Store-bought bread isn’t a great traveler under the best of circumstances, and the cramped confines of a pack or pannier are no substitute for a breadbox. But with a few basic ingredients you can make hot, fresh bread in camp, and you won’t even need an oven. You will need a mixing bowl (an aluminum cook pot will do) and a skillet with a lid, however. Cast iron works best, though you can use a nonstick skillet if you don’t let it get too hot. You’ll also need a camp stove or wood fire. That’s it. All that remains is to mix your ingredients and “bake” in the covered skillet. In less than half an hour you’ll be feasting on bannock.
What’s bannock, you ask? It’s an ancient Caledonian staple, brought to North America by the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Scottish “servants,” and it’s remained a camp treat ever since. Unlike the fur-trade favorite, though, modern bannock is a soda-leavened bread — it will make pan-loaves that are almost two inches thick. And when cut into triangles and slathered with butter, honey, or preserves, there’s nothing more delicious. Bannock dough can also be used to make journey cakes, individual or group bannock pizzas, sweet and savory stuffed bannocks, and sweet rolls. George Simpson never had it so good.
Want to try it? Here’s the recipe:
Makes one 9-inch bannock
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder (NOT plain baking soda!)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup water, more or less
- Canola oil or other cooking oil
A single bannock will take no more than 25–30 minutes to prepare, including prep time.
Preheat your skillet over hot coals or a high flame. (Warning! Don’t let nonstick skillets get too hot. The plastic lining can be damaged.) While the pan is heating, mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Next, make a hollow in the center of the mix and pour in ½ cup of water. Stir, using a spoon, and add as much extra water as needed to form a stiff, easily-worked dough. (You may have to knead the dough with floured hands to make it relatively smooth.) When the dough is ready, remove it from the bowl and pat it into a round cake about one inch thick and eight inches in diameter.
Now drizzle enough canola oil into the preheated skillet to coat the base of the pan. When the oil is hot enough to make a pea-sized lump of dough sizzle, place the cake of bannock dough in the skillet, cover, and throttle back your stove to medium-high. (If you’re cooking over coals, just move the skillet to a cooler corner of the fire.) Bake till the bannock’s bottom is golden brown. This usually takes no more than five minutes or so. Test by lifting the edge of the cake with a spatula or fork, and don’t be alarmed if you see some dark flecks.
Next, turn the bannock over and lower the heat still further. (Push the hot coals apart if you’re using an open fire.) Cover the skillet again and bake till the bannock is done all the way through. Another five minutes should do the trick. You’ll know the bannock is ready when a sliver of wood inserted into the center comes out clean, with no sticky dough clinging to it.
After you’ve baked your bannock, remove the skillet from the heat and slice the bread into triangles before serving. If you want to keep it to eat later, however, be sure to take the bannock out of the skillet and allow it to cool completely before packing it away.
Ringing the Changes If you’re hankering for something sweet, stir honey or sugar into the dry ingredients, or fold raisins or other chopped dried fruit into the dough after adding the water. You can also flavor the bannock with dried herbs or spices, mixing them into the dry ingredients before adding water. Experiment. Toujours l’audace! Be bold!
This recipe originally appeared, in somewhat different form, in “Our Daily Bread,” an In the Same Boat article published by Paddling.net on August 14, 2001.
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