The Fresh Loaf

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La cloche - Romertopf / Terra cotta pot instructions?

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kolobezka's picture
kolobezka

La cloche - Romertopf / Terra cotta pot instructions?

Hi,


I am just thinking of buying a "la cloche" or a similar clay bakeware to bake our bread. I have read many of the comments here on TFL and elsewhere, but now I am a little confused about how to use clay bakeware...


- some people  recommend to preheat the la Cloche in 500°F oven (for how long?) and some prefer to put it directly with the dough inside in the cold oven. Does it make a difference? Is there a method that is better for different kinds of bread - for example lower/ higher hydratation, no knead, sourdough, yeasted, sweet...?


- is it necessary to sink the bottom and the top into the water before baking?


- is it necessary to oil the dish or to use a parchment paper?


- what size of la cloche (or romertopf) is recommandable for a 1 1/2-pound loaf? or 2-pound loaf?


 


I will be very happy for explanation :-)

OldWoodenSpoon's picture
OldWoodenSpoon

and I love it.  I liked it so much we gave our son one for his birthday.   I use mine both "hot and cold". 


I sometimes just preheat the oven to 500F, then put the loaf into the baker while it is cool, add the cover and put it all into the preheated oven.  When I use this method I leave the cover on for about 30 minutes before removing it to finish baking in just the bottom. 


More often, though, I preheat the La Cloche to 500F along with the oven, then slide my loaf in on parchment.  I cut the parchment as a circle with an extra "tab" that extends off one side that I use to help pull the loaf and parchment paper off the peel and into the baker.  When I bake with the pre-heated baker I only leave the cover on for about 15 minutes, then remove it and finish baking in just the bottom.


I prefer the pre-heated method.  I feel it gives more oven spring to my loaves, and that matters to me.  Both methods produce excellent crust quality though, and I have not yet been able to duplicate that crust quality exactly with oven steam methods without the baker.  So I'd say yes, preheating makes a lot of difference in oven spring, but less difference in crust quality.


With both methods I leave the oven at 500F for 10 minutes, then reduce to my baking temperature (460F for most of my loaves.  YMMV).  I let the oven come down to that temperature on it's own, and I get acceptable results, and the bread keeps dissapearing.


I have never soaked or dipped my baker before use.  It is not terra cotta clay (like the Rompertof?) so it would not soak up much water anyway.  Nor do I spray the inside of the lid.  I do use parchment as described, just because it is easier to load the loaf into the sunken bottom dish.  I got a Super Peel for Christmas though (yay!) so that may make the parchment obsolete for this purpose.  Will have to wait and see.  I have not had any trouble with my loaves when I bake without parchment.  I think I would recommend against oil, and suggest the parchment paper if you are afraid of the loaf sticking.  It has not been a problem for me.


As for size, I'm only aware of the La Cloche baker, and I think there is only one size.  Mine is about 12 inches or a little more across the bottom, and I have baked 1kg loaves in it many times.  A couple of those have totally filled (and lifted in one case) the lid, but the loaves cooked evenly and completely.  I can't speak for the other clay bakers though.  I've never used any others but the La Cloche.


I hope it helps, and wish you luck with your choice.


OldWoodenSpoon

kolobezka's picture
kolobezka

Oh, thank you very much for such a detailed description! Now it is much clearer!


But one important note was that Romertopf is from terra cotta, whereas LaCloche is not. Actually, I have found only terra cotta pots here in Europe. What is La Cloche made of?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

La Cloche is matt/semi-matt glazed stoneware formulated for rapid temp changes.  It is not porous.  It goes through two firings in production, first a bisque then a glaze firing.


Romertopf is produced at a lower temperature and one firing.  The clay is bisque fired meaning it is porous and will not hold water.  With a second firing, it can be glazed and thus made to hold liquids.  (I have used unglazed earthenware as water filters.) 


