Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Baking artisan bread in camp

In the nearly two years since I first talked about artisan no-knead bread, I have baked this bread numerous times, based on my standard recipe. I currently have a batch of dough in the refrigerator at home. While camping at Upper Blue Lake last month, I was able to record notes on my baking process in camp.

These instructions are for use in temperate weather. You need to gauge weather conditions and determine how ambient temperature, humidity and wind conditions will influence internal baking temperature and cooking time. Flexibility is the key. As a rule, coals burn hotter in lower humidity and windier conditions. Cooler, wet weather reduces the heating potential of the coals.

For any Dutch oven recipe on 'Round the Chuckbox, the number of coals are calculated for average summer conditions in the Western United States. You need to experiment and learn how to adapt my instructions to seasonal weather conditions where you live and camp. Use my instructions as a starting point. Experiment at home before taking the the bread into camp to bake.

Light campfire. While hardwood is the ideal choice of wood, I usually cook with pine, cedar and fir in the Sierra Nevada. As a rule, I build a fire that's two to three times the size in volume than the Dutch oven. The fire must produce sufficient coals to heat the Dutch oven for one hour. I continue to add wood to the fire once I remove the first coals to have a ready source of fresh coals.
When you desire to bake a loaf of bread, dust surface of chilled dough with flour. Pull a 16- to 24-ounce piece dough out and cut with a knife or kitchen sears. Gently stretch dough by pulling it down to the bottom, turning the dough one-quarter turn each fold. If desired, slash load before setting it in the Dutch oven, as I did here. This dough was made with 20 percent whole wheat flour.
Gentle place the loaf inside a 12-inch deep-style camp oven. Slash the loaf if not done earlier. Place the lid on the oven. Set in shade on a warm day. On a cool day, set in a sunny location. Proof in oven for 40 minutes.
Coals are almost ready. You won't see much noticeable rise during proofing. After the 40-minute fermentation period, the load will be ready for baking. Remove the lid, splash about 1 tablespoon cold water over the loaf and replace the lid.
Hang the Dutch oven about 18 inches above the bed of coals. Shovel a solid bed of coals on the lid. Bake 15 minutes, then lift the lid and quickly check bread. If it's browning properly, remove the coals from the center of the lid. I've found that this is necessary to ensure the loaf bakes without burning. You need coals for 450 degrees (10 under oven and 23 on lid) when using charcoal briquettes. 
Continue baking for an additional 30 to 40 minutes. You're looking for a nicely browned crust and firm to the touch Remove coals and cool. 


  1. Excellent! I've been kicking around the idea of making no knead bread in a dutch oven for awhile but haven't gotten around to actually doing it.

    I was thinking that the DO would need to be pre-heated and then roll the dough into the hot oven. Have you tried this?

    I like the idea of the final ferment in the actual DO, that makes things a bit easier. Now I just need to stop thinking and light a fire.

  2. You could pre-heat the Dutch oven. Naturally, you'd have to proof the loaf elsewhere, like on a cutting board. Proof it on a piece of parchment paper, making it easier to handle without damaging the dough.

    Do remember that you're in camp, where things are less than perfect sometimes. Mix a batch, let ferment in the fridge for several days and bake a loaf. You'll enjoy the results.

    I just baked two loaves in my home oven today...they're great. And I mixed the next batch without washing the container. The scraps of aging dough helps boost the flavor of the next batch.

    Enjoy ...