Friday, December 26, 2014

How to Make a Dutch Oven Pie Crust

I’m not a big pie baker.  Not because I don’t like them, of course, but because it takes a lot of work to really do it right, and I’m still learning all of that process. Still, I love the results! I’ve made apple pies, pumpkin pies, and, most recently, a pecan pie.

One thing I’ve noticed, as I’m baking, is that the crust is pretty much the same process in each pie I bake. So, I’m thinking I should write that process out in it’s own blog entry, and then I can reference it in all of my pie recipes.

I used to make my pies in my 12” Dutch oven, but over time, I discovered that the 10” is better. The 12” is usually too much pie, and some ends up being spoiled. So, 10” from now on.

Also, some people will bake their pies in pie tins, set inside a Dutch oven. That does make it easier to craft, and easier to lift out.  However, current IDOS cookoff rules prohibit using any internal cooking devices like pans or trivets inside the Dutch ovens. Plus, I really like just baking right in the Dutch oven.  I also like to serve it right from the Dutch, too, so I’m not required to lift it out whole and complete. If you want to do that, it’s not tough if you do the right trick.

But first, let’s make the crust!

10” Dutch Oven

8-10 coals below
14-16 coals above

1 1/4 c Shortening
3 c Flour
1 Tbsp Vinegar
5 Tbsp Water (chilled in ice)
1 egg

I start simply by adding all of the ingredients into a large bowl. You can use butter or margarine, I’m told, instead of shortening, but those had other liquids in them, and they can make for less flaky crusts. I’ve always used All Purpose flour, because that’s what I’ve always had on hand. You can use pastry flour if you want. It will have less protein, and so, less gluten.

I use a pastry cutter to mix the ingredients together. Blend them all, but don’t knead, since you don’t want to build any gluten in the flour. Also, working it less with my hands keeps it cool, so the fats don’t melt.

Once it’s mixed, I put it between two sheets of parchment or waxed paper and begin rolling. At this point, I’m not preparing it for the oven, but rather creating layers, so it can be rolled out quite thick.  I dust it with just a little flour, and fold it in half, and then in quarters. Then, I roll it out again. A little more flour, a folding, and another rolling. I do that process 3-4 times, creating layers in the stack.  Then, I leave it in a clump, wrap it in plastic and put it in the fridge to chill for a half hour or so.

In the meantime, I prepare the Dutch oven. I’ll spray it with oil, lightly.  Then, if I want to lift the pie out of the Dutch oven when it’s done, I’ll prepare the lifting mechanism. I’ll cut two big squares of parchment. I fold these into two long strips, and lay them across the bottom of the Dutch oven, folded up the sides, and over the edges. Then I cut a circle of parchment (you can use the lid as a template, and cut it just a little smaller) and lay that in the dutch oven, over the crossed strips of folded parchment.  It should look like this:

Then, it’s time to roll out the dough. I take it out of the fridge, and break off about 2/3 of it. I put it in between parchment or waxed paper sheets. I roll it out pretty thin, and cut it just smaller than the Dutch oven lid. I carefully lift the circle and the lower paper sheet and lightly fold it in half, with the paper on the inside. I set this down into the Dutch oven, then unfold the other half. Finally, I peel off the paper. It’s tricky to position the dough after it’s placed, so it’s good to be careful as it’s going in.

Then, I take all of the leftover around the circle, and the extra that I broke away earlier, and I roll that out, in a long rectangle. I cut that into strips, about an inch to an inch and a quarter wide, and about a foot long.

Each of these strips are lifted up and placed around the inside side of the dutch oven. I press them together and also press into the “corner” where the bottom of the Dutch oven rises up into the wall. Presto! The crust is in place. Then, take a fork and poke holes in the bottom and the sides, to vent the steam.

In most cases, it’s now ready for the filling! Make the pie happen! (One tip I heard when making fruit pies is to spread softened butter over the interior of the pie to keep the crust from soaking up much of the liquid in the filling.)

If my pie has a top crust, I’ll roll out another amount of dough and cut another circle about the size of the lid. using the same technique I lift it onto the filling and position it, unfolding it, onto the top of the pie. I’ll pinch the sides and the top crust together in a decorative way and cut stylish vent holes in the top (usually 3-4) so the steam can release and keep the crust from tenting.

Then, I’ll brush the top of the crust with a little milk and sprinkle some more sugar over the surface. This helps make a nice sweet glaze.

