Camille Storch is an off-the-grid mom of two living in rural Oregon. She is owner and designer of the Etsy shop Red Onion Woodworks, which sells natural-edge cutting boards and serving trays. She also writes about ecology, agriculture, and the reality of her modest but joyful lifestyle on her blog, Wayward Spark.
There’s nothing more enjoyable or satisfying than kneading bread dough. It’s the kind of manual therapy that gives me the chance to let go of the day’s frustrations and meditate on upcoming opportunities. During the summer months, however, the thought of turning on the oven in an already steamy kitchen used to put an end to all of my bread-making aspirations. Then I got the harebrained idea to bake my artisan loaves in our propane barbecue, keeping all of the extra heat outdoors. That first batch came out deliciously browned with a crispy crust, and I never went back to baking bread in a standard oven again.
The key to a good bread crust is a rush of steam when the loaves are first placed in the hot “oven.” I use a cast iron pan with 12 star-shaped reservoirs as my steam-making implement, but you could use any cast iron muffin/cornbread pan. An extra cast iron skillet would probably do the trick in a pinch, but something with more surface area will be able to produce more steam.
The following recipe, adapted from The Il Fornaio Baking Book, includes a healthy dose of whole wheat flour and rolled oats, along with enough white flour to give it good rising power. The rolled oat coating on the outside is mostly decorative, but it adds a rustic touch.
Makes two large loaves
1 cup rolled oats
2 cups cool water
1 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
2 cups unbleached bread flour
5 cups whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
Additional bread flour for the work surface
Additional olive oil for the bowl
About 3/4 cup rolled oats for the outside coating
Medium-grind cornmeal for the cast iron pans
You will also need two cast iron skillets in which to bake your loaves, a cast iron steam implement, and two fire bricks or other barriers to keep the bottom of your skillets insulated from the direct heat of the grill.
In a small bowl, soak the rolled oats in 1 cup of cool water for 30 minutes. In a separate bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and allow to dissolve (for about 15 minutes).
In a large bowl, mix the salt and flours. Add the soaked oats, yeast mixture, extra cool water, olive oil, and honey. Stir with a wooden spoon until thoroughly combined. Turn out the dough on a floured work surface. Knead, adding flour as necessary to avoid stickiness. After about 15 minutes, it should start to look and feel uniformly smooth and springy.
Place the dough in a large, oiled bowl and turn it a couple times to coat the entire surface. Cover with a towel and set the bowl in a warm place to rise until doubled, about 1 hour. Punch the air out of the dough, return it to the bowl, and recover. Allow to rise until doubled again, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Turn the dough out on a work surface. Divide the dough in two equal portions. Punch the air out of each section and work the dough into a ball, stretching the skin from top to bottom. Brush the top and sides of each ball with water. Spread a thin layer of rolled oats on your work surface, and gently roll each moistened dough ball in the oats until the loaf is covered (except the bottom) with oats.
Dust cast iron skillets with a layer of cornmeal (to prevent sticking), and gently place a loaf in each skillet. Cover with a towel and allow to rise until doubled again, about 50 minutes.
Now is the time to prepare and preheat the barbecue. In the center of the grill, place your steam-producing implement. On the sides of your steaming implement, place two fire bricks or other barriers that will prevent your bread from burning on the bottom. Preheat everything on high for about a half hour.
When the dough has finished its final rise, open the barbecue and arrange the skillets so that they are mostly over the bricks and the steam-producing implement is mostly exposed. Make sure the lid can close all the way. Pour water on the steam implement as quickly as possible without dousing the dough itself, then close the lid. Take the necessary precautions to avoid getting burned by the steam.
Turn down the heat to medium or medium-low (when in doubt, turn it down). Approximately 40-45 minutes later, it should be golden brown with a crusty exterior and a soft crumb on the inside.
For more images of Camille’s grilled bread, check out her blog.