Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Jim Lahey's bread--Testing Different Baking Methods

Jim Lahey's bread--Testing Different Baking Methods

Ready for the oven:  in a Casserole Dish, and Resting on a Pizza Peel

Ellen, a baking buddy, was raving about the breads she has made with Jim Lahey's method.  She says that people just gobble up her breads!

I got Jim Lahey's book, "My Bread, the Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method" from the library.  We first tried the Pizza Cipolla (onion pizza) for dinner the next night, and it was fabulous.  So I decided to try his basic no-knead bread recipe.  One problem--I don't have a cast iron pot, and I really don't want to buy more pots or baking equipment.  My cupboards are really full!!!

So my kitchen went into "test kitchen mode."  I decided to make the dough, and try baking the dough different ways using current equipment--on a pizza stone, and in a covered Corningware casserole.

Here's a picture of the dough, after it rose for 18 hours: 
I called Pyrex/Corningware about heating the casserole dish in the oven before adding the dough, as a cast iron pot would be used.  They didn't recommend it, but did say it could withstand 450 degrees for baking (just not the broiler).  That meant I would be adding the bread to a room temperature pan before baking.

For the stone baking, it would be similar to the "steam alternative method" discussed by the "Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day" authors.  That's where you trap steam by baking the bread with an inverted foil lasagne pan for the first half of baking.

Following the book's instructions, the batch of dough was put onto a floured baking sheet, and folded into a ball.  I used my bench knife to cut the dough in half and re-fold each half into a ball.  The stone and casserole dish were both sprinkled with cornmeal, the dough was added, and cornmeal was sprinkled on top.

Each bread was baked separately, for this test.  At the end of the baking time for the bread in the casserole dish, the top looked pale.  So I removed the bread and baked it for 5 minutes more to brown it.  When time was up, it registered done with my thermometer: 

Here's a picture of both breads.  The one with the thermometer is the one baked on the stone.  You'll note that it has a slightly darker (and I think better looking) crust.

We tested both breads a few hours later.  Both had a nice crust, although the one on the stone had a crisper crust.  Both had a nice, open crumb:    

And the taste?

My hubby said the bread baked in the covered Corningware tasted
like French bread.  He said the other tasted like "something else." 

I thought the Corningware one tasted kind of flat, and the one on the stone tasted like "extra" flavor.  Actually, the one on the stone tasted like the master dough boule bread from “Artisan Breads in 5 Minutes a Day.”  But you really tasted more true bread flavor from the covered Corningware method.

We were really surprised to find that the breads tasted differently, because they came from the same batch of dough.

I brought both breads to my yoga class for taste tests.  People liked both of them, but one woman made an especially interesting comment.  She said she was sensitive to yeast at one time, and could really taste the yeast on the bread baked on the stone.  She didn’t taste the yeast on the bread baked in the covered Corningware casserole pot.  She suggested that maybe the enclosed method killed more of the yeast, so you didn’t taste it in the baked product.

My husband and I ate the remaining bread, now that it's a day older.  The taste difference showed up even more.

The verdict?  This bread is worth the purchase of another pan  If the taste of the bread is that much better in a Corningware casserole dish, then the crust should be even better in a cast iron dutch oven.  After doing my research on various cast iron pans, I ordered a Tramontina 6.5 Qt. Cast Iron Dutch Oven.  It had high reviews from people using it.  

BUT--I will check out the weight of the dutch oven before I buy it.  I'll have to consider adding a few pounds of dough, too.  It might be too heavy.  Or, I might ask my hubby to put the bread in the oven.

If I don't buy the pot, the recipe is still good in the Corningware casserole dish.

Handwise tips:  If you have hand pain, tendonitis, or arthritis or any other pain issues and want to make this recipe,
  1. This is a very wet dough, and pretty easy to mix.  Many people could probably make the dough.  However, you may need help manuevering the cast iron pot--it's pretty heavy!
  2. Consider making it in a covered casserole dish,  it's still pretty good that way.
  3. Soak your tools in your empty dough bucket or a pan when you are finished using them.   That way, you can wash them easily later (or tomorrow!)  Give yourself the permission of time to clean up much later.

Thanks for coming by my blog.  I hope the test results have been helpful to you.  Please leave a comment before going, and stop by again!


  1. Fascinating! Thanks so much for experimenting and sharing your results. I have a brand new dutch oven that I can hardly wait to try- unfortunately, its still way too HOT here in AZ for me to want to heat up my oven. Both loaves looks delish.

  2. Thank you for your testing, and for posting such detailed notes!!! I will be eager to read about the results with the cast iron. I have no cast iron. It would be a problem for me to lift, but I have wanted a cast iron dutch oven for awhile.........

  3. Hi Mama Peck, My friend Ellen is in AZ, too! She can't wait for it to cool down so she can start baking again. Thanks for your great comments.

    Whimsy, I know what you mean about the heavy pot. I plan to lift the ordered pot when it comes in to Walmart. The Lodge 5qt cast iron one I saw in Target was pretty heavy! I might need my hubby's help taking it in and out of the oven. He loves the bread, so he might not mind helping. Maybe try it in a casserole dish? It's still pretty good that way.

    CMC, thanks for your nice comment!

  4. I enjoyed your experiment, mostly I cook in a cast iron camp oven situation.

  5. Carolyn, I just love hearing about your cooking at camp! You always try new things. I gotta try your pizza. Thanks for your nice comment!

  6. Judy, I've been baking Jim Lahey's bread for a couple of years (didn't know he had a book about it.) I've been successful with a cast iron Dutch oven, a Pyrex covered saucepan, Corningware casserole, the "Dutch Oven" from a Cuisinart cookware set, and several sizes of homemade cloches from flowerpots. They all work, but the cast iron does a little bit better job.

  7. Hi Covind,

    Thanks, That's great to know. What size Corningware casserole did you use? And did you heat it in the oven first?

    Even though Corningware says not to heat their stuff empty, I am seeing that a lot of people are successful doing that.

    The 6.5 qt Dutch oven turned out to be too heavy. I found a 3.5qt enamel/cast iron for a little more. I might keep that, unless I see a better price.

  8. Interesting that the yeast taste was stronger on the bread baked on the stone. I like the taste of yeast so that's no problem for me!

  9. Excellent information provided by this blog.

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  10. Thanks, Sonia! I am glad the comparisons are helpful.

  11. Hi Jodi, you have provided super information about different baking methods....

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  12. Wow very inspirational. Thank you so much for sharing!

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