Friday, December 28, 2012

Dutch Oven Cheesecake With a Twist

I wasn’t sure what dessert I wanted to make for our Christmas dinner, until my wife suggested that I do a Cheesecake.  I’ve only done one cheesecake before, and it turned out passable, but not amazing.  It was a chocolate chip pumpkin cheesecake.

I figured that since I’ve been learning so much about how to do cakes and baking that I’d really like to simplify, and just do a good basic cheesecake, without a lot of frills.  Then, I could make a couple of different toppings and it would still taste fancy.

As I was doing some research, I found that some of the cheesecakes were done in a water bath in the oven.  This was something I’d never heard of before.  The basic idea was to put a springform pan, wrapped in aluminum foil to prevent leaking, into a pan full of water, and to put that into the oven.  Right away, I was intrigued, but also skeptical.  Does it make that much difference?  What’s it’s purpose?

A few more Googles turned up some answers.  The best reason for doing it is even heat distribution around the (relatively delicate) batter.  Some said that the steam around the cake also helps prevent cracking on the top.

Well, a Dutch oven often suffers from uneven heat, so I thought I’d give it a try.  But how?  The solution was to do the cake in my 10” shallow dutch oven, and lower it into a heated water bath in my 14” deep oven.

The results were much, much better than last time.  There were a lot of other things I did differently as well, so I’m not certain that was entirely because of the water bath.  But, in the end, it was one of the lightest, fluffiest, creamiest cheesecakes I’ve ever eaten.

Basic Dutch Oven Cheesecake in a Water Bath

10” shallow Dutch oven
14” deep Dutch oven

25-28 coals below
16-18 coals above

8” Dutch oven

10 coals below

1 1/2 cup Graham cracker crumbs
1/4 lb (1 stick) Melted butter
1/4 cup Sugar
Liberal shakes of Ground dried mint (optional, but it really helped the flavor!)

4x 8 oz packages Cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups Sugar
4 Eggs
1 Tbsp Cornstarch
1 tsp Vanilla extract
1 Tbsp Lemon juice
1 cup Heavy whipping cream

1 1/2 Cups frozen fruit (Strawberries)
1/2 Cup Sugar
Shakes of cinnamon, nutmeg
Water as needed

It started out with me taking the ingredients out of the fridge so that they could come more up to room temperature.  Then, as usual, I started getting a lot of coals ready.  It took a lot on the ovens, and it was a fairly long cooking time, so I had to have a side fire handy as well, to keep replenishing the coals.

Before making any of the ingredients, I set the 10” inside the 14”, and filled it with water until it came a bit up the side of the 10”.  That was a lot of water.  It will take quite a while to get all that water heated up.  I took the 10” out, and put the 14” on and under the coals, with the lid on.  I wanted the water oven to be as preheated as possible, maybe even simmering.

Then, I made the crust.  I actually didn’t have any graham crackers, so I ended up using honey-flavored oat breakfast cereal O’s.  It still tasted fine.  I mixed in the melted butter, the sugar, and the mint and pressed it into place at the bottom of the Dutch oven.  There had been some debate as to whether you were supposed to mold it up the sides or not.  Since I was going to be serving it straight from the Dutch, I didn’t fuss with it, and just made it level.

Then, I got a big mixing bowl, and started creaming the cream cheese and the sugar together.  I have this potato masher with kinda small holes, and it worked just perfectly for smooshing them together. I did it a lot, trying to make it so that I incorporated a lot of air into the mix.  It’s not as easy to do cream cheese as it is to do butter, so it was a tough job.

Then, I added the eggs, one at a time, smooshing and creaming each one into the mix as I went.  After that, I added the other ingredients and mixed and smooshed more and more.  I’ve got a pretty stiff whisk, too, which I used to finish it up.

By this time, the water was bubbly hot, so I poured the batter into the 10” Dutch oven, shook it a bit to settle it in, and put it into the 14”.  I kept the lid of the 10” off, but, obviously, closed up the lid of the 14”.  I replenished the coals, and went on cooking other things for the dinner.

I kept a close eye on it.  I didn’t lift the lid much, probably only about every half hour or so.  Part of the problem was my inexperience.  I wasn’t really sure what a “done cheesecake” was supposed to look like.  I ended up cooking it just under an hour and a half.  I don’t know if it needed to be cooked less or not.  It had puffed pretty high up in the 10” at that point.  It was still kinda jiggly, though.  It even cracked a little on the top because it had swelled up so much.  I guess the steam doesn’t help it that much...

I pulled it out and set it aside to cool.  Another thing that my research told me was to let it cool slowly.  It settled back down in the Dutch oven as it did.  Finally, when it was cool, I put it outside with the lid on to chill.

In my 8” Dutch oven, with about 10 coals underneath, I mixed the topping ingredients.  I just let that come up to temperature and simmer to reduce into a syrup.  I let that cool.  My dear wife also made a chocolate drizzle.

It was delicious and rich.  I recommend cutting the slices kind of thin!

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

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sort-of Salvadorean Turkey in the Dutch Oven

I was looking for a different, unique way to do a turkey this last Thanksgiving.  I’d done a lot of variations in the past, and some of them I’d done over and over.  I just wanted to try something new.

I have a really good friend across the street who introduced me to his family tradition, the Salvadorean Turkey. I was really intrigued, so I also looked out on the web.  It turns out that there are lots of different ways of doing it, but they all have some consistent similarities, too.  They all involve some kind of mustard sauce, and some kind of tomato sauce.  Many of them are like a braise in the overall mixed sauce, others make the mustard in a baste, then have the tomato in a braise.  A version I was kind of attracted to had the mustard sauce basted and browned on the skin, and the tomatoes and fresh chopped veggies around the bird.  After the turkey is done, the veggies are pureed and served in lieu of gravy.

