Friday, 27 August 2010

Dutch Oven Baking

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
It's summertime here, and for me, that means camping. My dad loved being outdoors in the Colorado Rockies - hunting, fishing, and camping - and passed that love on to his children. I now live in Nevada, my sister four hours away in California. Between us lies the Sierra Nevada mountain range - a perfect halfway meeting area for joint camping trips whenever we can manage it.

When we meet, shortly after setting up camp, it's show & tell time - to share any new camping gadget or accessory we've found. A couple of years ago, my latest toy was a small cast iron dutch oven. This is a real one - not a flat-bottomed one designed to be used on a stovetop or inside an oven, but one with feet and a rim around the top to hold the coals. And I wanted to learn to use it as an oven - serving up fresh, hot baked goods in my campsite.

As with all my cast iron cookware, I took the time to season the oven before using it, then clean it without using soap and heat it to make sure it's completely dry after use. It's pretty much non-stick now anyway, but I also grease it well while still cold, each time before baking, just to make sure.

I've turned out some pretty good cornbread, using my regular recipe, and camping pizza is next on the experimentation list. For these photos, I used a pop-open roll of refrigerated cinnamon rolls (a special treat for my nephews).

Maybe someday I'll be able to correctly judge the heat from campfire coals, but for now using charcoal briquettes is my best chance for something edible. Each briquette equals about 15 degrees F (-9.5C) of cooking heat, so for a 350F (177C) oven I need 23-24 briquettes. I count those out into my little starter chimney and get them going first thing. When they're pretty much completely covered with ash, I dump them out to start baking.

A set of tongs is useful for setting the briquettes in place. For baking, you want mostly indirect heat so a 2:1 ratio, top:bottom, is ideal. I evenly space one-third of the coals around on flat ground, set the oven on top of them, and then arrange the remaining two-thirds evenly around the top. If I have the heat right, timing is about the same as in a regular oven. My nose is also a pretty good guide - the smell of cinnamon is soon wafting on the breeze.

When done, a claw hammer makes a good tool for lifting the oven off the coals, and then lifting the hot lid without tipping the coals into the oven. With a metal spatula, I can then tip up an edge of the bread, and lift it out of the oven in one piece (for pizza, I'm thinking I might make lifting handles from a strip of greased foil pressed into the bottom before adding the dough and toppings).