Last week, Sludge (my sourdough starter) celebrated his one-year birthday. That means we’ve been in a pandemic for over a year at this point, but let’s not dwell on the negatives.
For the past year, I’ve mostly been baking sourdough in round boules in a dutch oven. A round boule is pretty easy to shape, and it bakes up nice and tall in the dutch oven without a lot of fussing, but it’s a bit harder to cut than a nice loaf-shaped loaf.
So after a year of baking, I decided to try my hand at loaves. The problem is, sourdough likes to have steam to really get that nice oven spring that gives it its height and airy texture. Professional bakery ovens have a steam setting that does the work for you. Home ovens, not so much (at least not mine).
There are a myriad of ways people try to get around this: pans of hot water, cast iron skillets filled with lava rocks and boiling water, spraying the oven walls with a squirt bottle, and so on and so forth. All of it requires fussing, and I am anti-fussing.
I tried a few things and none of them worked as well as a dutch oven, which traps the bread’s own steam in the vessel. So I set about finding a loaf-shaped dutch oven equivalent.
Enter the Emile Henry Italian Bread Baker. This ridiculously priced piece of ceramic seemed to be exactly what I was looking for.
But that price. Ouch.
So I waffled for weeks. I looked at every other option in the history of the world, most of which weren’t that much cheaper and some of which were way more expensive.
Finally, in a fit of retail therapy, I gave in and bought it, and a few days later, my new ceramic precious showed up.
Shaping a long loaf is a bit weird, and I’m still in the learning stage, but I made something vaguely log-shaped, plonked it in the bread baker just like it was a dutch oven, then deposited the whole thing in the oven—no fussing required. (If you’re looking for a no-knead recipe, I highly recommend King Arthur’s.)
Fifty-five-ish minutes later, out came a beautiful, light, crusty loaf. I didn’t quite get the scoring right, so there was a bit of an explosion, but the bread still tastes fantastic.
And the best part was it was very low effort, which, really, is my favorite kind of baking.
Was the pan ridiculously expensive? Yes. Am I glad I bought it? Also yes. Will I get my money’s worth? Ehhh… that remains to be seen, but I’ve baked bread for a year already, so it’s possible.
But even if it wasn’t the most financially sound decision, it’s already made me happy, and that’s worth a lot. :)