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Bittman bread method question

I own only one piece of cooking equipment that sounds close to what is required. It is a 2ish gallon cast iron kettle with lid. This thing is HUGE and weighs 20 lbs easy. Will this work?

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  1. 2 gallons is 8 quarts, yep, just fine.

    1. I've made this bread many times in a 3 quart corning dish, using a glass pie plate as a lid. Just heated them together in cold oven, and have had no problems at all. When I first made this bread, I used a much larger container and the bread spread and was flat. Using the 3 quart made it keep it's round shape and I like the results much better.

      1. "When I first made this bread, I used a much larger container and the bread spread and was flat."
        What would you guess the diameter to be of the pot that caused the bread to be too flat?
        Or, what should the diameter be for a good loaf?

        1. The container does not determine the size or shape of a well-fermented loaf. The skin that the dough develops during that 2 hour rise and the oven spring do. Consequently, an 8qt container will not cause a well-fermented loaf to spread out. It will give the dough good insulation from the direct contact heat of the sides. And once the oven spring takes off the loaf will form as tall and nearly round a dimension as the skin of the dough and the kill off from the heat allow.

          Also, don't you think it's time to correctly credit Jim Lahey with this technique and stop referring to it as "Bittman" bread simply because he reported on it?

          8 Replies
          1. re: rainey

            The two times that I have made this bread the loaf "spread out" as it rose instead of rising "up" . The bread pretty much baked up just as it rose. I don't think that in "sprung" much in the oven (it did not increase very much in volume). Have I done something wrong? I THINK I followed the directions to a T. If I want a taller loaf, what should I do?
            I was thinking about using a 3 qt. Corning ware dish or a 2 qt. Pyrex casserole. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

            1. re: birddogfoodie

              Are you using bread flour or, if you're adding whole wheat flour, do you have adequate gluten? Are you putting the dough in the pot seam side up? Or letting it go too long (exhaused starch supply for yeast) or too short (insufficient active yeast development) in the final rise? The clock is NOT the way to decide when it's time to bake. Use the poke/sluggish recovery test to determine when it's properly risen. Are you disrupting the skin?

              1. re: rainey

                The first time I used all AP flour (King Arthur organic artisan). The second time I used bread flour and whole wheat (2:1). I did not really have a seam as I had a hard time making a ball out of it. (it may be too wet). This last time a used about 2 tablespoons less water than before. The first time I let it go for about 18 hrs before turning it out and the second time about 16 hours. The first time it "felt" right on the poke test. The second time I did not really check it. The results were pretty similar. I like the flavor of the second batch better, though, I think it was due to the increase in salt. ( i upped it to nearly 3 t.)
                Now, knowing this, what do you think?

                1. re: birddogfoodie

                  I had to increase the salt too but I think 3 tsp may be pushing it — especially since you've also added whole wheat flour. Now, let me say, if you want the flavor of whole wheat and additional salt, then, by all means, do it. But understand that you'll get a flatter loaf. Salt has a suppressive effect on the yeast. And using whole wheat lessens the gluten.

                  So what I'd recommend is 1) be satisfied that you're making the loaf you want and it may already be at its optimum, 2) add gluten to improve the height of your rise and/or 3) consider cutting back the salt to the neighborhood of 2 tsp.

                  As for too wet/no seam, if you can handle it (even quickly and deftly) it's probably not too wet. Wet will get you the great open crumb that makes this bread special. "Ball" is a relative term with this wet dough. But when you transfer it to your hand (palm could be lightly floured) just use the palm of the other hand and fingers of both to gather the sides into a round and tuck them under. That "under" side that it sits on in the long rise will function as the seam/slash that allows the oven spring to push through.

                  It sounds like you're paying attention to the dough so you're on the right track. When you're happy with the flavor and the texture let it be what it's going to be. Remember that this dough is most like a ciabatta dough and a traditional ciabatta is quite a flat loaf — though using white bread flour and the enclosed environment of the hot pot does allow what Lahey describes to spring up into a boule regardless of the large size of the pot he recommends.

                  1. re: rainey

                    Thanks for taking the time to help. As far as being satisfied with the loaves, I have been (I've not baked much, so anything that is edible is somewhat of a success). I have changed something in each loaf so it's hard for me to judge consistency. I have decided to back to the original recipe and get it down before I start messing with it. I have enjoyed all of them. I just want a slightly "taller" rise.
                    What type of gluten should I use? I have seen a type of gluten in a local Albertson's but I don't remember what type it is.

                    Thanks again.

                    1. re: birddogfoodie

                      It's called "Vital Wheat Gluten"

                      here's a link...you may have to use the term in their search...


              2. re: birddogfoodie

                John, that's what happened to me as well. Maybe we are both doing something wrong, but I doubt it. As soon as I changed to the 3 qt. pan, the loaf was the perfect size and roundness. Taste is great and the crust is perfect. I'm sticking with my 3 qt. dish and not taking any chances.

                1. re: jackie de

                  What type of dish are you using? I'm thinking about the corning ware as it is 3 qt with a flat bottom and straight sides. Do you worry about the high temp?

