Ok, this is an involved recipe. You have to get a starter, and keep it alive for a while. Then you have to plan about 2 days of your life to be available for building your bread dough, and then you have to bake it in your dutch oven. But it is worth it, and you can do it!
Aimee is the baker. Mai-yan and I like to bake for Aimee as a joke. You should’ve seen the soggy granola-crusted cheesecake we attempted for her birthday last year. (“Water bath? Springform pan? Wait-what? We have to chill it for 4 hours? It’s 10pm now and we are ready to sing Happy Birthday!”). So it was an equally funny joke when my friend from work brought me some sourdough starter. I kept it alive because I couldn’t let him down.
Aimee lent me her book, Josey Baker Bread, and I spent a day off following the rules and baking some bread. It came out “great.” Brown, sour flavored, bread shaped. I didn’t love it, though. There wasn’t anything special about it. So I gave it away.
I tried again when I visited my parents in Las Vegas a few weeks later. We were at the stage when you let it sit on the counter for 3 hours before shaping the loaf, and after 1 hour, it had blown up like a balloon and oozed out of the bowl all over the counter. My mom made me bake it anyway, and it turned out like bread again, and everyone ate it (I told them I was testing their politeness threshold).
It took me months to want to try again, and by that time, it was last week, and it was 100 degrees outside. I did NOT want to turn on my oven. I decided it was time to test this thing out as a Dirty Gourmet recipe, so I set up my backyard fire pit and got out some charcoal and a dutch oven. I followed the recipe for a “hearth loaf,” which is free form and you get to slash the top of the bread with a scalpel, leaving that beautiful crack in the top. I followed the Dutch Oven Temperature Chart we often use, but it doesn’t go high enough in temperature so I added a few extra coals. The first loaf baked quickly and burned all across the bottom, but I’ve never seen such color and texture on a homemade crust before! The coals had died down significantly by the second loaf’s turn to bake (have an extra batch ready), so it took longer, but it still baked up crusty and sour like I wanted.
This is how I’ll be baking my bread from now on, and I’m going to be baking a lot more often now that I can avoid turning on my oven.
Camping and baking can be more tricky. I recommend doing the whole process at camp, rather than trying to travel with shaped loaves. Start with your backyard. That still counts as getting outside in my book!
Dutch Oven Sourdough
Prep Time / Cook Time/
Activity GuideCar Camping
- 2 tablespoons sourdough starter
- 1 cup cool water
- 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
- 2 cups lukewarm water
- 5 cups bread flour
- 4 teaspoons salt
- 1 cup rice flour
- Campfire or grill
- Dutch oven
- Large bowl
- Long tongs
- 4 Thin dishtowels
- 2 Strainers
- Razor blade or super sharp knife
- Charcoal or slow burning wood
- Make the preferment the night before baking in a large bowl. Mix together the ingredients really well, and let sit at “room” temperature, covered overnight (8-12 hours). It should smell nice and sour in the morning, so you can leave it longer if it doesn’t. Time is affected by temperature.
- In the morning, add all the dough ingredients and mix with your hands really well. Cover and let sit for about 30 minutes.
- Knead the dough by first dipping your hand in a bowl of water, grabbing a corner of the dough, pulling and stretching it upward, and squishing it back down on itself. Turn the bowl and do this again and again until you get all the way around. Let sit covered for another 30 minutes.
- Do this 3 more times, every half hour.
- Let the dough sit until it increases in size by half, about 3-4 hours. It will take less time if it’s in a warm place, and more time if it’s cold.
- Dump the dough out on a floured counter top and break it in half. Shape each half into a loaf by rolling the bottom in to create a seam at the bottom.
- Lay out 2 dish towels and sprinkle each generously with rice flour. Place each loaf into a towel, seam-side up, and carefully transfer the each to the strainers. Let sit for 3-4 hours, covered with another wet dish towel, until they are about 1.5 times the original size.
- Preheat your campfire and dutch oven. Start your charcoals, and use the correct amount of coals for your dutch oven size for 475 degrees, according to the chart (or the estimated equivalent of wood chunks).
- When it’s preheated, carefully remove the dutch oven lid, and carefully roll one dough out into the dutch oven. It should now be seam side down. With a sharp knife, slice a slit across the top FAST (commit!), and cover.
- Bake for 20 minutes. Check it out and bake for another 15-20 minutes, until it’s dark brown on top. Remove, readjust/add coals to your fire, and bake the other loaf the same way.
- Let each loaf fully cool before cutting and enjoying. Try it as part of our Bruschetta Picnic Potluck.