The Fresh Loaf

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How can I bake good bread without access to an oven?

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RobF's picture
RobF

How can I bake good bread without access to an oven?

I've been baking bread for 30 years, always in an oven.  Now I'm finding myself in a situation in which I have no access to an oven, also cannot use a toaster oven (in which I'd previously managed to bake excellent 8x4 in. pan loaves) and also cannot bake in a dutch oven, using charcoal briquets on a grill outdoors.  All I've got is an electric stovetop range with two hotplates, 6 and 7 1/2 in. in diameter.  Given these limitations, is there a way for me to bake a decent loaf of bread, preferably a round sourdough loaf with rye & wheat?

E.g., would this be possible on the bigger hotplate, using a 10 in. dia dutch oven?  Heat would then only be supplied from the bottom and the loaf may burn at the bottom and not be browned at the top, correct?

Does anyone here have some experience with this situation or any good advice whatsoever?

Many thanks, Robert

swtgran's picture
swtgran

Once the bread is partially baked, can you flip it over on a small round rack in the Dutch Oven to brown the top and prevent the bottom from burning?  

Do you have access to one of those Coleman camping ovens?  It would take a little bit to figure out the correct setting to get the temp just right.  The outside dials are rarely correct to an inside oven thermometer would be necessary.

A long time ago, I thought MiniOven described a method for a similar situation, but I could be wrong about that.  Terry R.

 

foodslut's picture
foodslut

If you don't find a decent solution with your current set up, I'm going to guess if you ask someone to "borrow" their oven to make bread, then leave a loaf with them, they won't object.  I've done this when our own oven is not working.

Good luck!

davidg618's picture
davidg618

At one decade in my life, I frequently baked bread in a three-legged camping Dutch oven. As a "thought" experiment I tried to think of a way to replicate this on a stove top. I've never done this, but I think it will work.

Put three stones, or machined nuts,  metal toy jacks, or any other device that won't catch fire, and will elevate a pie tin at least 1/2" from the  bottom, on the bottom placed in a wide circle. They should be small in surface area.  Put a pie tin on top of the devicees. This will reduce/prevent the bottom from burning.

Preheat the Dutch Oven: really hot. Hold your hand about 3" over the DO and guage the temp.  When you have to snatch your hand away after a three or four seconds it's probably hot enough

Put the shaped loaf on the pie tin, and replace the DO cover.

Keep medium-high heat on the hot plate. Use your hand again to guage that the pot is staying heated.

If you have a Butane torch, keep the top hot by ocassionally torching it, or remove it for a few minutes and reheat in on the other hot plate on high.

You will likely have to "fine tune" the process but I'll bet it will work.

An after thought: Keep the loaf small. I would guess 1 lb. or less.

David G

 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

by placing a sheet of aluminum foil and a folded cotton towel on top of the pot.  Do not let any part of the towel hang over the edges because it could catch fire.  Insulating the top of the pot in this fashion will help brown the bread inside and save energy.  

An alternative might be to make pancakes or fladen bread placing scoops of dough (or flat small loaves) on a warm griddle or making something similar to english muffins.  

It is also possible to bake the bread over a soup or stew like dumplings.

Also, the risen small loaves/rolls could be deep fried in oil, not too hot, in the same way as donuts.  (Top side first into the oil.  An inch of oil will do.)

:)  Mini Oven

RobF's picture
RobF

swtgran and David G,

Thanks for your excellent suggestions.  The problem is the landlady: no way I could use a camping oven or butane torch in this kitchen (also cannot use the garden); what I'm doing in the kitchen would have to look like ordinary, low-utility-cost cooking.

jcking's picture
jcking

Robert,

You may need to shift gears. Some stove top breads to try. Vetkoek; pronounced "fet cook" is an Afrikaans bread meaning "fat cake", fried in oil on the stove top. Or; Turkish Flat Bread, Roti and Tortillas to name a few. See if your library has "The River Cottage Bread Handbook" by Daniel Stevens.

Jim

ehanner's picture
ehanner

Robert,

Could you explain the situation you are facing a little? If we understood a little about what the conditions are I think we could be more helpful. I knew a guy in a fed lock up who baked in a dutch oven by using low heat on the bottom and once the dough was loaded he had the lid blazing hot on another burner, which he placed on the bottom. After about 10 minutes he pulled the lid and quickly heated it again and placed it back on slightly ajar to let the steam escape. I think it worked OK. You would need grits or course corn meal for the bottom to buffer the heat.

Hope this helps.

Eric

RobF's picture
RobF

To expand the description of my situation a bit: I'm currently living in a rental place with a minimally equipped kitchen, no oven, only a stovetop range with two electric hotplates.  I have no access to the garden, or else I would bake bread there on a grill, with briquets underneath a dutch oven and on top of the lid.  My landlady would almost certainly also complain (about excessive electricity use) if I were to use a toaster oven, a way in which I've baked wonderful 8x4 in. mini-panloaves in another place before.  The only option that remains is to somehow do the breadbaking on top of the stove, using the available hotplate(s).

I was soliciting reports or suggestions from one's own experience as to how under these circumstances one could bake an honest 2 lb. loaf of nutritious bread, e.g. a sourdough wheat/rye loaf.  I do have a heavy cast iron griddle with which I could probably make chapatti-like flatbreads on the hotplate, but I'd like to get a real boule-like loaf.  Using a cast iron dutch oven or skillet on the hotplate would probably be the way to go; I'd like to learn more details about how best to do that.  Thanks for offering your advice: something like what you described might be what I will have to experiment with.

