Baking in the Wild: How to Make Bannock Bread

by A Manly Guest Contributor on April 4, 2011 · 45 comments

in Blog

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Darren Bush.

Unless you’ve spent a lot of time in the woods on longer trips, you’re probably unfamiliar with bannock.  Bannock is a Gaelic-rooted word that comes from the Latin panecium, which means baked things. Add a thousand years of passing the word from Hadrian’s soldiers to Scottish ones and you see how panecium became bannock.

A bannock is a small, flat loaf of bread risen by a leavening agent, most often a chemical one, although yeasty bannocks are sometimes baked, as in a sourdough recipe.  They are meant to be cooked hearth-side, whether a fireplace or a campfire.  They are simple, and in the woods, simple is good.  Add some honey to some simple bread and after a few days or weeks of bagels and Wasa bread, it tastes like manna from heaven.  It’s hot, light, and comforting.

About twenty years ago I shared a workspace with a really cool woman.  Frieda ran across an article in an old, dog-eared copy of Outdoor Life regarding dutch ovens and skillet cooking. Freida thought I would like it. She was right.

Until then I had been using a bannock recipe that came from old-style camping legend, Calvin Rutstrum. Frankly, it was a chemical bomb using horrendous amounts of baking powder and no shortening, so it was dry and metallic. If anything contains a tablespoon of baking powder, run the other way unless you like the taste of aluminum.

I took home the recipes from the article and whipped up a few batches of bannock on the stovetop. It was a vast improvement over what I had been using. What’s better is that the basic recipe is also good for pancakes, fish batter, etc. Think Bisquick or Krusteaz without 10,000% of your daily recommended dosage of salt. Sure, you can use those pre-made mixes, but this recipe is so simple, it’s a shame to subject your tastebuds to pre-packaged sodium bombs.

How to Make Bannock Bread

Ingredients

  • Bannock Mix
  • Water

Basic Bannock Mix

1 cup flour (white or a mixture of white and whole wheat)
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup dry milk powder
1 tbsp. shortening

Make the mix at home ahead of time. Sift dry ingredients, and cut shortening in with a pastry cutter or two knives until you have a granular, corn meal-like mixture. Package in zip-lock freezer bags. Double bag it if you’re going to be on a long trip. I’ve found that you can make large batches at once and make enough bannock mix for a trip in about fifteen minutes. Just make sure you sift the dry ingredients well, so you don’t get leavening problems.

Directions

Baking bannock is relatively simple once you get the hang of it.  Your first ones will be dark and maybe burnt on the outside and gooey on the inside.  Don’t despair, just pretend it’s a jelly donut and try again. The key is a consistent heat.  While flames don’t indicate a bad cooking fire, red glowing fires from hardwood are best.

1. Start with a small cast iron frying pan and oil it well.

2. Pour some water into the bag and squoosh it around in the bag (squooshing is a technical term). Because the water and baking powder form carbon dioxide to make the bread light, the faster you go from mixing to skillet, the lighter your bannock will be. There will be lumps, of course, but we call them flavor bursts. I say “some water” because how much you add depends on the humidity and of course, personal taste. You don’t want it any thinner than a muffin consistency. If you’ve never baked a muffin, think spackle. You can distribute the dough with a poke of a finger or a stick or a spoon if you’re the civilized sort. Remember, it’s always easier to add water than take it out, right?

3. Squeeze the mix out of the bag and onto the warmed pan (not scalding hot — if the oil is smoking, it’s way too hot).  The pan can be warmed over the fire if you have a grate, or leaned against a few logs near the heat source.  It shouldn’t hiss or sizzle like a pancake batter…that means things are too hot. Cool it off and be patient.  The bread will start to rise slowly.

4. Your bannock will start to look loaf-like.  At this point you’ll want to flip your loaf.  A little shake of the pan and flick of the wrist can turn it over, but a spatula is fair game too.  At this point, just keep turning it.  You’ll know when it’s done.  It’ll look a lot like the picture here.

If you have a lid, you can try to cook your bannock dutch oven-style and put coals onto your skillet lid. Otherwise, you can turn it over to cook the top (carefully!) or else when the bottom is done, prop the pan up against a log with the top facing the fire. This is my favorite sort of “semi-reflector-oven” method. I believe it also makes a lighter bannock.

Baking bread in the wilderness is about taking the comforts of home with you and enjoying yourself, not choking down some freeze-dried Hungarian goulash that tastes like wallpaper paste.  You can still eat tasty grub while getting in touch with your wild man.