Now, in certain circumstances, it’s a good idea to parbake the bottom crust (also known as “prebaking” or “blind baking”). If you’re doing some kind of custard pie, or a particularly wet fruit pie, or if the filling itself will not be baked (like a cream or mousse pie). This will help set the flakiness and crispness of the crust before the wet ingredients are baked. I can’t think of a pie that might use a prebaked base with a top crust.

Light some coals (probably just before you start rolling out the dough), and let them get white-edged.  Pour some dried beans into the bottom of the crust, spreading them up the sides as well. This will help hold the crust down and prevent bubbling. Put the Dutch oven out on the coals, as listed above and let it bake. Now, in a conventional kitchen, in a preheated oven, a prebake will typically take about 10 minutes. In a Dutch oven, you have to heat up the iron, so a partial bake should be about 20-25 minutes. If it’s a cream pie, or something that won’t be baked, I’ll fully bake it, about 30-35 minutes, until the sides are brown.

When it’s done, I take it off the coals and let it cool some. When I can handle it, I’ll scoop out the beans with a spoon, or my fingers, and then let it cool just a little more.

At that point, the bottom crust is ready for pie!

Then, when the pie is all filled, baked, and cooled, you can lift the pie out of the Dutch oven using the strips of parchment. It usually works best if there are two lifters, each person lifting two ends, but I've done it successfully by myself.

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Absolutely Amazing Dutch Oven Burgers

Yesterday, I was browsin’ the webs when I came across this recipe for black bean burgers. I was intrigued, because, even though I’m not usually interested when a vegetable pretends to be meat, this recipe actually looked pretty good. I’ll probably try it sometime soon.


Yesterday, I decided that I wanted to do it with meat, anyway, because, really, it looked amazing.

I had decided that it would be an excellent chance for me to practice grilling under my wonderful new gazebo, but after prepping all the meat and the fixin’s, I discovered that someone had forgotten to close the valve on the propane cylinder last time, and we were outa gas. Seriously, I don’t know who could have done such a thing. I find it unconscionable and almost unforgivable. But, we must move on.

At that point, I decided to go ahead and cook them Dutch oven style, and fired up some coals anyway.

Dutch Oven Burgers

12” Shallow Dutch oven
22+ coals underneath

The lid of a 12” Dutch oven
22+ coals underneath

The burger meat:

2+ lbs of ground beef
1 onion (grated)
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
chili powder
a handful of fresh parsley

Kaiser rolls

Sliced cheese (I used sharp cheddar)

Toppings (all optional)
cooked bacon

The first step was to mix up the meat. This was quite simple, I mixed the ingredients in the first block all together. I actually chose the spices based on my own whims, rather than on the recipe I found. Each one was about a teaspoon, except for the chili powder, which was only a few sprinkles. My homemade chili powder is actually pretty strong. You can adjust yours to your own powders and tastes.

I also sliced the topping onions, the tomatoes, and the cheese

I put the Dutch oven on the coals and let it pre-heat for quite a while. I really wanted it to be pretty hot at first. I made my patties fairly large, partly because I knew they’d have to fit on a kaiser roll, and also because I knew that they’d shrink. By the way, I chose the kaiser rolls because they are a bit firmer than typical store-bought hamburger buns. Those things are pathetic. I also made larger patties ‘cause I’m a guy and I like to have lots of meat on my burgers. I know it’s not healthy, but once in a while ya just gotta live large.

I put the patties in the Dutch oven, and used it essentially as a griddle. Because it was so hot to start with, it got a pretty good sear on the first side.

While the first round of patties were cooking, I got more coals under an inverted Dutch oven lid (on a trivet-stand) and let that heat up. After turning the burgers, I brushed butter on the inside of the kaiser rolls and put them on the heated lid to toast, butter side down. After the meat turns once, and cooks a bit, it’s also a good time to put on the cheese so it can melt yummily.

I was careful not to overcook the burgers. I did cook them all the way through, but not dry. It’s tricky to get to that, I think. But, it worked last night. I think the Dutch oven is not as hot as most gas grills, which helped me to not dry them out. I also think it’s very important for burgers to be topped and served the instant they come off the heat. The longer you wait, the drier and crustier they get. Not good. If you’re serving family, have them gather and pray not too long after you do the first flip or they’ll be too late.

Finally, I pulled the buns off the lid/griddle, put the burger, sizzling, onto the bun, and let the family top it as they pleased. For my money, I love lots of extra stuff on my burgers, so I tend to layer it pretty high. Others might not. That’s OK. Even with the additional flavors, the spices and the flavor of the meat came through. It was possibly the best burgers I’ve ever made.

