The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Cast Iron For Boules?

Mister Benny's picture
Mister Benny

Cast Iron For Boules?

As a rank amateur, spending $70 on a cloche for sour dough boules seems a bit much, 
I thought maybe an old clay pot and saucer and just line it with aluminum, so I went and looked in the shed for some and I stumbled on this that I had forgotten about. The inside is in pretty good shape and I can clean it up and cure it again pretty easily. The bottom is 9 inches across and the sides are 4 inches. 
Just wondering if this might work and if so, any advice would be greatly appreciated. 
I can see where it would be difficult to get the dough into it when it is 450°

WatertownNewbie's picture

For a boule I regularly use a 4-quart Lodge Dutch oven (not a combo cooker).  You need to be careful when getting the dough from the banneton into the Dutch oven, but it can be done and is generally not an issue.  If your dough has reasonably good strength (which it should anyway), and you have not overproofed, then there are a couple of approaches (both of which I have done).

One is to let the dough fall out of the banneton onto the counter (or onto a piece of parchment paper, which you can use as a sling).  Cup the dough from the sides with your hands just enough to lift it, and then move your hands above the Dutch oven and gently place the dough down into the oven (all the while being careful not to touch any portion of the very hot oven).  Or use the parchment paper sling to lower the dough into the oven.

The second way is to let the dough fall from the banneton into one of your hands (fingers spread wide, and hand perhaps floured lightly) and then bring your other hand under the dough too so that your hands are supporting the dough (think of holding a small kitten in your hands).  See the previous paragraph for placing the dough into the oven.  I have never felt the need to get a combo cooker and have always felt that the Dutch oven works perfectly fine.  Definitely the effect of having a sealed steamy chamber for the first several minutes of the bake makes a difference.

In either case I always sprinkle some semolina flour onto the floor of the Dutch oven before putting the dough in so that the bottom of the loaf has that added flavor and texture, but that is of course optional.

Danni3ll3's picture

I first place a round of parchment paper in the bottom of the hot Dutch oven, Then, I put some cornmeal on the counter and turn out my boules onto that. I pick up the boule by the tip of my fingers and carefully place it on top of the parchment paper. I make sure to keep my hands away from the walls of the pot. The dough might bend in the middle a bit but I prefer that to burning my knuckles. Just be very aware of what you are doing when you are dealing with a hot pot and don’t allow any distractions. 

Mister Benny's picture
Mister Benny

You saved me $70 bucks! ;-)
Also I love using old junk to go things!
Please advise about temps when using the pot.
I saw a video where a terra cotta was used and he was up in the 485° range 
and I thought wow that is HOT.

BobBoule's picture

is a common way to get excellent oven rise from our loaves. I usually bake at 500ºF in cast iron and get excellent results. We use high hydration recipes so that the loaf steams itself in the dutch oven, so it also contributes to getting a good rise. Usually I don't not use parchment nor corn meal, because when the loaf comes out it will just fall out effortlessly (if its not underbaked, but when you are starting out it would be helpful to use both. Use a thermometer to make sure that your loaf is completely baked and let it rest for an hour or two before cutting into it.

Also, it often will squeal when you first put the dough into the screaming hot preheated dutch oven, this sound os normal. Just be very careful not to burn yourself. Good luck!

gerryp123's picture

Adding to what danni said ---

I use a 5 qt Lodge cast-iron DO.  The best!  (Can find these for under $40)

After proofing my boule (seam-side up) I top it with p-paper and a cookie tin for stability, then I flip the whole thing over.  Can easily lift the p-paper with boule on top (seam-side is now down) and place in the DO.

Holding onto the edges of the p-paper, boule is easily positioned, no burnt fingers.

Also, some folks start with an unheated DO to avoid burns.  Claim that it works as well as a pre-heated DO.  (I have not tried this technique.)

Mister Benny's picture
Mister Benny

I watch a vid of a Brit making sourdough boules using a pyrex that has no knob on top of the lid.
He just flipped it over and used it upside down. 
They are really  inexpensive if it works and he said they are wonderful 

WatertownNewbie's picture

My concerns would be a limit on the temperature and the possibility of the Pyrex shattering.

Lazy Loafer's picture
Lazy Loafer

I have used a Pyrex bowl to cover dough on a baking sheet, when I was making bread in a vacation rental place that had few other options. It worked fine except that the loaf expanded to fill the bowl completely, making it almost impossible to get off part way through the bake!

At any rate, your cast iron pot should work a treat. I always use the parchment sling method, particularly as I use smaller (3 quart) cast iron pots and it's very difficult to get a 750 gram boule into a small hot pot otherwise. There is no ill effect on the finished bread at all, and I will reuse the parchment until it is too brittle to trust.

You may also be able to find off-cuts of granite counter top from a kitchen place. I have two that cost me very little and I bake on them all the time. Sometimes I will cover a loaf with a steel bowl or something else, but as I usually bake four to six loaves at a time I don't usually bother covering them.