(Carrot) Bread made in 'an oven with an oven - the pot' and gluten balloons

Yesterday I introduced the two key requirements I love in a good crust: oven spring and steam. Jim Lahey states he has solved this problem by cooking the bread in a preheated Dutch oven. Today I detail my experience with that suggestion.

Borden - Carrot Bread

Until I tried Jim Lahey’s recipe, in his "My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method", I thought it very difficult to recreate a great crust within the limitations of one’s home oven.

Not only does his method of “an oven within an oven - the pot” give you the necessary oven spring and steam for a great crust on your loaf of bread, but also, you don’t have to knead the dough. I found the whole experience easy, delicious and totally accessible.

Instead of kneading the dough, adding mechanical energy, to form gluten (envision long elastic chains of protein forming “gluten balloons” around the CO2 released by the digesting yeast), his recipe calls for moisture and lots of time. The 12-18 hour “long, slow rise,” says Lahey, “brings the gluten molecules into side-by-side alignment to maximize their opportunity to bind to each other and produce a strong, elastic network.”

And the process is so user friendly that even I, a balker of measuring, look forward to following his simple recipe.

Borden - Carrot bread dough after second rise

- 3 cups of bread flour, 1 ½ cup of water, 1 ¼ teaspoon of salt, ¼ teaspoon of yeast. Mix in bowl. - Let sit for 12-18 hours. - Turn onto flour, form into a ball, and place on a non-lint dish towel. - Let double in bulk for 2 hours. - For the last 30 minutes of that put your Dutch oven into the oven and pre-heat to 450 degrees. - Carefully remove the hot pot and place in the dough. - Put the lid on and put into oven, after 30 minutes, remove the lid and let cook for another 15-30, “until loaf is beautifully browned.”

The air released when I removed the plastic after the 18 hours of fermentation flooded my senses with the sweet sour tang of fermentation. Bubbles on the top of the dough were mute evidence of the feeding bacteria - digesting sugars and starches in the grain.

I have done the recipe twice using flours of a different protein level. The classic loaf I followed Lahey’s advice and used bread flour from Westwind Milling Company. Westwind Bread flour has a protein content of 14 percent, which creates a tougher “gluten balloon,” or gluten structure. For the carrot loaf (where I substituted carrot juice for water and added ¾ cup of raisins), I used all-purpose flour from 365. All-purpose flour has a protein content anywhere from 9 percent to 12 percent. My bag is labeled at 12 percent. The higher the protein the stronger the “gluten balloon.” Lahey says he has success with any flour over 11.5 percent protein.

I experienced more loft and expansion with the all-purpose flour, almost too much, for the second rise; a lot of the CO2 bubbles were popped when I went to transfer the dough into the hot Dutch oven. But I did not feel that 14 percent bread flour rose enough. My next step is to mix the two for a 13 percent protein level and see what kind of “gluten balloons” form.

A very fun discovery was the intense color, the sweet aroma, and the moisture of the carrot bread. As the harvest bounty continues at the farmers markets, I might try making beet juice bread next.

Here is the article on annarbor.com.

How to get good crust on your bread: oven spring and steam

Two things contribute to form a loaf of bread with a chewy satisfying crust: oven spring and steam. Oven spring and steam are notoriously difficult to recreate for home bakers because home ovens are not as well insulated as professional bread ovens. Oven spring is the name for the initial tumultuous activity - the bounce, the jump, the spring - yeast undergo when they are confronted with high heat. By adding steam, the outside of the loaf is softened sufficiently for the expanding yeast on the cooler inside to expand beyond what would be possible if the outside were a rigid shell.

Yeast dies at 140 degrees. Therefore, the yeast on the outside of the dough die from the heat of the oven before the yeast on the inside of the loaf. Once the yeast in the outer shell is dead the steam prevents the crust from burning as the interior of the loaf steams and cooks. The intense heat on the outside of the loaf caramelizes the proteins and the sugars in the wheat, sweetening the loaf and adding complexity and savory nuances of flavor. The outside of a crusty loaf should be dark, much darker than Wonder Bread, darker than you think you want - because a dark outside means more of those savory flavors have seeped into the internal crumb of the loaf.

Similar to the setup at Mill Pond Bread, the bread area at Zingermans Bakehouse revolves around the large brick ovens. Two smoldering behemoths sit placid and benevolent, spewing forth hundreds of light airy, crusty loaves a day (thousands during the holiday season). The bakers load the dough onto the 480-degree stones and then quickly push a button releasing water, “injecting steam,” onto the springing yeast of the loaves. After the first 20 minutes of baking, bakers open a vent, releasing the steam.

There are several suggestions professional bakers give home cooks to recreate the action of a professional steam-injected bakers oven. First you must preheat the oven beyond the bell. An oven is not hot when the bell goes off. The bell goes off only when the air inside is heated, not the walls, so the moment you open the door, whoof! - all of your heat escapes. One can add a pizza stone to your oven and pre-heat for 30-45 minutes to make sure the stone is thoroughly heated - the extra mass helps retain the heat.

Borden - Loaf of Lahey bread

To create steam, you can put a cast-iron pot on the bottom of your oven and splash in water when you put in your bread or even throw ice cubes onto the hot oven floor. There are various gadgets available online people have cobbled together to create a steam injected oven.

The difficulty is that steam does not stay in your home oven. Most ovens have vents that quickly dissipate the moisture you want to stay near the cooking loaf. There is no way to remove the steam when you want to, as professional bakers do when they open the oven vent - for home bakers the steam is already gone.

Jim Lahey states in his book, My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method, that he has solved this problem in one brilliant coup, he calls it, “an oven within an oven - the pot.” By preheating a Dutch oven and cooking the bread inside of that, one gets both the intense heat needed for oven spring and steam. The moisture emitted from the wet dough stays within the pot as steam, until you take the lid off after 25 minutes of cooking.

Initial experimentations with his method are promising.

Here is the article on annarbor.com.