Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Baking Bread at the Winter Camp Cookoff

I have since revisited the recipe for Dutch oven bread. The ingredients are now measured by weight. If you prefer to measure the ingredients by volume, use the measurements on this page, but follow the new instructions.

I enjoy good bread. And as an active-duty Navy baker in the 1970s, I enjoyed baking bread for the crew. So, when I entered the Winter Camp Cookoff that was held at the Colusa, California County Fairgrounds on January 22, 2005, it only seemed natural that I bake a nice loaf of Dutch oven bread for the contest.

Despite my experience, I didn't adjust for the cold weather under the T.K. Marshall Pavilion. Located just a few miles east of the Sacramento River, the pavilion is an open arena that’s used during the county fair for livestock events.

Baking Bread in Cold Weather

January 22 landed right in the middle of the Central Valley's winter foggy season. A cold breeze (cold for California, anyway) cut through the pavilion that gray morning. With visibility at less than a mile, the ambient temperature registered in the low 40s.

I did everything right up until it was time to bake the bread in a 14-inch deep camp oven. The late start didn't help. Instead of starting my bread immediately following the cook's meeting at 8:45 a.m., I focused on prep work for my chili. That was my first mistake. I didn't leave sufficient time for the bread to bake. The dough was set to ferment by 9:50 a.m.

I discovered an ingenious method to shelter the bread during fermentation. After warming the greased Dutch oven with three hot coals, I place the oven inside of a fake canvas Dutch oven bag. I initially zipped the cover closed. Then it dawned on me that I should return the three coals to the lid. I unzipped the cover and replaced the coals.

The bread is ready to proof (the 2nd rise). I placed the 14-inch deep Dutch oven inside the Dutch oven bag to insulated it from the cold, damp weather at the cookoff. After placing the lid on the oven, I set three hot coals on the lid to provide warmth for the proof.

The bread doubled right on schedule (bakers love tight schedules) in one hour. I punched the dough and let it rest for 15 minutes. I then divided it into three equal balls and placed them in the warm Dutch oven to proof. This time the bread didn't rise as fast as it had fermented.

With judging at 12:30 p.m., I rushed the under-proofed loaves to baking at 11:35 a.m. I then placed 24 coals on the lid and 8 coals under the oven. This would've been sufficient heat in the summer. I pull the bread from the oven right at 12:30.

In the rush to get my chili and dessert ready, I didn't notice that it wasn't cooked through. I would have had a great loaf of bread had I compensated for the cold, damp air that morning.

Lesson learned ...

In case you're wondering what happened to the under-baked bread: As I was ready to toss the loaves into the trash barrel, a lady stopped me and asked if she could have the bread for her chickens. I obliged.


I gleaned this recipe from American West Dutch Oven Cooking, published in 2000, by former world champion Dutch oven cooks Kent Mayberry and Brian Terry. I've baked this recipe a number of times in Dutch ovens. It's reliable, despite my cold weather experience.

1 cup warm water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2-1/2 cups bread flour
1 egg

Dissolve yeast in warm water with sugar. Sift flour and salt together and set aside. Mix oil and egg together and combine with yeast and half of the flour. Beat with a wooden spoon until smooth. Mix the rest of the flour until smooth. Knead; cover and let dough rise in a warm spot until double in size, about 30 minutes.

Use a 12-inch deep-style Dutch oven for this recipe. Ignite approximately 23 charcoal briquettes and let them burn until they are barely covered with ash, about 20 minutes. For a 350-degree oven, you'll need 7 briquettes underneath and 16 on top of the oven.

Punch dough and knead until smooth. Form as desired. Place in a greased Dutch oven. Grease top with melted butter. Let rise 30 minutes or until double in size.

Bake until browned, about 20 to 30 minutes. Bake with approximately 16 coals on top and 7 coals underneath the Dutch oven. Remove bottom coals after 12 minutes and finish baking with top coals only. When done, remove coals and cool bread.

Note: Double recipe for 14-inch deep Dutch oven. A 14-inch deep camp oven will hold a 5-cup bread recipe (the measure of flour).

Steve kneading bread for the Winter Camp Cookoff. My lower back was killing me by the time I set the bread to ferment.


  1. Steve,

    I am fairly new to DO cooking and have yet to bake bread. Will this recipe work with whole grain flour as well? If not what adjustments should be made?

    Buda, TX

  2. Hi Mike:

    I don't see any reason why it won't work. Whole wheat four has less gluten-forming proteins available to form structure and height. So depending on the total percentage of whole wheat flour, the resulting loaf will be more dense and won't have the rise that you experience from bread flour.

    I recommend that you just give it a try and report back on the results. Worst case, you have to eat a failed experiment. But that won't be the case here. Just remember that the results won't be as perfect. The other solution is to only use 25 to 50% whole wheat of the total flour.