Dry baking

P1010157Freshly baked food is a hit in the outdoors. The means to this delicious end are many.  I remember twisting dough onto a stick and roasting it over an open fire as a Boy Scout. With open fires, reflector ovens and Dutch Ovens have a great history. Fry bread and bannock cooked over open fires or stoves also have their place. However, when open fires and heavier cooking gear are no longer part of the picture, baking becomes more difficult.

The reward for solving this problem – fresh baked backpacked food – is so compelling that a number of light weight solutions have emerged.

Steam Baking

One approach, is to “bake” food by steaming it. The dough, mix, etc. is placed in a container or even within a plastic bag. It is then put in a covered pot with a small amount of water. The stove boils the water and bathes the baking container in steam. The steam condenses on the pot lid and returns to the pot bottom. One simple version uses silicone cupcake baking cups, supported by a small platform above the boiling water. More elaborate, commercial versions include high temperature pot cozies to reduce heat loss and fuel use. The stove must be capable of simmering and have enough fuel capacity to bake for 10 to 20 minutes, or longer depending on the size of the item.

It works, but the result tends to be heavier and lacks any nice browning that only comes with higher temperatures.

The need to simmer for a long period of time also places this approach beyond the reach of simpler, one speed stoves.

Dry Baking

The breakthrough for making “comfort-light” baked goods comes with dry baking. Again you need a stove that can simmer for a longer time. Also you need a pot that can stand some high temperature abuse. Titanium pots, now widely available, fill this bill.

Stove flame temperatures are high enough and often concentrated enough that an empty pot placed right on a stove will overheating and burn food.

Getting conditions close enough to your oven at home to produce biscuits, cakes, etc. takes a little fiddling and practice. The reward is definitely worth it.

My Solutions

The lightest weight, simplest dry baking I do is biscuits. I can do this with alcohol or Esbit tablets, using my cone style windscreens. I need to add a flame diffuser between the pot and the stove flame, as well as a baking sheet and a small trivet to hold the baking tray off the pot bottom. I pack some Bisquick mix, extra milk powder, some flour and something to grease the baking tray.

Baking kitchen

Baking kitchen

My flame diffuser is a small 0.4 oz., stainless steel plate. I support it below the pot by placing two titanium tent stakes through holes cut in the cone. The pot can rest on the plate or hang just above it, but the baking temperature will be different in each setup and you will have to adjust baking times accordingly. My baking sheet is just a folded piece of aluminum foil. I make a trivet from three small pieces of aluminum sheet that lock together like an egg crate. The triangular trivet holds the baking sheet about 3/8” above the pot bottom.

Mix some biscuit dough. Knead it, using your flour and let it rise for a bit. Grease the baking sheet. Put the biscuit or biscuits on it. Fire the stove and adjust the flame for the desired level of simmer. Place the covered pot on or over the flame diffuser and bake. I find, that about two thirds of the way through, I want to turn the biscuit over to get it brown on both sides. Practice will let you avoid too many burnt or under cooked biscuits, but in the woods, even somewhat less than perfect biscuits are still a treat!

By carrying a little more weight, you can even bake mini cakes. Jon Fong, of Flat Cat Gear recommends and sells small aluminum baking dishes supplied by Fat Daddios products. For solo use I prefer a 3” diameter by 2” deep dish that weighs 4.6 oz. I use ordinary packaged cake mix and experiment to find the proper amount to use with this dish. Most cake mixes require an added egg. I use powered egg mix and adjust the amount accordingly. In the field, add water and oil to the cake and egg powder. Mix and whisk as directed. Pour into the greased dish and place in baking pot. Cakes take 30 to 40 minutes to cook, so your stove setup needs to supply this burn time. I can make this work with alcohol and a simmer ring, or Esbit tablets with the Flat Cat simmer ring, but sometimes I need an additional tablet to get the job done. But the resulting cake is really good.

Browse the web for other baked products, like cobblers, or cinnamon rolls.

All this adds some work to meal preparation and somewhat under 8 oz. in total pack weight, plus the baking ingredients. It’s a little fussy and not recommended for cold, after dark meals that you want ready quickly. However for leisurely meal prep and more gourmet fare, it is hard to beat for the small, added weight penalty.

Chocolate cake

Chocolate cake

Perfect biscuit

Perfect biscuit

2 thoughts on “Dry baking

  1. Pingback: Ultralight Backpacking Fuels, Alcohol and Esbit – Insights from the field |

  2. Pingback: Backcountry bread and pancakes with a Kovea Spider Stove |

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