Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Simple Dutch Oven Yellow Layer Cake

A few weeks ago, I went out and did something I haven’t done in a very, very long time.

I bought a brand new Dutch oven.

I haven’t done this in a very, very long time mostly because I haven’t really had a need to buy a new one.  I’ve seen quite a few that I’ve liked a lot, and that I’ve wanted to buy, but I never really NEEDED them.  There are those, true, that would argue that you don’t actually have to NEED, nor to even USE all of the cast iron you acquire.  But, for me, to spend the money, I have to need it.  And the need and the money never came together at the right moment.

Until last week.

I’ve been wanting to get good at cakes, see, and I really think that cakes do better in 10” Dutch ovens.  You can do one in a 12”, but the recipes are usually designed for a 9” circle, which will make just the right amount for a 10” oven.  So, if you do it in a 12” oven, it will be thinner, and bake out faster, and end up a bit drier.  Just plain not as good.

Well, that’s all well and good.  I have a wonderful 10” dutch oven.  Why buy another one?  Well, if I want to do a layer cake (which is mostly what I like), then I’ll want to bake them both at the same time.  Otherwise, I’ll have to end up mixing the batter twice, and baking it twice, and it will be twice the work and twice the time.  Not acceptable.

So, I needed a second 10” Dutch oven.

Fortunately, IDOS has been running a promotion with a 25-year commemorative edition 10” Deep Dutch oven.  It really looks sweet.  Plus, since I’m very involved in IDOS, I really wanted one!  You can see it, by the way, and get it here:

So, I bought it and brought it home.  Excited, I found a chocolate cake recipe, and tried it.


I was not impressed.  My family thought it was pretty good, but I thought it was dry, which seemed to be a common problem with my cakes.  I mean, it wasn’t an EPIC FAIL, but it just didn’t make me go “Wow!  That’s good!”

Part of the problem was that it was a kind of tricky recipe, and I wasn’t sure of the process, and it just didn’t come out very well.  So, yesterday, I tried again.  I picked a simpler recipe, I added a little extra butter to it, and baked it up.  It was GREAT!  I’m very excited by it.

Keep in mind, as you’re doing this recipe that it was doubled so as to bake two cakes for layers.  If you’re only doing one layer, halve it back down.

2x 10” Dutch ovens

10 coals below
18 coals above

The Batter

3 cups white sugar
1 cup + 2-3 Tbsp butter, at room temperature
6 eggs

4 cups cake flour
3 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg

2 cup milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract

The Frosting

8 tbsp. butter
4 tbsp. cocoa
3 c. confectioners' sugar + extra, if needed
4 tbsp. milk
2 tsp. vanilla

I have learned, by the way, that process is as important, if not moreso, as are the ingredients.  First, I gathered the ingredients, particularly the milk, eggs, and butter, and set them out on my counter, to come up to the ambient temperature.  After letting those sit for a few hours, I got the party started by putting the coals on to burn and get all good and white and glow-y.

I have to preface this description of the process by saying that I debated in my own mind how to work the ingredients.  In the Dutch oven world, particularly in IDOS-sanctioned, WCCO qualifying cookoffs, it’s against the rules to use any electrical equipment.  That’s right, no blenders, no mixers, nuthin’.  Use your arms or go home.

My wife razzes me about this.  While I was making this cake, for example, I was working the butter and the sugar, and she leaned over and whispered, “You know we have a mixer, don’t you?”

So, I decided to learn how to do it without electricity to make it compliant with the cookoff rules.  Even though I might not ever win a cookoff with it, someone out there reading this might.  In the meantime, if you want to use something you plug into a wall, or something that has batteries, I’m not going to stop you, or turn you in to the cast iron police.  Go for it.

Once everything was easily at room temperature (I even partially melted the butter), I mixed the butter and the sugar together.  Using the back of a slotted spoon, I began “creaming” them together.  By that, I mean that I quickly worked the spoon, mashing the sugar and the butter together.  I did this for a long time, at least 3-4 minutes.  After a bit, it got a bit frothy, and became quite easy to work.  The idea was to infuse it with air bubbles.  Then, one at a time, I added the eggs, creaming and working the batter more between each one.

