Baking on the Stove Top: Quick Breads

By Carolyn Shearlock, copyright 2011 . All rights reserved.

UPDATE:  Since I originally wrote this article, I learned about the Omnia Stove Top Oven, which makes it even easier to bake on the stove.  Be sure to check it out!

Not every boat has an oven, but everyone loves fresh bread.  And yes, you really can “bake” bread on the stove.  Quick breads (batter breads made with baking powder) turn out just as well on the stove top as in the oven.  Here’s how:

Picture of Dutch oven inside skillet with tuna canEquipment:

  • Dutch oven — heavier is better, but you’ll notice in the photo that mine is an old thin aluminum one and I set it inside a skillet to even out the heat.  You could also use a flame tamer under it to even out the heat (read about flame tamers in Avoiding Burnt Food).
  • Tuna can or metal trivet — an empty tuna can will raise the baking pan off the bottom of the Dutch oven so that the bottom of the bread won’t burn.  You could also use a metal trivet, but I found that the tuna can — with the lid inside as a double insulator — did a better job.
  • Bread pan inside the Dutch ovenPan for the bread — you need a pan for the bread that will fit inside the Dutch oven with an inch or more of airspace around it.  I used a backpacking pan with the handle removed.  You can also use a “personal” size loaf pan — it’s okay if the corners of the pan come close to the Dutch oven, as long as there is plenty of air space around it otherwise.  The heavier the bread pan, the better — mine is thin (it’s just designed to boil water backpacking) and does not do a good job of evening out the heat.
  • Make sure that the bread pan isn’t too tall to put the lid on the Dutch oven.  There needs to be some air space between the bread pan and the lid.
  • Make sure that there is nothing on the bread pan (such as a handle) that is not heat-resistant.
  • Most nesting pan sets have a great combination of pans for this, with the large Dutch oven pan and the smallest saucepan.

The Bread:

  • Unless you have a very large Dutch oven, you’ll probably only need a half batch of the bread recipe for the smaller pan.
  • Prepare the bread pan by greasing or oiling it (non-stick spray isn’t enough, and do this for non-stick pans as well), then sprinkling corn meal or oatmeal in the bottom of the pans (you can put it on the sides as well).  This will help “insulate” the bottom of the bread from the heat of the flame.  My experience was that oatmeal worked better — and it’s easier to find in many places!
  • I’ve done this with several types of quick breads — zucchini bread, corn bread, soda bread, and banana bread — and all have worked well.  As long as you don’t expect the top to brown, it comes out well.
  • I also used this technique for my Artichoke Dip and it was also good (again, it didn’t brown much on top).  I couldn’t use the oatmeal on the pan for the dip, so I put a double layer of aluminum foil around the bottom half of the pan.  I had a small “brown” spot at the bottom of the dip, but it wasn’t burned (that pan I’m using is thin — a heavier pan would even the heat out more and probably wouldn’t have had a problem).
  • Don’t overfill the pan — if there is only a small amount of airspace between the bread pan on the tuna can and the lid, you have to make sure that the bread won’t rise above the sides of the pan as there has to be some air space over the top of the bread.

The Method:

  • This method uses the Dutch oven dry.  Over time, the bottom pan or flame tamer will discolor from the heat.  Flame tamers are inexpensive, and I recommend one to save your pan.
  • Preheat the Dutch oven.  Put it on your largest burner, with the flame tamer or skillet underneath if you’re using it.  Put the tuna can in it and the cover on.  Heat over HIGH heat (the highest setting your stove has) for 5 minutes.  Don’t be surprised if there’s some smoke as tiny bits of oil, food or water burn off on the pans.  Use your pot restraints and stove gimbal to make sure the whole thing doesn’t slide around!
  • As it’s preheating, put the bread batter in the bread pan.  When the Dutch oven is preheated, quickly lift the lid and set the bread pan on the tuna can, then replace the cover.
  • Image of Dutch oven with cover and skillet on topI put an extra skillet over the lid to further keep the heat in.  It worked a little better this way, but I also tested it without (realizing that not everyone has that many pans on board) and the bread baked okay, but didn’t rise as nicely.  You probably don’t want to try this balancing act if you’re in a rolly anchorage — just use the lid then.
  • Turn the heat down just a little bit.  My stove has 7 numbers on the burners — 1 being the lowest, 7 the highest.  I turn it to 6.  “Bake” the bread for 5 minutes at this setting.
  • After 5 minutes, take the lid off for just a second to let built up steam out, then replace the lid.
  • Turn the heat down to a little higher than medium (on my stove, 4) and continue baking (you’ll have to experiment, also depending on how hot an oven the recipe calls for).
  • My experience is that the total baking time (including the first 5 minutes at the higher temperature) is about the same.  But until you know how it works with your pans and stove, I’d check the bread about 10 minutes before you expect it to be done.
  • Partway through the remaining baking time, remove the lid to let out steam again (this is also a good time to check how it’s baking and adjust the burner setting if necessary).
  • Test bread for doneness with a toothpick or, if you have an instant-read thermometer, you can use it — it will read between 190 and 200 F. when the bread is done.
  • Picture of breadNOTE that the top of the bread won’t brown, although it shouldn’t look raw, either.
  • Turn off the stove and remove the bread pan.  Cool and serve.  Don’t touch the Dutch oven until it’s cooled off!
  • Note that it may take making a couple of batches of bread before you really get the technique down pat.  I can only give a general methodology here, as every set of pans and stove is a little different.  But if I can make great bread with the thin little pans I was using, and over an electric burner (gas is much easier!), you can definitely make great bread on your stove.

