I am an absolute newbie to baking bread. Just started baking veggies recently. Before I buy any baking pot, I would like to ask a few questions about bread baking. Is it always better to have a baking pot of cast iron (or the materials specific for baking)? In the bakeries and all I see people baking without pots. So, why do we need baking pots? Is anything made of stainless steel good for baking bread? If so, what should be it's thickness? Thanks in advance!
1I'm a little confused: your title asks about stainless steel, but then you mention a cast iron pot in the body of your question. I guess you're trying to see if you can substitute a stainless steel pot for the cast iron? As for the pot, what kind of bread you trying to make? Are you looking at recipes like this one which put bread inside a pot to bake?– Cascabel ♦Jul 14, 2014 at 17:52
I was wondering which is better - to substitute stainless steel pot instead of cast iron pot or to bake without pot. I want to start with the likes of the recipes that you have linked - first, some no-knead breads.– Population XplosiveJul 14, 2014 at 18:03
You're in India? Before anything else about breadmaking, let me ask you something: What kind of flour will you be working with? Knowing that will really help us lead you in the best direction. And what kind of oven will you be using?– Jolenealaska ♦Jul 14, 2014 at 19:12
I'm from India but not in India. I have all kinds of flours available and will be using a normal oven (Well, I'm saying that it's a normal oven as I have seen these kinds of ovens in other houses). But I most probably will be starting with whole wheat flour.– Population XplosiveJul 15, 2014 at 16:00
Ok, good to know. With whole wheat especially you want to be sure that you follow a solid recipe. In my answer with the Dutch oven pictures, I link to King Arthur Flour, that's a good site. So is The Fresh Loaf. Both of those sites get into no-knead techniques. A great book is Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day– Jolenealaska ♦Jul 16, 2014 at 1:32
In my mind, bread baking containers are divided into two categories:
1- Pans for shape
Many bread pans are used only to give bread shape. These can very from "normal" loaf pans for sandwich bread to baguette pans.
These pans need to just stay out of the way of the heat as much as possible. Baguette pans are even perforated for this reason. They are usually made out of very thin steel and don't need to be expensive at all.
2- Pots for heat and steam
Artisan style bread needs high initial temperatures to produce steam that opens up the bread and builds the crispy crust. It also needs to have a steamy oven during that initial crust-forming period. Consumer ovens don't usually retain heat very well and are not built with steam injectors either.
Putting the bread in a pot helps with both issues. By preheating the pot, the bread will be exposed to a large, pre-charged, thermal mass right at the beginning of baking. Then as steam escapes the loaf it will be held close to the bread and give you a crispy crust.
Pots to do this need to be able to hold a lot of heat so cast iron or ceramic vessels are used. A stainless steel pot with a lid probably wouldn't do very well because it wouldn't hold much heat and would shield the bread from the high heat.
Since you mentioned no-knead bread, I would think that you are planning to make artisan style bread rather than soft, sandwich bread. If that is true then I don't think a stainless steel pot would be the best choice. Use either cast iron with a lid, or forgo the pot idea and bake the bread on a pizza stone and spray some water in your oven for steam.
I bake in a Cast iron Dutch oven (my profile pic is exactly that), loaf pans, on a stone and on aluminum sheet pans lined with parchment paper. As @Sobachatina mentions, the steam effect during the first 20 min or so may help develop your crust better, it certainly does for my bread. I remove the lid after 20 min. And continue baking for the duration. I don't use this method exclusively though. But I do preheat everything but the loaf pans, including the Dutch oven and lid, before baking on or in them. Jul 15, 2014 at 1:09
Bread dough can be baked with or without a baking pan, tin, or pot. Pans and tins (and rarely pots) are used to give bread a specific shape, without one the dough will simply spread out. Bread pans are usually pretty thin, you don't need a thick material to bake bread in, and thin is cheaper. You don't need to spend a lot on equipment to bake good bread, spend the money on good ingredients instead.
GdD is absolutely right, that ingredients are generally more important than your vessel, but for that particular type of bread (classic no-knead like in the recipe Jefromi showed you) a cast-iron Dutch oven is ideal.
The one on the left is plain cast-iron, the one on the right is enameled cast-iron.
In the US, those can be found pretty easily and inexpensively, but I understand that they can be hard to find elsewhere. If you can get a pan like that, they're great to have, they're very useful, but they are not essential to bread-making. There are many kinds of bread, and you can make great bread in/on anything.
If you want a Dutch oven, cast iron is best, but it's really not essential. Look around here: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/ just to see a few gazillion ways to get started.