I was recently given a beautiful Emile Henry bread cloche - something I've always meant to try. I'm not the gadgety type, but I do love baking my own bread, and I'm a fan of all things Emile Henry - for my birthday, my mom got me the first baking stone I've actually been inspired to use - it's smooth and black and tray-shaped, with indented handles on each end for easy in and out of the oven, something I used to struggle with using the old-fashioned rough round pizza stone.
A bread cloche is designed to trap the steam evaporating from a loaf of bread as it bakes, creating a perfectly crisp, crackling crust. Its bell shaped cover allows you to proof your dough directly in the cloche, the lid then trapping steam from the baking bread to create an environment similar to a steam-injected oven. (Bonus: it's pretty.) You can use most bread recipes - I gave no-knead bread a whirl - and there are precise instructions that come with the cloche, describing how to fiddle with times and temperatures to make it work with your oven to create the perfect loaf. For bread enthusiasts, this would make a fantastic gift.
Because it's the Christmas season, I made something a little fancier, too - a fruited brioche, a slightly sweet dough enrichened with butter and egg and studded with plump dried figs and chopped toasted hazelnuts. You could customize it according to whatever dried fruit and nuts you like or have on hand. I love a festive fruity loaf to toast and spread with butter with my morning coffee.
Festive Fig & Hazelnut Brioche
1/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup warm milk
1 Tbsp active dry yeast
2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
3 large eggs
3 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup chopped dried figs
1/2 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts
In a large bowl, stir together the water, milk, yeast and a pinch of the sugar. Let stand for 5 minutes, until foamy.
Add the flour, butter, eggs, sugar and salt and stir or beat with the dough attachment of your mixer until the dough comes together. Continue to knead or beat for 5-8 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Knead in the figs and hazelnuts and transfer to an oiled bowl; turn all over to coat the dough, cover with a tea towel and let rise for 1 1/2 hours, until doubled in bulk.
Punch the dough down, sprinkle the base of the cloche with flour and place the ball of dough on it; cover and let rise in a warm place for another hour or so. With a sharp serrated knife, cut a couple slashes across the top.
When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 425F. Bake the loaf, covered, for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 5-10 minutes, until golden and hollow sounding when tapped. Cool (at least slightly) before cutting.
Makes 1 loaf.