Once that was well-blended, I turned my attention to the next set of ingredients.  I sifted them all together into a separate mixing bowl. Sifting not only works out chunks, it blends the ingredients well, and aerates the flour.  More trapped air!  I also added the vanilla to the milk and stirred that up.

Now, I had three sets of ingredients, and it was almost time to blend them all together.  First, however, I prepared the dutch ovens.  I took the lids out to the cooking area, and shook out a lot of coals onto each one, so that each lid could pre-heat. Then, I sprayed the inside of the Dutch ovens with oil, and dusted on some flour, concentrating on the sides of the oven.  For the bottoms, I cut two 10” circles of parchment and placed them in.  The oil helped to hold them in place.  I’ve tried to remove cakes without the parchment and it’s very difficult, even with the pan oiled and floured.

I added half of the flour mix and half of the milk to the butter/egg blend, and started mixing it up with a hand-crank mixer.  After that was well-blended and aerated, I added the remainder and mixed that well, too.  I mixed it for a total of 3-4 minutes.  It wore me out.  In the process, I also tried a whisk and even the slotted spoon.  I’m not sure which I liked the best, but I think it was the cranker.  It made it the smoothest.

Finally, it was ready and I poured it, 50-50 into each Dutch oven.  I arranged the coals, and put the hot lids on the cakes.  I marked the time.

Then, I rested!  I think that during the mixing phase, I worked off enough calories to eat the entire cake!  After 15 minutes or so, I turned the Dutch oven, and turned the lid.  I was very careful while moving it not to jar or jolt it, in case it would fall.  The last time I baked, I wasn’t so careful, and had a sunken middle.

After 25 minutes baking, I started checking for done-ness.  I did the toothpick trick, sticking it in and pulling it out dry, but one of the cakes passed the test, but was obviously not done (it was still jiggly in the middle).  So, you have to be careful and observant as well.  I ended up having them be on for around 35-45 minutes.  One of my 10” Dutch ovens is a deep one, and it took about 5-10 minutes longer to cook.

As each one was done, I brought it inside, and took off the lid.  I let it cool completely, in the Dutch oven, before I attempted the removal.

In the meantime, I mixed up the frosting and put it in the fridge.  I also cut a 10” circle out of a corrugated cardboard box.

When the cake was cool, I put the disc of cardboard on top of the cake, and flipped the Dutch oven over.  The parchment let the cake drop right out with no issues at all.  I peeled off the parchment and put my cake plate, inverted on top of it.  Finally, I flipped that over and there was my first layer.  Voila!

I trimmed the first layer to be more flat, and spread the frosting over the top of that layer.  I extracted the second layer the same way, but I used my hand instead of the plate to invert the cake gently onto position on the first layer  Once that was in place, I frosted the top and the sides, and put it in the fridge until serving time.

When it was all done, it was moist and delicious!  Definitely a hit!

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

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Dutch Oven Potjie Kos

This Dutch oven recipe is included in my Dutch oven cookbook, "Around the World in a Dutch Oven"

In Southern Africa, there’s a cooking tradition that utilizes cast iron pots with rounded bellies and three cast legs to raise it up over the burning fire.  They’re called Potjie pots (pronounced, for some strange reason, as “POY-kee”).  The tradition has deep roots in South African history.  They first learned to cook in cast iron from the arabs to the north.  In the colonial era, the Dutch settled South Africa and brought their own brands of cast iron (the Dutch oven) with them.

The travellers that would cross the South African wilderness would carry these pots with them, cooking up the wild game they would hunt and the tubers and other vegetables they would gather along the way.

In modern day, the tradition of cooking in the pots continues, but it has evolved into an entire style, named “Potjie Kos”.  It literally translates to “potjie food” or “food from the pot”.  This really isn’t a dish so much as an approach to cooking.  It’s a big social event.  A host will plan a party, and invite friends over to socialize and celebrate while the food slowly cooks (which can take up to four or even more hours, in some cases).

The style I chose to emulate is a basic meat stew.  It’s created in three layers, and it’s not stirred until it’s completed and served. I downloaded a pdf recipe book full of variations, and I soon realized that there were some common threads.  One, you start with meats as your bottom layer.  These are usually braised for a very long time, to get them soft and tender.  Then the next layer is made of veggies that are slower cooking.  Finally, the top layer are the veggies that cook the most quickly.  After reading some recipes, I could see which veggies to use in each layer.  I also got ideas for spices.

