The ice cream mixer had just ceased its whirring indicating the cream was finally thick, and I had just pulled the lid off the Dutch oven which held a warm pineapple upside down cake. The sudden silence and warm fragrance wrought a wonder.
Obviously, sound and smell were powerful motivators. I mean, what else could cause a swimming pool full of diving, yelling and playing kids to leave water, sit still in lawn chairs and mind their manners for a time?
Cooking with Dutch ovens and other cast iron can be a year-round hobby, not just a wintertime activity. While you often think of steaming roasts or boiling stew as fall and winter meals, the big cast iron pot can do spring and summer duty, too. Desserts are a prime example.
The first item I ever prepared in a Dutch Oven was apple dump cake. In fact, dump cake is often an introductory recipe for first-time cast iron oven cooks. It doesn’t get much simpler than a box of cake mix, can of pie filling and stick of butter. Dump the cake mix in the oven, empty the contents of the filling can in on top, and dice up the stick of butter in several pieces and throw it in. Now take a utensil of some sort and make one or two figure eights through the mixture – don’t stir too much – and bake at approximately 350° for about 20 to 25 minutes. When it just begins to brown on top it’s finished. The taste is better the wonderful rich smell–which is hard to believe, but true!
But there’s a lot more than simple dump cakes to make in your Dutch oven. Pineapple upside down cake is one of my favorites. Or consider sweet rolls, sticky buns or any other gooey sweet treat you might make in more modern cookware.
Here’s a trick to keep down the sticky mess when making desserts. Line the Dutch oven with aluminum foil. The lining has little effect on the cooking process and clean up is extremely simple. Pull the dessert out, foil and all, and you’ll find there’s very little sticky goo to clean out of the Dutch oven.
Baking in cast iron has some advantages when making desserts. The trick to any recipe that requires heating granulated sugar is to stay under the temperature point where the sugar caramelizes and then burns. Because cast iron heats slowly and relatively evenly, it’s less prone to spiking in temperature than thinner pans. What I’ve discovered in studying and doing a lot of slow grilling is that granulated sugar will begin to melt at about 320° Fahrenheit, caramelize at about 335 to 340° F, and then start to burn at about 350° F. A candy thermometer is a great tool to have when making sugary desserts, no matter what kind of pan you use.
As lightweight modern baking pans and tins are made to heat and cool quickly, it can also mean the pan can get too hot too fast when brought up to temperature. While that can be a benefit going from oven to table, it can also mean the pan may get too hot too fast. The cast iron pan heats relatively slowly and evenly, holds the target temperature longer, and still gives you enough control to make fairly sophisticated desserts on your stovetop or campfire, making it an extremely versatile kitchen cooking vessel.
Here are three of my favorite easy to prepare Dutch oven desserts. Try making them in the kitchen or over the fire while camping.
Easy Dump Cake
- 1 yellow cake mix
- 1 stick butter
- 1 can pie filling (best options are apple, cherry, pineapple or combinations such as apple/cherry mixed)
- 1/2 can Sprite (optional)
Preheat 24 charcoal briquettes in a charcoal chimney or grill. In a 12-inch oven dump in the dry cake mix, empty contents of pie filling in on top of cake mix. Cut up stick of butter in approximately 3/4 inch patties and drop in on top of filling. Pour soda atop the other ingredients. Using a spoon or spatula make only a couple passes through the ingredients. Do not over-mix.
Evenly space nine of the hot briquettes in the base of your grill. Place lid on Dutch oven and set atop hot coals. Place remaining 15 briquettes atop the lid, spacing evenly. Let bake approximately 35-45 minutes, rotating lid and oven in different directions every 15 minutes to promote even baking.
Remove from coals and let sit for at least 10 minutes to cool.
Pineapple Upside Down Cake
- 4 Tbs. butter
- 1 cut brown sugar
- 1 can pineapple rings
- 1 jar maraschino cherries
- 1 yellow cake mix
- 1/3 cup water
- 3 eggs
- 1/3 cup cooking oil
Preheat 24 charcoal briquettes in a chimney or grill. Melt the butter in a 12-inch Dutch oven placed nearby on the grill. Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the butter. Place seven pineapple rings around the bottom of the oven atop the butter and sugar, with an eighth ring in the middle. Place a cherry in the center of each pineapple ring. Pour about 1/3 of the pineapple juice from the can gently into the oven (go easy as to not wash all the brown sugar and butter to one area)
In a mixing bowl add the cake mix, water, eggs, oil and remaining pineapple juice from the can. Mix well. Gently pour or spoon the batter in on top of the pineapple rings. With a spoon or spatula spread the batter evenly.
Evenly space nine of the hot briquettes in the base of your grill. Place lid on Dutch oven and set atop hot coals. Place remaining 15 briquettes atop the lid, spacing evenly. Let bake for 35 to 40 minutes, rotating lid and oven a quarter-turn in opposite directions every 15 minutes for even cooking. Remove from heat and let stand 8 to 10 minutes.
To remove the cake, remove lid and place a layer of aluminum foil or parchment paper across the top of the oven and replace the lid. Using leather gloves, in one move rotate the oven over and sit the lid on a lid stand or other heat-resistant surface. Now tap the upright bottom of the oven to help release the cake. Gently lift the oven away. Let the cake cool for a few minutes.
Apple Cinnamon Muffins
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 egg
- 1/3 cup milk
- 1/2 cup butter
- 2 apples (peeled, cored and chopped)
This recipe involves baking in a muffin pan or cups inside a 12-inch or larger Dutch oven. If you do not have a muffin pan which will fit inside your Dutch oven, simply use foil muffin cups.
Preheat 30 charcoal briquettes. While the charcoal is heating, place a cast iron trivet or metal pie pan placed upside down in the bottom of the oven. In a mixing bowl stir together 1-1/2 cups of flour, 3/4 cup sugar, baking powder, 1 tsp. cinnamon and salt. Mix in milk, oil and egg, and incorporate apple pieces. Spoon batter into muffin cups or pan, filling each opening about two-thirds full.
In a bowl mix together remaining sugar, flour, cinnamon and butter. Sprinkle over top of muffins. (A neat option is to then lightly sprinkle rolled oats atop the muffins.)
Place muffin cups or pan in the Dutch oven and cover with the lid. Place 12 briquettes beneath the oven spaced evenly, and 18 on the lid spaced evenly to create a roughly 400 degree F. baking temperature.
Let bake for approximately 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the lid and oven a quarter turn in opposite directions after the first 10 minutes.
Editor’s Note: Learn more about Dutch Oven Cooking! Join us at Lehman’s in Kidron on Saturday, May 26 for a Dutch Oven Gathering. Click here for our calendar of events, and scroll down to Annual Dutch Oven Gathering.