I love camping, and would like to expand my camping cooking repertoire. This got me wondering if I could cook cakes (other than pancakes) whilst camping where I won't have an oven, and will only have a dual burner camping stove. So are there ways of cooking cakes without an oven? Or are there cake like alternatives?
I'd look towards a dutch oven and cake-like items:
- upside-down cakes
- cobblers / crisps / grunts / bettys / slumps / etc.
In all of these, the fruit on the bottom helps to protect from the bottom of the cake-like-item cooking too quickly. You can either cook directly in the dutch oven, or drop another pan inside the dutch oven to speed on cleaning if you're going to be cooking a few of 'em.
You'll also want to look for dutch ovens that are made for baking -- they have a lip on the lid, so you can put coals on top and pull the lid without the ash falling into what you're cooking.
There are a couple of tricks you can try. The recipe (ingredients) will make a difference, of course, but:
- Use a really heavy pan, possibly line it with (greased) baking paper
- Dutch oven workaround
- Heavy large pan using a little (disposable if you want) metal rack/tray to lift the cake away from the walls. Use a drop of water if you must.
You could also try 'open' pies with just fried dough bottom, cheesecake, etc.
For camping trips where a dutch oven isn't a possibility, you can make a crepe-cake: make a stack of crepes, spreading your favorite filling (mmm, Nutella) between each layer. You can go as high as you'd like (or as your supply of ingredients will allow). Frost the outside with whipped cream, stick some candles on top, and go ahead, try to convince me that it's not a real cake. :)
(The truly traditional palacsintatorta is made with crepes that are only cooked on one side, and the filling is alternate layers of ground walnuts and apricot jam. If that's not your cup of tea, and lugging a jar of Nutella is only slightly less daunting than lugging a dutch oven, then use sweetened cocoa powder: if you fill the crepes while they're still warm, the cocoa will melt nicely.)
So it's been a while since I asked this, and I've done a fair bit of camping and cake making since then, so I thought I'd share my experiences.
I based most of my techniques on the excellent answer Joe posted, but have some additional details to add.
The main issue with making cakes on the fire is burning the cake. Usually this is on the bottom, but can also be on the top, if you are using a dutch oven. I do most of the cake making I do in a dutch oven, its the most practical way I've found.
To prevent burning as Joe pointed out you need to do 1 of two things: stop the cake being in contact with the bottom of the oven, or put something between the bottom and the cake mixture.
Joe suggested putting another pan in the oven, but finding a pan that fits is tricky and only provides a small amount of insulation. A better and more flexible approach is to use balls of tin foil and then just place a normal cake tin on the top. The tin foil is good at preventing the heat from transferring from the bottom of the oven and can be made bigger or smaller depending on the size of the tin, and they will always fit!
The other solution is to protect the bottom with fruit. This works well as well, and can sometimes give a better result, but also can require a bit more heat control. Using something which completely covers the bottom is better, with grated apple mixed with cinnamon and sugar working particularly well. Its moisture protects the cake well, and even it its quite hot on the bottom, you can end up with a sort of 'tarte tatin' finish on the bottom (or top when its turned out). Other large fruits work well, like halved plums or such.
The other thing I've found useful is to be able to control the distance from the fire. I have a tripod I use for this and this allows you to keep the bottom of the cake a reasonable distance from the fire and prevents the bottom burning. Putting some of the first (a couple of small smouldering logs) on the top of the dutch oven is also really useful to keep the oven hot without having too much heat from the bottom.
If you can't control the distance from the fire, then its better to wait until the fire has died right down and then place the dutch oven on the spread out embers (or on some bricks holding it above the embers) and then place some of the fire on the top. It's better to have heat from the top than have too much heat from the bottom.
One of my favorite camping trip treats is pie made in a pie iron. The standard recipes suggest two pieces of white bread and jam, but I've used pre-made pie filling with great success, and it is totally possible to use pieces of rolled pie dough.
You can also mix up a cake batter and cook it in the pie iron for individual-sized cake pieces. Simply fill one side of your pie iron, close, and cook over low heat. The second side of the iron being empty allows your cake to rise. You could place fruit on the bottom of your iron for a hand-held upside-down cake or bring frosting and frost your creations when they are finished, or simply make some sort of rustic cake.
I find that a cast iron pie iron works much better than an aluminum one.
(Realizing this already has an accepted answer...)
A different alternative would be to use an oven. Not a dutch-oven, but one of the other alternatives.
Coleman makes one that sits atop your camp stove. I have cooked in them, and while they do need to be watched, they do actually work. Wind is your enemy!
An even simpler option is the reflector oven, which is basically sheet metal folded (and often foldable) into an open box. Face the open side towards your fire, while again you need to be aware of the wind, you can get quite good results.
Even simpler is a hole in the ground, covered with small logs to form a pocket. Put hot coals in, then a separator of some kind, then your item. Regulate heat by adding or removing coals.
Scrambled Brownies. Buy brownie mix in the grocery store. If you have a choice, choose the just-add-water kind. Onsite, mix it up as directed, maybe a little runnier. Cook it in a frying pan as though it was scrambled eggs. Sounds horrible, tastes great. Ask anyone who's done anything with NOLS or been a Girl Guide.