___________________________________________________________________________________

Darren Bush is the owner and Chief Paddling Evangelist of Rutabaga, but he’s also an amateur blacksmith, longbow shooter, and primitive skill aficionado. He believes primitive skills are highly undervalued in modern society.

{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mrs. Blessed April 4, 2011 at 10:58 pm

Hello! Love the recipe. About the dry milk powder: Is this instant powdered milk, such as what you get from a grocery story, or dry milk powder, such as what you get from an LDS cannery or online?

~~Mrs. Blessed

2 Emily April 4, 2011 at 11:03 pm

I’ve heard of people putting the dough on sticks and cooking it over the fire that way. Has anyone tried that; if so, did it work?

3 Will Littell April 4, 2011 at 11:17 pm

@ Emily- I have tried that method, and it turned out awesome for cooking dough on a stick. Watched someone make Bannock bread in hunting camp a few years back, tasted great. Good article.

4 Ian Birnbaum April 4, 2011 at 11:19 pm

Good timing! I’m going camping this weekend, and damn if I’m not planning on making some bannock while I’m out.

5 Tungson April 4, 2011 at 11:19 pm

@ Emily

Sorry I don’t have any tips on how to do it, but I remember having bannock cooked for me on a stick with my scout troop when I was young. I would imagine you just need a thick batter. (and some blue berry Jam, mmm…)

Great article BTW

6 Owen April 5, 2011 at 2:07 am

Some additional add on extras….

1) Bread on a stick = damper, a VERY big Australian bush favorite.

2) You don’t have to be all that fast with the mixing, but you have to be gentle. While some of the gas generation starts to take place immediately, it is typically very little since heat is required for the chemical reaction to truly kick in. But if you use double-acting baking powder then you do get immediate gas action.

3) If you have a true dutch oven with a cast iron lid, then you can also put coals right on to the lid to get heat from both sides at once. You’ll need a hook or something to take the lid off later though.

4) You can throw dried fruit into the mix too for a taste sensation….

7 Darren April 5, 2011 at 8:09 am

Good suggestions! I usually don’t mix in dried fruit for one simple reason: I hate dried fruit in bread. I bet craisins would be good, though.

Mrs. Blessed, the powdered milk can be either, I’ve done both and it seems to work fine, so go with the cheap stuff.

It’s fun to wrap it around a stick. Make sure the stick is not poison ivy.

P.S. Remember Bannockburn? Anyone know why it was called that?

8 homeschoolmom April 5, 2011 at 8:44 am

while in the Canadian Rockies backpacking, we made bannock every day. Brought along some squeeze pizza sauce and pepperoni- viola! bannock pizza!

9 Baradoch April 5, 2011 at 10:03 am

Wow, this brings back memories! Bannock on a stick is the best — nice woodsy taste. Hm, bannock burn? Don’t know.

10 The Scot April 5, 2011 at 11:08 am

Bannockburn is named after Bannock Burn, a small stream near the city. It’s a Scottish city, and as referenced in the article, the word comes from the Scots.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bannockburn

11 tim_lebsack April 5, 2011 at 11:37 am

Great post. I like the fact that any cooking tool will work for bannock – skillet, dutch oven, sauce pan, Coleman stove, green stick or solar oven – bread is on the menu.
Try this link http://goo.gl/djQHn for another easy camp bread recipe. This has worked well for me several times.

The best advice I ever got for camp cooking was “practice in the back yard”. Try it in the kitchen for sure first, then working over charcoal, propane, or wood coals at home in the back yard, before the field trip, is the best way to work out the kinks.

12 Thomas April 5, 2011 at 12:41 pm

I’ll have to try this some time. How many servings do you think it makes?

13 Luke April 5, 2011 at 1:00 pm

First had this in 1995 on an arctic fishing trip to Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut, Canada. Tried to recreate it at home, but could not duplicate the old Inuit woman’s recipe. Serve with arctic char and raw seal, for great expedition feast.

14 Damien April 5, 2011 at 1:12 pm

I baked chocolate chip cokes with an oven I made out of stone while camping, used soda cans to make a baking sheet. They were good.

15 Will A. April 5, 2011 at 2:11 pm

During the American War of 1861-’65 some of the Confederate troops made “sloosh” which was mostly corn meal with egg or enough wheat flour to hold it together. They would fry up some bacon and then mix the corn meal mix in the pan & sloosh it around. Then they would wrap the dough around their musket ramrods & bake it over the campfire.
Sounds like another version of Australian damper.

16 Carter April 5, 2011 at 2:59 pm

That looks great, can’t wait to try it.

