Going back to the buttered baguette “soldiers” we used to dip in soft-boiled eggs when I was a child, I have always been fascinated by bread as a container or as silverware. I may yet make a “pain tranchoir”, a slab of bread on which medieval ladies and lords heaped their meat as the valets made their way around the great halls with chunks of roasted animals on huge platters. The bread would slowly absorb the dripping juices and since the mighty only ate the meat itself (which they cut with a knife close to their mouths), it was distributed to the poor (or sometimes sold to them by the servants) the day after, nourishing and flavorful.
In the meantime, I like the idea of making bread bowls as vessels for soups (here a New England clam chowder), salads, chilis, appetizers, side-dishes, etc. (for some suggestions, check out The Sourdough Bread Bowl Cookbook, by John Vrattos and Lisa Messinger).
This time (I made the dish for the first time last year, using baguette dough, and posted about it here on my French blog) I made the bowls out of the same batch of dough as the rustic batard. The dough was a tad too wet (85 %) for the purpose. If you make the dough specifically for the bowls, you may want to go for a lower hydration rate (maybe 70-72 %) as it will make it shaping easier.
However I was more or less able to reproduce the technique that Gérard demonstrated for me on a piece of his firm levain (a much less hydrated piece of dough) last time I visited.
Gérard says the shaping is the same as for a brioche, the idea being to embed the top (or head) in the main ball. During the proofing, the dough will rise in a pear-shape (or cone). No scoring is necessary if the top is well buried in the main part as the base will widen a bit and get more stable. The lid is cut out after the baking.
Gérard offered a further tip, which is to melt some butter and after scooping out as much of the crumb as possible, to use a brush to gently (and sparingly) “paint” the inside of the bowl with it. The bowl is then put in the hot oven for about 5 minutes until nice and crisp inside.
For last night’s soup, I got my inspiration from Barbara Kafka’s recipe for clam chowder in Soup – A way of life, which I adapted somewhat. For instance I used canned minced clams and bottled clam juice instead of fresh clams which I would have had to scrub and cook myself. I also added a tiny bit of bacon (about 1 strip, chopped in tiny pieces and cooked separately until crisp).
Ingredients (for 2 bowls):
- 2 baked 270g-bread bowls (you can make the bowls smaller if you’d rather serve the soup as a first course. Even as a main course, we ended up eating only a small part of the bowl)
- 15 g butter for the soup itself + 30 g to “paint” the inside of the bowls
- 10 g unbleached all-purpose flour
ground mace to taste (I didn’t have any and used freshly ground nutmeg)
- A pinch of cayenne pepper
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
- 225 g firm potatoes, peeled and diced
- 125 g heavy cream (or more to taste)
- 1 10-oz (280 g) can of chopped clams, drained
- 1 bottle (450 ml) of clam juice
- Pepper and salt to taste
- 1 strip of bacon, diced, cooked till crisp and drained on a paper towel
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 scallion, finely chopped
- Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Stir the soup flour, the mace (or nutmeg) and the cayenne pepper. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring
- Stir in the onion and cook, stirring and scraping the flour from the sides of the pan frequently, for 10 minutes, or until the onion is translucent
- Slowly whisk the clam juice into the pot until the mixture is smooth. Stir in the potatoes and the bay leaf. There should be enough liquid to cover the potatoes. If there isn’t, add additional water to barely cover them. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Lower the heat and simmer for 12 minutes, or until the potatoes are almost done
- Stir in the clams and cream. Heat through. Remove the bay leaf. Check the seasoning
- Carefully pour into the bowls, garnish with chopped scallion and bacon bits. Bon appétit!