Sunday, March 18, 2012

Bread Without Power

Sliced loaf from the woodstove, next to one baked in
the standard oven.
       You consider yourself prepared for emergencies. You have a great stock of basic foods like wheat, sugar, baking powder, yeast, cooking oils, salt, dried and canned goods. You even have a hand-cranked machine to grind that wheat into flour, but are you prepared to use that flour to bake if the power is out? Not just overnight, but for weeks? Won't happen? If you watch the news, you'll see that it can: major snow storms, ice storms, tornadoes, earthquakes, political or social unrest. Any of these could leave you without electrical power for an extended period.
       So what would you do? Use one of those fancy green egg grills to bake regular loaves? I'm told this is doable, but most households don't have one of these. Eat pancakes cooked on a camp stove or on an outside grill? This is certainly an option. You may have a recipe somewhere for a steamed bread, or may choose this time to try a fry bread. Ever tried dough gods? This is bread dough balls about the size of a golf ball rolled flat and deep fried for a few minutes on each side until golden, then rolled in confectioner's sugar. Served hot, they are food for the gods. Then there's bannock, a pan bread. Or make flour tortillas. Or literally think outside of the box (i.e., the oven) and come up with a way to bake those wonderful homemade loaves.
       For instance, you might try baking in a dutch oven. Visit Mark's Black Pot - Dutch Oven Recipes & Cooking facebook page for inspiration, but do it sooner rather than later. If you wait until the power's out, this source won't be much help to you.
       When I first asked myself how I'd deal with a prolonged power outage, I had visions of digging a pit, cooking down some nice coals and figuring out how to protect a loaf buried in those coals while it cooked to perfection. I haven't tried this yet, because I came up with a much simpler idea: use my woodburning stove. We have two but one has an easy-open front door. I strongly suggest that if you try this, don't do so the first time with something that took you forever to make (fresh-ground grain) or is full of expensive ingredients. I put together a single loaf recipe for white bread. When it was ready, I set it in the hot oven on an salvaged piece of cast iron and cooked it for about 25 minutes. That loaf came out absolutely beautiful. I've never seen such a gorgeous black loaf. (Yes, I'm laughing.) Truly, it was beautiful. It was almost a shame to cut away the crust, but the inside was white and very tasty.
Front: cast iron. The bread burned on the bottom.
Back: fire bricks. I'll try this next time.
        For my next trial I made two loaves, one for the woodburner and one for the standard oven, so I could compare color, taste and texture. This time the woodstove wasn't quite hot enough and the front of the loaf looked very pale after twenty-five minutes. When I took it out to check for doneness, I saw that the backside was turning a nice golden color, so I turned the loaf around and returned it to the "oven" for a few more minutes. Next time I checked it, it looked finished so I removed it from the pan. The bottom was slightly burned, but the rest of the loaf looked great. Tasted great. Truthfully, I didn't notice much difference between it and the loaf from the standard oven, except the latter had better overall color.
    Lessons learned from this process were: let the coals burn down so there is no fire, only hot coals; use the vent to regulate the heat; heat reflects off the back of the stove, so the loaf needs to be turned part way through the process; the bottom of the loaf may burn if the pan sits directly on something really hot. Next time I do this, I'll set the loaf on two firebricks with space between them so that air can circulate freely all around the pan.
       Even if you can't accept the possibility of needing to cook bread in any of the ways suggested above, you could try some of these options as an adventure in cooking. If there are kids in your house, they'll think this is cool stuff. And it will give you an edge if you ever do need this know-how.

1 comment:

  1. I nominated you for a Versatile Blogger award! Swing by my page to pick it up :)