17 Johnny Palmer April 5, 2011 at 5:30 pm

God I love getting back to basics. Cheers boys

18 Guy April 5, 2011 at 6:40 pm

Good stuff, thanks Darren.

19 Brian April 5, 2011 at 11:58 pm

While not bannock-related (which is quite good done right) i can attest to finding out at age 14 that cooking mac and cheese using nacho cheese (not the supplied cheese, due to someone packing wrong) at 8,000 feet leads to something that can be used for concrete, and/or superglue, and is inedible….. sticking a fork in it and turning a plate over would lead to gravity defying macaroni.

Field cooking leads to some interesting discoveries.

20 James April 6, 2011 at 9:17 am

A few days too late you use on the Boy Scout camp I just lead. Maybe next time.

21 Jackson Armstrong April 6, 2011 at 8:06 pm

Great recipe. It looks really simple and delicious. I’ll have to try it on my next camping trip. It will go great with my bacon wrapped, cream cheese stuffed jalapenos cooked over a hot grill. The bread should take a little of the edge off.

22 Kyle April 6, 2011 at 9:56 pm

I’m about to head into the field for a month for some military training. I ought to give this a shot. It’ll be a nice change from rations all the time, haha.

23 Michael Hilton April 7, 2011 at 10:31 pm

Great article. I hope to try it sometime.

24 Nadia April 8, 2011 at 12:39 am

In case anyone is wondering:
If you want to cook your bannock on a stick the best way to keep it from falling off is to roll it out long and skinny like a snake and then wind it around the stick. You squish the ends into the rest of the dough to keep it from unwinding.
This technique requires a thicker type of bannock dough, more like the First Nations (Native American) frybread bannock we make here in Western Canada. I’m sure I could rustle up a recipe if anyone wants one. :)

25 Justin April 8, 2011 at 3:25 pm

One tip anytime you’re baking anything with baking powder in the backcountry (or your kitchen), DO NOT USE HOT OR EVEN WARM WATER. Warmer water will speed up the chemical reaction that occurs between the water and baking powder meaning that less of the gas will be available to form air bubbles when you’re baking your goodies. Cold water = fluffier eats.

26 Marked One April 9, 2011 at 5:09 am

The comment about running the other way with regards to a tablespoon of baking powder is a bit inaccurate. Baking Powder does not generally contain aluminium and will not have the metallic taste you speak of. Basic baking powder is sodium bicarbonate and cream of tartar. It would have the combined chemical formula:

CHNaO3
KC4H5O6

Both potassium and sodium are commonly found in table salts so may present that kind of taste but certainly not a metallic one despite technically being metals. A table spoon of baking powder is a common addition to the flour component of a victoria sponge and does not taste at all metallic.

27 Tim Raveling April 11, 2011 at 1:32 am

If you’re traveling light and don’t feel like carrying something made out of cast iron, you can make do with aluminum foil, a la shepherd’s stew. Just open out a hot bed of coals flanked by the fire on one side and a reflective rock wall on the other (or fire on both sides, if rocks are unavailable). This works better, though, if you have a risen loaf beforehand. You can actually do this with yeast, as yeast is easy to pack if you keep it dry (those little individual packets from the grocery store work great). Just keep in mind that the temperature of the water you use has to be just right, which can be hard to do with a tin pot over a fire, but it is possible. Also, you’ll need an hour or two in camp to let it rise. Do it right, though, and you will have a nice loaf of bread. Wrap in foil, place in coals for 10 min, and voila. The genuine article. Nothing better than fresh homemade bread on a cold night in the mountains!

28 Lonereader April 11, 2011 at 5:06 am

Interesting version of the recipe. I’ve more often seen more milk powder than a 1/4cup.

29 Mick April 14, 2011 at 6:30 am

Firstly @ Owen. Damper is not made on a stick. Damper is essentially Bannock with out the milk power or shortening and is cooked in the coals of a fire much the same as Bannock is.
The old bushmen of a bygone era would cook it in any number of ways from just putting the dough mix straight into the hot coals and shovelling more on top, or if they had something to save having to break off an inch thick burnt crust from doing it that way, say a Billy can, which is just a large open topped tin can with a length of wire for a handle. Then you would chuck your dough in that after giving it a coating of flour, and sit it in the coals. Putting something over the top to act as a lid would even up the cooking. These days, as well as those of the bygone era that had them, a Camp or dutch oven is the cooking tool of choice.

Secondly, I really want to try this Bannock stuff, it sounds like the lap of luxury after eating so much Damper in my life. :-)

30 Mark April 18, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Dough on a stick does work. I’ve tried it. Use biscuit dough, about one biscuit’s worth, wrap it around a sick much like a wide thin snake, and toast it like a marshmallow. They taste great!

