Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Dutch Oven Zebra Cake

Last saturday, I did a lot of cooking, preparing dishes for the publishing company’s photographer.  Like last fall, she was to come out and shoot some pics of food for the cover of the next book.

I'd actually made this cake a long time ago, for my wife's birthday, but I'd done it with boxed cake mixes.  The basic idea is to make a white and a chocolate cake mix, marble and swirl the two mixes together, and then decorate it as a layer cake.  This time it was done from scratch as you'll see.

In “Best of the Black Pot”, I included, at the end of each chapter, a few extra recipes from our family collection. I adapted them a little, to be cooked in a Dutch oven, but most of those, I haven’t actually tried.  As I was planning this Saturday’s Dishes, I decided to give this one a test!

When digging through our family recipes, looking for things to add in to the Dessert chapter, I found this series of pages all about making your own basic mixes, and storing them for when you want to bake.  So, my first step was to mix up the mix.

Basic Cake Mix

10 ½ cups flour
⅓ cup baking powder
8 cups sugar
½ cup corn starch
1 Tbsp salt
4 cups shortening

I started by measuring out the flour into a sifter, then sifting it into the bowl.  I actually used a cake flour.  I did get a really fluffy crumb on the cake, so that might have been part of why.  Then I mixed in the rest of the dry ingredients.  Finally, I cut in the shortening with a pastry blending knife.  Once the shortening was pretty well blended, I mixed it in some more with my hands.  Finally, I put it in a zip-top baggie, well-labeled.

The Cakes

2x 12” Dutch ovens

10 coals below
18 coals above

Once the mix was made, I started a lot of coals.  I was going to need on the order of 60 for both ovens.  It took a while for them to all start and get a uniform white going on.  Once they did, I put 25+ coals on each Dutch oven lid, and brought the Dutch ovens in to the prep counter.

I got out two bowls for the cake mixing.

White Cake

3 ⅓  Cups Basic Cake Mix
3 egg whites
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla

This one was a pretty straightforward mix. I just added the ingredients together and beat them with a hand mixer. The egg yolks got discarded.

Chocolate Cake

9 Tbsp cocoa
2 ½ Tbsp butter
3 ⅓ Cups Basic Cake Mix
2 eggs
1 Cup milk

For the chocolate, I mixed the butter and the cocoa powder together first, then added them into the other ingredients.  Again, I mixed it with a hand beater until it was smooth.

I noticed that the white cake was considerably thicker than the chocolate, so I added some more milk to try and even the consistency. The recipe reflects that added milk.  You might still have to adjust one or the other.

I sprayed the bottom and sides of each Dutch oven with cooking oil spray, and sprinkled some flour liberally across the oil.  In retrospect, I think I would also cut a circle of parchment and lay it across the bottom.  Getting the cake out was a bit of a challenge.

Then, I got two big serving spoons, and one spoonful at a time, poured in a bit of white cake mix, then a bit of chocolate, into each Dutch oven.  I continued alternating until both bowls were empty.  Then I took a spoon and swirled around through the mix. I took care not to “stir” it or to “mix” it, my effort was to simply swirl it a bit more.  One or two passes through, no more.

I took the Dutch ovens out to the coals, and put the heated lids on, adjusting the coals for heat above and below.

While the cakes baked, I cut a couple of 12” discs of cardboard out of some empty boxes in my garage. These would help me to extract the cakes.

The cakes themselves only took about 25 minutes to bake. I used the old toothpick method to determine doneness.  You simply stick in the toothpick, then if you can pull it out clean, with no batter, it’s done. Be careful, too, because cooking too long can dry out your cakes.

Once they were brought inside, I put on a couple of heavy-duty leather gloves. I put one of the cardboard discs on the top of the cake in the Dutch oven, and ran a spatula between the cake and the Dutch oven side to separate it.  Then, I flipped the Dutch oven over, turning the cake onto the cardboard disc.  Then, I inverted it back onto a cooking rack.  The parchment would make that easier as well.  I did that with both Dutch ovens.

Once they cool, then, it’s just a matter of decorating the cake.  We used chocolate and buttercream frosting for the zebrastripes.  I let my son and a couple of neighborhood girls (who are definitely NOT his girlfriends, right?) handle the icing and decorating. I think they did a pretty good job, don’t you?.

--Order your pre-release copy of "Best of the Black Pot", Mark's first Dutch oven cookbook!  It will be released April 10, and shipped soon after!


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

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Best of the Black Pot - Pre-release NOW AVAILABLE!

Almost five years ago, I started blogging here about my new-found passion for cooking in cast iron Dutch ovens.  Bit by bit, dish by dish, recipe after recipe, tragedy to triumph, this little blog has grown, and you folks have followed along for the ride.  I can’t thank you enough.

Then, last summer, I got a happy little email from the good folks at Cedar Fort.  They wanted to talk to me about doing a Dutch oven cookbook.  I was thrilled!  As we talked and worked out details, I was offered a four-book contract.

Well, in September, I turned in the manuscript for “Best of the Black Pot: Must Have Dutch Oven Favorites”.  We worked out layout and text bugs, and cover images were shot.  A marketing plan is in the works.  The manuscript for the second book is under way.

At each point, it became a little more believable, a little less like a dream.

