Skills: Campfire bread

I wanted to have a go at baking bread over an open fire (ideally without resorting to very heavy Dutch ovens). After much research it seemed that dry baking was the way to go.

Dry baking is basically sticking one pot inside another with the item you’re baking inside the inner pot. The inner pot is kept from the outer pot by some sort of separator. You can buy dry baking kits designed for hiking, but being on a budget and with most of these being US in origin, I decided to have a go at using stuff I already had.

Equipment wise I used two Tatonka stainless steel kettles, the 1.6L and the 1.0L.

The recipe was for a simple white loaf.

  • 500g Strong white flour
  • 1 Sachet bread yeast
  • Salt
  • Slug of olive oil
  • Warm water

I mixed the ingredients together in the 1.6L pot. In hindsight I put a bit too much water in, which made a very damp mix. Fortunately the friend I was camping with had some spare flour, unfortunately it was self raising flour. After a bit of kneeding the dough was left in the covered pot by the fire for it’s first rise. I was making this outdoors in April so needed the warmth of the fire to get a rise within a reasonable time frame.

First rise of the bread next to the fire

First rise of the bread next to the fire

First rise went pretty well, but it became apparent that 500g of flour makes a lot of bread, I split the dough roughly in half, one half for my experiment and the other half I gave to my camp mate for her to experiment with. Knocked back and with a brief kneed, I left the dough in the lid of the 1.0L pot with a loose covering of foil to keep it from drying out. The dough spent about half an hour next to the fire rising.

Bread dough rising

Second rise after knocking back.

While the dough had it’s second rise I built up the fire. It had been burning since breakfast that morning, but I turned the Just A Pile Of Sticks™ fire lay into a log cabin fire lay. The fire wood was seasoned hornbeam approximately wrist thick. The aim was to get a good hot bed of embers.

I dropped the dough in it’s lid into the 1.6L pot, with a layer of aluminium foil in the bottom crumpled slightly to provide a gap between the outer pot and the inner pot. Then it was just a case of putting the pot on the fire, and hoping…

While the bread cooked, I carved a butter knife out of a piece of green hornbeam.

Pot over the fire.

Bread in “the oven”.

After about 40 minutes I took the lid off the outer pot to take a look. It looked like the dough was cooking nicely on the underside, but not fully cooked on the top. I gave it a bit longer while I had a think, before deciding to turn the bread over. I had oiled the lid before I put the dough in, but hadn’t managed to fully coat the rim and the bread was stuck. Eventually with some levering and poking with sticks, I got it separated.

Inverted, the dough got another 20 minutes or so. I then just had the slight issue of how to get the bread out the pot without burning myself. After inverting the bread into the lid of the 1.6L pot, then turning that back out onto the ground. The result? One good looking loaf of bread, with a nice hollow sound when tapped.

Bread

Bread fresh out the oven – Good crust.

Slicing the bread through the middle, it was cooked through. Just perfect. The crust was not brilliant, I’d forgotten to score the top of the loaf before cooking. But inside the crumb was lovely. I might not win any prizes on bake off, but for a loaf of bread cooked over an open fire in the middle of the woods. I am pleased.

White bread.

Good crumb!

Of course the proof of the loaf is in the eating. Served up with some salted butter, spread with a simple hand carved butter knife, the loaf didn’t last long, disappearing in about 10 minutes. The taste wasn’t the best I’ve ever made, I think it could have done with a bit more salt. But it was certainly tasty enough that it all got eaten. In future I think I’ll use about half the flour and increase the salt. I’m guessing 200-250g of flour is about right for this size pot setup.

All in all, tasty fresh bread baked on an open fire, using no specialised equipment, just the stuff I have in my pack, I’m pleased with that.

Next time I may have to see if I can bake a cake…

Bread and butter.

Bread and Butter. Butter knife carved while the bread cooked.

 

ADVENTURE: January Bushcraft Microadventure.

After several weeks stuck indoors due to incessant rain. I was looking for any chance to get out for a night in the woods. This weekend showed a clear window where not only should it not rain, but it may even drop below 0°C. It seemed a perfect chance to get out and test my winter kit.

I was joined on this trip by my friend Lyn, and we headed to a bit of woodland somewhere in east Kent.

The woodland is made up over overstood hornbeam(Carpinus betulus) coppice with a smattering of Silver Birch(Betula pendula) and Chestnut(Castanea sativa).

It was a 10 minute walk from the car to our chosen camp site. When we got there Lyn pitched her tent and I started gathering fire wood. I was planning to just use my bivvi bag with no tarp, so would leave the pitching of my camp (if you can call unrolling a bivvi bag and inflating a sleep mat pitching), until I was ready for bed, that way my kit shouldn’t get damp from any dew. I hung my pack off a tree by my selected camp spot, and cleared the larger logs and anything that might dig in out the way.

Wood gathered, I set a small cooking fire and sat back to drink tea in the woodland surroundings.

Pot over camp fire

Boiling the Kettle

As it started to get dark, I preped dinner while I still had some light. Lyn started her dinner on the grill over the fire, while I stuck a jacket potato and my char cloth tin in the embers underneath.