Thanks for the recipe, I can’t wait to try it!

31 Matthew Abel April 30, 2011 at 1:49 pm

@Marked One: Most commercial baking powder does, in fact, contain aluminum. It’s in the higher temperature acid – salts such as sodium aluminum phosphate or sulfate. It’s used as the “hot” action in the double action – when the dough hits the heat.

They do make aluminum-free baking powder, but you have to check the cans.

32 The realone January 26, 2013 at 5:59 am

@Marked one: You said that salt may contain potassium which if true, will kill you by inducing a heart attack. KCL is extremely poisonous and is used to execute by injecting in to the vain.
Aluminum of any kind is also poisonous not to mention it has been linked to on set of alzheimer.

33 Cyber January 28, 2013 at 12:21 pm

Easy to make. I use all kinds of different additives like raisins, flax seed, sesame seeds, raspberries, strawberries, blue berries, etc. Tried lots of different sugars as two of the kids that live with me have VERY restrictive diet issues. I have cooked it on just about any flat surface or shallow pan, a little corn meal or oats under the loaf adds to the texture.

34 JJJJ February 11, 2013 at 9:00 pm

1. Ray Mears makes bannock and adds brandy or rum to it once cooked. I will try adding bacon to the dough, and pouring whiskey on once cooked.

2. bannock on stick = no cast iron pans

35 Steve June 24, 2013 at 11:55 am

I just made some Bannock last weekend on a compout using a 12″ Dutch Oven. Worked fantastic. I mixed all the dry ingredients at home and carried it in a ziplock bag. Added the liquid at camp. I also doctored it up by adding sugar and cinnamon.

36 Gregg Drew August 23, 2013 at 4:49 pm

Making this again tonight on the campfire, that makes three times in the last two weeks. Very good recipe. We wrapped it around hotdogs last time, then on sticks. About 15 -20 minutes later had hotdog in a bun…

37 John August 28, 2013 at 11:29 am

Tried making bannock for the first time this past weekend while on a fishing trip. After much researching of different recipes I went with yours and it was awesome. Thank you for sharing.

38 Kyli September 4, 2013 at 6:28 pm

Thanks for this recipe! Just practiced my first batch on my kitchen stove top – did not have a cast iron pan, just a regular frying pan. It turned out like a giant, dense pancake. I’ve never had it before… it doesn’t look like your picture at all. Is my temp too low? What’d I do wrong?

39 Neil September 27, 2013 at 12:51 pm

Just going through the receipe…looks easy enough..apart from one thing

What is ‘ shortening’.

I have every thing else in the cupboard here, but no idea what or where to look for this mysterious ingredient.

Thanks

Neil

40 JohnL October 19, 2013 at 8:51 pm

Shorting is Crisco or similar product,

41 Another Home schooling Mama November 2, 2013 at 6:36 pm

Thanks so much for this simple recipe! We just made a ‘loaf’ and it was wonderful!

42 Barbara K. December 9, 2013 at 9:33 am

In Canada, especially on the prairies and in the north, bannock is baked in the oven as well as on the trail. The dough is rolled or patted about 1/2 inch thick, put on a baking sheet, and baked at 425 F for 12-15 minutes, or until light golden brown.
My aboriginal friends enjoy BLT (Bannock, Lard and Tea) -lard instead of butter. My fave is bannock with butter and blueberry jam…..mmmmm!!
Best wishes from wintry Winnipeg, Manitoba!

43 Tom January 5, 2014 at 9:30 am

Great recipe. You’re right about the horrendous amounts of baking powder. Good to avoid. For those who “backwoods” camp and so must carry everything on their back, try a Banks Fry-Bake pan (http://frybake.com/) instead of a frying pan. Under a pound in weight (not bad for a dutch oven). You get a more “baked” bread taste too and the pan can fry things also if you are of a mind to fry (like fish). Mine works great.

44 Dustin January 17, 2014 at 11:45 am

Has anyone tried substituting the shortening with shortening powder? If so, does it turn out the same?

45 Bryan February 13, 2014 at 9:48 pm

The dry milk powder isn’t really necessary for great bannock. I’ve always mixed the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar in the bag…mixed with water in the bag onsite and then poured into a warm pan with a quarter size pour of olive oil (swirl the oil around the warm pan before adding dough)….it is whatever meal you want it to be….add raisins, cinnamon, etc for breakfast…summer sausage, bacon, pepperoni or even Slim Jims for lunch/supper….it’s tasty no matter what you do to it really.

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