Dear Reader. LORD! Have I a discovery for you! I've been avoiding using a clay bread maker for, like, ever. I was always under the impression that you can't heat them over 400 or something like that. Well, that doesn't do us a lot of good, we, the bread bad asses with our cast iron implements and renegade ways. Clay is for bowls, not for bread baking. Pshaw on those bakers then!
Well, I happened upon a nice one from Emerson Creek Pottery, like a reeeeeeaaaalllly REALLY nice one. And the best thing about it is that it's totally lead free, eco-friendly and locally made (well, United States local). My giant cloche arrived a month ago on my birthday. I remember that much because I was shocked that UPS was working on a holiday. No, I'm not kidding. It took me a minute to realize that the whole universe didn't take the day off for my birthday. When I yanked it out of the box, I was immediately impressed by its weight, this thing has some serious heft, and the fact that it looked like a flying saucer. It is absolutely big enough for our standard loaves, as you can see from the photo above...
And it's so, I don't know, smooth, yeah? With its high dome like an old man in want of youth. The shallow part of it is gorgeous, thick and round with tall sides. I figured if it cracked I could Crazy Glue it back together and use it as a cheese plate. Or a plate to deposit wallet and keys and crap upon entering the house. Or a hub cap, should my life continue down this path of destitution.
All of that was very fine indeed, alas, all that I had read about clay.... thus, it sat on my table and I would eye it suspiciously when I passed, shoving it back further and further into the corner with the shriveling pomegranate and cobwebby lamp, maybe I even said some mean things to it. But forget about that. This weekend I decided to just do it. F it. If it cracks, SO.WHAT. Life is short. Crack some stuff without apology.
I set about some dough. For good measure, on bake day, I soaked the contraption for a couple few hours, though I don't know if you need to do that. I lost the pamphlet it came with, and I didn't want to log onto the net to see if that was an appropriate thing to do. I just thought: naked clay, water absorption, instant steam oven, and went with my hunch. I also put another combo cooker in the oven just in case the bald man's flying saucer head exploded or disintegrated.
What happened next is a clay miracle. Wait, what's better than a miracle? There has to be something. This thing, this flying saucer made the best bread. Ever. The crust was thin and shattery as Christmas ornament glass, the crumb lofty and light and it tasted exquisite. Some of the best tasting bread I've made all year. And, drumroll, the thing did not crack nor turn to ash when I slid it into the oven and preheated it to 500 degrees.
I'm hooked. I've graduated from bad ass iron pan girl to smooth bald head baker girl and I'm thrilled that I put aside my prejudice and tried something new.
Never mind the bread that I baked. It was just the standard weekly loaf that we all make. The most important things for you to know are that, as I mentioned, I did soak the thing, and even if it doesn't need it, how in the world can extra steam hurt our bread? I slid it into the cold oven, as we do our combos, and heated it for an hour at 500 degrees. When I overturned the dough onto the hot plate, I did so with several layers of parchment paper, instead of only one layer as per usual, just to safeguard against possible shock of cold dough on the hot plate. I did the steam for 15 at 500, turned the oven down to 475 and steamed for another 15, then took off the dome for the remainder of the bake at 475.
I must also note that the bottom stayed golden as well. No burning. As you will agree, there is nothing better than a golden bottom to our perfectly baked loaves.
This thing is about to get some serious mileage. You can pick up yours here. I think they're around $65. Yay! A fun new bread toy! Lemme know if you get one and what you think of it. If you've ever had any doubts about using clay, banish them. I can't speak for the other brands, but Emerson Creek Pottery is the serious hookup for bread cloches that won't crack at 500 degrees. Their website says 425 is the max, but losing the pamphlet/not going to their website to look up how to operate this contraption were the best moments of laziness and disorganization I've ever had.
Here's hoping for many more cosmic bakes with my new baker 🛸. I couldn't be more thrilled! (p.s., I've eaten a half a bar of chocolate writing this post. Note to self: write more blog posts).
To the staff of life!