Cooking dinner over the fire

Cooking dinner over the fire

While dinner cooked I played around with my fire lighting kit I had brought with me. I tried lighting a bit of char cloth with a flint and steel. The char cloth wasn’t very good, it was from a batch that hadn’t charred all the way through, so I didn’t hold out much hope. I was just doing it to pass the time. Thus I was rather surprised when the char cloth caught a spark on the second strike. Normally it takes a few strikes to get a spark to land on the cloth. Not wanting to use up all my char cloth I put the fire kit away and warmed my feed by the fire while dinner cooked.

Socked feed warming by a camp fire

Warming my feet by the fire

Dinner eaten we sat watching the fire, enjoying the surroundings until it was time for bed.

Glowing embers.The fire started to die back to embers, the sky clouding over, it was time to turn in. I pitched my camp under the hornbeam tree, and crawled into my bivvi bag to watch the clouds slowly drifting across the sky.

Woods at night

View from my bivvi bag.

Despite my efforts to warm my feet by the fire both big toes were slightly chilled in my sleeping bag and as I lay there they got colder, so do did my legs. After about half hour of hoping they would warm up, I admitted defeat and commenced the solo wrestling match that is trying to put a pair of trousers on inside a sleeping bag liner inside a sleeping bag inside a bivvi bag when the sleeping bag is a tight fit anyway… I also tried to warm my toes with my hands. Not wanting to risk being too cold I took the opportunity to put on my Páramo Torres insulated Jacket.

Fully dressed I lay down in my sleeping bag feeling hopeful of a warm nights sleep.

A few restless hours sleep later I woke with a full bladder and very numb toes. Returning from the bushes I gave my toes a longer session in my hands to coax some warmth into them. This seemed to do the trick, and as the sky started to show some signs of lightening up, I snuggled down into my sleeping bag for a few more hours sleep.

I was woken in day light to a snow flake landing on my nose. I wasn’t expecting precipitation so hadn’t used a tarp. Looking out from my bivvi bag it didn’t look like this was a concerted effort at snow fall, and opted for cinching my bivvi bag down to a hole just large enough to breath through, rolled onto my side and went back to sleep.

Eventually the prospect of bacon was enough to lure me from my cocoon, and I grudgingly left the warm to investigate breakfast.

Bivvi bag under a tree.

My camp for the night.

Lyn lit the fire and I cooked a couple of rounds of bacon rolls along with some coffee as we both woke up properly, trying to put off the inevitable.

Fed and watered and with the first spits of rain, we broke camp and returned to the outside world, refreshed by a very pleasant night in the woods.

SKILLS: Small cooking fire

When out and about I often find huge fire scars from where people have lit large camp fires and always despair at the damage and the wastefulness of such a large fire.

So I thought while I was out in the woods, I’d take some pictures of a simple camp fire that’s big enough to cook over without needing to deforest half of Kent.

In order to give a sense of size I’ve put 4 pegs in marking a the corners of a square one Bahco Laplander(folded) by one Bahco Laplander(folded) each side. Or if you prefer 235mm x 235mm (approx 9¼” x 9¼” in old money). That’s an area of 0.0552m² (or 0.594ft²).

I started off by laying a raft of small logs, these are roughly an inch or so in width.

Then I prepared a 4 piles of wood. The first is wood less than a pencil’s width in thickness, then we have finger thickness, then thumb thickness, than a few pieces that were slightly larger.

Materials prepared and ready to go, I arranged a small pile on the raft. This consisted of a couple of pieces of birch bark I found on fallen tree, and some wood shavings, with a handful of the thinnest wood on top of that.

With everything prepared, I lit a tinderquik fire tab with a spark from my sparklite. This was then placed into the centre of the wood shavings and birch bark.

It didn’t take long for the bark to catch the small kindling.

With the fire well lit I fed it with material from the piles, working up in size as each pile was exhausted. I also put a Tatonka 1L billy can over the fire with the 0.5L of water needed to make a mug of tea.

In some respects this fire was a little over kill for the size of the pot I was boiling, but I wanted the ember bed for use later to cook a jacket potato.

But it didn’t take long for the pot to come to the boil.

With the tea stewing, the fire starts to die down a bit. At this point if I was cooking something abit more substantial I could feed some more into to keep it going. But if not, just leaving it to burn down at this point, before dowsing it in water when ready to move away would work.

How much fuel did this small fire use? Not much. I used all of the pencil thin pile, half of the finger pile, and a few pieces from the bigger pile.

Tea drunk, we built the fire up a bit in order to cook 2 meals. The same basic size was maintained, but we added a larger log on each side to give it some structure, and piled a few of the thicker logs on. The log on the right of the picture is let over from a previous fire on this site.

All in all this 0.0552m² fire was used to cook a pot of baked beans, a pair of lamb burgers, a jacket potatoe and 1L of chicken stew. As well as a couple of mugs of tea, and a tin of charcloth. It then provided us with a fire to sit by on the chilly (0°C) evening as we enjoyed the woods.

Some times a big fire is the right thing to do. But most of the time a small fire is just the trick. It even comes with the added advantage that you don’t need to collect as much firewood. The only tool I used for the processing of wood on this fire was the Bahco Laplander.