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Baking on a Campfire

Written by Jessica on April 27, 2011

Cinnamon rolls baked on a campfireWhen you’re traveling long ways and camping for months at a time, the grind of canned food and grilled meat can get old. A good way to shake it up is to learn how to bake. Yes, it is time consuming, but it can be very tasty and fun.

Ingredients you need

Flour. Water. Yeast. Sugar. Butter or oil.

Not kidding. That’s all you need to bake. Now, if you want to make something good, you’ll need a few more things. But that depends on what you feel like and/or what is available.

Gear you Need

  • A charcoal fire or camp stove.
  • Bricks or rocks to lift the pan off the heat.
  • A sturdy frying pan with a tight fitting lid. A pot can work, but takes more practice. It can’t have any plastic parts that can melt. The best I know of is made by NOLS.
  • A pair of pliers or decent hot pads. A thick towel will do, just make sure it isn’t synthetic. Polyester will melt.

The Basic How To

Make the dough

  1. Heat water to a lukewarm temperature. You should be able to hold your finger in it for 10 seconds without it feeling hot.
  2. Add about 1 spoonful of yeast to 1.5 cups of water. You don’t need to be precise. Add a spoonful of sugar as well. Stir gently and then leave alone!
  3. The yeast will take about 5 minutes to activate. You’ll see it start to foam. If it doesn’t foam, it’s likely the water was too hot. Go back to step 1 and start over.
  4. Put the desired amount of flour in a bowl (About 2 cups flour to every 1 cup water). Add the water and yeast mixture in small increments. Stirring intermittently. Make sure to save aside some flour and water in case you add too much of one or the other.
  5. Start by mixing with a fork. When the dough gets tougher, knead it with your hands. Yes, they will get gooey. Knead for about 10 minutes.

Jared chopping firewoodLet the dough rise & prepare the fire

  1. If it’s warm out, put the dough in a covered pot to rise. (About an hour). If it’s chilly, put the dough in a plastic bag and wear it against your belly. I know it sounds funny, but it’s the best, and easiest way to get dough to rise when it’s cold.
  2. If you are cooking on charcoal or wood, now is a good time to start a fire to get the coals ready.
  3. When the dough has doubled put into a heavily greased pan. You might want to stretch it flat for a pizza crust, cut it into biscuit size, or just spread it over the entire pan for a good loaf.
  4. Make a nice level spot to place the pan- preferably 4-6 inches off the coals. Pile extra coals to the side.
  5. Carefully place the fry pan on the rocks around the fire.
  6. Using tongs, place a dozen or so coals on top of the pan.

Baking with charcoalBake

  1. Let it cook for about 20 minutes. This is the hard part. You can’t check it too often. Opening the lid will release heat and the inside won’t bake. But keeping it on too long will result in a burnt crust. Trial and error is the best way. After a while you’ll learn to gauge the heat of your fire.
  2. Remove the coals from the top of the pan. Carefully open the lid. You might want to move the pan from the fire first. It depends how sturdy your setup is.
  3. Gauge the done-ness.
    a. If the edges are crispy, but the center is doughy, the heat from the bottom is too much. Set the pan off the heat (or a lot higher) and add more coals to the top of the pan.
    b. If everything is doughy, put it back on the fire and up the heat.
    c. If the top is crispy, but the bottom or sides are still doughy, lower the pan in the coals and cook longer.
  4. You may have to return to the fire several times to achieve perfection. Don’t fret if the bottom is burnt. That happens all the time. Just remember, the cook doesn’t do the dishes!

Using a Stove instead of Fire

The great part about this method of baking is that you don’t need a campfire. You can use the same method on a normal camp stove, so long as you have the ability to raise the pan off the heat a few inches. Usually you’ll have to rig up a few pieces of wood or rocks to create something stable. Just make sure the area is clear in case a hot pan falls off.

Using a stove is easier if you are baking something that can be flipped. Because you can’t heat from the top of the pan, it’s likely the bottom will be a lot crispier than the top. It is crucial that you don’t check the bread too often with this setup. Releasing the heat will guarantee that the top will never cook.

Recipe ideas

There are lots of ways to bake tasty things on the fire. Here’s a few of my favorites, but don’t forget to be creative and use local ingredients.

Pizza – Use the recipe above but just make a thin crust on the pan. If you’re using a stove, cook one side of the dough, then flip and add toppings. If you’re using charcoal it’s ok to do everything at once.

Cinnamon roll baking on a campfireCinnamon Rolls– By far the best way to make new friends at a campground. Make the dough recipe above, then roll the dough flat about 6” wide by 18” long. Mix a 1/4c of butter with 3/4 c. brown sugar and a teaspoon or two of cinnamon. Spread the butter and sugar mix over the dough (sometimes it’s easier to crumble it rather than spread). Don’t worry if it isn’t perfect.

Roll up the dough into a long roll / log. Cut into circles 1-2” wide. (Dental floss works well for cutting). Place the rolls cut side down in a well-greased pan. Let rise for another hour or so in the pan for extra fluffy rolls. Bake as above.

Cinnamon Rolls in a Pan - Ready to be BakedCornbread – Substitute cornmeal for some or all of the flour. Add canned or fresh corn if you want. Baking time is less than normal dough.

Cheesy Biscuits– Use the basic recipe above but add shredded or chunks of cheese, and salami if you want.

NOLS Cookbooks


#2 Merv 2012-10-03 14:41
Nice going! Going to try some cinnamon rolls soon :-)
#1 Cesar 2012-10-02 19:29
uh, how the hell did I miss this before?

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