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Terra Cotta Pots for Bittman-Lahey Bread

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I have baked in unglazed terra cotta flower pots in the past. Charel Scheele recommends terra cotta saucers and Elizabeth David gives a recipe for baking bread in an overturned terra cotta pot. If you bake in an upright pot and use the saucer as a lid, you have a good bread baker at much less the cost of metal alternatives.

The recommended size is an 8.5" diameter bulb pot. The actual dimensions from a web site were 8.25" diameter by 4.5" height. If that is the internal dimension, the pot would hold just over 4 quarts. If it is the external dimension, the internal volume is still plenty adequate. A standard loaf pan holds 1.5 quarts. A loaf with good oven spring would occupy a little more than 2 quarts of volume. Or to calculate it differently, bread dough made with 3 cups of flour occupies about 3 cups volume, 6 cups when fully risen, and 8 cups ( 2 1/2 quarts) or a little more after oven spring. So the 8.25" bulb pot would do quite nicely.

The pot is first washed with water (no soap), dried thoroughly, then greased with shortening and tempered by putting it in a cold oven which is then set to 250. The temperature is gradually raised to 450 or 500 in increments of 100 degrees every 20 minutes. The oven is then turned off and the pot allowed to cool. Thereafter, place the pot in a cool oven and preheat it.

Unfortunately, none of the garden centers near my D.C. location carry that particular pot and saucer at this time of year. I wanted to get several so I could bake more than one loaf in our oven at a time. So I will have to wait.

Will the hole in the bottom of the pot be a problem? My guess is that it won't make any difference. But, if it should, I can easily put a piece of parchment of foil over it before preheating it.

Meanwhile, I continue to bake sourdough boules on a large terra cotta saucer. It gives very good results.

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  1. Father Kitchen, will plain Crisco do for the shortening? And it will be so non-porous that the steam will stay in the pot?
    I'd like to have the option of different shapes.
    (Thank you for all your information, nice of you to post so much lately on this bread!)

    1. Crisco works fine. I used it on my terra cotta saucers. But I was just trying to find out about its smoke point, and I haven't succeeded. Perhaps it would not be a good idea to take it above 450 while tempering the pot. (I have heated my saucers to 475 with no smoke alarms going off.) According to Elizabeth David, the pot remains permeable to steam. The main reason for the lipid coating is so the bread can release easy. (I have a hunch that it would work even without it. Scheele seems to think the lipids "temper" the ceramic in some way.) By the way, the web site on pots that I saw was called, I think, the Arizona Pot company. Just Google "terra cotta garden pots" and you will find it. There is also a rectangular shape on the terra cotta page. You could easily bake a long loaf in one. Just make sure whatever pot you get is pure terra cotta--like the Italian-made ones are. Some of the pots from Latin America have pitch added to them. You don't want that in your bread. Good luck.

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      1. re: Father Kitchen

        I recently posted about using a clay romertopf "Smoke Alarm Announces ...." re: baking the no-knead bread in an already used pot. The residual animal fat set off several smoke alarms in my house during cooking. We were filled with smoke.

        I believe the lesson learned is to use a newly-tempered pot and not something already used for cooking animal products -- lowered smoke point, etc.

        Expensive (alarm company, fire dept, etc) and dirty lesson learned.