That was the version I did!

A note on authenticity:  Whenever there’s a dish that’s this traditional with this many variations, you’re sure to upset someone when you do it.  I don’t know that what I ended up doing is a “Real Salvadorean Turkey”, and someone’s Salvadorean grandmother will surely be upset by it.  Oh, well.  It tasted GREAT, and I thank the Salvadoreans for their recipes, or at least their inspiration!

Another note: Apparently, a large part of the tradition is making sandwiches using the leftover turkey and sauce in the days that follow the celebration.  Sounds like a great plan to me!

Dutch Oven Salvadorean Turkey Dinner

14” Deep Dutch oven
16 coals below
16 coals above

1 12-14 lb Turkey hen, thawed

1 lb brown sugar
1 lb table salt

1/2 cup mustard
1/4 cup worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup honey
a bit of thickener, like guar gum, or just flour

3-4 large Potatoes
6-8 Roma Tomatoes
1-2 Green Peppers
2-3 stalks of celery
1-2 Medium Onions
4-5 cloves Garlic, sliced
1 cup coarsely chopped Green olives

Roasted Pumpkin seeds or unflavored sunflower seeds in the husk
liberal shakes of parsley, basil, oregano
A little chili powder
Salt and Pepper

The dish begins the day before the cooking.  The turkey had already been thawing for a day or two in the refrigerator.  That allowed it to thaw some, but there was still a lot of ice inside.

I prepared a brine bath by cleaning out a large drink cooler.  A flat food cooler that you take camping will also work, as long as it’s watertight.  I scrubbed it out with dish soap and rinsed it in hot, hot water.  Then I put about a half gallon of hot water in the bottom and mixed in the salt and sugar.  That’s a lot of each one, I know.  When that was mostly dissolved, I added enough cool water to bring it up to about half way full.  I opened up the turkey package, and let it drain a bit, and then use a fork or knife to poke some holes in the skin all around.  Then I put the whole bird into the brine bath.  I added more water until the turkey was covered.  I closed up the lid, nice and tight.

Now, usually, I’m doing this at Thanksgiving or Christmas, so it’s going to be really cool out in the garage.  The bird is also usually still thawing, so it’s going to keep the water really cool, too.  So, between the cool and salt, I don’t worry too much about germs.  Sometimes, however, just to be sure, I’ll add some ice on top.  It won’t really impact the thawing, but it will help keep it cold enough to retard the germ growth, and keep it out of the danger zone (above 40 degrees fahrenheit).

The next day, cooking day, Thanksgiving Day, I got my 14” dutch oven ready.  I don’t use it as often, so I gave it a good wiping, and then coated it with a quick spray of oil.  Not much.  I lit up some coals and let them start to get white.  I pulled the turkey out of the drink cooler, drained off the brine, and put it into the dutch oven, breast up. I got out some paper towels and patted the skin surface dry.  There’s still a lot of moisture in the meat, and that will end up in the braising sauces.

Once the coals were getting hot, I put the Dutch oven onto the coals, as written above, letting it start to roast.  I also inserted a meat thermometer.  Also, make sure that you have extra coals burning in a stack or in your chimney, so that you can start fresh ones.  This will be a long, slow cook.

I mixed up the baste ingredients.  It’s pretty simple, and you can adjust it to your taste.  I wanted it to be a thick glaze, almost a paste.  Once it was mixed, I opened up the Dutch oven and slathered it over all of the top and side surfaces of the turkey.  I only used about a third of the mix at the time.  The rest I reserved for future bastes.

Then, I let it cook for about an hour.  I kept refreshing the coals, trying to keep it at a steady medium to medium-low heat.

After about an hour and a half (almost half-way through the total cook time), I started preparing the veggies, dicing and chopping as needed.  The potatoes, I skinned and cubed.  These went in first, around the base of the turkey.  The other vegetables got scattered around the sides.  More baste went on top of the turkey.

During the last half of the cooking, I rebasted the turkey about every half hour to 45 minutes.  It started to form a really great crust.  In the last half hour or so, I put my 8” Dutch oven on about 10-12 coals, and tossed in the pumpkin or sunflower seeds, with a little olive oil).  I put the lid on, and let them roast for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  I like to get them quite brown, even a bit black, to get some smoky flavor!

When the turkey is done (at least 170 degrees, preferably 180), there is still much to do!

I brought the Dutch oven in from the coals, and using meat forks, lifted it out onto a plate.  I tented it with aluminum foil so as to preserve the heat and let it rest before carving and serving.

The next part is a bit tricky.  I scooped out the veggies and potatoes with a slotted spoon, letting them drain as I lifted them out.  I separated the potatoes from the veggies as best I could.  If there are some bits of veggie mixed in with the potatoes, and vice versa, that’s fine.  The potatoes I put into a collander to drain.

The veggies went into a blender with the herbs and other seasonings.  I tossed in some of the roasted seeds, just a few to start, and gave it a spin.  As I was pureeing the veggies into a sauce, I adjusted the thickness by adding more roasted seeds.  If you’re careful, it’s pretty easy to do.  If you go too far with the thickness, you can add more turkey juice from the bottom of the dutch oven.  Come to think of it, a little milk or half-and-half would really make it taste rich.  But that might cool it too much...

The potatoes then went into a bowl for mashing.  I added some salt and pepper to pick it up a bit. Again, if they’re too dry, you can add some of the turkey juice to make it a bit more fluid.

Finally, I carved the turkey and served it up!  The idea is that the diner will have a slice of turkey, with some potatoes on the side, with the tomato and veggie sauce drizzled over it.  It’s a delicious and flavorful combination, and since the bird, the potatoes and the veggies were all cooked together, there is a nice consistent sharing of flavors between all three!

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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