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.
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.
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
3 cups white sugar
1 cup + 2-3 Tbsp butter, at room temperature
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
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 MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.