So many people asked us about baking our dough inside a closed cast-iron pan that Zoe did a beautiful post on the subject a few weeks ago. The cast-iron pan method is based on a much older method, where bread is baked inside a closed clay pot (or “cloche,” meaning bell, in French). Both methods depend on trapped steam from the dough to create a perfect crust, but the clay pot has the added benefit of being porous, so moisture is trapped, but also conducted away from the surface as the bread bakes. I tested the Sassafras brand “La Cloche” product, and I’m very impressed with the crust I’m getting –take a look at the picture above; this crust is thin and shatters when broken (the burned bits are perfect in artisan loaves; that’s how you know you’ve baked long enough). Keep in mind that these crust results are hard to re-create with loaves very high in whole wheat (because of oils in the wheat’s germ). The bread above is about 15% whole grains– it’s a light version of the Peasant Loaf in the book, and of course our basic recipe works great in this situation. Whole grain breads perform beautifully in “La Cloche,” but the crust tends to be softer and thicker. One other thing to note–any clay product is somewhat fragile, and after some years of owning the Sassafras product, the base did crack (still quite usable with a stone underneath).
For crust aficionados, I think the “La Cloche” results are a little better than what I get inside closed cast-iron.
Sassafras claims that James Beard once said that the “La Cloche” product gave him bread that was “nothing short of phenomenal.” “Beard on Bread” was the first bread cookbook I ever used–my wife brought it to our marriage, and then taught me to use it (click here and scroll down to meet Laura).
If James liked a product, I have to give it a try. Before using “La Cloche,” rinse it in hot water to get rid of any ceramic powder left over from manufacturing, and let it dry overnight. The first time you use it, apply a light coating of vegetable oil to the inside of the bottom piece (the bell-shaped top part doesn’t need it). The ceramic is very fine-grained and won’t absorb a lot of oil so it didn’t smoke when I pre-heated this thing to 450 F. You don’t need to cure the oil coating before you bake your first loaf. You’re ready to bake.
There are two ways to use La Cloche: the way that Sassafras officially endorses (putting a cool cloche into a preheated oven bearing raw dough that has rested/risen on cornmeal inside), or what I’ve found works better: preheating the top and bottom pieces of La Cloche to full baking temperature for 30 minutes, and then transferring fully-rested loaves into it (carefully, as in Zoe’s post). The crust result is fantastic; you can rest/rise in a banneton, then drop the dough into the hot bottom tray of the cloche, then cover (click here for my post on how to use a banneton). Baking time is the usual as written in our recipes. The other easy method is to rest/rise the loaf on parchment paper and just drop the loaf, with the paper, into the hot cloche. Cover and bake.
You don’t need a baking stone, you don’t need to introduce water into the oven for steam, and you don’t need to dampen the cloche; all the moisture you need comes from the dough and is trapped inside. One important point: Open the lid for the last third of baking, or the bread will not brown.
This is a very romantic baking dish (is that possible?); using it makes you think you’re in a different century. It’s heavy, and very tactile– here it is with an unbaked boule sitting in it (cool-cloche method):
Here’s the banneton-risen bread after the lid was removed to finish baking open to oven air:
There are two problems with the Sassafras-approved cool-cloche method: first, baking time is longer than written in our recipes, because the clay vessel has a lot of heat to absorb before the interior is up to baking temperature. Second, the crust just isn’t a crisp. So, even though the Sassafras instructions say to use a cool cloche, I’m going with a hot one. Keep in mind that this product doesn’t appear to be warranted against cracking, whether you follow their instructions or not. One important care instruction: never use soap on pottery baking vessels, just hot water and a clean scrub brush.
Years ago, Daniel Wing and Alan Scott wrote “The Bread Builders,” which was mainly about building your own wood-fired masonry and brick bread oven in your backyard (will definitely do that someday). But they also had lots to say about the “La Cloche” product, which they thought was almost as good as their wood-fired masonry ovens. They interviewed the product’s inventor at Sassafras who told them that the fully-preheated method for using this product “…is fine.”
Good enough for me. Look at this bread!
Throughout college, many weekends were spent eating pizza. This was for several reasons: pizza was delicious, and affordable, but most importantly, my boyfriend delivered pizza. This made pizza often free, which was better than affordable and even better than delicious. One particular pizza his pizza-chain made was “taco” pizza: a very American take on the taco, with tomato sauce and cheddar cheese, and then topped with shredded lettuce and fresh tomatoes. It was my favorite; somehow the fresh lettuce and tomato on top complimented the crust and melty cheese underneath perfectly.
I decided to recreate this pizza in sheet pan form, just in time for Super Bowl Sunday. I was feeling nostalgic for taco pizza, and this pizza also reminded me of the famous taco dip my mom would make for any and all events – layers of sour cream, cheese, lettuce, and black olives. This pizza has some of that, plus a delicious, thick crust and melted cheese. Our version here is very American and also pretty Midwestern (my family always opted for no spices and beans in both pizza and dip form), but I have listed in the recipe ways you can bring more flavor to your pizza if desired.
