02 Jan Baking on the Stove Top: Quick Breads
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:
- 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.
- Pan 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- I 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.
- NOTE 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.
How does this work for you? If you have any tips for others trying this, please leave them in the comments below.