In the end, I came up with my recipe, which was delicious.  Not stirring was an interesting twist.  It truly kept the flavors more distinct.

South African Potjie Kos

12” Deep Dutch oven

24+ coals underneath during browning
approx 10-12 coals underneath during simmering

The meat

1/2 lb bacon
2-3 lbs game meat (I got an elk roast)
1 Cup flour
1 Tbsp paprika
1 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp pepper

The sauce

1 14 oz can beef stock
1 6 oz can tomato paste
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar

Slower-cooking veggies

1 14 oz can beef stock
2 medium sweet potatoes
1 small sweet pumpkin
4 large carrots
olive oil
chili powder

Shorter-cooking veggies

More beef stock, if necessary from the second can
4 stalks celery
1 large onion
4-5 cloves garlic
2-3 sweet peppers, of varying colors
olive oil

I began by heating up some coals and putting a lot of them under my 12” deep dutch oven.  I cut the half-pound of bacon into small squares and put them on to sizzle.  I let them cook, stirring occasionally, until they were very crisp.

While that was cooking, I cubed the roast into chunks a little under an inch across.  I mixed the flour and seasonings, and tossed the meat chunks with them in a plastic baggie.  I pulled the meat out and shook off the excess powder.

Once the bacon was all fried up, I refreshed the coals a bit, and tossed in the roast chunks.  They started sizzling immediately.  I did stir them, but only occasionally.  I let them sear as much as I could before moving the pieces around.  Soon, they had the look of being browned all around, and seared on a few sides. I let them cook, probably, a total of about 20 minutes or so.  The smell was incredible!  There was also a lot of crusty fond building up on the bottom of the Dutch oven.  That would come in handy in a bit.

I didn’t let the meat get done all the way through, but once it was mostly browned, I poured in a can of beef stock, and added in the balsamic vinegar.  The tomato paste could be added in now as well, but I did it much later, as it was an afterthought.  I stirred it all up with a wooden spoon, and scraped up as much of the fond as I could.  I put the lid on it and let it come up to a boil.

The next part was both tricky and easy.  It was easy because all I had to do was adjust the coals and keep it to a simmer for the next two hours.  It was tricky because all I had to do was adjust the coals and keep it to a simmer for the next two hours.  It wasn’t hard or difficult work, but you had to watch the burning coals, the coals underneath, and occasionally stir and check if it’s simmering, boiling, or stagnant.  For two hours.

By the way, the flour coating, in addition to helping to brown and season the meat, was also thickening the broth!

After an hour and a half, I peeled and chopped the sweet potatoes, the carrots, and cored, seeded, and cubed up the pumpkin.  Pumpkin is very common in African cuisine, I’m told.  I coated them with a light dousing of olive oil, and tossed them with the spices I mentioned.  Go easy on the chili powder.  It’s there to give it some zing, not to make it a hot dish.  Still, it’s your dish, so do it as you like!

After one final stir of the meat, I poured on a layer of the combined veggies and evened it out.  From that point on, until serving, I didn’t stir the pot.  I poured in about another quarter can of beef stock, around the edge so as to not rinse the seasonings off the veggies.

Then, I went back to napping-- I mean, managing the heat under the pot!  Yeah...  That’s it...

After a bit, I chopped up the last veggies, and minced the garlic.  I doused them with oil, too, and tossed them with their seasonings.  About 45 minutes to an hour after I had put in the first batch of veggies, I added the last layer, along with about another quarter can of additional beef broth.

After a final round of cooking, about another 45 minutes to an hour, I pronounced it done and brought it inside.  It smelled heavenly!  And after all these hours, I finally let myself stir up the food!

I served it up with some slices of the bread that I also baked today.  It was delicious and very filling!  The flavors really were more distinct.  I think not stirring the layers was a great idea.  I also wasn’t sure how I’d like the sweet potatoes and the pumpkin, but they were also delicious, and added some sweet tones to an otherwise savory dish.  The balsamic also brought some sweet along with the sour.  The meat was moist, tender, and fell apart.  It didn’t have any of the gamey bitter tones that so frequently come with elk or venison.

A delicious success!

For recipes for Dutch oven camping, or using camping Dutch ovens!

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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