Some Romertopf pieces are glazed on the inside, some are not. Some, only the inside bottoms are glazed.  If you tend to bake more stews and liquid foods, then glazed might be a better choice for you.  The Chinese also have their version of similar pots, bisqueware glazed on the inside with glazed lids.  I was told at the time of purchase, to soak the outside of the pot.  Yes, I understood that.  I nodded, but inside I was mixed up.


I had difficulty understanding the point in soaking the outside of inside-glazed pots.   I first thought because the steam from the outside doesn't affect the pot inside directly, nothing was happening.   Maybe if set over gas burners or grills (very common in Asia) the soaking prevents burning inside foods or prevents breakage thru distribution of heat.  I did a few baking tests and it turns out that is exactly what is happening!  I like to use convection and with the fan running.   I can get an even browing without turning the pot when the pot is soaked first.  When dry, I must rotate the pan or the loaf browns unevenly.  Its all about heat distribution!


Steam is trapped in both glazed and unglazed pots.  Clay baking pots have been around for thousands of years (and so have their broken pieces.)   If you wash them in a modern dishwasher, be sure to rinse them well and then soak in plenty of water to remove all the soap letting them drain and air dry.   Most clay pots are washed by hand and are little trouble after being used a few times.  They do tend to absorb grease and oil.  I remember somewhere reading about a soda solution for cleaning.  I find I oil the inside of my pots with every second use.


If baking in a cool oven, pay attention to how long your oven takes to pre-heat, subtract that time from your proofing time when the pot is placed into a cold oven,  I reduce my proofing times from 15 to 20 minutes with a standard European oven.  I add about 15 minutes to the baking time.


The manufacturer disclaims any guarantee if the pots are pre-heated before food goes into them.  Also if a hot pot is placed on a cold surface or cold pot is placed into a pre-heated oven or placed onto a pre-heated stone or tray.


Mini

Jessica Weissman's picture
Jessica Weissman

I used to use La Cloche with the heat-first method.  Then, in the interest of saving energy, I tried the put in cold method.  The cold method worked just fine for me with a few moments of soaking the top.  Even though the water does not penetrate as it does a Romertopf, it is useful for steaming to have a good coating of water on the dome top.


However, the results vary by bread recipe.  I get glorious rises and crackly crusts with a half-semolina, half-white large round loaf; if I use too much whole wheat flour or have too slack a dough there is little spring and crackle.


But go ahead and try the cold method; it works and it saves a bit of energy.


Oh yes - I have a round of silicon/parchment covering the bottom of the dish and folded up around the dish rim; after having too many loaves glue themselves to the inside of the dish I decided that a few parchment marks were a small price to pay for easy removal.

kolobezka's picture
kolobezka

Does anybody have any experience with a terra cota baker?


Is it suitable for all kinds of bread: low/ high hydratation, no-knead, sourdough, yeasted, sweet...?


Does a Romertopf survive preheating without (or with?) soaking? Or are the results same when it is used according to the producer instructions (soaked in cold oven)? Can the no-knead be baked using the soaking/ cold  oven method?


Also, please, idanybody have a recommandation, whether glazed or unglazed version is better?


Thank you very much!


kolobezka

The Yakima Kid's picture
The Yakima Kid

Follow the instructions for the Romertopf. Mishandled terra cotta will crack and break. I use the one with the glass coated bottom as it is easier to clean.

It is not recommended to place a Romertopf in a preheated oven.

balmagowry's picture
balmagowry

I have an older unglazed Romertopf and I used to use it for bread all the time. I always preheated it with the oven; sometimes I pre-soaked it and sometimes I didn't, and that didn't seem to make much difference. I mostly used it for no-knead, but I'd say it's good for any bread that is baked with steam. The main reason I stopped using it is that the breads I'm making these days won't fit inside it, so for baguettes and miches I switched to a stone and steam pan arrangement, or in some cases a bigger cloche. I now prefer this because I find it easier to load loaves on a flat surface than in the deeper Romertopf. But there's no question that the results it produced were terrific.

ehanner's picture
ehanner

I think "OldWoodenSpoon" has about said it all as regards to baking in a la cloche ceramic covered baker. My results are about like he has said.


