Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dutch Oven Fig and Walnut Bread

Over the last few years or so it’s been my habit to hastily dismiss recipes that involve a dutch oven.  The reason?  I don’t have one.  Er, didn’t think I did is technically more accurate.  I would see recipe photos of great looking stews and slow cooked meats and think Nope, I’ll have to revisit that the day I have a dutch oven.  Wouldn’t you know that it would be an inspiring recipe for fig and walnut bread baked in one of these covered vessels that would break me.
I found myself plotting how I could carry out my new found mission: would I need to go out and lay down my hard earned Danish Kroner for one, or could I somehow get creative and pull it off using what I had on hand?  But just as much as I didn’t want to shell out big money, I also realized I had no oven-safe pot that was deep enough to accommodate the risen dough or a cover to top it with for that matter.  The lid is essential to perfectly lovely crust.
Thankfully, to quote Oprah, I had an Aha! moment.  I asked my husband if we still had the cast iron pot in storage with the camping equipment.  He said it should be there so I pulled on my boots and trudged down to the basement.  After tripping over boxes, suitcases, and other—let’s face it—junk, I located said camping box.  I opened the lid but could not easily see the cast iron pot.  My hopes dashed, I began to rapidly toss things out of the box.  There it sat at bottom of the box, cradled in its own box.  I swear it winked at me, just as I imagine old dolls and teddy bears wink when they’ve been rediscovered.
I carefully carried it upstairs and unwrapped it gently as if it were fine china.  Never mind that it is heavier than any kitchen appliance I’ve ever lifted.  There was some oil residue left over from the last time it was seasoned and since it had been awhile, I seasoned it again. If you’re not familiar with this process, it’s what keeps the insides of the pot food-friendly.  An unseasoned pot can become rusty and an unappetizing container in which to cook food.  To season, you simply rub with a little vegetable oil, stick it upside down in a medium warm oven, so the excess oil can drip out, and heat for one hour.  After the hour is up the heat gets turned off and the pot is cooled completely and brought to room temperature in the oven.  Seasoned in this way a pot might only need re-seasoning every year or so, perhaps longer depending on how often it is used. 
This is what I love about this recipe: it’s bread (duh!), there is no kneading involved (good for those days when your muscles have already had a workout), it develops an amazingly crisp crust, and it’s got wonderful dried figs, gently toasted walnuts, and cinnamon.  There was however one thing missing: a sufficient amount of salt.  The recipe does call for it, but I’ve increased the amount because I would have enjoyed the bread even more with more salt.  Another word to the wise: (Yes I am being heavy handed with the colons, it’s just that kind of day) I believe I prematurely removed the lid from my cast iron pot.  Once you remove it, the top browns very rapidly.  Make sure that your bread is sufficiently cooked on the inside before you remove the lid.  Mine wasn’t doughy, thank goodness, but it could have benefited from a few more minutes of steam under the cover. 
In case you are interested, I use a 6-quart Lodge cast iron pot.  Lodge is one of the oldest makers of cast iron in the United States.  I do not know whether this brand is available in Europe, but surely there are other options.  My husband bought ours six years ago for $39.99 (~ 350DKK), a total steal in my opinion.  We’ve mainly used it for camping, but now I feel comfortable incorporating it into the kitchen more.  I just need help lifting it in and out of the oven.

Dutch Oven Fig and Walnut Bread
Adapted from dinnerwithjulie.com
3c all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon dry active yeast
2t salt
pinch of sugar
1/2c chopped, dried figs
1/2c chopped, toasted walnuts
2t ground cinnamon
In a large bowl stir together flour, yeast, salt, and sugar.  Add 1 3/4c luke-warm water and stir until blended.  Dough will be shaggy and sticky.  Add the figs, nuts, and cinnamon and stir to combine.
Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let sit on the counter 18 to 24 hours.
The dough is ready when the surface is slightly wet looking and bubbly.  Put a piece of parchment paper on the counter and scrape dough out onto it.  Dust generously with flour and fold dough over itself a couple times. Sprinkle with a little more flour and cover with a tea towel.  Let sit minimum 1 hour, maximum 4 hours.
Preheat oven to 450F.  Put a 6-8 quart heavy covered pot in the oven as it heats.  Pull it out of the oven and lift up the dough on parchment and drop it into the pot (parchment and all).  Cover with lid.
Bake 30 minutes with lid.  Uncover and bake another 10-15 minutes until crusty and golden. 
Cool on a wire rack before cutting.

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