How do you make bread bowls that are actually bowl shaped? Mine tasted great, but were much flatter than the cute bread bowls I see in restaurants. Has anyone made them and had them keep a good shape?
How to make successful bread bowls?
The recipe I use is the "Basic Bread Recipe" from the River Cottage Bread Handbook. I'm not sure what level of baker you are (I consider myself an advanced beginner), but this book is THE book to get if you're just learning about bread. It explains things so clearly. Then again, if you're an advanced baker, I'd still recommend it because it's got advanced skill breads as well - it's really like a textbook in that way - bake your way through it, and you'll be a pro at the end!
At any rate, the recipe -
8 cups (2 pounds, 3 ounces) flour (I use bread flour)
1 tablespoon (0.35 ounce) instant yeast
4 teaspoons (0.7 ounce) fine salt (I use iodized table salt)
2 1/2 cups warm liquid (I use water)
This is a one-stage mixed bread (i.e. you're not proofing the yeast in liquid first). Combine the dry ingredients, then add the liquid and mix to a rough dough. Adjust the flour or liquid as required to make a soft, kneadable, sticky dough (it will definitely stick to your hands pretty well at first).
Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead it until it's as smooth and satiny as you can get it, and has lost it's stickiness. The book says it takes around ten minutes, but when I was learning to knead this dough initially it took me around 15-20 minutes. Shape the dough into a single round and lightly oil it, then place it into a mixing bowl that's twice it's size. Cover with a clean towel and set it in a warm spot in order to proof to twice it's size (this can take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half).
Punch the dough down and reform it into a ball. You can let the dough proof and deflate it like this up to four times - the more you do it, the better the flavor and texture will be. I always do at least two proofs.
After your final proof, preheat your oven at 500 or the highest setting. Shape your loaves and let them rest on your baking pan for 10-15 minutes while the oven is preheating. Slash the tops of the loaves if you want to. Bake at the highest setting on the middle rack for around ten minutes, then turn the oven down to 400 if the crust is still very pale, 350 if its browning, or 325 if the crust is browning quickly (depends on your oven. Bake at the lower setting for 30-50 minutes (depending upon the size of the loaves).
The recipe also has instructions for how to add additions to the basic loaf as well as baking with steam, and there's a whole chapter of variations of this basic recipe. The book is amazing - if you like to bake bread, you've got to get it! :-)