Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Best Dutch Oven Sourdough Bread Recipe

...I've ever made!

I finally made a loaf of bread with a nice easy crust and a fluffy, soft crumb. It rose nice, and it was really big. I did it based on the instructions in "The Baking Book" by LLoyd Mexon, just like I'd done last time. But this time, I did make a few changes. I'm not sure which one was the key, or if they all were key together, but it all worked out.

The first change from the original sourdough bread recipe was just to add an egg. That's all, just an egg. Pretty cool, huh?

Another change was that I kneaded the bread more, and did what's called the "windowpane test". I read about it in “The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread”. I'll talk about that in a minute.

The last difference was to preheat the lid of the dutch oven. As I read in various bread books, they all seem to say different things. One says to preheat the oven, another says not to... bla bla bla. It's difficult to preheat a dutch oven, because the way I like to bake bread (kinda hearth-style), the oven is the bread pan. But I'd heard of pre-heating the lid, so I decided to try it.

Anyway, here's the recipe:

Dutch Oven Sourdough Bread (the good one)

12" Dutch Oven

18 coals above
9-10 coals below

The Sponge (step one)

1 cup sourdough starter
2 1/2 cups hot water
4 cups flour

The Dough (step two)
1 Cup flour (with as much as two to three more cups during kneading)
1 Egg
2 Tbsp Sugar
3 Tbsp Oil
1 Tbsp Salt

The night before, I made the start. I took a few globs of goo from the start I had in the fridge and mixed it with equal amounts of flour and water. I needed enough new goo to make a cup full of start. By morning it was good and frothy with lots of good yeast bugs.

So, before I headed off to work, I mixed all the ingredients in the sponge step and stirred it up with a wooden spoon. The book says that metal utensils react with the yeast. I put that aside and covered it with plastic. Then I went to work.

I came home feeling kinda bleah. My head was hurtin' and all. Oh, well. I always like some cooking to raise my spirits when I'm sick and down.

So, after I got home and talked with the kids and all, I mixed in the other ingredients. Then I turned it out onto a floured tabletop, and started kneading, adding flour as I went. As long as the bread was too sticky, I kept adding flour and kneading it into the ball.

Every once in a while, I did the windowpane test. I grabbed a piece of the dough, flattened it, and stretched it out into a translucent "windowpane". The first few times, it shredded and tore quickly. That meant that the gluten hadn't developed enough yet, and it needed more kneading. Finally, it pulled without tearing, and I knew that it was ready. That was the first time I really knew how long to knead bread. It was cool to have a solid guide, instead of just a clock.

Then I sprayed oil in the bowl, and put in the dough ball. I sprayed that over with oil and set it aside to rise.

Then I rested. At least, as much as my kids would allow...

After a couple of hours, I could see that it had raised. I was actually quite surprised just how much, 'cause usually it takes sourdough much longer to raise. I wonder if having better developed gluten made it more flexible and able to expand... Hmmm...

Then, I punched it down. The book calls that step "degassing", because it lets all the carbon dioxide out. I've always been nervous to do that, because I've always been afraid it wouldn't rise any more in the proofing. Anyway, I reshaped it into a ball. Then I sprayed oil in the dutch oven, and put the dough ball inside. I cut three slashes in the top of the dough, and I set it aside to proof.

Anyway, then I lit up a buncha coals.

Once those were white, I brought out the lid and put about 18-20 of them on the lid. About ten minutes later, I could tell the lid was really hot, and the dough in the pot part of the dutch oven had risen just a little more. I put the dutch oven out on some coals and put the lid on top. Then it was just a matter of keeping it hot and rotating the dutch oven every fifteen minutes or so.

I cooked it for about an hour. At that point it looked good. I brought it in and put a thermometer in and it was at about 190. So, not bad, eh?

Oh, another thing I did different was to let the sourdough bread cool before cutting it. I'd read that this step is important to finish the cooking and set the bread inside. So, once it was finally cooled (but was still a bit warm), I cut it and was amazed. Like I said before, the crumb was light and flaky, and the crust was not too hard. It was a great sourdough bread sandwich loaf.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Garlic Naan and Pseudo Indian Chicken

My wife's cousin was cleaning out her shelves in her house and had a whole bunch of books she was going to give to a thrift store. She offered to me the chance to look through the box and pull any books I wanted before she took them away. I dug through and picked out an Asian Cookbook.

