Camp Bread 2012
I've made bread over a campfire with a dutch oven before:
I think that if you check out those previous years' loaves, you can see the progression of my ideas and ability to bake bread over a campfire.
This year I wanted to try something different: I took no recipes, I took no flour, and the only actual leavening I took was in dried form. I had to reconstitute the sourdough over a couple of days to get it going.
Rather than use flour, I decided to take some grain -- mostly wheat berries, some rye kernels, some oats and other seeds -- and grind it right there in camp with an old coffee grinder, to see what I could come up with.
But I chickened out. While developing my dough, I could see that the gluten wasn't going to develop properly with this coarsely ground stuff -- it was closer to milled flour than it was to cracked wheat, but the grinder may have damaged the starch or perhaps the bran was just too chunky or something. I had no recipes, but I could feel that the gluten wouldn't develop, so I did end up buying some flour and adding a bit of it to the mixture of sourdough. Anyone other than me might have found this acceptable. But I was disappointed because the only flour available to me was enriched flour -- there wasn't a decent grocery store for hundreds of miles around, and the local gouger/retailer only had white flour.
For the last loaf only, I managed to obtain some whole wheat flour, after a rainy-day trip to a real grocery store, hours away.
There were other problems I had to contend with: the water had a distinct chlorine odour. I mostly used boiled and then cooled water. Often I used leftover tea.
And the weather had been so dry throughout northern Ontario (before we got there), there were strict fireplace bans in effect. You could only make fires between the hours of 7-9 in the morning, and 7-10 at night. This meant my bread dough had to be timed to be ready for baking when the fire was available.
Of course, as soon as we arrived, the dry period ended, and we had a lot of rain. This did not immediately change the fire ban. But it did make it difficult to make the fire, with damp firewood.
Those are just some of the things you have to contend with, when you are baking over a campfire.
The weather could be forgiven because it made the sky spectacular. The problems with the bread could also be forgiven because it tasted so good.
Camp Bread #1
I built up this bread over a number of days. I had taken some bread with me, so I had time to play. First, I reconstituted the sourdough with some freshly milled grain and some tea. It took a couple of days of gradually adding freshly milled grain before it was beginning to properly ferment. I kept this fermentation fairly dry as I built up the dough. Remember, I had no recipes. I just added some ground grain ad lib until I was satisfied with the texture. Then I'd leave it for a day to ferment inside a covered container.
Adding a bit of ground grain and hydration daily
|On the day of baking, I add a bit of salt. Not measuring anything.|
|Saving a bit of sourdough before the salt is added (for the next loaf).|
|The first dough I raised in a tea towel. Big mistake.|
|Risen dough in tea towel|
Tea-towel scrapings make a nice bun
The day before I was going to bake bread I reserved some sourdough and then added some extra ground grain and some liquid. Unsatisfied with the way it kneaded, I ended up adding some all-purpose flour. I did try to develop the gluten with stretches and folds, but after a while I gave it up and went kayaking or swimming or something. The dough mostly bulk fermented in a floured teatowel inside a steep bowl.
This was a mistake, as the dough stuck badly to the teatowel. I scraped off as much of the dough as I could, and made a bun with it, after baking the main bread.
The dutch oven was heated while the flame was still quite hot, for a minimum of 20 minutes on the grate. This is near enough to the flam that you can't keep your hand there for more than a second or two, but it may not have heated the cast iron all the way through, I don't know. I turned the pot several times, to ensure that the heat had a chance to get the pot good and hot.
For the first part of the baking, I kept the dutch oven on this grate, but although there were still some flames, the pot wasn't in the direct fire. There were some coals, and these went onto the top of the lid. The bread is baked on top from heat radiating through the lid. Again, I would turn the pot every 20 minutes or so, and I would also put new hot coals on top, and check the top of the bread for doneness. Baking took a long time this way. The first loaf, I started the fire at 7 pm, put the dough in at 7:20, and turned and checked it until 8:50. Then it was starting to get pretty dark, and the fire was dying, so I placed the pot in the embers for the final 20 minutes. This seemed to work, for this dough, and I repeated the process for the other loaves. This was the fastest loaf -- the other loaves took 2 hours to bake, after the pot was heated.
