09 February 2022
Baking bread in the Big Green Egg
With tips and tricks from Master Baker Hiljo Hillebrand
Did you know that the Big Green Egg is the perfect oven for baking bread? Master Baker Hiljo Hillebrand, an avid EGGer himself, shares why as well as the most important ins and outs of baking bread here. Of course, we’ll also include a couple of delicious bread recipes you can bake on your kamado.
Hiljo is a true bread baking expert. He grew up in his parents’ bakery and took his father’s advice by attending one of the best baking training programmes. After that, he went on to work in other positions like a bread product developer, he was commissioned to create a complete line of bread made of only organic ingredients and he started working as a baking adviser. As of October 2013, Hiljo has carried the title of Master Baker. That is a title that so far only 7 bakers have managed to achieve: the highest possible acknowledgement within the world of baking.
Nothing is too outlandish!
‘For me, the title of Master Baker is the crowning achievement of my craft,’ Hiljo says. ‘It tests aspects such as your experience and vision within the trade. But my favourite thing about baking bread is taking grain – a product of nature – and turning it into something delicious, with endless options for variation. Nothing is too outlandish! And that’s what makes baking bread so addictive. I mean, there are tons of options for the filling alone. You can knead almost any filling you want into the dough. You might make the dough too weak or too dry, but practice makes perfect. The possibilities are endless!’
The history of baking bread
‘What’s great about baking bread in the Big Green Egg is that traditionally, bread used to be baked with fire,’ Hiljo goes on to say. ‘The electric oven wasn’t used until the late 19th century. But with the Big Green Egg, which also uses fire to bake the bread, your bread will be not only more authentic, it’s also given a more intense flavour because of that great roasting taste. The ceramic material plays a big role in that. It absorbs the heat and radiates it back towards the bread, making your crust better and crispier than an electric oven would.’
Quality of the flour
‘When you’re baking bread, something to take into account is how much liquid you’re adding. Don’t add it all at once; set some of it aside first. Flour is a natural product and varies widely in quality, meaning that sometimes you need a little less and sometimes you need a little more liquid. When you’re kneading the dough, you’ll feel whether the dough is too solid and whether you need to add more liquid or not. And here, too: practice makes perfect. If the dough is too weak, you can always knead some extra flour into the dough.
Knowledge is power
‘If you want to know if your dough has been kneaded well enough, try to pull off a thin tiny layer . If you can without the layer ripping, it means that the gluten has developed enough to bake a nice and fluffy loaf of bread, which will also rise properly. The temperature of the dough is also important for the rising process,’ Hiljo adds. ‘The temperature of the dough after kneading should be somewhere between 24 and 27°C. That’s the ideal temperature for activating the yeast. So: knowledge is power – your core thermometer will definitely come in handy there!’
Rounding and pointing
‘It’s also important to round your dough properly or shape it into a proper point after the bulk of it has risen. After that initial rising process, press the air out of the dough and divide it into the number of portions you want. The purpose of rounding the dough is to put tension on the network of gluten that has formed. You round the portion(s) into a ball by first kneading the dough into a long shape. Then, you roll it up and place it with the seam facing up. Then you roll the dough again and place your hands on the sides, just under the dough. By moving your hands along the ball of dough and pushing the dough a little underneath the ball, you create the proper tension and a nice round ball. Pointing or folding the dough serves a similar purpose.’
Baking bread on stone
You can bake most breads directly on the Baking Stone. ‘What’s great about the Baking Stone is how it conducts heat,’ Hiljo explains. ‘Initially, it sends the heat up evenly from the bottom. Because of that, a crust forms on the bottom of the bread immediately, creating a base, after which the bread still has room to rise up. The heat that comes off the stone makes for a beautiful oven rising process. Basically, you always want to preheat the stone in the Big Green Egg for about 15 minutes. You usually won’t need any parchment paper on the Baking Stone, but if you have really sticky dough or a lot of filling that could stick to the stone, I would recommend using it just to be sure.’
You can also bake some breads in the Cast Iron Dutch Oven or the Green Dutch Oven. Hiljo: ‘For larger breads and especially those with a weaker dough, baking the loaf in a cast iron pan in the Big Green Egg is ideal. The pan kind of serves as your baking tin, and supports the dough. That way, the dough has nowhere to go but up. The pan makes the Baking Stone unnecessary, because the heat radiated from the ceramic material heats up the cast iron in no time. My advice, when you’re baking bread in the Big Green Egg for the first time, would be to start by baking a bread in the pan. Not much can go wrong there, because of the shape of the pan. Even if your dough is too weak because it’s too wet, you’ll still often get a good result. The excess liquid will just evaporate when you take the lid off the pan.’
Some general tips & tricks
- Preheat the Big Green Egg, including the convEGGtor, before you start baking your bread. You’ll need that heat to get your bread thoroughly cooked. If you wait to place the convEGGtor until right before baking, the temperature will drop along with your cold dough, which will mean the baking environment is not warm enough.
- If you’re not sure if your bread is done, check the core temperature. If the core thermometer reads 96°C, you’re finished baking and your bread is done!
- If your bread is done but the crust isn’t brown enough, open the air regulator and the rEGGulator all the way to quickly turn up the temperature in the EGG. This will add some quick colour to your crust.
- After baking, always let the bread cool on a rack so it can breathe. Otherwise, condensation can weaken your crust.
- Keep cooled bread that you want to eat the same day in a linen or a paper bag; that will keep the crust nice and crispy. If you want to keep the bread longer than a day, store it in a plastic bag. That will soften the crust but it will prevent your bread from drying out.
- Never throw out leftover bits of bread: you can use those to make croutons or French toast!
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