            2. Various attempts at including Lahey's name have been made by myself and others. I just gave up. Jim Lahey is probably not really hurt by this because he IS credited many times throughout Bittman's article and video.

              I'm sure that his business increased as well after the Minimalist column in the Times.

              You can try referring to it as BITLAYBread (since Bittman had the huge audience to put for Lahey's ideas) or LAYBITTBread, but I don't think these will stick. They haven't yet.

              1. If I cook this bread in a coffee can will it rise up straight or will it turn into a mushroom? I'm also gonna try a spatterware loaf pan, with a second (inverted) loaf pan as a lid.
                Maybe we should just call it No-knead Bread. Maybe someone should ask Lahey!
                My 4th (5th?) loaf is rising now. It contains sunflower seeds and a generous half-handful of Bob's Red Mill 7 Grain Cereal.

                1 Reply
                1. re: blue room

                  Are you making small loaves in the coffee can? It might be too much dough for a coffee can to hold.

                  I did it with a large loaf on a pizza stone w/ a pasta pot over it and it turned out great. If I used coffee cans (if I had any), I could make some small loaves instead.

                2. I use my 3 1/2 qt calphalon pot with an 8" diameter. I think it's the perfect size--bigger pots result in more spread and a flatter loaf. Go smaller.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: baffled111

                    I'm baking mine in a 2" x 40" tube. I have had great results also with a 1" x 35" x 44" pan covered with 12 layers of aluminum foil. the bread comes out a bit crispy as it is only about 1/4" thick. It also burns quite often as the 450 degree temp for 30 minutes is a bit high. I have added 3 quarts of Sugar Frosted Flakes for flavor.

                    1. re: oakjoan

                      oakjoan you're teasing, (I think!) but the many-layers-of-aluminum-foil as a lid might be a good idea, you could cover any shape, and if thick and well-made enough it would be reusable.
                      I use Bob's Red Mill 7 Grain cereal, (recommended by Cook's Illustrated as good in bread) it isn't flakes, just ground grains. Very tasty.

                      1. re: blue room

                        Do you add the 7 grain cereal in addition to the flour, or in lieu of some of it?
                        Do you add additional yeast to counterbalance the additional weight of the cereal?

                        1. re: ChowFun_derek

                          ChowFun_derek-- I just put a handful (I would say between 1 and 2 tablespoons) of 7 grain cereal into the basic original recipe. No extra yeast, the tiny cereal grains stay "aloft" in the dough just fine. I mix all the dry ingredients well before adding the water.

                            1. re: blue room

                              Do you add any extra water to compensate for what the cereal absorbs?

                              1. re: doctor_mama

                                No, I follow the recipe just as is, it isn't enough cereal grains to change the texture.

                    2. Hi, newbie here. Had great luck with the recipe once I added a bit less water. Here's my question: I'd like to make french bread loaves, but haven't found any covered molds for baguettes. Any ideas? Thanks.

                      8 Replies
                      1. re: mamcita

                        This incredibly simple bread has everyone scrambling for something to bake it in! I'll bet the Le Creuset company has noticed a little sales increase recently. If you have a baguette pan that can be heated to 450, and a big turkey roaster large enough to invert over it, maybe that would create the steamy enclosure you need. I have NOT tried this, I'm just suggesting a possible solution. I'd like to try putting the dough into a loaf pan, then inverting another loaf pan on top. I hate to waste but want to experiment. I still don't feel comfortable about Pyrex/ceramic/flower pots--yes, you can heat'em up, but can you suddenly dump cold wet dough into them without incident?

                        1. re: blue room

                          Try using a Romertopf. I just baked a double batch of this bread in mine and the bread has wonderful crust. I think you could place the baguettes (shortish) on a pizza stone or quarry tiles and cover the the Romerertopf top, all preheated of course.

                        2. re: mamcita

                          There is a lidded terra cotta baker for a batard. I'd guess half the amount of dough the Lahey recipe creates would bake up into a batard. I'd try to roll the dough out laying it on a silpat or equivalent and using the sides of the mat to roll it out a bit into a rope during the long rise. You'd have to work a bit, I suspect, at the skill of dropping it out centered onto the hot terra cotta.

                          I think Sur la Table would be a good place to start looking for the elongated cloche.

                          1. re: rainey

                            Thanks - I'd think the turkey roaster would leave too much air around the sides, letting steam escape. I'll try Sur La T for the cloche. I'd like to get it for my husband, who is obsessed with this recipe and is scrounging around our two kitchens for new containers. So far, the creuset worked well, as did a smaller, ceramic pot with lid.

                            I'm also chuckling over the 12 layers of foil idea, and the frosted flakes - lol.

                            1. re: rainey

                              Can the cloche go up to 475-500 degrees???

                              It is terra cotta, so I am intrigued...

                              1. re: ChowFun_derek

                                I don't actually know since I don't own one. I've been tempted but never bought.