But with this loaf I had to bake the bun afterwards, too. And the fire had to be out by 10 pm. I made the pot very hot, kept it in the coals, and checked it frequently. Smaller bun-sized doughs don't need as long to bake anyway.
The final loaf, campfire bread #1:
|Toast with Board's Honey and last years' homemade wild blueberry jam.|
I was pleased that the bread was not overly sour. I was afraid that the dough, elaborated this way over days and days, would develop too much acidity, too much lactobacilli, not enough yeast. But because I had kept the ferment fairly low in hydration, it was not sour tasting at all. It had a faint sour odour, but not a sour taste. A couple of other people tried this bread and said it was good, but I ate most of it.
Camp Bread #2
On the day of baking bread #1, before adding some salt, I reserved some sourdough. Happy with the way the first bread turned out, I developed the dough for bread #2 over several days too, from the reserve. Again, I didn't keep detailed notes of how much cracked grain I used. I did keep some notes, but I regard these now as suspect and incomplete. I was grinding grain when I felt like it, and not always writing down what I did. I was on vacation.
But this time I added some rye kernels, and at the same time as the salt I added some sunflower seeds and some pumpkin seeds.
|seeds in dough|
|Bulk fermented dough in large oiled bowl: |
deflated and deformed getting it out and into the hot dutch oven
|About 20 minutes into the bake|
|Towards the end of the bake|
|finished loaf still in pot|
|Cooling atop the grill before the coons came|
|Because I frequently turn the pot, no one side gets too well-done|
This bread felt mushy on top even after an hour and a half of baking. It was probably too moist, and the top trapped the steam inside the pot. I baked it for a full hour, and even when I finished I was worried that the top was just not well baked. But as it cooled it became fine, an ordinary crust.
A couple more people arrived at camp and they tried this bread too and pronounced it good.
My son brought me a couple of nice Glänta Bread Basket bags for my bread. I think that he just wanted to see my reaction. He was amused because he bought them at Ikea -- and he knows how I feel about Ikea. I have to admit that the bags are made of good sturdy material (though they smell a bit funny, like a chemical that the fabric has been treated with), and I think they are meant to hang somewhere in your kitchen. My wife has made me several fabric bread bags with ties on the top that we just load up and toss in the bread drawer at home, but these Glänta bags would probably be quite nice for people with less drawer space. I think they did a pretty good job of keeping the bread from developing too much moisture during the humid days, whereas my wife's bags became damp and wouldn't dry out. Supposedly the bread bags are designed to keep the bread warm. Uh-huh.
I didn't keep the bread in the tree, that's just asking for trouble from the critters of the woods. I was just taking a picture of the bag. We actually did have trouble the night before when we were playing cribbage by lantern light, and the bread was cooling on the grill: a whole family of coons came by because they smelled the bread. We had to drive them off. I cooled the bread in the car after that.
|Flash evidence of coon by hot Dutch Oven in the dark|
Camp Bread #3
My final bread. No one was really helping me to eat bread at camp this year (other than trying a slice or two), so I didn't make as many loaves this time. For this loaf, I added more rye and even some ground up oat groats. And I had whole wheat flour now.
|We thought it was going to rain any minute so set up the umbrella|
|earlier in the baking|
|later in the baking|
|finished loaf cooling|
I liked this loaf's flavour. I also was pleased with the darker colour, almost pumpernickel-like. But I didn't add quite enough salt.
About half of this loaf came home with me. Now all that remains is memories of loaves and sky.
Notes to Myself
- The Five Roses All Purpose Flour that I was forced to use because nothing else was available is "enriched" with a few of the mandated vitamins and ascorbic acid, amylase and benzoyl peroxide. Benzoyl Peroxide is a common way to simulate the aging process of flour. It is an oxidizing agent, and like many of the other artificial aging ingredients added to flour over the last 50 years that have been banned in many places (e.g. chlorine dioxide, ammonium, potassium persulfates, potassium bromate, iodate, etc.), this molecule has raised some concerns. WHO has rubber stamped its use at low levels. But I believe that in some places, benzoyl peroxide is banned for treating acne (another of its common uses here), and I don't think that the EU allows its use in flour (although apparently it is still used to bleach certain cheese). At the very least, it can be a skin irritant.
