The first time I made bread over the campfire I felt like I was reliving an episode of Little House on the Prairie: men in suspenders, women in frilled aprons, all gathering around the fire for a hearty meal and the latest pioneer gossip. Admittedly, my sarong couldn´t pose as an apron and my friends lacked suspenders, but we did have a delicious meal and some gossip after a day on the San Juan River in Utah.
Stale bread is a real downer; even the most preservative-packed loaf will taste like sand after just a few days in the backcountry. Fresh bread can lift an entire meal or quiet that craving for an after supper sweet. The idea of preparing your own can ring bells of your grandmother hovering around the stove while waiting for yeast to rise—a hard person to imitate after a long day outdoors. However, soda-based bread baked over a fire in a cast iron pot is easy to prepare, and every slice has a succulent center embedded in a deliciously crunchy crust.
If weight is not an issue, a Dutch oven is the ideal implement for outdoor cooking. It retains and distributes heat better than any other material, allowing ingredients to slowly reach their full flavor. Cast iron is cheaper than stainless steel, and as long as it is seasoned properly (oiled and baked at a high temperature before first use), it is as non-stick as Teflon, but without all the grubby chemicals.
You can vary this recipe in an endless number of ways, substituting sour cream and buttermilk with normal milk, or with powdered milk (add a teaspoon of vinegar per cup). I recommend mixing dry ingredients in a Ziploc bag at home, adding the dairy products just before cooking. It may take a bit of trial and error, adjusting the amount of coals so as to not burn the bottom, but when successful, your reward will be a delicious home-baked creation that grandma would be proud of.
Dutch Oven Baked Bread
- Serves 6
- Cook time: 15-20 minutes
- Equipment: Cast-iron Dutch oven, mixing bowl and utensils
- 4 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar or honey
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 cup plain yoghurt or sour cream
For sweet bread add
- Grated zest of one lemon
- 1½ cups dried cranberries
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¾ cup sugar
For savory bread add
- 1½ cups of grated extra sharp cheddar or parmesan cheese
- Herbs such as rosemary, oregano, or chili for a Southern touch.
- Prepare a healthy bed of coals or charcoal briquettes.
- Coat bottom and sides of oven evenly with cooking oil and hang on tripod close to coals. Otherwise place directly on coals, but take care that the bread does not burn (an oven with legs is best here).
- Mix ingredients in a separate bowl and pour dough evenly into the oven so that it reaches the sides.
- Place 18 briquettes or an equivalent quantity of coals on the lid. Let cook until it begins to smell of fresh bread; about 15-20 minutes.
- Important: Don´t cook directly over open flames or your bread will burn.
- Remove from the oven and let cool under a towel. Cut and serve with butter or your favorite topping.
- At breakfast ~ Serve with preserves, honey, and hot coffee or tea
- With dinner ~ Serve with a snifter of brandy or Irish Cream