The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sourdough in a camp dutch?

rgreenberg2000's picture
rgreenberg2000

Sourdough in a camp dutch?

I like to camp, and I like to bake naturally leavained bread.  So, since I cook many loaves in a dutch oven in my home oven, I figure that I should be able to do this in a camp dutch using coals for heat......right? :)

I did a bunch of scouring the internet looking for information from people who have done this, and then dove in and gave it a try with my 50% WW sourdough recipe that I can reproduce pretty faithfully in the regular oven.  So, all the pre-baking steps were the same for this loaf as usual, as my focus was on figuring out the baking portion (before I get into the logistics of mixing, bulking, shaping, etc. in a campsite setting....)  I've only got one camp dutch oven (the one with legs and a lip on the lid to hold the coals) and it's a 12" deep size.  I started with 36 lit briquettes (24 on the top, and 12 in a ring around the circumference of the bottom of the oven.  I let it pre-heat for about 30 minutes.  My IR thermometer was reading about 300F at the top of the oven and 200F at the bottom (reading outside oven temp, so likely a bit higher inside.)  I added more coals to the top, since my reading told me that more top heat was better.

I took the loaf from the fridge, slashed it (forgetting that I had put it seam side down so I didn't need to), and put it in the oven.  Every 10 minutes, I rotated the oven 1/4 turn, and the lid 1/4 turn in the opposite direction.  After 40 minutes, I opened it up to check on it, and the internal temp of the loaf was 204F.  I removed the loaf to let it cool.  It did not get a ton of oven spring, and appeared to have spread out a bit before rising much.  The crust was a pale brown, with very little evidence of bloom at the slash/seam site.

My rather uneducated guesses about the factors that affected this first attempt are: (1) the oven wasn't hot enough, so didn't get that good initial heat to start the spring; (2) I think I overproofed the loaf a bit which likely contributed to the lack of spring as well as color (again, also related to heat); (3) I'm really wondering what to do about the fact that the dutch oven is closed the whole time, therefore keeping the bread in a steamy environment for the whole cooking process; (4) my DO is possibly too large for my loaf size, and I may be better off with a 10" DO, or a larger loaf.

I wish I had taken some pictures so that there was more to go on in this post, but I am wondering if any of you have cooked bread in a camp dutch.  If so, have you ever produced something comparable to what comes out of your dutch oven cooks in your home oven?  What is your process?  What do you do about the steam (I think I'll vent the lid after 15-20 minutes next time?  What amount/type of coals do you use to achieve 475F or so in your oven?

I will keep experimenting with this process, as I think a freshly baked loaf of bread would not only be fun to create in camp, but would be even more delicious enjoyed out in the woods! :)  Thanks in advance for any experience, or musings you might have!

Rich

barryvabeach's picture
barryvabeach

Rich,  anytime I try a totally new technique or cooking method,  it reminds me about a show on tank warfare ( prior to computers ).  The first round isn't supposed to hit the target, but it shows whether I should tilt gun a bit to the right or the left, and whether to raise the barrel or lower it a bit.  So now you have some data, you can try going a little hotter, which I think you will definitely want to do, not sure what to do about cooking the whole time with the lid on. 

rgreenberg2000's picture
rgreenberg2000

You are absolutely right, Barry, and, indeed, that's why I took a run at it after some research so I could learn something (it's also why I did it in the backyard rather than trying it out at camp!) :)  I've got some things to tweak after the first attempt, for sure.  I wouldn't turn back any input from someone who has been successful, though!

I'm honestly not expecting that I can turn out a loaf that looks exactly the same as it would at home, but that's my nirvana to shoot for.  I'll post back again on the next attempt.  In the meantime, if anyone out there has ideas, I'm open to them! :)