[Once home, I learned that China has also banned the use of Benzoyl Peroxide in flour since May 2011. Chinese scientists have since pioneered many different methods to detect Benzoyl Peroxide in flour, using tomography, bioassays, and ever more inexpensive techniques. You might see a substantial change in the way flour is treated here too, since China is such a huge consumer of our wheat, and they are no longer going to buy the stuff we send them that contains Benzoyl Peroxide. I believe that China is responding swiftly to the new findings of Jia X, Wu Y, and Liu P of Shangdong University, Jinan China, who have detected some potentially serious problems with how Benzoyl Peroxide interferes with mice liver antioxidants (X, J. et al. (2011) "Effects of flour bleaching agent on mice liver antioxidant status and ATPases" Environ Toxicol Pharmacol 31(3) pp. 479-84). This ingredient has been in our flour for a long time, and we still don't know how it affects humans, we keep learning about ways in which it may be harmful.]
So is it appropriate to use Benzoyl Peroxide in flour? Despite the WHO pronouncement, a lot of people are beginning to question its widespread use. Personally, I'd like to do without it. It simply makes sense that we try to increase our antioxidant intake, and avoid things like Benzoyl Peroxide that will destroy antioxidants. But when at camp, one eats a lot of stuff that one might ordinarily not. I actually had part of a soft drink while at camp. Yuck. I tossed it away. How can anyone drink this stuff?
People might be interested to know that Five Roses now makes a "never bleached" version of their all purpose flour. Look for it, if you must use Five Roses flour. Beware of gouger/retailers that don't know the difference. The flour I picked up at the gouger/retailer might have been very old stock. Five Roses now makes a bleached flour that uses azodicarbonamide. It is legal as a bleaching agent for flour, in very low amounts, in the U.S. and Canada. Personally, I'd stay away from that one too, for the same reasons.
- There is a subtle difference between ground grain and milled grain. You can feel the difference. Good bread requires milled grain, or flour. You can make a bread with ground grain, but it will be dense and the gluten from the wheat will not be well developed.
- Dried sourdough takes a few days to reconstitute and get going again.
- Dutch ovens are heavy, as are grains and flour. This is probably not the thing to take with you on a long canoe trip. But fresh campfire bread at a base camp is marvellous.
- On rainy days we found some shops that sold old books, and I found a few bread books to add to my collection. Several are quite old and mysterious. One recipe book is coverless and quite old, with recipes submitted from various women (probably church ladies) from the Ottawa area; it has a chapter on "bread and biscuits", and the first entry there is "Six-hour yeast" made with mashed potatoes and a "yeast cake". Because the cover is off, I can't tell the name of the recipe book, or when it was printed. But there are full and half page ads in the book from stores around Ottawa, one of which toutes the benefits of "The New Empress Steel Range" (which came out around 1910). The Home Ec book is cute: it is heavily notated by hand and may have been a manual given to teachers of baking courses sponsored by the Ontario Dept of Agriculture and Food and administered by either the 4H club or Women's Institute back in the 60s. Training Schools on various household subjects (like quilting and breadbaking) were sponsored by the government and communities throughout Ontario took advantage of them -- not just in the north. This pamphlet, and the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, have some interesting and overlapping info on shaping loaves. The book by Ingram & Shapter has nice pictures. I may peruse the recipes too. The book by the Evan's in particular looks quite interesting, and I will have to delve into it.
- Jones, Judith & Evan (1982) The Book of Bread: the pleasures of breadbaking including uncomplicated techniques & 240 wonderful recipes both traditional and unique
- RP(?), Ontario Department of Agriculture and Food Home Economics Branch (1968) Baking with Yeast: member's pamphlet.
- Ingram, C. and Shapter, J. (2001) The World Encyclopedia of Bread and Bread Making.
- Gerras, C. et al. [Rodale Press] (1982) The Good Grains: Featuring Breas, soups, Casseroles, Souffles, Snacks and Desserts
- Dooley, D. et al. [Better Homes and Gardens] (1973) Homemade Bread Cook Book