Wilderness Cooking: Secret Ash Cake Recipe

Out of bread? No oven to cook in? The coals of your camp fire can bake up some tasty bread--if you have the secret ingredient to make your dough.

I've been whipping up ash cakes for years, and serving them to pleasantly surprised survival students for a while now. Although, it wasn't always easy.

When I started experimenting with camp breads, I naturally turned to classic outdoor texts to find the recipes for bannock, damper, hard tack and every other kind of camp bread and trail biscuit you've heard about. The recipes themselves were simple enough: some flour here, some lard there, maybe some baking powder in more modern incarnations of this ancient, oven-free bread.

The trouble began when I started trying to bake them. Those simple ingredients didn't leave much room for error, and usually yielded something from the fire that was closer to ceramics than a biscuit.

I figured since I had to buy the baking ingredients from the store anyway, I might as well select quick cooking and tender bread mixes. After a few muffin mix fiascos, I stumbled upon pancake mix. It turned out that the "only add water" complete pancake mix was the bread recipe that I had been hoping to find. It tastes good; and it cooks very quickly.

So next time you're in camp, try this simple yet flavorful camp bread. And be glad you didn't have to do all of the tooth-breaking, nasty-tasting research that I had to do.

Ash Cakes On The Coals
Build up a medium-size camp fire, and then let it die down into ashes and coals. Better yet, take advantage of the drying coals from a fire you used for another purpose.

When your coals are ash covered, but still very hot, pour 1/3 cup of the pancake mix into a container (or a clean hand). Start adding water, one spoonful at a time, and stirring the mix around with a stick or a clean finger, until the mix forms a ball of dough. You're looking for a soft bread dough texture, a little softer than Playdough. If it's too sticky, add more dry mix. You'll know you have the right consistency if you can pat it into a ¼-inch thick pancake. Sprinkle some of the dry mix on your hands before patting the bread flat, to avoid gluing your hands together.

Next, toss the flat cake into the bed of coals and watch it closely as it starts to fluff up. You'll cook it about one or two minutes on one side, depending on the heat of the coals. When it becomes rigid (like a flat biscuit), and the bottom edge begins to brown, use a stick to flip the cake over and cook it for 30 to 60 more seconds.

Use a stick to move the cooked cake out of the bed of coals, wait a few seconds for it to cool, then blow on it briskly to remove any lingering ash. A little ash won't hurt you, a lot would taste nasty. Top your finished ash cake with butter, jam, honey or maple syrup if you like, or just eat it plain. In berry season, I'll also add blueberries or raspberries to the dough for a sweet berry biscuit, which has never received a single complaint.

Got a different yet functional camp bread recipe? Let us know in the comments.