I can't believe my family keeps on growing! Family of kitchenware that is. This fall I was infatuated with my slow cooker, then I fell in love with my cast iron skillet. And now, something I have been admiring from afar for so long, but never thought would become reality. But my mum decided to get me one for Xmas. And Xmas came early this year. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the eagle has landed. I finally have a Le Creuset casserole. It's beautiful and purple and ridiculously heavy. I like to just stare at it, take the lid off, and then put it back on. I have wanted one for so long. Every time I go into a department store or kitchenware store, I just have to stop by to look at (and touch) the Le Creusets. And now I have one all of my own! This is the beginning of something beautiful. I foresee many Le Creusets in my future kitchen. Now I just need to figure out how I will get a job which allows me to afford the kitchen of my dreams. I don't care too much about the rest of my apartment, I'm happy as long as I have a sofa and bed. Would even settle for a sofabed I guess. But I'm dreaming of a huge kitchen. One with the centre island with a cooker, and maybe the sink too, a huge shining metallic extractor fan. Maybe one of those red retro fridges. Or a stainless steel one. A dishwasher (yes, I know most people have one, but I am only dreaming of such luxury). KitchenAid has a pink stand mixer... And maybe one of those alien looking Alessi citrus squeezers. And a huge freezer or two, so that I can finally buy things like meat in bulk when it's cheap. Of course, if I can afford my dream kitchen, maybe I don't need to worry about buying cheap meat.
So one of the many reasons I wanted a Le Creuset is because of all the delicious looking bread recipes I have seen on Pinterest and all over the Interwebs. Apparently, the heavy casserole, when pre-heated, helps the bread get that super crunchy crust. You can find more info about baking bread in a dutch oven here. Some of the recipes I have found have the step of pre-heating your casserole in the oven before putting the bread in, others seem to put the bread into a cold casserole and then putting it cold into the oven. The resulting breads from both methods look great, but for me it makes sense to pre-heat the casserole before adding the bread, as the casserole acts as the actual oven in this case, and it should be hot when adding in the bread. However, the problem was the instructions for my baby said you shouldn't heat it empty. Again, the Interwebs to the rescue. Apparently, you can heat the casserole when it's half filled with water. It's just quite a biatch to pour out, the pot gets really hot, and like I said, it's really heavy. And I'm super clumsy, so I foresee a disaster. I already managed to scald my leg with hot water when I was boiling eggs a while ago. It looks like an alien has tried to crawl through the skin, but luckily it wasn't too bad in the end. So I'm trying to be super careful when using my purple beauty.
The recipe I used here is surprisingly something I ran into on Pinterest. It's from a blog called The Pioneer Woman. Recently Completely Delicious made a similar bread, which was adapted from Joy the Baker. Who had adapted it from the Pioneer Woman. And so the same recipes go round and round through the blogosphere. It spins my head right round... All the recipes featured herbes, but I wanted to bake my bread without having to stop by the grocery store, so I chose to use things I could find around the house for flavouring. I ended up with this bread flavoured with garlic, seeds and goji berries. There is also another great recipe for making bread in a dutch oven, it's from a blog called Simply so Good and I've tried it before, just without the dutch oven. It turned out great, and it's a bit different from the others as you don't need to knead (sic) the dough at all. And the blog post has one of the longest comment sections I have ever seen, so whatever possible problem you have with the recipe, it has most likely been covered. And it looks absolutely delicious as well. So many breads to make... so few calories allowed...
Bread with stuff I happened to have at home:
1 cup warm-ish water
1 tbsp active yeast
1 tbsp sugar
2 cups strong white flour (plus up to 1 cup, depending on the texture of the dough)
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp gluten
1 tbsp garlic manjira*
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
2 tbsp flax seeds
3 tbsp goji berries
Garlic infused olive oil and sea salt to sprinkle on top
*the lable says it contains garlic, coconut, sunflower oil, coriander, coconut milk, chillies, lemon juice, salt, spices. I would imagine a suitable replacement would be a garlic clove chopped and mixed in a tablespoon of olive oil.
Mix yeast, sugar and 1 tbsp of the flour. Add water which has been heated to 42 degrees C (it feels a bit warmer than body temperature). Mix briefly, and let the yeast activate for 5 minutes, until it starts to froth. Then add 1 cup of flour, the gluten and the flavourings. Add the rest of the flour, and knead for 5-10 minutes (or if you are lucky and have a kitchen aid, just use that to make the dough). Let proof in a warm place (I had used my oven earlier, so it was still a bit warmer than room temperature so I stuck the bowl in there) for an hour or a bit longer, until the dough has doubled in size. During the last 30 minutes of proofing, preheat the oven to 225 degrees C, and place the dutch oven, half filled with water, in the oven to reach 225 degrees. Punch the air out of the dough, and shape it into a loaf. Make a cut in the shape of and X in the loaf, and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Carefully take the hot dutch oven out of the oven, pour out the water, place the bread carefully in it, and bake for 25-30 minutes with the lid on. Finish baking for 10-15 minutes without the lid.
Most of the bread recipes I have seen use four cups of flour to one cup of water. Every time I bake, I seem to need much less flour than the recipes state, or the dough becomes really hard. So by feel, I added three cups of flour which I think gave me a nice dough with nice texture. If your dough is horribly sticky after three cups, add flour little by little until you have reached the desired consistency. It probably depends a lot on the type of flour you use.
Baking in a casserole with a lid is torture, usually I love to peak into the oven and see how my food is doing. I love watching bread or buns rise, sometimes I can just sit down on the floor in front of the oven and stare inside. I know, I know, I'm sooo weird. So I could only manage 25 minutes until I uncovered the bread as I had to see it. Then I baked it uncovered for another 10 minutes.
One thing the bread truly had was a crispy crust. It was unbelievably beautiful sitting there in the casserole all golden coloured and crispy. I just wanted to tuck in immediately. Waiting for the bread to cool a bit seemed to take forever. Obviously, you want to remove it from the casserole pretty soon to speed up the cooling process. And remember that the dutch oven will be really really hot. I use folded kitchen towels instead of oven mitts as I never got around to buying them. After handling my Le Creuset, I'm seriously considering buying a pair, maybe those fancy silicone oven mitts. So be careful when you are fishing out that bread from the casserole.
The disappointing aspect was that the bread didn't rise quite as beautifully as I had hoped. This is probably because I shaped the loaf before heating up the casserole. It would have probably been better to heat the oven and casserole, and then punch the dough and shape the loaf and get it into the casserole as fast as possible. It didn't end up a complete pancake, not at all, but I had expected a slightly more domed look.
Looks aside, the most important part is obviously the taste. What can I say. I had a slice and froze the rest for later. Just kidding!! I ate four slices right after slicing them off the bread. With nothing but a good knob of butter. This bread also solved my problem of what to do with goji berries, as I have had quite a bit left for ages and no good ideas what to use them for. They bring sweetness to the bread, the same way raisins would do. As I have said before, I have a bit of a substance abuse problem when it comes to raisins, and I can't have them at home. However, goji berries are not sweet enough for me to binge on, so I leave them alone. Hence, in the future, I can use them in bread to replace raisins! The contrast of the sweet goji berries, the crunchy seeds and the sea salt on the crust of the bread were a really great combination. I can't wait to continue experimenting with bread making in my Le Creuset.