Saturday, April 27, 2013

Dutch Oven Baking Book Gives Trade Secrets

Bruce Tracy of "Dutch Oven Baking." photo by Valerie Phillips

I own three cast-iron Dutch ovens that I use  mainly for summer cook-outs. Like most people, I tend to stick with stew, barbecue chicken and cowboy potatoes. Baking bread, rolls, cakes or pies can be tricky when you are using only charcoal briquettes as a heat source.
That's why I enjoyed reading Bruce Tracy's book, "Dutch Oven Baking," (Gibbs Smith, $15.99) Bruce and his wife Vickie, who live in Ogden, Utah, are past winners of the  International Dutch Oven Society's world championship. I did a recent story in the Standard-Examiner about Bruce's new book. 
The Dutch oven has a major place in the history of the Old West as the portable cooking appliance of the day. It's baking capability was widely used out on the open range. By placing hot coals on top of the rimmed lid and under the pot's three-legged bottom, pioneers or cowboys had an oven that could bake johnnycakes and biscuits. 
Of course, modern-day kitchen ovens with built-in thermostats for heat control have made outdoor baking almost a lost art.

Tracy's love affair with Dutch oven cooking began when his wife, Vickie Tracy, gave him a Dutch oven for Father's Day in the early 1990s. In Utah, Dutch oven cook-offs are a highlight of many county fairs and local festivals. Tracy started entering.
 "I'm a competitive type, and I saw a cook-off announced in the paper for Cherry Days, and thought I'd try it," Tracy said. "I didn't have a clue of what I was doing, and we didn't even place. But I learned from the other people there.  The next cook-off I was in, the Weber County single-pot, I won."
Tracy was a seven-time finalist in the IDOS World Championship — the Olympics of Dutch oven cooking.  Just getting a berth is an achievement, since teams have to win an IDOS-sanctioned cook-off in order to qualify. The contestants pull out all the stops, with dishes more likely to be seen at a four-star restaurant than a camp-out.
When he and Vickie took the title in 2004, they wowed the judges with Cheese-Stuffed Pork Loin with New Potatoes and Stuffed Mushrooms, a perfectly baked Challah Holiday Bread with Parmesan Dipping Butter, and a stunning Poached Pear and Almond Tart.
He's sharing what he knows in his book, with 64 recipes that all can be baked outdoors in a Dutch oven or indoors in a regular oven. He notes that recipes sized for a 12-inch Dutch oven can be baked in a 9-by-13-inch pan.
"The recipes are designed for the backyard cook, but there are recipes in here that are good enough for competition," he said.
One of his signature recipes is Cheese Onion Rolls, which also appear on the book cover.
 Temperature control is the key to successful baking, he said. A common mistake is to pile too many coals on the bottom of the pan, which will cause your food to burn. The majority of the coals should be placed on the top of the lid,  to help the food brown on top instead of burning on the bottom. 
To determine how many charcoal briquettes are needed to maintain a 350-degree temperature: Multiply the size of the oven by two. A 12-inch Dutch oven would require 24 coals. Then divide that number by three, and place one-third of the coals (eight) on the bottom, in a circle, and two-thirds (16) on the top in a ring around the rim of the lid.
If you want to learn more about Dutch oven cooking, the IDOS Spring Convention is May 10-11 at the Davis County Fairgrounds in Ogden. All day Saturday there will be a lot of cooking demos, vendors selling Dutch oven equipment, and experts to help you get started.  Admission is free.
And Bruce Tracy will be on hand to sign copies of his book!  Here's one of his recipes:

Cheese Onion Rolls
12-inch oven
7-8 coals on bottom
15-16 coals on top
(For indoor oven, 350 degrees F)
 1 cup warm water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, divided
4-5 cups flour, divided
2 packages instant yeast
4 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, optional
In a large bowl, mix together water and sugar. Add oil, salt and 2 eggs. Carefully add 2 cups of flour and yeast until incorporated and then stir vigorously for 30 seconds. Add more flour, 1 cup at a time, until you have a soft dough. Knead on a board until the dough is well-formed and elastic. Roll the dough around in a large oiled bowl, cover, and let rise until almost double in size, about 20-30 minutes.
Sprinkle a little flour on your bread board and spread dough out into a 1/4-inch-thick rectangle. Spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray and spread with cheese and onion. Roll up from the long side jelly-roll style. Cut into triangles like this: \ / \ / \ / \ / \ /
Spray Dutch oven with nonstick cooking spray. Arrange rolls in a circle, small end toward the center and just touching. Make an egg wash by stirring together the remaining egg and 1 tablespoon water. Brush tops of rolls with egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds, if using. Put the lid on and let rise again until just double in size, about 20-40 minutes. The rolls will fill the oven. Bake, using 7-8 coals underneath the oven and 15-16 coals on top, for about 45 minutes. Every 15 minutes, gently turn the oven about a quarter turn over the coals, and then turn the lid the opposite direction, to prevent hot spots. After 30 minutes, check the rolls for browning. When they begin to brown, remove the bottom coals. When they are golden brown, maybe 5 minutes later, remove the rest of the coals from the top. Leave the rolls in the oven for about 10 minutes after the heat is removed, with the lid cracked. Remove to a trivet to cool.
—"Dutch Oven Baking" by Bruce Tracy
(Gibbs Smith, $15.99)

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