Interesting detail in the description of how to use a La Cloche however is that it seems to work well regardless of pre heating or not. That is what made me question the whole steaming argument. In fact I questioned what is going on under the cover and the need for preheating at all.


If you load the dough in a cold la cloche and put it in a hot oven, aren't you just protecting the dough from the searing heat for a few minutes while the yeast is having at it springing the loaf up and creating the last amount of airiness? If you preheat the la cloche and it still works, the process seems to be accelerating the process for a shorter time, to the same effect on the final product. But, It works both ways.


If you really want a surprise, try proofing your dough and loading it on a sheet pan covered with corn meal and put it in a cold oven. Or, do your proof in a cold oven with the light on. When the bread is ready to bake, just switch the oven on to the regular heat level for that bread. You will have to add a couple minutes to the total baking time but watch the color and be thrilled you had the oven on for just a total of 30 minutes. Ok, Ok, the bottom crust isn't exactly as crusty as it is when you waste an hour heating a stone (that cools immediately when you load the dough) but most people would never notice the difference. It's very close. Don't take my word for it, try it one time.


Eric

topslakr's picture
topslakr

It never occured to me to use La Cloche cold. I treat it the same as I would a baking stone. When I turn the oven on, I put La Cloche in with the lid partially on the base. I have the lid covering 1/3 to 2/3 and leaning on the oven rack as well. I want to get it up to temp quickly and, for whatever reason, that seems like the most logical way to do that. I don't put a lot of thought into it's use, once the oven is up to temp I start baking. I dont give it an extended pre-heat period.


 


When the over is ready (ie: the burner has shutoff), I pull out La Cloche, slide my loaf from it's pizza peel to the base and then cover La Cloche. I  pop it back in the oven and cook the loaf as I would any other. About 5-10 minutes before the loaf should be done I pull the lid off La Cloche and set it aside so I can keep an eye on crust color.


 


I sometimes will use parchment on the pizza peel but not often. I find the parchment can get a little wavy with the wet dough on it during the final proof and I don't like the look of that nor the inconsitent crust it gives me. I'm being super picky here though.. if you prefer parchment or don't have a pizza peel don't worry about it.


 


For me, I use it to hold steam inside the baking vessel during the bake. The dough will let off steam as it cooks and I just want to hold on to that. I don't soak La Cloche though. I also use it to add mass to the oven which should help to regulate the temp, hence I preheat it with the oven. I also find I get better oven spring with my baking stone or La Cloche because it gets a big hit of heat at it's base as soon as it goes in the oven. I keep my stone in the oven though at all times on a low shelf. It does add some time to the oven-preheat but the added mass means it will recover the temp sooner as well. I leave it there for cookies, roasts or bread though I only put stuff directly on it when making pizza or bread.


 


Using La Cloche as I do gives me an amazing crust. it crackles like mad when it comes out of the oven and starts to cool. Just be ready with a rather robust bread knife or you'll never get through it!


 


So, to sum up. I don't soak it. I don't do an extended pre-heat. I sometimes will use parchment paper under the bread but mostly not. When the bread is cooked, I let La Cloche cool off, I wipe it with a towel to get the flour out and I put it back in the cabinet.


 


Beyond bread, it makes a nice vessel for roasting meat (whole chicken, beef or pork roasts, ect) and can be a workable tajine if you so desire. To keep the stone clean you might want to wrap the inside of the base in tin foil or perhaps buy a second base section. The top won't get messy. I also love to us it uncovered for deep dish pizza. It's a little pricy, but worth it.


Sorry for being a little long winded ;)

Janknitz's picture
Janknitz

I have this clay baker.  It is 10 1/2 inches in diameter, just fine for a 1 1/2 to 2 lb loaf.  And it costs around $25 including shipping and handling.  The company also sells other sizes--larger and smaller--I would have them all if I had some place to store them!


