What a relief, restrictions are easing off and we can have loved ones in our homes again. I’ve been cooking everything in my Smith & Nobel cast iron pots because they seem to inspire food that’s simple, grounded and comforting – what the world needs right now. Don’t just think stews, use it for baking desserts, bread or jam.
This was the first serious loaf of bread I made. By this I mean something with a winning crust that’s edging towards the heartiness and texture of a sourdough but without the time, expertise and commitment. The best thing about it that it requires zero bread making knowledge and skill, but perhaps a little patience as a key ingredient…..and here’s how it goes.
3 cups plain flour
1/4 tsp instant yeast
1 1/4 tsp salt
About 1/2 cup polenta or wheat bran for dusting
Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and whisk briefly. Make a well in the middle, add the water, then using a circular motion, mix the ingredients together with your hand to form a very sticky, wet dough. Cover with clingfilm and rest in a draught free spot for 12-20 hours – if the spot is warm it will take the minimum amount of time, if your house is freezing, up to 20 hours. All you need to know is that when it’s ready, the surface will be dotted with bubbles and when tilted the dough will stretch away from the side of bowl with a stringy appearance.
Next, scrape the dough out onto a well-floured surface, sprinkle more flour on the surface and flatten roughly with the palm of your hand, then pull the opposite sides of the disks and fold them into the middle so it resembles an envelope. Sprinkle a good amount of polenta about the size of a dinner plate, onto a clean, dry, tea towel. Place the dough on it smooth side down, sprinkle more polenta over the top. Using the corners of the tea towel, lift the dough and place in a roughly 25cm bowl. Fold the sides of the tea towel over the bread to cover it and allow to rise for another 2-8 hours or until it doubles in size. When it is ready, the dough should not spring back easily when prodded.
When you feel the moment is close, place your cast iron pot, lid on, in the oven to preheat at 210ºC FF, for 30 minutes. When ready, remove pot from the oven. Carefully slide your hand under the tea towel, then swiftly flip the dough into the pot. Please remember the pot is very hot so do not touch it! Place the cover on and bake for 30 mins, then bake for a further 30 mins uncovered. It will come out on the flattish and when knocked on the bottom side, made a round, hollow sound. Cool for at least 20 minutes on a wire rack before cutting into it. The crust should be super crunchy, the air bubbles large and the texture robust and a little chewy.
I love using my Smith & Nobel cast iron pots for stuff like boiling pasta because the colour just brings such joy to ordinary kitchen tasks – even washing those hardwearing glossy enamel surfaces is enjoyable! The artist in me wants all the colours but my favourite has to be the mustard.