In the Potter’s Kitchen: Two-Section Baking Dish

When you think of ovenware, you probably think of a casserole dish first. The lidded baking dish is a staple of both the kitchen and the potter’s art, and can be used for casseroles, meats, roasted vegetables, and desserts. The lid can be used to cover the food while it’s cooking, or to cover it after it comes out of the oven. The dish can be round, square, rectangular, or oval, and it can be small enough to bake for one or two people, or large enough to serve a crowd.

What makes a casserole or baking dish useful and enjoyable to use? Is the glaze smooth and easy to clean? Is it deep enough to hold your favorite recipe? Does the lid fit well? Details like handles and knobs are important. Here are some questions to ask yourself when making a baking dish.

1 Center 5 pounds of clay and throw a bowl with a wide, flat ¼-inch-thick bottom. Trim the rim at a downward angle.

2 Mark the height and diameter of the bowl using a throwing guide, throw a second identical bowl and keep both attached to the bats.

3 Bevel the second bowl at the opposite angle to the first one. Wrap the rims of the two bowls, allow the bowls to stiffen.

4 Score and slip both rims. Place the first bowl on the wheel, then invert the second one onto the first one.

5 The angled edges should match up exactly. Use fingers and ribs to smooth over the join.

6 With the wheel turning, use a needle tool to cut a groove where the upper bowl joins the bat.

 

Is My Pot Useful?

Does the lid have an unnecessarily high dome, which wastes oven space?

Does the knob stick up so high the pot won’t fit between the racks?

Does the pot have a trimmed foot that may add excess height?

Is the knob easy to grasp, even with a pot holder?

If it has side handles, can you get fingers under them with pot holders?

If it doesn’t have handles, can you grasp the pot’s body with pot holders?

Does it need a trimmed foot or should it be thrown flat on the bottom? There is some difference of opinion among potters in this regard. Common practice is to avoid a trimmed foot on bakeware. Most cooks prefer to use a pot with a flat bottom and no foot; in addition to adding unnecessary height, a trimmed foot may catch on an oven rack. Also, a trimmed foot catches water in the dishwasher, although this is easily avoided by cutting a notch into the foot. However, some potters put a foot ring on baking dishes to glaze across the entire bottom. This ensures that the bottom of the pot isn’t stressed by having a glaze on one side only, since clay and glaze always expand and contract at slightly different rates with heating and cooling. In addition, if the clay is not fully vitrified—such as an earthenware clay—a trimmed foot ring allows for glazing as much of the surface as possible, thus helping to seal the clay from absorbing moisture. In general, however, a flat bottom with a slightly rounded corner helps protect the pot from heat shock and is an easy form to use.

7 Work a wire between the pot and the bat, with the wheel turning slowly, pull the wire toward you to cut the bat loose.

8 Trim and rib the form to round and smooth the top. Wire under the dish to remove it from the second bat.

9 Flip the form over, secure it to the wheel head, and trim it to round and smooth this end.

10 Set the form on its side and draw a line around it just above halfway. Use this line as a registration mark to plan a wavy cut.

11 Using a sharp X-Acto knife, cut the lid off with an inward bevelled cut.

12 Lift the top off and smooth the inside of where the two bowls were joined to ensure a good attachment.

 

Should the pot have a gallery to hold the lid, or should the lid have a flange to hold it in place? Typically, the lid of a casserole dish sits on a gallery built into the rim of the pot. While this is functional, some potters think the pot should have a simple rim with a flange on the lid.

To quote Vince Pitelka, “With the normal ‘cookie-jar’ socket-style gallery on a casserole, where the gallery is on the pot rather than on the lid, anything that bubbles and spatters onto the underside of the lid flows down onto the gallery and makes a real mess, sometimes sticking the lid in place. Also, a casserole with this kind of gallery makes a less-attractive presentation when placed on the table with the lid. In contrast, with the gallery on the lid, anything that bubbles and spatters onto the underside of the lid simply drips back down into the casserole and does not contaminate the gallery. It’s a fairly fine point, but worth considering.”

13 Smooth the join on the bottom section. Be careful not to distort either side or the pieces won’t fit back together.

14 Gently smooth all cut edges with a sponge. You can use a Surform rasp later if necessary to further clean up.

15 The pieces are still soft, so put plastic between them so they don't stick together. Dry them a bit before adding handles.

 

Also, a gallery built into the rim of the pot might make it more difficult to remove the first serving of a casserole. On the other hand, the traditional simple, slightly domed lid is easier to make and potentially easier to replace if broken. Some users believe that if there is a flange on the lid then it will end up getting into the food when it’s placed on the pot. Some potters think that the profile of the dish when the lid is set on a gallery inside the rim of the pot is more clean and compact. Also, this kind of lid stores easily and compactly upside down inside the gallery.

The decision about what kind of lid to make might depend on what is being cooked in the casserole, and whether it’s being cooked with the lid on or the lid is going to be used to cover the dish after baking. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details.

Excerpted from In the Potter’s Kitchen by Sumi von Dassow, available on the Ceramic Arts Network Shop: https://ceramicartsnetwork.org/shop.

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