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Shelf-stable 100% Whole Wheat Bread

One of the problems with doing breads with long-term storage is that not all of the ingredients of bread are shelf-stable. The flour is a particular culprit. The wheat grain is easy to store, but as soon as it's ground, the inner parts are exposed to the air and begin to degrade. This is especially true of bread flour. I don't like to make bread with flour that's more than a month or two opened. I just don't get as much gluten, nor as much rise.

Add to that the problem that whole wheat flour doesn't develop much gluten anyway. That leaves you stuck with a lot of compromise. To get the lift and the fluff that the gluten gives, a lot of people will add fresh bread flour to the whole wheat, usually at a ratio 70% whole wheat to 30% white bread flour. That works, but the problem, again, is storage.

On the other hand, baking a loaf out of fresh-ground whole wheat flour works very nicely, but it won't have the gluten, so it won't get all stretchy and fluffy. It'll be more dense and crumbly. Still edible, of course, but not what most folks are used to.

This recipe takes a bit longer, because the ground flour pre-soaks. This helps boost the gluten development, so that it can trap the gas the yeast makes and rise more fluffy.

12" Shallow Dutch Oven
12-14 coals below
26-28 coals above

3 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups warm water

1/2 Tbsp yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1/4 c. liquid honey
6 tbsp. butter, melted fresh, or mixed from powder
1 egg, fresh, or mixed from powder
2 tsp. salt
2-3 cups whole wheat flour, more for kneading

I started this whole experiment out by grinding up some wheat (I use an electric grinder, but you can do an hand-cranker if you really want to). I took about 3 cups of the flour and an equal amount of water (almost hot works very well to be absorbed). I let that sit for a long time, about an hour or two. The intent is not to have this raise, since we haven't added any yeast yet. We just want to coax the gluten strands into forming.

When I came back, it was gooey, stringy, stretchy, and sticky.  Yuk.  But no matter. I mixed the yeast with the additional hot water (just hot to the touch, no hotter), and let it sit to get foamy and active.

I added the yeast mix and all of the other ingredients into the mixing bowl (add only 1 or 2 of the final cups of whole wheat flour.) It was kinda hard to stir, because the gluten had had a lot of time to develop with the liquid. Once all of the ingredients were well-incorporated, I turned it out of the bowl, and onto my kitchen counter (well-floured, with whole wheat flour). I began to knead it, sprinkling on more whole-wheat flour as I went. Just enough to keep it not so sticky on my hands. I was really pleased to feel the gluten tugging on it. It was coming together much more so than any other whole wheat loaf I'd done before. Finally, it passed the stretchy windowpane translucence test!

I shaped it into a boule and set it aside in an oiled bowl to rise. I sprayed on a light coating of oil, to help it to not dry out, then covered it and let it rise for a couple of hours.

Since the gluten had developed so well, it rose quit fully and quickly. After the first rise, I quickly reshaped into a boule, pinched a seam at the "bottom", and set it, seam side up, into my proofing baskets for the final rise. As I was doing this, it was good to see a nice, tight surface. That showed that there was, in fact, good, stretchy gluten!

I lit up the coals and let them get white edges. Once there were many that were ready, I oiled the inside of the Dutch oven and set the coals below it and on the lid, so that the Dutch oven could preheat.

Once the coals had been on the empty, closed Dutch oven, preheating, it was time to bake. I lifted the lid, then quickly upturned the proofing basket into the middle of the Dutch oven. Now, the seam side, the "bottom", was back on the bottom, and the stretchy clean surface was on top. This I sliced a couple of times with a sharp knife, to help it vent and "bloom" in the initial spring. I quickly covered it back up with the heated lid and marked the time.

After about 15 minutes, I turned the lid about 1/4 of the way, and then lifted the Dutch oven and turned it a quarter turn as well. After about 30 minutes, I checked it, and it was looking nice and brown, but not done yet.  I poked it with the thermometer and dropped the lid. After another 10 minutes or so, I looked again, and saw that the bread had reached it's done-ness temperature, about 180-190 (being a darker bread).

Then, I lifted it out and set it onto a cooling rack. It really tasted great, and I was surprised by the lightness of the texture with a traditionally heavy bread like %100 whole wheat.  It was very fluffy. Not like a french bread, to be sure, but still, very palatable. So, I will always do a pre-soak with the non-glutenous flours. It worked wonders!

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.


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