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Sourdough Bread in a Clay Baker

We've been baking sourdough bread to feed our large family for the past 8 years, with some attempts prior to that. I am always looking for the easiest way to do things, but not at the sacrifice of nutrition or taste. Interestingly enough, and as nature would have it, it always works out in the end that the simplest methods are truly the most satisfying, the tastiest and the most nutritious, and that certainly plays out here.

To get right to the point, it's all in the cooking utensil, a clay baker. You might not appreciate at first glance just what a difference this will make, but there are several reasons why this is really what makes or breaks this process. First, clay makes everything taste better. You wouldn't think it is so if you haven't experienced cooking outside of your electric oven, but if you've ever had bread cooked in a wood stove, you know there's a big difference. Even the smell of the bread is noticeably better. But, a wood stove isn't the ultimate… a clay oven is. We made one of those one summer, and baked the most incredible breads and pizza in it, but simple it was not. It took 2 hours of constantly stoking a hot fire, and then carefully cleaning out all the charcoal and hot coals, before a person could bake. So, a romertopf clay baker simplifies things a lot, while giving a very authentic clay baked flavor and texture.

The other thing that makes the baker so simple is that you don't have to bother with a second rise. I set the bread dough up at night, and sometime mid-morning the next day, I grease my romertopf (just the bottom), roll the dough a bit and shape into a loaf, and flip it into the romertopf. I then slit the top several times with a knife, cover it, put the pan in the oven and jack the temp up to as high as it will go, 500 or so F. That's another thing that I learned when cooking in the outdoor clay oven… super hot temps make the bread puff up the best and give the nicest crusts.

You are not supposed to put a cold clay baker into a hot oven, so I don't turn the oven on until the baker is in the oven. Also, you should soak the baker in water for 10 mins prior to us if you haven't used it in a few days or more. I almost never bother with that step since I use mine so frequently. I figure it doesn't have a chance to fully dry out.

If my oven is already hot because of something else cooking in there previously and I don't want to cool it down, I just set the baker with the bread in it on the back of the oven to warm up a bit before putting it in the oven.

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So, once the bread's in the oven, the only thing you have to do is wait until you smell it getting done. I often turn it down to 325-375 after 20 mins or so of baking, but I almost just as often forget to do that and it really won't affect the end results. It's very hard to ruin anything cooking in a clay baker. On average, a big loaf will take approximately 1-1/2 hours. I leave the lid on the whole time, and I often leave it in the oven with the lid on to cool down. This will keep the crust soft. For a crunchier crust, take it out when it's hot.

So, is that the simplest way of making sourdough bread you've heard of yet? I can guarantee you that it's the tastiest as well… this bread doesn't hang around here for long, but, if ever I have leftover crumbs, they find their way into cheesecake crust, meat loaf, croutons or stuffing… nothing goes to waste!

Oh, and if you're put off by the price, these are something that will come up for the thrifty. They're often at rummage sales or thrift stores, or can be found on craig's list or even e-bay. Mine both came from thrift stores for about $4 each. The best part for me is that I can make clay pottery from my own soil, and that's what I hope to do this summer. We've made test pottery and it works quite well. I figure I'll have one step ahead if I already know how to cook in it. BTW, if you want to check these out on Amazon, here's the link

… there are various sizes.

And one other note for the thrifty, yes, these do break, as mine did, only because I was doing something stupid, making gravy in the bottom at too high a temp over a burner. The good news was that I simply turn the pot upside down and was able to use it with the broken side as the lid, fitting together the 2, and eventually 3 and finally 4 pieces. When it got to 4 pieces, my ingenious son had mercy on me and followed this pretty simple method of stapling it together, which actually works quite nicely.

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I should also add that I never cook meat in anything but clay since discovering this. Besides the romertopf, I also use lead free clay pot liners for cooking small amounts of meat for, say, a stir fry, right on the burner at a low temp, with another clay pot liner to cover. These are cheap and rarely break if temps are moderate to low flame on a gas range. The meat stays juicy and is very hard to ruin.. the longer you cook it, the more tender it gets. A friend checked out the Deroma brand about 4 years ago and they said it was lead free, no glaze.. just terra cotta.

With the clay bakers, even tough old roosters get tender, and every roast seems to be the best I ever made. Honestly, my cooking has gone from great to fabulous with my roaster, if I do say so myself. Happy

PS I just found this cool site that has more info about clay pots, with different types of pots for sale.

And if you're looking for a basic sourdough recipe, care of starters, and other starter ideas check out my web page.
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