HOW TO BAKE AN OUTDOOR CAMPFIRE PIE
In our day, baking a pie in a wood-burning cookstove is something very few will experience. In addition to having access to a working cookstove, it takes time, skill, wood sized for the firebox, plus the patience to heat that baby up, and keep it at temperature. Oh and be prepared to sweat as your kitchen will heat up, too. But for those who might like to try their hand at another old style of baking, outdoor campfire baking in a cast iron Dutch oven may be the way to go. There is a wonderful sense of accomplishment in outdoor baking and it lets us experience pie making in a simple and very hands on way.
As there are great general baking lessons that we can learn from with outdoor baking, such as controlling the ovens heat manually and trusting yourself, it was one of the techniques for pie baking that I really really wanted to include in Pie Camp. Without a thermostat, a pie-maker’s baking instincts will be put to the test when gauging when to lift the lid to see if the pie is done. But, my editor said there just wasn’t room in the book for it, so I decided to wait for the time when camping might be on your agenda (even if it is in your backyard) to share it with you.
Baking outdoors is a skill I am proud to have acquired and some of my best pies ever have been baked outside over and under coals in a Dutch oven. And heck, what’s camping without a little outside cooking and baking, right?
Here’s what you’ll need and a basic overview of how to do it.
Chimney charcoal starter
Extra long heavy oven mitts
Fire pit or bricks
Long tongs to lift and move hot briquettes
A cast iron Dutch oven that is at least 12” (30 cm), mine is made by Lodge
A cast iron trivet to fit into the bottom of the Dutch oven
Cast iron oven lid lifter
1 unbaked fruit pie
VERY IMPORTANT CAUTION: ALWAYS use oven mitts, tongs, and a lid lifter when working with fire, hot coals, and heated Dutch oven. Removing a pie pan that fits too snuggly inside a hot Dutch oven can be awkward, so before heating the oven, be sure to practice lifting the pie pan in and out while wearing your mitts.
We’ll need to “preheat” the oven, and do to that we need coals made in the chimney charcoal starter. There are cookbooks on cast iron cooking with charts giving the exact number of coals to use to preheat to specific temperatures. I make more than the number suggested, and use them to keep the oven up to temperature, which is especially helpful if I open the lid to check on my pie progress.
CHECK THE COALS AND SPREAD THEM OUT
Put oven mitts on and check the coals. Once ready, place a pile of coals in the fire pit or on a bed of bricks, and use the tongs to spread them out in a circle that is slightly smaller than the Dutch oven you are using. Place some on the inside of your coal circle, too.
PREHEAT THE OVEN
Set the trivet inside the Dutch oven, and place the cover on top. With oven mitts on, carefully lift the Dutch oven on top of the coals. Place the other half of the coals evenly over the flat top cover of the Dutch oven, and spread them around evenly with tongs. Set the other coals nearby in pile in the fire pit. Fire up about 10-15 extra briquettes in the chimney charcoal in case they are needed for more heat. Let the oven preheat.
TEST THE TEMPERATURE
To test the temperature of the oven, fill a pie pan with dough scraps that have been filled with cinnamon and sugar, rolled up jellyroll style, and cut in 1-2” (2.5-5 cm) pieces. When the oven feels pretty hot, place the filled pan on the trivet and put the lid back on. Be sure to wear the mitts.
HOW LONG TO BAKE?
You’ll be baking by instinct now. In my kitchen oven, these little tasties take about 15 minutes to bake at 425°F (220°C) and my goal is to get the Dutch oven to about that same temperature. About 10 minutes into the bake and with my mitts back on, I lift the lid off with the cast iron oven lid lifter for a peek. If they are dark brown or burned, my oven is probably too hot. If they are looking pale and still soft, I set the lid back on with the lifter, and check again in 3-5 minutes. When they look golden brown, carefully remove the pan from the oven and set aside to cool a bit before tasting your pre-bake treats. Replace the cover on the Dutch oven.
RAISING THE OVEN TEMPERATURE
Place a few coals on the top lid to get the oven back up to baking temperature. How many coals and how long to reheat is pretty subjective. The charts will give you an idea, but practical application, and baker’s instinct will come with practice. After a few minutes of preheating, place the unbaked pie on the trivet in the oven, and replace the lid.
BAKING THE PIE
About 30 minutes into the bake, add a few more hot coals underneath and on top of the oven from the stash of waiting coals.
About 15 minutes later (45 minutes into the bake), put on the mitts again and lift the top off with the lid lifter.
IS IT DONE YET?
When done the pie should be a beautiful golden brown, smell great, and have some filling bubbling up through the vents. If it doesn’t look done, replace the lid, add more coals, and let it go a bit longer. When the pie is done, put on your gloves, carefully lift the Dutch oven off of the coals with the lifter, and set it in a safe place before removing your just baked pie from inside of it. Let the oven cool completely, or if you are doing more baking place more coals on top and preheat again.