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Things I’ve Learned About Dutch Oven Bread That You Won’t Find in the Recipe

Over the past year, I’ve learned some things about bread making. And along the way, I assumed that these were things that everybody knew, and I had just been the slow one. I didn’t really talk about it much with people, because I assumed that they’d just say, “Well, duh, when did you figure THAT one out?”

But I discovered that most dutch oven chefs also didn’t know a lot of the things I was learning, so I started to come out of my shell and share.

So, here are the things I’ve learned about baking yeast bread in a dutch oven:

* The Recipe is Only Half What You Need

Baking good bread is half ingredients, and half technique. It’s as important to learn how to combine the ingredients and what to do with them as it is what ingredients to combine. This is where so many simple recipes fail you.

* Enrichments are great, but not always necessary

Really, all you absolutely need to make bread are four basic ingredients: Flour, salt, yeast, and water. If you can do it with those, you can do it with anything else you wanna add. I’ve learned that with just those ingredients, you can make a very fluffy and tasty bread!

* You Need to Knead

Kneading is not only a great way to mix in the right amount of flour, it also develops the gluten strands and makes it so that the bread can trap the gas that the yeast makes. That makes the bread rise. For so long, I would be frustrated that my bread wasn’t rising. It would take FOREVER. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I’d knead the bread as long as the recipe said to, so why wasn’t it working?

Just like different flours absorb water differently, they also take varying amounts of kneading. You can’t definitively say, “knead for 8 minutes” and know that it’ll be enough. You need to do the “Windowpane Test”. That’s the only way to know.

Cut off a small piece of the dough you’re kneading. Roll it into a ball in your palms. Then, working it in a circle, begin to stretch it out flat in the air. Pull it evenly apart, like you’re stretching out a pizza dough. Keep stretching it thinner and thinner. Watch how long it takes to tear. If you can stretch it out so thin it becomes translucent, like a window pane, without it tearing, then you’ve kneaded it enough. If not, put that piece back in the dough ball and keep kneading.

* Pre-Heat the Oven

It turns out that when you shove a ball of dough into an already heated oven, that initial blast of heat will make the dough “spring”. The trapped gas expands, the moisture in the dough turns to steam, and the whole ball just poofs. You get a bigger loaf, with a softer crumb.

One simple method is to pre-heat the lid of the dutch oven. After your bread has risen and you’ve shaped it, put it in an oiled dutch oven to proof. In the meantime, put some (a lot) of coals on the lid and set it aside. When the loaf is ready, take some of the coals off the lid and put them in a ring. Set the dutch oven on the ring of coals, and put the lid on. The advantage of this method is that you’re not handling the bread much, and so there’s less of a chance of punching it down as you’re trying to maneuver it into a hot dutch oven. You can also do some fun shapes, like braids and rings. It’s much easier to do rolls this way, too.

* Use a Thermometer

It can be difficult to strictly regulate the internal temperature of a dutch oven. Counting coals is a good idea, but if it’s cold out, or windy, or any of a number of factors, the heat can vary. That means, I’m never sure when it’s done. Cooking a certain length of time is no guarantee. Looking at the “golden brown” of the crust doesn’t work, because I can never tell if it’s done inside. In a dutch oven, it’s not always practical to reach in, lift out the loaf and thump it.

My solution? Stick a meat thermometer in it. If it’s between 180 and 200, it’s done. 180 for the lighter types of breads, 200 for heavier breads.

So, there you have my ideas on making breads in a dutch oven. Follow the recipe, and follow these hints, and you’ll do better than you did before, I can almost guarantee!

Mark Hansen

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Most Important Things About A Pressure Cooker

Pressure cooking is the oldest way of cooking food fast. It cooks 70% faster than the traditional method. When you’re in a hurry but want dinner that tastes like its’ been cooking for hours, a pressure cooker is just the right way to go.

Our busy lifestyle seems to hardly allow us to catch up with family meals, much the time to cook a delicious and healthy dish. The pressure cooker offers the benefit of cooking food at a faster pace. It can get a wonderful meal on the table fast. The high temperature trapped inside the cooker keeps all flavor and moisture intact, at the same time retaining vitamins and minerals in the food. Because foods cook quickly, dishes cooked in a pressure cooker are healthier, tastier and more aromatic. Its ability to tenderize even the toughest beans and meats make it more convenient for stews and chunky soups. One good tip for even cooking is to cut food into uniform sizes. Cut food that cooks longer into small pieces, while those that would cook at a shorter time in much larger pieces, this way they cook at the same time more or less.

Old and new model pressure cookers both promote convenience of cooking food faster, but you can’t deny the reality of how an old pressure cooker needs to be run under cold water just to bring down its temperature and pressure. If you have been using your grandmother’s pressure cooker but you can’t let go since it brings back memories of how she and your mother prepare food in it, you need to make your mind up if it’s really high time to prefer the convenience of modern pressure cookers.

When you have decided to upgrade for a newer model, always consider one with a built-in timer. This is a very important key to every pressure cooker. Extra minutes cooking may not affect the dish you’re cooking, but it can ruin a delicate meal. It is also best to select a cooker with quick release option, the lesser time lowering down temperature and release of pressure is more convenient than the usual way of running pressure cooker under cold water. Choose types that come with detachable pressure regulator for easy adjusting to low or medium.

When you have purchased your new pressure cooker, proper care is essential for its optimum use. The first thing to do it to get familiar with its user’s manual. Do not forget to clean the gasket every after use and allow it to completely dry naturally before putting it back within the lid. This will preserve the rubber gasket for a lifetime.

Having a reliable pressure cooker in the house definitely offers home-cooked meals, and although pressure cooker is not a new concept in the kitchen, it is the solution to our time crisis. This is the best cooking vessel busy cooks and lays, demanding jobs and active families need for an economical, fast but healthy dinner.

Find a Pressure Cooker at Fissler. Terry Retter Editor: Chefwannabee.com

Recipes from The Weekend Chef (http://theweekendchef.com)