                                It *is* designed for breadmaking so it's likely it's meant for temps in the vacinity of 400 but I couldn't say for sure. I've had the same concern you do about Römertopf roasters. I have had them spontaneously break at high temps.

                                1. re: ChowFun_derek

                                  I doubt that you would have a problem with Terra cotta. It would not break like Pyrex or tempered glass, and I put cold doughs on a preheated (550F+) pizza stone daily.
                                  Personally, I think a Terra cotta pan would be better than cast iron for producing a good crust.

                                  I have used pots and saucers from the garden supply house with good results,and the price is much cheaper than a cookware store.

                                  1. re: Kelli2006

                                    Yes, I bake holiday bread in a straight sided, no-drainage-hole pot I got at a garden center many years ago too. But I've broken pizza stones, Römertopf and Emil Henri at high temps and that wasn't even the thermal shock of putting cool food into hot containers. ...well, it was in the case of the pizza stone. I was trying to simulate a tandoori with chicken pieces. @@

                            2. The Romertopf website says soak the vessel in cold water first, THEN PLACE FOOD INSIDE, and put in a cold oven set to 450 degrees. You see, we must PRE-HEAT to 450, *THEN* plop 70 degree mass of dough into Romertopf. Will it break? If it doesn't break, does that mean it won't *ever* break when you try this? I'd hate to spend 50 bucks or so to find out. "Father Kitchen", a poster here, has written a bit about other terra cotta alternatives. He also has some info on alternative flours for this bread.

                              1. There apparently are at least a couple of Chowbakers here who have already used Romertopf for this loaf. Any advice from them? I'm about to try myself,but not for at least 20 more hours.

                                I also have a question for blue room - is this multi-grain cereal composed of any large pieces? Does it make the bread crunchy?

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: oakjoan

                                  oakjoan, the cereal is not large pieces, just a bit larger than table salt. Since it is 7 different grains, some soften in the moist bread, but others stay a little crunchier--just a pleasant little crunch between the teeth, nothing major. Also, please see Rainey's note above to Chowfun_derek about Romertopf at high temps!

                                2. As I posted above, I just baked a batch of this bread in my Romertopf. The instructions for using the Romertopf are to make use of it as a braising/roasting covered dish. You need to put the pot into the oven before turning the oven on so it heats slowly. Shock will cause breakage, just as it would for any kind of pottery.

                                  I've now made this bread in (1) Calphalon pot; (2) enamelled cast iron pot; (3) on quarry tiles covered by enamelled cast iron pot and (4) Romertopf. Of these 4 the Romertopf worked best. The downside (for me) is that my Romertopf is big so a single batch of bread dough would spread out too thinly to make a good loaf IMO. I made a double batch which yielded a good size loaf.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: cheryl_h

                                    I just did it in my All clad pot and discolored the top. I also discolored my pasta pot by putting over pizza stone. Both worked well but my pots didn't come through. I'm worried about using pyrex at that temperature too often. I'm thinking of getting a cheap cast iron pot. Doubling the batch is a good idea--it's easy to go through one loaf too quickly.

                                    1. re: cheryl_h

                                      My question to chery_h is, did you put the bread dough and the romertopf into the cool oven, or did you put the romertopf into the cool oven, let it heat to 450 and drop the cool dough into it?

                                      I have been using cast iron 4 1/2 quart pots with great results, but I'd like to try the Romertopf, it has the shape I want and I often bake for a crowd and need all available pots.


                                      1. re: fireman_chef

                                        I put the romertopf into the cool oven, heated to 450 and dropped the dough into the hot base, covered with the heated top and put back into the oven. It made the best crust of the various pots I have tried, perhaps because the clay maintains heat so evenly and well. My romertopf is huge so it wouldn't work except when I make a big batch of dough, so I'm thinking of trying a covered porcelain baking dish next.

                                        1. re: cheryl_h


                                          My best results came from enameled cast iron like the crouset and a crouset look-alike that I found for a fraction of the price.

                                    2. I found, baking in the pot on my BBQ fitted with saltillo tiles, that I needed to stack some tile pieces to rest the pot on. Without an air space, the crust bottom crust got too thick.

                                      1. How long will it be before we have bakeware specifically for this bread? I wonder if poor Mr. Lahey has made a dime off this..

                                        1. I wonder is it necessary to swtich from the plastic wrap to wrapping in cotton towels? My problem is no matter how much I flour it seems to get stuck to the towels regardless, the loafs come out fine, its just a sloppy mess trying to get them into the pot. Any hints or suggestions for this?

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: rezpeni

                                            Well I found out what happens when you use just plasticwrap, the dough rises but the finished round is not as lofty, in fact its a little on the squatty side. Crust looks nice and golden, but the loaf as a whole seems pretty unenthusiastic. Maybe I will just have to live with utterly dirtying a towel for every loaf?

                                            1. re: rezpeni

                                              I've been using a combination of cornmeal and flour. No sticking at all. And, I keep the same towel. Once I'm done with it, i remove any sticky bits (usually not many), fold the towel and put it in a large ziploc bag. I've made a good dozen loaves this way.