This baker has a glazed base and an unglazed top.  I learned the easiest way to use it from Rose Levy Beranbaum-- preheat only the lid in the oven, just as you would a stone, then put the dough in the cold base (if I'm not using a banneton, I will let it do the final rise in the base).  I use a round of parchment, cut to fit the base, for ease of manipulating the dough if necessary.  I've never had a problem with sticking. 


No soaking, no trying to get cold dough into a hot base.  Easy as pie and it works great.  The oven spring and crispness of the crust you get in a clay baker is AWESOME.


I've just begun experimenting with putting the entire thing in a cold oven, but so far my one experience yielded a dense bread with small, even crumb--not what I was going for.  I will try it again, however--there may have been other factors. 


 


 

Mason's picture
Mason

A wide 15" base (about $7) and a slightly smaller top (about $10) which is an inverted terracotta "bulb" pot I got from Home Depot.  


I used the following method here to "cure" the base --not the top-- (obtained from here):



 



  1. Wash the pots in hot, sudsy water, using a scrub pad or brush to make sure to get all traces of dust off. Rinse well and allow to air dry. Dry them overnight or in a warm oven for 2 hours

  2. Use vegetable oil to season the pots well, including the inside bottom, sides and top rim. Give it time to absorb and rub more oil into them. Use oil generously.

  3.  Use a large cookie sheet to set the pots on.. 

  4. Preheat oven to 450 degrees then turn  it off. Put the pots on the cookie sheet inside the oven.

  5. Remove the pots when the oven is no longer warm. 

  6. Re-oil the pots.

  7. Place them back on the cookie sheets and return to the cold oven. Turn oven on to 300 degrees. When it is preheated, turn it off and let the pots sit there again until they are cool. They are now ready to use. This is the only time you will have to do this intense seasoning of the pots. If they are used often; every 5 or 6 uses, after washing and drying, oil and repeat steps above.

  8. When ready to bake, grease according to recipe instructions. The baking time will be longer than the recipe states unless recipe is written for flower pot bread. Set time as recipe suggests, check back at 10 minute intervals until golden and sound hollow when tapped.

  9. After being used, clean with mild soap and water. Dry immediately, oil the inside and rub dry. 


 



I'm still experimenting with it (about to use it this afternoon).  The last time I used it I did not preheat, and soaked the top in water.  I got good overn spring, but the steam was trapped in a long time, resulting in a paper thin crust, but the crust didn't caramelize very much.


Today I plan on preheating, and just misting the dough well before I slide it off the peel on to the preheated base.  I use a small ball of foil to plug the drainage hold to keep the steam in.  This time I'll open that hole after 20 minutes or so, to let any remaining steam out.


Two disadvantages of the teracotta:


(1) the likelihood of breaking it if you put cold pots into a hot oven.  La Cloche is designed to handle such quick changes in temp. Teracotta isn't. Either preheat it well, or put the bread in with it cold.


(2) No handle.  The handle on the top of La cloche does help with covering the dough quickly with a hot lid and getting the oven closed.  


I'm thinking of trying to improvise a combination plug for the hole in the top with a metal bar in a chain that could serve as a handle (push plug in to vent), will still work as a handle at the end of baking.

Janknitz's picture
Janknitz

You will find others who have used this terra cotta pot solution too.  One person used a large screw eye and washer to improvise a handle in the hole of the "dome" pot with good results--here's a picture.  It's a great, frugal solution to the pricey clay bakers. 


When using a clay baker, I take the lid off after about 50 to 60% of the total baking time has elapsed to let the crust carmelize.  To my surprise, it begins to carmelize even while the lid is still on, but removing the lid allows it to finish beautifully. 

dosidough's picture
dosidough

If you click on the link in Janknits response above you'll find that these are on 50% off sale. I got the small round one for $12.50. Seems like a good deal to me. I hope to try it out this weekend.


Bake on....


Dosi