Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Recipe: Camp Dutch Oven Apple Crisp (Gluten Free)

Apple crisp in the camp dutch oven, prepared over an open fire

I do all of my camp dutch oven cooking and baking over a campfire (as opposed to using charcoal briquettes). While the open fire method is a bit trickier and recipes are scarce, it's easy once you get the hang of it. And using a "real" fire is immensely more satisfying than dragging along the bag of Kingsford every time you hit the woods.

This recipe builds on my learning experience from the Utah slickrock where I burned my apple crisp to a crisp... and provides lots of tips and tricks for open fire dutch oven cooking.

This recipe serves 8, and takes about an hour to make. It is provided here in gluten free form, but you can simply substitute wheat flour and non-GF oats if you don't mind the gluten. You can also make this recipe at home in a 350 degree F oven.

Tart apples are your huckleberry. I used honeycrisp apples for this recipe, which were just fine. Granny smith apples would have been ideal, but the store was out of them.

  • 8 apples, peeled and sliced
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter
  • 1/2 cup GF flour
  • 1/2 cup GF rolled oats
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • cinnamon

Campfire baking with a dutch oven involves applying heat from two directions (the bottom and the top) and rotating the base and lid to even out any hot spots.  This dual heating, when done properly, simulates the even heat of a real oven.

Interesting historical note: "dutch" doesn't mean the thing came from Holland... it's a holdover from when "dutch" meant "ghetto".

The most common trouble area with campfire dutch oven cooking is applying too much bottom heat—which can burn things up in a hurry.  To ensure sufficient but low bottom heat, I clear a spot of fire and place my dutch oven in this formerly-fiery spot.  There are no coals or fire underneath the dutch oven, but the earth/rocks in that spot are usually plenty toasty.  If you find your bottom heat lacking, you can always add a few coals underneath.

When you move your fire off to the side to make room for the dutch oven, you'll want to leave enough of it burning nearby to supply fresh lid coals during baking.  You may need to enlarge your fire circle to have enough room. This is much easier to do before you light the fire!

So... once your fire circle is prepped, light a campfire, and throw enough wood on it to develop a large pile of coals.  While your fire is turning wood into hot coals, prepare your crisp.

To prepare the crisp, begin by peeling your apples.  Once peeled, slice the apples roughly 1/4 inch thick—ending up with pieces no bigger than 1 1/2 inches in any dimension. Discard apple cores, seeds, stems, annoying little stickers, worms, etc.

Make sure your camp dutch oven starts shiny (coated with oil). Toss your sliced apples into it. Add 1/2 cup of sugar, the juice squeezed from a fresh lemon, and a dash or two of cinnamon.  Stir things around to combine, and then taste one of your apple slices. It should taste plenty sweet, nice and tart, and have a hint of cinnamon. Adjust ingredients as necessary to make these raw apples taste good.

Slice up 1/2 stick of butter (4 tablespoons) into manageable pats, and add these to the apples.  Stir around to combine/spread out the butter.

Separately, combine the flour, oats, the rest of the sugar (roughly 1/4 cup), another dash or two of cinnamon, and salt to taste (yes, I want you to pick up some of this dry flour/oat mixture and eat it). It should taste sweet, salty, and good. If you aren't tempted to keep nibbling on the flour/oat mixture, you probably need to add more sugar or more salt. Perhaps both.

Sprinkle your flour/oat mixture on top of your apples, and then add the remaining stick of butter (8 tablespoons) on top of the crisp. Once again, slice the butter into pats so you can spread them around evenly.

Clear a patch of fire, and move the fire far enough away as to provide at least 6 inches of clearance between the fire and the nearest side of the dutch oven. Place the dutch oven on the cleared spot, and then pile glowing coals on top of the lid about 3 inches high.

It's important to check in on your crisp frequently, especially in the beginning when the first data points about how hot your fire really is are trickling in.  To check your crisp, lift the lid off (coals and all), and place it on a clean surface (so you don't end up with dirt or ashes in your crisp after replacing the lid).  Visually inspect the crisp for any signs of burning, and try to get your nose down there to smell for any burning-apple-type odors. I usually also reach in there with a wooden spoon to dig to the bottom to make sure nothing's burning.  This will result in some of the top crisp layer mixing with the bottom apple layer... but a little mixing is far preferable to a burnt-to-a-crisp apple crisp.

When you're satisfied that nothing is burning (yet), rotate the base of the dutch oven by 90 degrees, and then place the lid back on top. When you place the lid back on top, rotate it by 90 degrees in relation to the base. The idea here is to even out the heat from top and bottom in relation to the food inside the dutch oven. Just make sure you rotate in the same direction... and don't worry too much about it as long as everything looks and smells fine inside.

Your crisp should bake for 45 minutes to an hour. Keep checking it every 5-10 minutes (depending on how quickly it seems to be cooking), and always be on the lookout for burning. It can happen quickly. Keep rotating base and lid every time you check, and replace lid coals as needed to keep the top heat strong.

After 35 minutes or so, grab an apple piece out and taste it. Keep doing this from here on out... and once your test apple pieces are coming out sufficiently soft, pull the crisp from the fire, remove lid coals, and serve after 5 minutes of cool-down. Crisps are pretty robust, so if you aren't yet ready for dessert, keep a few lid coals on top and set it next to the fire to stay warm. Rotate it every 5-10 minutes to provide even heat.

Crisps are ideal with ice cream (I know, but I really did see one of those crazy plastic-ball-camp-ice-cream-maker contraptions work a few months back). You can add liquid cream, too. Strangely, a mild cheese is also quite nice, and in this recipe we added a few dollops of goat cheese (chevre) on top. Divine.