E.g. I've been thinking of getting a closed dutch oven very hot on the bigger hotplate, with an unglazed ceramic tile (like a pizza stone) placed in the bottom, then putting the dough on top of the tile, either just as it is or in a cradle of parchment paper, then closing the lid, turning the heat to fairly low, covering the entire dutch oven with aluminum foil to reduce heat loss by radiation (as Mini Oven suggested), and baking the bread until its done.  

The stone would probably prevent the bread from getting burned  at the bottom.  To get a nice browned crust on top would require providing high heat from the top.  The lid is slightly curved at its bottom; it might be difficult to get it very hot from an electric hotplate, e.g. toward the end of the baking.  So perhaps there is no way to avoid turning the bread toward the end and perhaps winding up with more of a disk rather than a boule.  But that would be OK, as long as this bread has the taste and nutrition and low cost I'm striving for.

I will also look into recipes for skillet bread.

CelesteU's picture
CelesteU

I'd push the toaster oven issue, personally.  Would she object to your blow-drying your hair every day?  'Cause a decent toaster oven will use about the same amount of electricity as a hair dryer, or as the hot plate already does.  Check out the comparative useage charts online; the T.O. isn't really an energy hog.

Maybe if you bought your own T.O. and then gave her some of the bread?  I routinely bake loaves, single layer cakes, cornbread, and all sorts of things in my T.O., primarily to reduce the heat in my kitchen during the summer.  I'd probably just buy the oven and hide it in a box when not using it.  How in the heck will she know you have it, unless she's snooping?  Alternatively, offer to pay an extra $5 or $10 each month to cover the (perceived) electricity useage, if she won't accept payment in bread.  Inexpensive toaster ovens start as low as $20 brand-new and for far less at garage sales or secondhand stores.

Pita and naan are delicious (and easily made with whole wheat), and perfect for griddle or skillet cooking.  I know of no way to create a lofty loaf more than 2" tall without surround heating.  

RobF's picture
RobF

Thank you for your kind thoughts, CelesteU and naschol!


I'm keeping the toaster oven idea in mind. 12 years ago I used to bake wonderful little loaves, two at a time, in 8x4 baking pans, in a Hamilton-Beach TO model #31215 (1400 W), but that took 50-60 min at 375 deg. F.  I don't know how many kWh that chewed up.  This doesn't seem like such a viable idea now, though, because 1. yes, she's snooping, and she would find out and confront me, 2. I'm not on good terms with that dictator and for nothing in the world would I want to even give her the crumbs from my good bread, 3. my rent has already been jacked up twice over the past year, and she's not getting another nickel from me.  Yes, it's sad, but this whole thing with her is a soap opera :-).

Baking in a solar oven is an idea that I want to explore at some point in the future.  For now it's moot, I would get shot if I step into my landlady's backyard, and I don't have a balcony; so I do have to bake indoors.

I've received an abundance of good suggestions, from other forums, too, and I'm going to get this to work.  To me, the most promising approach seems to be to concentrate on pan breads, done in the dutch oven or in a heavy skillet on the stove top.  chefkoch.de alone has 519 recipes for Fladenbrote (pan breads).

 
It's all right with me if the bread comes out only 2 in. high; I primarily want it to be tasty, nutritious and inexpensive and superior to store-bought bread.  More importantly, I'm going crazy if I can't indulge in my bread baking passion; it's already been a 3-year break.  I also like this challenge - it comes close to the tough times I once had trying to bake good bread in or on a wood-burning stove during a 6-month cabin retreat in the Canadian wilderness (ate mostly delicious chapattis then), without electricity or Internet access and therefore without all the incredible info and help I can now get from you and others. 

CelesteU's picture
CelesteU

If you want a challenge that can be baked on a griddle, take up Indonesian roti canai.  Take a look here:  http://rasamalaysia.com/roti-canai-roti-paratha-recipe/

And here:  http://youtu.be/6Azxic4S10M

You could spend years perfecting the roti flip and never think about an oven again!

RobF's picture
RobF

Great link!  So that's how paratha is made!

In India, chapatti, paratha (plain or with peas or with potatoes) and naan were my favorite breads.  The paratha-making guys in South India were so fast, it didn't even register with me what they were doing when I asked for fresh paratha and got it a few minutes later.  It's perhaps laughable but I wanted fresh, piping hot paratha because I was afraid the flies landing on the piles of ready-made paratha might have been feasting on human or animal excrement the moment before.  The Indians didn't know my reason, and they would be laughing seeing me burning my fingers and my mouth trying to eat piping hot paratha.

I can make good chapatti on my Lodge griddle (50% whole wheat), and I'd be tempted making paratha.  But I agree, this is quite a challenge.

naschol's picture
naschol

I have baked bread in a solar oven and it worked good.  I purchased a Sun Oven, but you can make one your self out of a car windshield shade and a few other things - http://solarcooking.org/plans/windshield-cooker.htm

clazar123's picture
clazar123

I take my regular bread dough and make 3-4 in round that are only about 1/2 in thick.I let them rise and DON'T dock(puncture) them with a fork. I do bake them but I bet it would work to do it on a griddle and flip them over. Because they are thicker than a pita and you don't puncture them, they should cook up quite nicely as buns. They are so much better than the storebought sandwich thins and it works for any bread dough you can make-sweet,white,wheat,multigrain. Search for "sandwich thins" in the search box and give it a try-I bet it would woprk wonderfully!

RobF's picture
RobF

Thanks!  I'm planning to try that as well: making 3 or 4 round buns of my whole-wheat sourdough on the stovetop in a 10 in. cast-iron skillet with a lid and flipping them over halfway through the baking.