Rich

Tyler Dean's picture
Tyler Dean

I have a red dutch oven that literally turns black when it's above 500°F, so it's a great way of telling the temperature. I say that you probably need more heat, making sure your dutch oven is at the very least 450°F before putting the bread in. Can you get one of those infrared thermometers that you can aim at the oven?
Another tip I have for you is to bake the loaf more on the side of being underproofed rather than overproofed. At home, I have better oven spring and shape when I place the bread in the fridge as it is finishing it's proof, making sure to put it in the fridge before it's done proofing by like 20 minutes because it will continue to proof in the cold to some degree. If the loaf is fully chilled just before baking, it's much harder to destroy it as you load it in the oven. I know you're saying camp, so maybe you can use an ice box for your loaf as you build your fire?
Are you using parchment paper to gently lower the loaf into your dutch oven? I use a small cutting board with parchment paper between it and the banneton, flip the bread out on the parchment paper using the cutting board for support, remove the banneton, and pick the parchment paper up with the chilled bread in it, using the corners of the paper to gently lower your dough into the very hot dutch oven. 
As for getting your crust to brown at camp, maybe try opening the lid just a tiny bit so the steam can escape but your lid is still providing heat?
I saw Teresa Greenway from Northwest Sourdough use a mixture of corn starch and water to make a glaze which is applied to the raw loaf just before baking. It really made a crispy golden and blistered crust. Could help you at camp!
I'm all in support of your outdoor baking. If you can get your bread to come out right using no electricity, it will taste better than ever!
I hope I provided some help at least! Thank you!

Tyler Dean's picture
Tyler Dean

I have made slow cooked curry before in my dutch oven on a beach. I dug a hole in the ground, got a roaring fire with pine cones and pine needles, let the coals die down, and I put the oven right in the ground with the lid on and placed as much coal on top as possible. Having the oven buried in a hole of coals might help with the heat and allow less to escape. I know you said it has legs though. Just a thought!

rgreenberg2000's picture
rgreenberg2000

Thanks for the input, Tyler, I appreciate it.  I do have a "camp dutch" oven, so it's got legs on the bottom to elevate it above the lower coals.  I know for sure that one thing I need to do is definitely get the heat up.  I was going by the published charts that I found that indicate how many coals top/bottom are needed for a particular heat, and those were certainly off.  My oven is a "deep" oven, so my guess is that the extra height put the dough far enough from the radiant heat that I wasn't getting enough heat to the dough.  I do have an IR therm, so I know I was low.

As for the overproof....that was my fault.  Got distracted with other things, and didn't get the banneton into the fridge soon enough (and it was a hot day.)  Not sure what I can rig up to retard the dough when I actually do this in camp, but I'll likely just forgo that part, and will do the final rise seam side down so I don't have to slash (in my experience, this is when I manage to damage my dough if I haven't chilled it.)

I'm a total wood/charcoal bbq nut, so trying to bake bread like this is totally something up my alley.  I'll get it figured out! I'm stubborn that way! :)

Rich

the hadster's picture
the hadster

Hello.  I also have used a "camp" dutch oven, the one with the legs.  You have your IR thermometer, which is every so handy!

Rule of thumb, twice as many briquettes on the top as on the bottom.  Every 15 minutes, turn the TOP 1 quarter turn  and the BOTTOM 1 quarter turn in the OPPOSITE direction.  This keeps the heat even.

Start off with many, many coals, and then remove some until you get the heat you want.

The briquettes burn at a constant rate to each other.   The lump charcoal does not.

 

rgreenberg2000's picture
rgreenberg2000

Hadster-

Thanks for the comments.  I was using Kingsford briquettes for this trial run, so I'm with you on that.  I have a lot of experience with lump charcoal, so I knew I didn't want the variability, and it also tends to burn out faster than briquettes, too.  I had 36 coals top, 12 bottom, so even more aggressive on the top heat than the recommendations, but I had seen enough burnt bread bottoms in my research that I erred on the cool side below.  I think I'll probably ramp up the bottom heat (a little) next time to be sure there's enough heat top to bottom.  I am planning to use the "ring method" next time.  One ring on the bottom, and 2.5 rings on the top (this is just a ring of briquettes placed edge to edge in a ring.  A single ring around the bottom circumference, and concentric rings on top starting at the outer edge/lip.)

I did turn the lid and dutch every 10 minutes, so will keep that up.  I think cracking the lid at 15-20 minutes to vent steam will be helpful too.  Mostly, MORE HEAT! :)

Rich

Capn Dub's picture
Capn Dub

Keep us posted on your progress.

When you get it right, the next step is to keep a little ball of the dough in a leather pouch on a leather thong under your shirt to use at your next campsite, like the old timers did.  🤪