallow kitchen bowl (or fruit bowl) lined with a well floured kitchen towel.
The ingredients below assume using a 5 litre Dutch oven or casserole dish:
- 600g strong white bread flour
- 450ml warm water (350ml cold/100ml boiling)
- 1 tsp dried yeast
- 2 tsp salt
If you are baking with a 4 litre vessel, use these ingredients and ideally an 8 inch banneton:
- 500g of flour
- 375ml warm water (275ml cold/100ml boiling)
- ¾ tsp dried yeast
- 1.5 tsp salt
Mixing and Fermentation
In this part you manipulate the dough with slightly wet hands to stop the dough sticking to them. It’s fine to re-wet your hands if necessary.
- Put the flour into the mixing bowl. Pour in the warm water and mix together to form a sticky dough ball, first with a wet spatula and then wet hands. Cover and leave for 30 minutes.
- Sprinkle the yeast and salt over the top of the dough, away from the edge of the dough. Wet your hands and dig down under the dough, folding it back onto itself four or five times. Gently squeeze the dough all over, then stretch and fold it onto itself six to eight times. Cover the bowl and let it rest for two minutes.
- Repeat the stretch and fold action until the dough starts to resist. Cover the bowl and leave for 15 mins.
- Repeat the stretch and fold action until the dough starts to resist. Cover the bowl and leave for a longer period, 45 mins to 60 mins.
- Repeat the stretch and fold action or until the dough starts to resist. Cover the bowl and leave until the dough has trebled in size. This takes between four and six hours depending on ambient room temperature.
Shaping and Proving
- Dust a banneton with flour. Sprinkle some flour onto a clean work surface, then with floured hands and/or a dough scraper, gently decant the dough from the bowl onto the surface.
- Gently stretch and fold the dough back onto itself a three or four times, forming it into a ball. Then cup the ball with your hands on the other side of the dough ball and drag it towards yourself for 6 inches. Rotate a quarter turn and repeat. Do this until the ball has some good surface tension, three or four times.
- See hints and tips section for a video demonstrating this technique.
- Place the ball of dough seam side down (not up) in the banneton. When the dough expands during baking the natural crack of the seam splits for that cool artisan look. Sprinkle some flour over the dough, cover the banneton and leave it for 45 minutes. Commence pre-heating to bake the bread (see next section).
Baking The Bread
- Place the cooking vessel (Dutch oven or casserole dish) inside the oven or Big Green Egg (indirect setup). Pre-heat to the highest temperature your cooking vessel can be used at, up to 245°C/475°F.
- When the dough is ready, remove the cooking vessel from the oven/Egg. Carefully turn the dough out of the banneton onto a floured worksurface. Then using heat-resistant gloves, pick up the dough from underneath and place it into the cooking vessel. Put the lid on the vessel and return to the oven/Egg.
- If you have a cooking vessel with a flat lid, you can invert it and place the dough directly into the lid. Please see this blog post for further information.
- Bake for 20 min with the lid on, then remove the vessel’s lid and bake for another 20-25 mins until the loaf is a dark golden brown colour.
Baking Bread in a Big Green Egg
This approach is perfect for baking bread in a Big Green Egg, especially if it can be done in conjunction with cooking a meal and then putting the Dutch oven in to warm up for baking, thus making use of the latent heat energy. Simply follow the approach above, there’s no chance your bread will have any smokey aromas.
Big Green Egg sell a 5 litre Dutch oven that is well suited for this (no commercial connection).
Hints, Tips and Pictures
- If this is your first time making a loaf of bread and it doesn’t quite work out, don’t give up, it comes with practise! I’ve been making bread for a while now and am still learning improvements. This was my first loaf:
- In this method there is no mention of scoring or adding moisture to the loaf. Once you get used to the swift motion of moving the dough from the banneton to the cooking vessel you can add these extras in for even more oven spring.
- When the loaf is out of the oven I rest it up against the casserole dish to cool (another one of Ken’s recommendations).
- If you don’t have a Dutch oven or casserole dish you can still use this recipe in conjunction with a pizza stone. The loaf will be a little flatter than normal due to the higher hydration level, but it will still taste and look great!
- This video shows Ken Forkish performing the shaping, this stage is key to getting a dough that doesn’t collapse when it is added to the oven to cook.