In the summer of 2018 we were in Italy with the Big Green Egg and thoughts again came to bread making. We love Italian food but bread making does not seem to be their greatest triumph!. We have to be straight before we start – the Mini Big Green Egg is not designed for bread making – it is really too small! The fire ends up too close to the cooking vessel and there is not enough space in the dome to cook a decent size loaf. So that should be the end of it – but of course it wasn’t! in 2017, when travelling in Europe we played around with a couple of bread recipes. They worked, though they were more ‘fun than practical’. The following year I wanted to take it one step further. We had acquired a small Le Creuset lidded casserole that would just fit in the Mini BGE. The idea was to cook the bread in this. Bread inside a dutch oven works well and there are some excellent ideas on Adam’s site at The Cook’s Digest. With Adam’s advice we had chosen to do a version of his Easy Home Made Bloomer. This is an almost, but not quite, a no knead recipe. We were going to modify it by dropping it into the hot Dutch Oven when ready to cook rather than cooking it as Adam does. There were of course other modifications too – we had a wholemeal flour which would require more water. ………. oh yes, and we had no way to weigh or measure anything! That is the great thing about real bread though: flour, water, yeast and salt – can still give an excellent (if slightly different) outcome even if the proportions are only approximately right!
The first attempt was made with around a cup of flour, this was Italian wholemeal, some luke warm water, enough to make the bread workable, a chunk of fresh yeast from the supermarket, a sprinkling of salt and some oil to moisten the mixing bowl. The method was then exactly as described by Adam: The dry ingredients were put in the bowl and then enough water was added to make a wet dough. The bowl was covered (oiled clingfilm) and left for the dough to rest for 20 mins. The dough was then turned out onto a lightly oiled surface and kneaded for just 15 seconds. It was then returned to the bowl, covered, and left to rest for 20 mins. This last step was repeated twice – but on these occasions kneaded on a floured work surface. Once the dough had risen by around 50% it was again turned out onto a floured surface and shaped to a rugby ball shape to fit the Dutch Oven. It was then left to rise again by about 50%.
As we had discovered last year because of the proximity of the fire to the bottom of the bread there was a tendency to overcook the base of the bread. In this regard the Dutch oven should help, but the dutch oven, cast iron rack and the platesetter were just too high to allow the EGG to close. So necessity being the mother of invention, we took out the fire ring and placed the platesetter directly on the fire basket – feet down. Then we added a little loose pad of aluminium foil and placed a flat stone that we had found out walking on top of that (that would be our pizza stone!) and then on top of this we placed the Dutch oven to warm. This was when things went a little awry! The plan was to heat the EGG to 200C with the Dutch oven in place and then carefully place the ‘rugby ball’ of dough in the hot dutch oven. Well it all sounds great but the placing of the dough in the hot Dutch oven was less than perfect and the beautifully enlarge dough ball deflated immediately! Nothing for it but to carry on, so we sprinkled a little water on the top, put a single knife ‘slash’ in the deflated rugby ball and replaced the lid of the Dutch Oven and kept our fingers crossed. After 20-25 mins we opened the Dutch oven and much to our surprise there was a nicely formed, small loaf. We left it for a further 10 mins with the lid off and then put on a cooling rack before slicing. The bread was lovely, it had a texture approaching a soda bread but a delightful taste!
For our second attempt we made a larger quantity of bread dough and decided to try and cook it in an inverted Dutch oven – placing the dough on the lid and then putting the body of the oven over the top as a cloché. As the lid was not flat this required a little improvisation again using ‘scrunched-up’ aluminium foil to make a stable base. As you can see in the picture to the left, once the Dutch oven cloché was removed the then risen bread dough could be placed directly on the inverted lid. The bread was again dampened and cut with a knife and the rest of the Dutch oven replaced. The bread was left to cook for 20-25 mins. At this point the cloché was removed and the bread was allowed to cook for a further 10 mins. This worked really well and with a little more dough we were getting a small but better sized loaf. The rest of the dough had been left to chill in the fridge whilst this first loaf cooked and so this was brought out, shaped and allowed to rise, and the process was simply repeated to produce a second similar loaf.
The final outcome? A delightful, if small loaf with a great taste and texture. It has to be said that the texture of these later bakes remained quite like that of a soda bread – but no worse for that at all. I suspect this was the effect of this particular kneading technique with a wholemeal flour rather than anything else. And reflecting on the whole process? In one way – complete madness – the loaf was delicious if small. In another way – complete triumph – the loaf was small but delicious!!
Do try some of Adam’s recipe suggestions for bread, but if you can, cook in something a little larger than a Mini Big Green Egg!!