Friday, May 01, 2009

Basic Dutch oven bread

I have since revisited the recipe for Dutch oven bread. I revised the mixing and kneading technique. The ingredient quantities haven't changed.

I started my bread last Saturday around 11:30 a.m. by dumping the flour and other dry ingredients into a large bowl. Since I advocate weighing the flour when baking, I find pre-weighing the dry ingredients at home saves me the trouble of dragging my scale to camp.

I weighted the flour into a large zipper-top bag at home. After adding the sugar, salt and instant yeast and closing the bag, a quick knead or two evenly distributed the dry ingredients among the flour.

The dough quickly came together in camp. It takes me about 250 strokes to completely knead the dough by hand in camp.

The dough starts to come together by the 80th stroke with a smooth surface. That's my signal to watch the amount of much flour I add to the dough.

As you approach 180 strokes, the dough will stiffen slightly. I usually do a window pain test around the 225th stroke to see how it's shaping up. Once I'm satisfied, I place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl or Dutch oven to ferment.

A word about charcoal briquettes and hot coals
Over the past couple years, I've slowly moved away from counting coals when cooking in Dutch ovens. I can't tell you how many coals I used to bake the bread.

Although I may be able to give the number of shovels I used, that won't help as we likely use differently-sized shovels. In the words of chuckwagon chef Kent Rollings, you must practice, practice, practice. In time, you'll learn to gauge heat by sight.

The recipe contains a reference to an approximate oven temperature. If you prefer to count charcoal briquettes, base the number of top and bottom coals on one of the popular temperature charts.

For bread, I know from experience (in temperate weather) that I need to set the Dutch oven over a light bed of coals and cover the lid with a good shovel or two of coals. Sorry, but there's little science here -- just good old cooking by touch and feel.

Instead, I light a pile of Lazzari mesquite charcoal and let it burn down to a bed of coals. The large chunks of mesquite, with many four- and five-inch diameter pieces in the bag, split and break into charcoal-sized coals as it burns. Once you have sufficient coals, transfer them to the Dutch oven with tongs or a small shovel.


I modified this recipe from American West Dutch Oven Cooking (Amazon link), published in 2000, by former world champion Dutch oven cooks Kent Mayberry and Brian Terry. It's a reliable recipe that uses a ratio of 3 parts flour to 2 parts water. That's the equivalent to 60 percent moisture (from water and egg whites) when the flour is figured as 100 percent.

Use this recipe as a foundation for most any flavor. On several occasions, I've worked an 8-ounce jar of pesto into the dough. The pesto gives the bread a nice green color and bright Italian flavor.

This recipe is written for the 14-inch deep Dutch oven, which will hold a 5-cup bread recipe (the measure of flour). Five cups of bread flour is approximately equivalent to 25 ounces. Cut the recipe in half for a 12-inch deep camp oven.

25 ounces bread flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons table salt
4 teaspoons instant yeast
2 cups warm water
2 eggs

At home: Combine flour, sugar, salt and yeast in a large zipper-top bag. If measuring flour, use 5 cups.

In camp: Mix water and egg together and combine with yeast and half of the flour mixture in a large bowl. Beat with wooden spoon until smooth. Mix the rest of the flour until smooth.

Knead by hand on a floured work surface. I find that it takes about 250 strokes to properly knead the dough. Cover and let dough rise in a warm spot until double in size, about 60 minutes. Punch dough and knead until smooth. Form as desired.

Place in a greased 14-inch deep-style Dutch oven. Grease top with melted butter. Let rise 30 minutes or until double in size.

Bake with coals for approximately 400 degrees until browned. Remove bottom coals after 15 minutes and finish baking with top coals only. When done, remove coals and cool bread.


  1. Steve,
    What is a window pane test?

  2. Hi Ted:

    Use the widow pane test to determine if you've kneaded the dough long enough. Kneading about 5-10 minutes, then pinch off a small piece of dough and slowly stretch it like pizza dough.

    As you gently pull and rotate the dough, stretch it until a thin, translucent membrane forms. If it tears easily, continue kneading for a few more minutes and test again.