19 October 2011

Recipe box: More about no-knead bread in a Dutch oven (part 2)

In yesterday's post, we covered adapting the popular New York Times non-knead bread to a whole-wheat version. Today, we go one step further and bake the bread in a Dutch oven with only charcoal. Practicing this kind of cooking is not only fun, but it also helps you practice for emergency power outages, etc.

The actual recipe for the no-knead bread is still the same as in yesterday's post. Steps 1–3 and 5–7 are the same: mix your yeast, water, flour, and salt, let it rest, and so on. The main difference here is the heating and handling of the Dutch oven, and the actual baking (Steps 4 and 8+).

First, it's important to consider your outdoor environment. Breezes, winds, and other weather can significantly cool your Dutch oven. At minimum, you need a good fireproof windbreak protecting your pot.

In my example here, I've used a clean metal trash can that I keep for these kinds of uses. Doing so allows me to more fully control the environment around the pot, and keep wind and light rain from cooling the oven.

For the Dutch oven, it's best to have one with legs underneath, so that the pot can stand over hot coals. Similarly, the lid should be fairly flat with a ridge around the edge to keep the charcoal and ash out of your food.

For ease of clean-up, I put aluminum foil at the bottom of the can. That way, when I'm finished, I can let the coals fully cool, wrap them in the foil, and throw them away.

While heating the charcoal briquettes, I put the lit coals in chimney start within the oven and the put the trash can's lid over the top, leaving it open a bit to allow adequate oxygen to the fire and coals. This protects the charcoal as it heats, and also warms the environment for the Dutch oven.

Rather than the 500°F temperature indicated in yesterday's post, we'll be using a slightly cooler baking temperature of 450°F, so you'll need a total of 29 briquettes if using a 10" diameter pot. (Refer to this PDF file baking temperature chart from Lodge Manufacturing for other temperature and oven size combinations.)

At this point, you have two options for preheating your Dutch oven. The first option is to simply use the charcoal to heat the Dutch oven., Alternatively, you can preheat your cast iron in your regular oven while your charcoal heats up. This kind of defeats the purpose of using charcoal, but it does save time and also makes it less likely to get ash on the dough when you put it in the pot.

For both preheating and actual baking, you'll need to put 10 coals equally spaced under the Dutch oven, set the pot over those coals, then even space the remaining 19 coals over the top of the lid. (Again, these number assume a 10" Dutch oven.)

Once your pot is up to 450°F, put the bread dough in it as described in Step 7 of yesterday's post. Just like a grill or a real oven, you lower the Dutch oven's temperature considerably when you remove the lid. When adding the dough, or checking on the cooking progress, try to have the lid off no longer than absolutely necessary.

Replace the cover and note the time. Unlike yesterday's Dutch oven baking in a regular oven, this bread will cook for a full 45–50 minutes with the lid on.

After the first 15 minutes, lift gently on the lid and rotate it around about a 1/4 or 1/3 of a turn to help even out the heat on the bread. Repeat this rotation in the same direction after the second 15 minutes.

At 45 minutes, check the bread with a toothpick or tester. If it comes out clean, the bread is done. Remove it from the oven and let it fully cool on a rack before slicing.

NOTE: Incidentally, I have tried removing the Dutch oven lid for the last 15 minutes, assuming that the trash can would act like a real oven and help brown the top of the bread. In order to keep the heat up inside the can, I put the coals in a ring around the inside wall. Doing so apparently increased the heat to the bottom of the Dutch oven, while not helping to brown the top of the bread. As a result, the top of the bread wasn't very crusty, and the bottom thickened and burned slightly, making the bottom crust leathery.

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