Unlike my youngest child, who frequently requests the crust of even the softest breads removed before she will touch it, my search for intensely crusty bread seems boundless. The crustier, the better, even if it leaves my mouth ravaged by a trauma only rivaled by several bowls of Cap’n Crunch. Since crusty breads are so ephemeral, they make the ideal home baking project.
Steam is key to developing a crust, and I’ve created reasonable results with a hot panful of water accompanying the loaf in my oven, but I’ve been curious if a cloche (a clay baker) would come…clocher to achieving my goal. It seems so simple – the dough in the confined space of the cloche serves as its own steam source, no precarious shuffling hot cast iron required.
After acquiring a batard-shaped clay baker, I set to work. Using a simple lean dough (flour, water, yeast, salt), I preheated the cloche for 30 minutes to 500 ºF then carefully transferred my shaped loaf into the hot vessel before making a few quick artistic slashes. I replaced the cover and baked for 20 minutes covered, then reduced the temperature to 450 ºF for 10 minutes. For the final 10 minutes, I removed the lid to allow the curst to firm up, then let the resulting loaf cool
I’m impressed. The crust is fantastic and, unlike some uncloched versions, doesn’t fade away completely after a rest. The bread itself retains sufficient moisture despite the long bake, as it spends much fo the time enclosed in clay.