Using a La Cloche Baker
"Also known as an instant brick oven, this bread baker consists of a stoneware bell or dome that fits over a wide, shallow dish with 2-inch-high sides. It is one of the most successful implements developed for home baking."—Chuck Williams
Compared to other bread-baking mediums, the La Cloche stoneware baker bakes larger, lighter loaves. When bread is baked on a sheet pan or preheated baking stone, the yeast in the dough is shocked by the intense heat and dies quickly. This limits the rise of the bread. In a stoneware baker, the dough is protected from the shock of the heat, allowing the yeast to live longer and increasing the volume of the dough.
Prepare your favorite bread recipe and shape the dough into a rectangular loaf (or into a ball, if you have a round baker). Generously dust the shallow dish of the La Cloche baker with cornmeal and place the dough, seam side down, in the base. Cover with the lid and let the dough rise.
When the dough has doubled in volume, place the baker in the lower part of a preheated oven. As the baker absorbs heat, the dough will continue to rise and moisture will be released. Hot steam will form inside the domed lid, helping the bread rise and creating a singularly crisp, thin and crackly crust. The loaf will look and taste as though it had been baked in an old-fashioned brick-lined oven.
Tip: For thick-crusted bread, remove the lid about 15 minutes before taking the bread out of the oven.
Williams-Sonoma Test Kitchen