Fresh bread on an extended paddling trip feels like a treat, especially after eating hard crackers, bagels or pitas for a week. One way to make this treat is by cooking bannock. For over a 1000 years, bannock, a simple bread made from the flour of a variety of grains, has filled the bellies of adventurers sitting around campfires. Its attraction is the simple base ingredients and its ease of cooking. A favorite way to make bannock is to cook it on a stick over a campfire.
Preparation of the Bread Dough
At home mix all the dry ingredients into a plastic bag. You can substitute or remove some of the ingredients as you wish. Traditional bannock was just flour and water. In my recipe, baking powder makes the bread fluffy, salt brings out the flavors, powdered milk allows the bread to brown and butter adds flavor. You can add anything to the base to change the flavors. If you want a sweet bread add cinnamon and sugar. In the mood for something cheesy, then toss in some chunks of cheese.
- 1 cup flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp powdered milk
- 1 tbsp oil or butter
In camp, mix in the oil or butter (ghee). Add water slowly until you create dough the consistency of play-doh. You want a firm dough that isn’t sticky. If you use the baking powder, set the dough aside to let it rise.
You don’t need a big fire to cook bannock. You just need one with hot coals. I usually wait to cook bannock until an evening when I’m going to make a fire anyway, then start a fire, let it die down to red-hot coals and get it going again after I finish the bread. Keep in mind that your bannock picks up the flavor of smoke, so select wood that you know tastes good to you. You might not be able to tell the difference, but if you have an advanced camp-cooking palate, you may.
Gather a Stick
Since, you’re going to cook the bannock on a stick, you need to gather the perfect stick. Preferably, pick a stick that’s freshly cut, green and taste good, like aspen. If you’re camping in an area that doesn’t allow the gathering of green wood or in a popular camping area, save the trees and find a recently dead and down branch.
Look for a stick that ranges in size from two fingers to wrist thick. The bigger sticks are heavier, which is a concern, because you’ll have to hold the stick over the fire for about 10 minutes. The smaller sticks force you to make a long loaf, which makes it hard to evenly cook the middle and end. I find a stick about three fingers wide works best.
Once you have your stick, remove both the inner and outer layers of bark. Then, temper it by holding it over your fire until it becomes hot to touch. Don’t burn the stick or your bread will take on that taste. By tempering the stick, the bread will cook from the inside as well as from the outside.
Wrap the Bannock
Take the bread dough and roll it into a snake-like shape. You’re in the woods, so it doesn’t have to look perfect. Start wrapping the dough around the stick. As you wrap, spiral the dough down the stick and compress and spread it, so the dough is less than a half-inch thick. Any thicker and the dough has trouble cooking through.
Find a Hot Spot Above the Fire
The inside of the dough wrap needs to cook before the outside finishes, so you need to find a distance above the fire where the temperature is just right–if you hold it too close the outside will brown too quickly leaving a wet, doughy interior. Find the right distance by holding your hand over the fire. When you find a place you can hold your hand for around 10 to 15 seconds, you’ve found the right height.
Cook the Bannock
Hold the bannock over the fire at the right distance and let it cook. Rotate the bread so all the sides cook evenly. At first, rotate the bread more often to help stop any sag in the dough. Be careful not to allow the bread to get to close or you’ll end up burning a side. It takes around 10 minutes to cook the bannock.
Take the Bannock off the Stick
When the bannock is finished, it should easily come off the stick. If it’s not done, the bread dough will stick making it hard to slide. You want bread that’s dry and fluffy. To help remove the dough, rotate a small section until it breaks and pulls off. Work the rest of the bread off the stick. Enjoy.