I have been making sourdough bread for some time, and lurking and using this forum extensively. Thank you all for your recipe ideas and tips.
My sourdough was enjoying sporadic success only. Lately however, it has become much more consistent- due to my romertopf. I thought it might be worth telling you about, because I previously hadn't had much joy finding good information about baking bread in a romertopf during my internet searching.
I had tried a couple of approaches - soaking then heating the pot, heating up the bottom, but proving the dough in the top, lined with baking paper - then just transferring the whole lot to the heated bottom and baking (this saved burnt fingers, but resulted in a pale crust). Now, however, I keep it much simpler and it seems to work brilliantly.
I tested it out with just the basic pane francese recipe from this site, doing everything according to the recipe, so won't repeat any of that. If I get the photos uploaded, you will see that I did decide to prove it in two parts but cook them together to make it easier to separate out a half loave and give it to friends.
When it came time to heat up the oven, I heated it to 245 degrees Celsius, with the romertopf in right from the start (ie in the unheated oven). I did not presoak the pot.
Transferring the bread to the (very hot) romertopf was a little challenging. I put the romertopf bottom on a board, transferred the first piece of dough carefully in. The second piece did, I confess, get dropped a bit - but that didn't seem to matter. (Burnt fingers the first time I did it though). It may be easier if there is just one piece of dough to transfer. Slashed the dough, put the lid on, and popped it in the oven. No need for ice or water to create steam - the dough itself is wet enough to create steam within the romertopf.
The first attempt, I removed the lid after 25 minutes and reduced the temperature to 220 degrees, the second picture shows a much browner loaf, because I removed the lid ater 15 minutes, and cooked it a bit longer. I'm sold really - each time I have have consistently good bread.