delicious breads

Crusty no-knead breads

In this class we will look at three topics: first how to make and use a pre-ferment to enrich the flavour of the bread; secondly, how to handle wet doughs and develop enough gluten without the usual kneading; lastly how to fire bread in a casserole or as it is sometimes called a Dutch oven. Baking bread using this combination of techniques takes a while end to end but the work involved is minimal.

Overnight fermentation - biga or poolish?

An overnight fermentation is a simple mixture of bread flour, water and a small amount of yeast which takes only a couple of minutes to prepare. The consistency is softer ie wetter than the final dough which gives the yeast a good medium to multiply in. During this prolonged fermentation more flavours evolve in the mixture which enhance the final bread. If the mixture is a little stiffer and generally cooler (biga) then the flavour will be slightly sourer while bread made with the wetter poolish will have a softer/sweeter taste. At the end of the class we can compare appearance and flavours of all our breads.

Fold or knead?

If we use the right size of casserole for our quantity of dough the sides of the pot will support the dough as it rises during firing. The only way is up! This means that we can use quite moist doughs without worrying about the bread dough spreading sideways. This in turn means we can use folding to develop the gluten rather than the normal heel of the hand kneading. The moisture and the gentler folding will result in a more aerated crumb ie bigger holes. The bubbling mixture in the column on the right is a lively wet dough just ready for dividing and shaping before going into a proving basket/bowl.

Why use a Dutch oven?

The technique of firing a dough in a lidded pot is more or less universal; UK, USA, Ireland, South Africa, Russia, Australia but the names for this baking utensil vary. The name used here, Dutch oven, may be derived from the improved casting technique developed in The Netherlands in the 19th Century then imported to the UK and US. On the other hand it may be based on the use of the term Dutch to mean fake as in Dutch courage ie it isn't really an oven. Toss a coin! In the Netherlands a Dutch oven is simply called a "pot" or "potje".
The benefit of this method of firing is that all the moisture is kept in the oven which in the beginning helps the dough to stay moist and so rise then later helps in developing a good crust. Without having a purpose built bread oven or an Aga it is difficult to achieve this any other way since convection ovens blow the moisture out (check for condensation above the vents at the back of your oven while you are baking bread)

The breads we will bake

Each person in the class bakes a different Dutch oven bread from the list below using either a poolish or biga pre-ferment however Dutch oven firing isn't restricted to this style of dough. It can be used equally well to bake camp fire corn bread or a traditional southern Irish soda bread. Don't let me hold you back.
In addition we will make pirozhkis for lunch and, if there is time, digestive biscuits, both shown in the header photo on this page.

Harvest loaf with poolish A little rye, wheat germ, bran and wholemeal make this bread slightly darker.

White cob with biga A great, slightly fuller taste than white made with poolish

White cob with poolish As with all these breads this has a crunchy crust open texture and good flavour.

wholemeal loaf with biga. Very succulent but still with a good crust.

walnut bread (to die for) with biga Based on Dan Lepards walnut loaf but with an tweak or two on the way, this has a splendid taste, just on its own

Equipment and ingredients

The casseroles for the boules are 18cms wide and around 15cms high (without lid) and hold 2.9 litres. I have used the same recipe quantities in a 26cms diameter casserole as in the image on the right looking down into the casserole at the half way stage when the lid comes off. The results taste just as good, just a different, lower shape. Mine are from Procook, like the red casserole pictured beside its loaf. TKMaxx also have reasonably priced cast iron casseroles as does/did Aldi.
That should be enough information when combined with the ingredient quantities in the recipes to allow you to experiment with whatever casseroles you've got. The dark rye flour is from Shipton Mill. The strong white flour and wholemeal flour are from Mungos Wells in east Lothian. All these flours are available from Pillars of Hercules organic farm/shop/café in Falkland if you are that side of the bridge or from Real Foods in Edinburgh.


breadinfife logo happy chappy
lively wet dough
with-butter small casserole with its loaf