Bread bowls (boules)

2ajsmama avatar
By Sheila from Briarwoods Farm

Someone asked for a recipe for bread boules. This isn't sourdough, but the longer the rise time, the tangier this gets, and if you're filling it with soup or chili I don't think you'll miss the sourdough flavor. This recipe makes 1 really good-sized loaf (feeds a family of 4 for 2 meals), I've modified it to make 2 very generous, or 4 smaller, bread bowls. Time-consuming, but most of the time is waiting and the rest is so easy, and the results so tasty, it's worth the wait!

serves 2 to 4
prep time 8 Hr
cook time 1 Hr
method Bake


  • 4 c
    bread flour (anything with more than 10% protein/gluten, king arthur all-purpose is fine, i also like bob's red mill, sometimes i make it half whole wheat and half white)
  • 1/4 tsp
    (heaping) rapid/instant yeast
  • 1 1/2 tsp
    regular salt (if using kosher, make it 2 tsp)
  • 2 c
    cool to lukewarm (not hot) water
  • oil, for greasing the rising containers and your hands
  • 2 - 4 oven-safe round baking vessels, in diameters just a little larger than what you want your bread bowls to be, preferably covered stoneware or cast iron

How To Make

  • 1
    In a large mixing bowl (need room for this to rise), whisk or sift the dry ingredients together.
  • 2
    Add the water, stir until all the flour is incorporated and wet dough starts to stick to sides.
  • 3
    Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for anywhere from 6 to 30 hours (depending upon room temperature) until it has risen and has large air pockets in it (a glass mixing bowl is nice so you can see this). Best to do this overnight, but I have mixed it in the morning and baked it for dinner.
  • 4
    About 2 hours before you want to eat these, separate the dough into 2-4 pieces (depending on how big you want the bowls - this recipe will make 2 very generous 8" boules, or 4 smaller ones). You will want to wet, or oil, or flour your hands, since the dough will be very sticky and elastic.
  • 5
    Pull the edges of each chunk of dough under, to form a smooth top roughly in the shape of a ball. Place each chunk in an appropriately-sized (slightly smaller than your baking vessel) oiled bowl or plastic container, turning to coat with oil. Leave the smooth side down since this will be the top of your loaf.
  • 6
    Cover containers with lint-free towels to rise for an hour or so before preheating the oven. This would be 1.5 to 2 hours total rise time. The "baking" time given at the top of the page counts roughly 30 minutes of preheating time. The actual time the loaves are in the oven depends upon the size of the loaves, but large loaves would take 20-25 minutes, 4 smaller loaves only about 15-20 minutes, and 2 batches of small loaves slightly more than 30 minutes. I've baked this as one huge loaf in an oval roaster(not recommended - it came out a foot wide and rather flat) and it took 28 minutes plus 5 minutes browning.
  • 7
    An hour before you want to eat, arrange your oven with the rack in the middle position and a baking vessel for each boule placed on the rack (you can bake these in batches if you don't have enough baking dishes, they don't take long). These can be 7-8" oven-safe glass covered casseroles, cast iron, whatever you have as long as they have oven-safe lids (don't forget about the knobs!). Preheat to 450 F. If you don't have anything suitable, you can use cake pans (deeper is better though) or a baking stone. You will have to preheat the baking stone (as I'm sure you know if you have one LOL), though the dough is so wet it will spread. If using cake pans, don't preheat them - you can just let the final rise happen in the greased cake pans, since you're not preheating those (saves some dishwashing!) I used a 6x3 decorator aluminum cake pan covered with a Pyrex lid. I suppose you could cover each cake pan with parchment paper and foil instead, to try to keep the steam in, if you don't have lids you can use.
  • 8
    When the oven has preheated to 450, and you've left the stoneware/cast iron/baking stone in for at least 10 minutes past that to get good and hot, CAREFULLY take it/them out and plop the dough into/onto the hot surface (just turn the rising container upside down over it, no need to get fancy since the pot gives the boule its shape). I don't own a baking stone so I don't know how well the boules will hold their shape on that - but expect them to spread.
  • 9
    Using clean scissors or a serrated knife, cut an X in the top of each loaf. Carefully put the hot lids (if using) back on the casseroles (if baking in a cake pan just mist the top with water, or apply a milk or egg wash) and place them on the center rack.
  • 10
    The smallest vessel I used for this batch was a 500ml individual Corningware casserole, with no lid. I didn't cover it with foil or anything, it rose right away (oven spring) without it, browned very nicely, and given the small size of the dough balls, I think it gave the nicest shape for a boule, though it seemed like there was too much dough for the vessel when I first tipped it in (it also ended up a little lopsided). The other pans (6" cake pan, 1.5qt Corningware casserole, and 3qt enameled cast iron Dutch oven) were all a little too big, so the boules ended up flatter.
  • 11
    Bake for 15-20 minutes depending on size of loaves, check the tops for browning. Then remove the lids (if using) and leave them in the oven until browned to your satisfaction (0 to 10 minutes).
  • 12
    Turn the loaves out of the pans onto a wire rack - they should sound hollow when you knock on the bottoms. If the bottom is not browned/crisp enough, you can return to the oven - just place directly on the rack for a few minutes. In fact, this might be good to do instead of just removing the lids and leaving them in the oven - if filling with soup or chili you would want them with a little crisper crust all over, and a little drier inside, than we typically eat (this bread has a wonderful crust and crumb/custard, but it might get a bit soggy inside after filling with soup).
  • 13
    If you are baking these in batches there is no need to wash or preheat the covered vessels - just carefully wipe out any flakes of brown crust and plop the rest of the dough in and bake as above. If using cake pans, you probably want to let them cool enough to grease again, unless you're using nonstick, in which case it will probably be OK to put the dough in the hot pan.