So, we had her over for dinner and I cooked some things from it.

My first thought was to do Indian, because I found some things in there I'd been wanting to try. One of them was Naan bread, and the other was Tandoori Chicken. But it turned out that we didn't have the right spices for the tandoori chicken, so I just followed the same procedure and recipe and used Garam masala spices instead of Tandoori masala. It definitely wasn't tandoori chicken, but it was good! I also got a bit closer to working out that "open oven" technique that I'd first tried with the jerk chicken.

When I was making the Naan, I saw that the measurement for the flour was in grams and converted to pounds. I, unfortunately, don't have a scale, so I just mixed it in until it felt nice and smooth and right.

So, the recipes today will reflect the way I actually did it, not so much what the book said.

Dutch Oven Garlic Naan

12" Dutch Oven

10-12 coals below
20-24 (or more) coals above (depending on the outside temperature)

2 tsp dry active yeast
4 tbsp warm milk
2 tsp sugar

2-3 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cups milk
2/3 cups yogurt
1 egg
2 tbsp butter

1/2 stick soft butter
2 tablespoons minced garlic
Liberal shakes of parsley and thyme
salt, pepper

Pseudo-Indian Chicken in the Dutch Oven

12" Dutch Oven

10-12 coals below
20-24 (or more) coals above (depending on the outside temperature)

2-3 lbs chicken (I used frozen chicken breast)
1 cup yogurt
4 tbsp garam masala powder

Since I cooked these things at the same time, I'll go over the instructions as I did them. There's a few suggestions I'll throw in that I hope to remember to do next time.

My sister had told me a long time ago that indian spices need to be "activated" first, to really bring out their flavor. I forgot to that this time, so I'd get some coals under my little 8" and add the masala powder and a little olive oil. I'd cook that for a few minutes, then pull it off and add that to the yogurt.

I took the chicken, thawed, and patted it dry. I cut a few slices into the chicken, so that the spices could more easily penetrate. I put it in a bowl with the yogurt and the spices and stirred it up. I set this aside for a couple of hours.

Then, I mixed the first set of ingredients in the Naan to activate the yeast. I let it sit until it got frothy, and then added the next set of ingredients. I mixed it all together (a little shy on the flour), then turned it out onto the floured tabletop to knead. As I kneaded it, I added more flour bit by bit until it felt right, smooth and satiny. Then I set aside the dough to rise.

Then I went home teaching (that's a Mo' Church thing)!

When I came back, the chicken and the bread were both almost ready.

I lit up a lot of coals. Hey, it's cold out! The tandoori Chicken is normally cooked in a special oven that cooks with a very dry heat. So, the marinade gets baked onto the chicken dry. Dutch ovens, of course, trap the steam and hot moisture under a heavy cast iron lid. Also, if you just put the chicken in the bottom of the oven, the juices will gather around the chicken. So, I put the chicken in one of those folding steamers so the juices would drip down below, and put that into the dutch oven. The lid, I dealt with another way. I put that oven on the coals to begin cooking.

I also oiled the other 12" dutch oven up and put it on and under the coals to pre-heat.

Then, I cut the dough into quarters, and rolled and spread each quarter into a flat on the floured tabletop. I had mixed the butter and the spices, so I spread that over each flat. I put the flats into the dutch oven, one at a time. After about 3-5 minutes, I opened up the lid and turned the bread over for another 3-5 minutes. Then I pulled it out and put in the next one.

In the meantime, the chicken is cooking. I put some more of the sauce/marinade on after a bit. After about 20 minutes on the heat, I figured the chicken was about half done. I had this set of tongs that I balanced across the rim of the dutch oven, and put the lid back on it. That lifted the lid enough to let the steam vent, but not so much that too much heat lost as well. I put some extra coals on the lid so that there was extra heat radiating from the top as well.

After about another 20 minutes, the chicken was done and ready. In the meantime, I'd also made some rice with lemon juice.

And it might not have been authentic Tandoori Chicken, but man, it was gooooood!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Chili on the Horizon

So, a couple of sundays ago, our Bishop announced in Sacrament meeting that our ward is having a Chili cookoff for an activity! I'm pretty stoked. Half of me wants to try something completely new, another part of me wants to do my chili boats again.


