Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Dutch Oven Spice Cake

Last week was my son’s 15th birthday, and, of course, a prime opportunity for me to show off my newly-found cake baking skills.  I know that he’s not as fond of chocolate cakes.  I don’t know what his problem is, but I love him and accept him anyway.  So, I asked him what he wanted.  His answer was pretty quick: a spice cake.

That was cool with me, ‘cause I loves me my spices!

I looked all over for a good recipe, and I found many.  Many required buttermilk.  That’s fine, but I didn’t have any.  This one contains elements of several that I found, and used vinegar for the acid to react with the soda.

This time, I didn’t make my own frosting.  Shame on me...

Dutch Oven Spice Cake (this recipe makes enough for a 2-layer cake)

2x 10” Dutch ovens

8-9 coals below
12-14 coals above

2 1/2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 sticks butter (softened)
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar

4 eggs

1 cup milk
1 teaspoon white vinegar

A few hours before you start take everything out of the fridge to warm up.  It will work much, much better if it’s all at ambient temperature instead of cold.

OK, well, not EVERYTHING.  Just everything you’ll need for the cake.  Sheesh...

I started out by sifting and mixing all of the dry ingredients in the first set together.  You can whisk it together, or however you like.  I use a flour sifter.  That also helps to aerate the flour as well as blend the ingredients. I set that aside in a bowl.

After that, I went outside and lit up the coals I would need.  I knew I’d need a lot of coals, because I was going to be baking two ovens at once.  I also should have taken measures to make sure that my metal Dutch oven table was level.  More on that in a minute.

The next step is to cream the butter and the sugar.  I used a metal slotted spoon.  A couple of days after this, by the way, I bought a potato masher.  I’m going to try that next time I make a cake.  I already used it on my pumpkin pie filling, but that’s another story for another day...

So, I smoosh the butter and the sugar together.  Not only is this much easier if the butter is warm, soft, and smooshy, but it also accepts the air a bit better, which is really the whole point of this. It takes a long time to whip it up into a froth with only a slotted spoon.  If you want to, you can use a tabletop blender or a hand beater or whatever thing ya got.  Of course, if you’re out in the woods, you won’t have anywhere to plug that in, so you’re back to the slotted spoon or the potato masher.  I worked at it for a good 15 minutes or more.

Then I prepared the Dutch ovens.  I took the lids out to the coals and poured a bunch of hot, white coals on each one, and set them aside on the Dutch oven table to preheat.  I cut a disc of parchment paper to fit the bottom of each oven, and held it in place by spraying oil on the bottom first.  I did all this preparation because once I start mixing the wet ingredients in, I don’t want to stop.

I added the eggs to the butter/sugar mixture, one at a time, and beat it all together with the slotted spoon until each one was well-blended.  Then, I added in a third of the dry ingredients, and blended (with a stiff wire whisk, this time), then about half of the milk (I also added the vinegar at this point), and blended some more.  I added another third of the powders, then the last half of the milk.  At each stage, I’m pausing to whisk it all in well.  A few good final whisks, and it was finally a beautiful, creamy, fluffy batter.  The spices made it smell amazing, too.  It’s tough not to just eat it like this.  Fortunately, as the chef, I get to lick the mixing spoon!

I poured it into each Dutch oven, a spoonful or two at a time, to make sure it’s even.  I immediately took it out and set the coals in their proper order (as listed above).  By the way, here’s an interesting note.  One of my 10” Dutch ovens is a deep oven, and the other is shallow.  I’ve learned that I need to put a couple of extra coals on top of the deep one.

I leave that to bake.  After about 10-15 minutes, I turn the oven and the lid, so as to prevent hot spots.  BE VERY CAREFUL doing this!  If you jar your oven, you could make the cake collapse.  I know.  I’ve done it.

After 25-30 minutes, test the center of the cake with a toothpick. If it comes out clean, I leave it in for a couple minutes longer, then take it off the coals.  Once they were both done, I brought them inside, and let them cool in the dutch ovens, but with the lids off.  When they’re cool, I run a knife around the perimeter of the cake to loosen it (if it’s not already - usually cooling pulls it away from the sides), and then invert it onto a small plate or a cardboard disc.

Finally, I just stacked and frosted them!  They were delicious!  Happy Birthday to him!

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

Friday, November 16, 2012

Dutch oven Carne Asada

I’ve always loved the taste of carne asada, and I’ve wanted to do it for a long time.  When I finally decided to do it, I kept thinking of more and more things to add to the meal.  In the end, I did quite an elaborate Mexican-inspired meal, but the carne asada was just a part of it all.  It was interesting juggling the various pots to make all of the elements of the meal, as well as timing them all to be done right.  Today, I’ll just post the recipe for the Carne.

Dutch oven Carne Asada

12” Dutch oven

25+ coals below

The Meat

2-3 lbs very thin sliced beef steaks
juice of three limes
4-6 cloves garlic

The Salsa

3-4 tomatoes
3 medium onions
2 green peppers
1-2 jalapenos
juice of 2 limes
olive oil
fresh cilantro


flour or corn tortillas
sour  cream

I started in the morning, putting all of the first set of ingredients into a zip-top bag and shaking, to evenly coat the steaks with the marinade.  I put that into the fridge and went to church.

Later that afternoon, I lit up some coals, and while they were heating up, I prepared the veggies in the salsa.  I cut the tomatoes and the onions into wedges, like in sixths or eighths.  The peppers I simply sliced into long sticks, like a big julienne.

I put a lot (about 25+) of fresh coals under my 12”, and drizzled some olive oil in the bottom to heat up.  Once that was heated, I started with the veggies.  I started with just the tomatoes, because everything has different cooking times.  I put the wedges in, skin down.  Immediately, it started sizzling.  I didn’t stir it.  The idea is to get a good sear going on and carmelize it.  Originally, I put the lid on, with a spacer to allow for moisture to escape, but I don’t think I’ll do that next time.  It’s OK to soften up the tomato flesh a bit, too.

Once the tomatoes are all seared, I pulled them out and set them aside, and let the heat build back up.  Then, I did the same thing with the peppers, onions and jalapenos.  The onions, I laid on their sides, instead of the back of the wedge.

Once they’re all seared and cooked (but not sauteed), I put them all on my chopping block and just went at them with my chef’s knife, using a mince cut to chop them into coarse chunks.  The tomatoes, of course, sort of fell apart, and provided a lot of liquid to the party.  When they were all cut up, I tipped them all into a bowl, and added the lime juice, the cilantro, and the seasonings.

This ended up with a really delicious charred/smoky sort of flavor.  The onions got a bit sweet, too, and it just had a richness that I hadn’t found in normal pico de gallo.  It was delicious!

Then, I got some fresh coals under the Dutch oven again and got it heated up.  I wanted it good and hot, so I used new coals, not the half-burned ones that were left.  I spread out two pieces of the meat and let it sear and sizzle.  Only a few minutes on each side, so that it’s still got a thin sliver of pink in the middle.  When each one was done, I brought them in.  I cut them into long, thin slices and we served them up with the salsa in tortillas, with guac and sour cream.  I also made rice and refried beans (from scratch) for side dishes.  All in all, it was a delicious Mexican meal!

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


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