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posted: 7/25/2014 5:30 AM

Dutch oven key to artisanal quality bread at home

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  • Baking multigrain bread in a Dutch oven gives it an artisanal quality.

      Baking multigrain bread in a Dutch oven gives it an artisanal quality.
    Associated Press

 
By Elizabeth Karmel
Associated Press

Homemade bread really is the difference between a good sandwich and a great one. This especially important when contemplating back-to-school lunches. A brown bag lunch should be something to look forward to. And even a peanut butter and jelly sandwich becomes a treat when good bread is involved.

But we tend to be intimidated by from-scratch bread baking. I certainly felt that way after recently enjoying an artisanal loaf. I wanted to recreate it at home, but I knew my oven -- as opposed to a brick oven -- would be my greatest stumbling block. I figured it was hopeless, until I stumbled onto a recipe by Leslie Mackie, chef-owner of Macrina Bakery and Cafe in Seattle.

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The technique is simple, and it wonderfully replicates a traditional bread oven. It involves baking the loaf in a cast-iron double Dutch oven (the sort in which the lid is an overturned skillet). With its tightfitting lid, the preheated cast-iron pot traps the moisture inside where the loaf simultaneously rises as it bakes, creating a soft yet hearty interior texture and a deep golden brown crust.

Making the bread was half science experiment, half baking, and I couldn't wait to get started. I adapted the recipe to suit my taste, adding twice as much cereal for texture and adding rye flour for tang. The multiple rises contribute to both the texture and the development of flavor.

One easy tip when making this bread is to purchase a raw multigrain hot cereal and use that instead of buying bags of individual grains, such as flax, oats, barley, rye, wheat, etc. I also like to add sunflower seeds.

The only difficult part of this recipe is heating and handling the Dutch oven. I place the Dutch oven on rimmed baking sheet to make this job easier and safer. It is especially helpful when removing the "lid" after the first 30 minutes of the baking time.

• Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling and Southern foods expert and executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market restaurants in New York and Washington, as well as Hill Country Chicken in New York. She is the author of three cookbooks, including "Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned."

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