Go to Zucchini Bread recipe or Artichoke Dip recipe >>

How does this work for you?  If you have any tips for others trying this, please leave them in the comments below.

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Comments

  1. Bruce Bibee says:

    There are two kinds of solar ovens – the kind that has a parabolic reflector and is used with an oven bag; and the big insulated box with a glass top and perhaps a couple of mirrors. There are free plans all over the internet but few instructions on actual use – and some are quite inexpensive – e.g. cardboard covered with aluminum foil. Have you ever tried using these for baking (or anything else)?

    • Carolyn Shearlock says:

      Bruce –

      I haven’t used one, but a while back I got a note from another cruiser who does use one. I’ve written her back to get some more info, but so far I haven’t had a reply. I’ll add a note here if I hear more from her — or anyone else with real-life experience. Or if I get enough info, I’ll do a whole article. I’ve always thought it sounded like an interesting idea — we ran Que Tal almost totally off solar panels (450 watts), so why not a solar oven?

      Carolyn

  2. Downeast32 says:

    Use a saucer from a clay pot to dissipate heat instead of the tuna can. or some other clay element. By clay pot, I mean plant potting pot.

    • Carolyn Shearlock says:

      Thanks for the idea — as I was testing this, I kept thinking that I’d like to try a mini “baking stone” in the Dutch oven to even the heat out, but hadn’t found one (or even an unglazed piece of tile) that was the right size. I never thought of the saucer from a clay pot, but that would be perfect since they are round as is the Dutch oven.

  3. I’m a little late to the party, but I just found your site. I don’t usually comment, but this is a topic near and dear to my heart so I hope I can contribute something helpful here.

    I grew up baking with a cast iron Dutch oven. Here’s how I do it: Put a couple of inches of clean dry sand in the bottom of the Dutch oven. Cover the sand with an oven-safe plate or metal pie pan with the bottom pressed into the sand a little. This is just to isolate the sand from your food. You don’t want an air space; the sand will prevent burning. Put the heavy lid on the Dutch oven and preheat. Then put the bread or cake pan in so it sits directly on the plate or pie pan. Replace the lid just a little loosely to let steam escape, and proceed to bake as you described. The sand in the bottom will improve heat stability. Afterwards, you can dry out the sand and store it until next time. I bake bread, cakes, muffins, pies, etc in a cast-iron Dutch oven on a wood-fired stove during the winter, when I’m burning the stove anyway to heat my little house. The wood stove doesn’t have an oven, it’s just a fire-box, but it has a burner plate on top where I can set a pot or a kettle. If I want a browned top I just use a micro-torch after the bread is baked.

    But really, I agree with Bruce — don’t waste money and space on special stove-top baking pans. Save your propane, too, and just buy or make a little solar oven. There are lots of good designs with free plans on the net. They’re very cheap or free if you make your own, safe to use, light weight, and can be folded up to almost nothing, They’re very low-tech unless you REALLY want one with a solar tracker. They bake VERY well with minimal equipment (you can still use those lightweight camp pans). They require NO fuel except the sun, virtually no maintenance, and they won’t heat the place up in the summer. For at least 40 years I’ve been baking everything (breads, cakes, pies, cookies, flan, stews, roasted mixed root veg with herbs, chicken and even turkey, though I cut it into sections first) with various self-made solar ovens, and I only bake with the Dutch oven and wood stove during inclement weather in the winter, or sometimes outside on the grill. But in the summer you can’t beat a solar oven for no-worries convenience! You might also look into small solar “cookers” that are better designed for slow-cooking “wet” foods like beans, rice, soups, stews, porridge etc. But a simple solar oven will do it all, if you also want to bake bread. All you need is a few sunny hours and a little patience. Just my 3 cents (inflation!)

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