1 Mix
2 Proof
Sure, there are three
steps, but the first step is
easy and the last two
steps don't require any
work at all!
Artisan Breads 1..2..3..
Make artisan breads in 3 easy steps.  Its fast, fun, and easy, any way you slice it!
“Baking is a relaxed art.  There is
no step in the bread making
process that cannot, in some
way, be delayed or moved ahead
just a bit to make it more
convenient to fit into a busy
schedule.”  -Bernard Clayton Jr.
in The Breads of France
3 Bake
Tips and Techniques

June 27, 2012

Making Sourdough Out on the Trail

The thought of hardscrabble prospectors keeping their own sourdough
cultures and baking with them has always fascinated me.  How did they
bake and cleanup every day without the benefit of a kitchen?  To help
answer these questions and to try out my new Dutch oven, we tried out
some sourdough baking while camping along the North Shore of Lake
Superior last summer.

 Split Rock Lighthouse is back there somewhere

To keep things simple, I made my one step pain au levain.  I started
with half a cup of stiff levain in a 4.6 quart plastic container with a lid.  
In 1 gallon ziplock bags, I placed all the dry ingredients for each day's
loaf of pain au levain.  The first evening, while working on supper, I
mixed the starter and water in the plastic bowl, then stirred in the dry
ingredients.  I then covered the dough and set it in the bear locker to
develop over the next 24 hours.  Daytime temps were in the 60's and
70's and night temperatures dropped into the 50's, so I didn't have to
worry about the dough maturing too quickly.

The next evening, I would get the charcoal going, then remove the bowl
lid and flour it heavily to use as a work surface.  I would then form the
dough into a loaf, saving about half a cup back to mix with the next
night's batch of dough.  The loaf would proof for 30-45 minutes while
the charcoal got going.

The use of Dutch oven and charcoal for baking deserves a lengthy
discussion that is found elsewhere on the web.  I'll just summarize by
noting that first you determine how many briquettes you need for your
particular temperature and piece of bakeware.  This is done by
consulting a camp cookbook, Dutch oven owner's manual or one of
several websites that discusses Dutch oven cooking.  Once the charcoal
is ready, preheat the Dutch oven for 10-15 minutes prior to inserting the
loaf.  For even baking, about 3/4 of the required briquettes should be
placed on the top of the oven and 1/4 of the briquettes underneath.

The first time I used my Dutch oven, I made brownies which ended up
being a bit undercooked.  The next night I made my first loaf of bread,
and since the brownies had been underdone the night before, I added
lots of extra charcoal to the top and bottom.  Not a smart idea as you
can see.  The crust was quite black, although we were able to salvage
some of the loaf by cutting off the crust.

The next night, I used the amount of charcoal recommended for 400
degrees and things went much better.

Fortunately, the odor of baking bread did not attract any bears, just a
porcupine.  I bet the miner's in Alaska never got to drink a cold beer
while baking their sourdough.

In summary, here's what I did to make things easy and efficient for
Dutch oven bread baking
while out on the trail:

  • First, premeasure out the dry ingredients for each loaf and put
    them in a ziplock bag.

  • Sourdough works well for proofing dough on a 24 hour cycle,
    but you can use regular yeast on a 24 hour cycle also.  Instead of
    using 2-3 tsp/loaf, cut the amount of yeast back to 1/4 - 1/2 tsp
    and the dough proofing will be stretched out to near 24 hours.

  • Bring a plastic container with a lid to mix and proof the dough in.  
    Use the inner part of the lid as a work surface when shaping the
    dough.  Since you remix and reproof the dough daily, there is no
    need to clean out the plastic container and lid until the camping
    trip is over.

  • Bring enough parchment paper for moving each day's loaf in and
    out of the oven.

  • Consult with a website (such as http://www.dutchovendude.
    com/campfire-cooking.shtml) that has tables or calculators to
    figure the amount of charcoal you need for your size bakeware
    and desired temperature.

  • Don't forget a lid lifter and/or tongs for removing the Dutch oven
    lid and for moving the charcoal to the proper place.

Finally, if you think fresh homemade bread just coming out of the at
home is delicious, wait until you have some fresh warm bread at your