Do you guys know of any good chili secrets?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Dutch Oven Venison Stew (Elk)

My brother-in-law, about a month ago, gave us some elk steaks. I wasn't sure just how to cook it, but I was really excited to try. I did a lot of research and reading to find out just how to cook it, and two things stuck with me. These were things that I read as consistent threads throughout my research. One was that game meats are much leaner than typical beef, so they tend to dry out as you cook it. It's good then, to cook it with veggies and things that add moisture to it.

Another was that a bit of vinegar can help counteract that "gamey" taste. You can overdo it, it's true, but a touch would help mellow that out.

So, here it is!

Dutch Oven Venison Stew

12" shallow dutch oven

  • 2-3 medium onions, sliced
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1-2 lbs red game meat (like I mentioned, I used elk)
  • 1 can (about a cup and a half) beef broth
  • 4-5 stalks celery, chopped
  • 3 large potatoes, quartered and sliced
  • 1 jalapeno, chopped
  • 1 cup of carrots (baby or sliced)
  • lots of chopped fresh parsley
  • About a quarter cup of vinegar (I used red wine vinegar)
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • 3-5 Tablespoons flour

Some other things you could add, if you wanna:
  • Chopped green onions
  • a can of diced tomatoes

Making it was pretty easy. In fact, the hardest part was getting the coals lit in the cold wind. Especially since I was out of lighter fluid. I was forced to use - ummm - stronger stuff. Don't tell my kids that I used some drizzles from our lawn mower canister...

Anyway, it got lit (quite spectacularly, I might add), and I scattered some coals below. I put some olive oil in the dutch oven and put it on the coals to heat up. I added the onions and the garlic to brown. Then, I added the meat to brown. Then, I added everything else, except the flour. That was added and stirred in later.

From there, I just cooked it with about 15 or so coals below, and the same number above. I just let it boil and simmer for about 2-3 hours. The potatoes and the carrots were soft, the flavors were all the way through the broth and the meat. Then I added the flour to thicken it up.

It was great!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Flavored Oils

Now that Christmas is over, I can write about one of the things I did.

I got this idea that it would be cool to make some flavored olive oils and give them to some of my cookin' friends as Christmas gifts. I did a bit of research and found some cool flavor combinations, and I settled on three: Cinnamon and nutmeg, Italian seasonings, and Chili and onions.

I had a very difficult time finding bottles for the whole adventure. I wanted the ones that have the little metal spouts. The ones I found had a hard time gripping once the bottle neck got oily. But I eventually discovered that once you've poured in the oil, if you dry of the inside of the neck really thoroughly with a paper towel, the rubber in the stoppers sticks again. So, I was good to go. I got the bottles at a dollar store, so I the biggest expense really was the oil.


Those that got them for Christmas are probably reading this.

I mean... I spent hundreds of dollars each on those antique hand-crafted crystal masterpieces. And I grew the olives myself and pressed the oil in my back yard. Yeah, that's the ticket...

I made three sets of the three oils, so that I could give one to John, of Mormon Foodie fame, one to my sister (who gave me the sourdough start I mentioned last time), and keep one for myself. I started off with the cinnamon one. I simply put about 2 teaspoons of nutmeg in the bottom of the bottle, and then dropped in a couple of sticks of cinnamon bark. Then I poured in the oil. Finally, I wiped dry the inside of the neck and put on the cap. It was that simple.

For the italian style oil, I got some sprigs of fresh herbs (basil, thyme, and oregano), and then bruised them up a little bit. I'd read that allows for more infusion of flavor. I put them into the bottle. I sliced up a couple of cloves of fresh garlic for each bottle, and put in some dried tomatoes. Then those got filled up with oil, cleaned and capped.

The chili one was also very easy to make. I'd bought some thin red chilis (dried) in the mexican section of the supermarket. I also sliced up some pearl onions and added those in. Then, in went the oil.

I'd read that you want to wait at least three weeks for the flavors to infuse before you use the oils. I made them the week before Christmas, so that means at least one more week before using them. I may go longer, though. It was a lot of fun to make! And I think they looked really classy, even if they were dollar store bottles. I mean--priceless antiques...


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