Well, tonight it crossed a major benchmark for me.  It is now available, for purchase (pre-order) at Amazon.com.  It’s kind of a “pinch me” moment. What that means is that Amazon will take orders now, and they’ll ship it as soon as Cedar Fort delivers it to them.  The official release date is April 10, so the ship date will be right after that.

Co-incidentally, April 15th marks the 5th anniversary of this blog!  I’d really like to thank all of you for reading along with me all these years.  If you want to get a copy of the book, I would encourage you to buy it in the pre-release.  Many bookstores look at Amazon.com’s early sales to see if they want to stock the book.  So, more early sales, more bookstore placement!

Here’s what a few good friends had to say about the book:

I'd call it "Everything you ever wanted to know about dutch oven cooking...and then some."  Dutch oven cooking can be intimidating to the beginner, but this book is full of easy to understand information.  There is something for both the novice and seasoned black pot chef.  Full of good recipes, fun stories and insights on life, reading this feels like a conversation with an old friend.

--Toni Black, dutchovenmadness.blogspot.com

Today I read a new book to soon be on the shelves.  It's all about Dutch ovens and has some very good recipes. Mark has gone the extra mile and made this book very self explanatory. Beginners will be thrilled with the simple easy way he explains the cooking directions.  Every cook starts somewhere and this book comes highly recommended from me!

Colleen Sloan
Author of the Log Cabin Grub Series of Cookbooks

Mark Hansen's "Best of the Black Pot" offers great ideas to the novice and 'seasoned' veteran alike. Mark will take you from dump cobbler to artisan bread to cooking sans-recipe. Cast iron cooking isn't just for camping and pioneers; Mark's modern culinary approach will leave you fed--with wisdom and a full stomach.

 --Andy Johnson, backporchgourmet.com

Mark Hansen makes Dutch Oven cooking sound and feel like fun! Anyone picking up this book will be heading out to buy their first Dutch oven.  It's very informative, with easy-to-follow recipes, and a little history of each. I would reccomend this cookbook to all beginners, and also to the more experienced Dutch oven cooks.

 --Omar Alvarez, Winner of the 2008 IDOS World Championship Dutch Oven Cookoff


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

Monday, February 6, 2012

Brendon’s Dutch Oven Creme Brulee

These last few blog entries have all been about culinary victories.  Dishes that defeated me, at first, but which I later conquered.

Today’s blog entry is one for my son, Brendon.  Several times, now, he’s tried to do a creme brulee, each time it didn’t turn out quite the way we wanted.  Once it was a bit bland and strangely grey in color, another time it didn’t set and was almost completely liquid.  Finally, we took a little time and did it together.  Actually, he did it, and with only minimal observation and input from me.  And it worked!

This recipe is based on one from America’s Test Kitchen.  It’s a little bit different, simplified in process from so many others we looked up, and adapted a little, of course, for the Dutch oven.

We also had to shop around some to find ramekins.  It was tricky to buy them, wondering how many we would be able to fit into the Dutch oven.  The small, but deep round ones would easily fit 7, but the larger, shallower, ovals would only fit 4.  Your mileage may vary.

You’ll also need a blowtorch.  Yes, I said that right.  We borrowed a small plumber’s torch from a neighbor.  You can go out and spend about $30 for a small kitchen torch.  That’s a bit too much to spend on a unitasker for me..

Brendon’s Dutch Oven Creme Brulee

12” Dutch oven

Part 1: 20 + coals below
Part 2: 13-14 coals below, 13-14 coals above

You’ll also need several 4-5 oz ceramic ramekins.

  • 6 large egg yolks

  • 2 Cups heavy cream
  • ⅓ Cup sugar
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • A shake of cinnamon
  • A shake of nutmeg

  • Brown sugar to sprinkle and melt on top
  • mint leaves to garnish, if desired

To start, we got some coals lit.  While those were catching on, we put the ramekins in the Dutch oven and poured water in to about ¾ of the way up the sides of the ramekins.  Then we removed them and set them aside.  When the coals were ready, we spread them around and set the Dutch oven on top, with the lid on, to let the water boil.

Then we turned our attention to the custard itself.  Brendon began by separating the egg yolks from the whites.  While Jacob, his assistant whisked the yolks, Brendon mixed the other (second set) ingredients in a bowl.  Finally, while whisking, Brendon slowly combined the yolks and the cream mix.  A few final whisks, and it was done.

Then, the mix was poured into the ramekins, and evened out.

Soon after, the water was at a nice even boil, and Brendon gently set the ramekins into the water.  It was kinda tricky, but wearing leather gloves helped.  We put the lid back on and adjusted the coals to be on the bottom and the top, as above.

We let it cook for about 35 to 40 minutes.  Occasionally we’d check the set of the custard and the current temperature.  You want to cook it to 170-175 degrees F, and until the centers are jiggly, but not sloshy.

We pulled it off the coals, and pulled out the ramekins, letting them cool on a rack.  Once they’d cooled a bit, Brendon put them in the fridge to chill.  They continued to set a bit as they cooled, and even more as they chilled.

After our dinner, brimming with excitement, Brendon fetched the ramekins and the torch.  This final step isn’t correctly done unless it’s performed in front of the diners. He sprinkled a little bit of sugar atop each one, and fired it up (what is it about young boys and fire?).  Keeping the torch moving, he melted the sugar into a crust.  Then he sprinkled on some mint and handed it to our guest and family, proud as can be.

It was delicious.  And, we chalked up another victory!


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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