Taco Sheet Pan Pizza
A few notes: The second layer of tomato sauce can be replaced with salsa, if you would like your pizza with a little more kick. Refried beans can also be added to the pizza along with the ground beef (or in place of it). You can replace the mozzarella and cheddar with Monterey Jack and/or Colby (just make sure you replace them with a cheese that melts well).
3 cups lukewarm water
1/8 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon yeast
1 tablespoon sugar or honey
1 tablespoon kosher salt
7 cups bread flour
Ingredients for finishing
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/4 cup tomato sauce
1 pound ground beef, cooked with your favorite taco seasoning (drain the grease from the meat before topping pizza)
2 cups grated mozzarella
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
2 cups shredded lettuce
chopped fresh tomatoes, black olives, sour cream, jalapeños, guacamole, etc
For the dough
Combine the warm water, olive oil, yeast, sugar, and salt in a 5-quart bowl; preferably, in a lidded (not airtight) plastic container or food-grade bucket. Mix until all of the flour is incorporated using a stand mixer or dough whisk. Cover, and allow to rise at room temperature for 2 hours. You can use the dough right away, or refrigerate it for up to 14 days.
Remove 2 pounds of dough from your dough bucket, and place it on a generously floured surface (for a thinner crust, use 1 1/2 pounds). Knead the dough a few times, and shape into a ball. Cover with a tea towel and let rest on the counter for 15-20 minutes.
Put your stone or pizza steel on the middle rack in your oven, and preheat the oven to 500, letting the oven preheat for a good 45 minutes. Spread 4 tablespoons of olive oil on a half sheet pan, making sure to oil the inside rim. Gently stretch the dough into a rectangular shape, and lay the dough onto the pan. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil on top of the dough, and use your fingers to work the dough evenly so it covers the pan (if the dough begins to resist, let it rest for 10 minutes and try again).
After the dough has rested, work it again as best you can so it evenly covers the pan. Let it rest for 30 minutes while the oven is preheating.
Spread 3/4 cup of tomato sauce evenly over the pizza. Bake for 8 to 12 minutes, until the edges of the crust are light golden, and the sauce starts to caramelize around the edges. The bottom of the crust should also be light golden brown and crisp.
Remove the pan from the oven. Carefully spread another 1/2 cup of tomato sauce (or salsa!) over the pizza, then top with the ground beef.
Cover with the grated cheeses, and carefully put the hot sheet pan back on the stone. Bake again for 10 to 15 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the crust is golden brown underneath.
Cover the pizza with shredded lettuce, fresh tomatoes, olives, and whatever other ingredients your heart desires. Serving guacamole and sour cream on the side is a nice idea.
Enjoy! We hope your team wins!
I may have made a resolution about not complaining about the weather this year, but too bad! Greetings from Minnesota, where I’m freezing at my desk, so today’s a soup and bread day. In the book, we included a Portuguese Corn Bread (Broa) and an accompanying Portuguese Fish Stew (Caldeirada de Peixe) to go with it–it’s a perfect combination.
The Broa dough is simply our Master Recipe, substituting 1 1/2 cups of cornmeal (yellow or white, stone-ground or regular) for 1 1/2 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour. Bake as usual as a round loaf. In the picture above I used a lightly greased and stove-top pre-heated black cast-iron skillet (my skillet doesn’t come with a cover or I’d have tried that, see Zoe’s post about baking in covered cast-iron). Amazon carries the Lodge brand (click here to view). Here’s the Caldierada de Peixe recipe:
Portuguese Fish Stew (Caldeirada de Peixe)
The distinguishing character of this soup comes from the orange zest and hot pepper, which makes it quite different from French or Italian versions. Cod is a typical Portuguese choice to include, but the dish works well with any combination of boneless white-fleshed, non-oily fish, and/or shellfish.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 leeks, washed to remove interior soil and coarsely chopped
1 bulb fennel, white parts only, coarsely chopped
5 finely chopped garlic cloves
1 cup diced tomatoes, canned or fresh
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and diced
1 bay leaf
Zest of 1 orange
1 quart fish stock or water, or an 8-ounce bottle of clam juice plus 3 cups water
2 cups dry white wine
Scant 1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
3 pounds mixed white, non-oily boneless fish and shellfish, or just fish
1. Heat the oil in a large stockpot, add the onions and leeks, and sauté in olive oil until softened. Add the fennel and garlic and sauté until aromatic.
2. Add all the remaining ingredients except the fish and shellfish and bring to a boil. Cover, lower heat, and simmer for 20 minutes.
3. While the stock is simmering, cut the fish into bite-size portions. Bring the stock back to a rapid boil, add the fish, and cook for 1 minute.
4. Add the shellfish (if using) and continue to boil until shells open, approximately 1 minute. Shake the pan occasionally to encourage clam and mussel shells to open. If using shrimp, turn off the heat as soon as all the shrimp lose their gray translucency; any longer and they quickly become tough and overcooked. Depending on your pot and burner, this will probably be about 2 to 3 minutes.
5. Serve hot, with wedges of Broa.
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