Back-Country Baking: An Introduction
by Olivia Eads
Baking is no longer an activity limited to the comfort on ones’ home. As a baker, I love the sweet and savory concoctions that can come out of an experiment in the kitchen inside and out. Back-country baking trends have gained in popularity because, let’s face it, making warm, moist baked goods at camp is one of life’s simple luxuries on the trail. Before heading out on an adventure, it is important to prep everything necessary into a “just add water mixture” (or as few ingredients as possible). When considering baking in the back country, different methods work well for different purposes and final products.
There are two main methods in back-country baking:
Steam (wet) baking is probably the ‘easiest’ in the back-country. It requires the least amount of equipment, can be used on any stove, and by using steam, the operator cannot burn whatever is being baked. However, the final product does not acquire the staple golden-brown color indicating when finished.
Photo Courtesy of Trail Recipes
Necessary Equipment: A large pot with lid, water, stove and associated fuel, reusable silicon baking dishes/ metal cup/ etc., rocks, and mixture to bake.
Preparation: Find some small to medium sized, relatively flat rocks that fit in the bottom of the large pot. Fill with water just under the rocks. Start heating water to a boil. In the meantime, prepare the batter or dough as instructed and place in the dish of choice. Place that dish on the rocks inside the pan, then wait. Baking time is typically between 20-60 minutes.
For best results: Use this method with moist products such as: cupcakes and muffins.
Dry baking has a wider range of foods and deserts that can be prepared using its various methods such as: the back country oven, Dutch oven, etc. Unlike steaming, the final product will have a nicely browned crust due to warm air circulating around the product.
Photo Courtesy of Backpackers Pantry
Necessary Equipment: Back-country oven pieces and parts, pan/ pot with a lid, a stove that maintains low heat and associated fuel, and mixture to bake.
**DO NOT USE STOVES WITH THE FUEL SOURCE MOUNTED DIRECTLY BELOW THE STOVE. ONCE PLACED UNDER BACK COUNTRY OVEN IT MAY CAUSE FUEL TANK TO RUPTURE. **
Preparation: Set up stove and back-country oven as instructed. Make batter/ dough and put in greased pan. Place pan on stove at low heat and put cover over top. Wait about 15 minutes and it should be done. If the edges and bottom are finished but there is still a gooey middle, there is a way to correct for that. Create a small twig fire in the ‘v’ of a small branch and place it in the middle of the lid (considering fire regulations in the area) and let the fire burn out. This should finish baking the product all the way through. Or you could simply bake it longer and run the risk of burnt edges.
For best results: Use this method to replace anything you would use an oven to bake: cookies, brownies, bread, potpies, etc.
Photo Courtesy of Anacortes Outdoor
These suckers are heavy, and probably would only be used when car camping or in an event where weight is not a factor.
Necessary equipment: Dutch oven, t-shirt/pot holders, digging utensil, fire/coals, and baking mixture.
Preparation: Create a fire and feed it creating coals. Dig a hole that the Dutch oven can sit in. Prepare the baked dish in the in pot. When finished, fill the bottom of the hole with hot coals in a single layer according to the size of pot. There is science behind how to arrange hot charcoals to create a realistic 325°F environment. Place the necessary amount of coals in the bottom of the hole then set the Dutch oven inside. Put some coals on top and bake roughly 30-60 minutes depending on what is being baked, and how large the dish is.
For best results: Use this method when baking pies and breads.
There are many different ways to do the same thing, so figuring out what works best for your trip is up to you. Make sure that you don’t check on your product too often. Opening the vessel will release the heat and slow down the cooking process. Also don’t underestimate the power of fire to create delicious treats. Slap some tin foil on whatever needs cooking and toss it in the flames. Turn overs are some of my favorite deserts created in the fire. When removing pots and pans from the heat source they will be extremely hot. Be careful, make good decisions, try not to get burnt, and stay tuned for more tips of the trade and examples of these methods in action!