Sometimes circumstance cuts folks off from one thing or another they once thought they couldn't live without and they get along pretty well anyhow. When you move from a city home to a country cabin, for instance, you quickly adjust to the new mode of life and learn to improvise when necessary. No more flick of the switch lights, so you convert to kerosene lamps. No more thermostatic heat, so you get out a saw and cut yourself some fuel to feed the wood heater. Instead of turning on the hot running water, you haul your supply from a nearby creek and heat it on a stove.
All right so far but how do you bake if there's no oven? Being cook around here, I faced that problem when we made our own move. At present our cabin has only a wood heater, and although I dream of a big, beautiful wood cook stove, complete with oven for now I have to do my best with what's available.
At first Roger and I just accepted the local store bread, full of preservatives, as our only alternative to doing without. It wasn't long, though, before we got an ache for some wholesome, homemade, fresh baked loaves. That's when I put a little brainpower to work and with the help of some old and new recipe books and a bit of experimentation came up with an assortment of breads, biscuits, cookies, and other baked goods I could make without an oven (or any tools or contraptions other than normal kitchen utensils).
If you're cooking on a wood heater (as I am), or over an open fireplace or campfire, you'll find that the following recipes offer a lot of good eating. Even those of you who are blessed with stoves may want to take advantage of these baking without an oven methods now and then especially this time of year. Summer's well along by now, and on a warm day a hot oven can make the kitchen an awfully uncomfortable place. Why not leave conventional baking for a cooler spell and try some of my discoveries instead?
The following creation is made like regular yeast dough, except that it takes very little kneading and is baked on a hot griddle on top of the stove. Instead of a loaf, you get flat, medium sized muffins that taste just like bread and when sliced in two can be toasted or used for sandwiches or spreads.
1–1/4 cups milk
1 /2 teaspoon salt
1 package yeast
1 /4 cup lukewarm water
4 cups whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons melted shortening or oil
Scald the milk with the salt and cool the mixture. Soak the yeast in the water (a little sugar or honey hastens its action) and combine the leavening with the milk. Add half the flour gradually, beating the batter with a wooden spoon until it's smooth. Thoroughly blend in the cooled shortening, add the remaining flour, and mix to get a soft dough.
Place the future bread in a greased bowl, brush the top of the mound with water, cover the container with a damp cloth, and leave the dough in a warm place for about 1 1/2 hours: (if you set the dish near the stove or fire, rotate it occasionally to keep it evenly heated.)
When the dough is light, lay it on a floured board and knead it gently using as little flour as possible until a workable ball is formed. Roll out the mass to a thickness of 1/2 inch. You can then cut shapes with a cookie cutter or glass, but I find it much easier just to divide the sheet into 12 squares. (This avoids the rerolling of those little bits that are left when a cutter is used.) Separate the pieces, brush them with water, and place them on a surface sprinkled with cornmeal. Cover the breadlets with waxed paper or a damp cloth and let them sit in a warm place for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat a large skillet with a lid to a moderate temperature (around 300 degrees). When the dough is sufficiently raised, oil the pan and carefully lift each slice into the skillet with a pancake turner. Cover the "oven" and bake the muffins about 10 minutes on each side. Cool the breadlets, and split them in two at eating time.
The following two recipes are for quick breads leavened with soda and baked with the help of a good sized covered pot and some foil. The loaves are moist and sweet, fine for dessert or a snack.
BOSTON BROWN BREAD
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup whole rye flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup molasses
2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup soaked seedless raisins
Sift together the cornmeal, flours, soda, and salt into a large mixing bowl. Any bran that remains in the sifter can be included in the flour mixture. Combine the molasses and buttermilk, add them to the dry ingredients, and stir until the flour is just dampened. Then beat the batter for one minute (mix in the raisins with the last couple of stirs).
Pour the dough into well buttered molds (13 ounce nut tins do nicely) until the cans are two thirds full. Cover the containers with their lids, or stretch foil over the tops and punch a few holes in the covering to allow moisture to escape.
Place the cakes in a steamer or, if you don't have one, improvise by setting a rack in a kettle, covering the bottom of the pan with boiling water, and arranging the molds on the stand. (Since I had neither steamer nor rack, I stacked several layers of chopsticks in my pot as a support for the containers. It worked fine!) Cover the kettle with a tight lid and keep the water bubbling. Add more liquid if the first lot boils away.
Steam the bread for 60 to 70 minutes, or until it feels springy when pressed. When the loaves are done, let them cool and remove them from the molds.
DATE NUT LOAF
2 cups whole wheat flour
1–1 /4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup raw sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg, beaten
1 cup chopped dates and nuts
Combine the flour, soda, and salt in a large bowl. Beat together the egg and sugar, add the buttermilk, and pour the liquid into the dry ingredients, mixing just until they're well blended. Stir in the dates and nuts and turn the batter into a loaf pan.
Cover the pan with foil (punch holes to allow moisture to escape) and set it in a kettle on a rack over boiling water. Close the pot tightly with a lid and steam the bread from 11/2 to 2 hours, or until it's springy to the touch.
This recipe yields light biscuits with a golden crust, as good as if you'd baked them in an oven. Make them in your skillet and serve them piping hot for a hearty meal.
WHOLE WHEAT BISCUITS
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 /2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter
3/4 cup milk
Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. Cut in the butter with a fork, add the milk all at once, and stir vigorously until the dough stiffens. Turn it out onto a floured board and knead the sponge several times. Then roll the dough to a thickness of 1/2 inch and cut it into the desired shapes.
Heat a large oiled skillet to a moderate temperature (around 300 degrees). Place in it as many biscuits as will fit, cover the pan, and bake the contents 10 minutes on each side. Remove and cool the finished batch, and the others in the same fashion.
Variations: Add 1/2 cup of grated, sharp cheddar cheese to the dough just before you mix in the milk. Also try a sprinkling of you favorite spice or herb,or some green onion or chives
These nutritious cookies are easily made in an skillet and they taste so good that many will disappear before you've finished the batch.
OATMEAL RAISIN COOKIES
1 /2 cup honey
1 /2 cup oil
1 egg, beaten cup milk
1–1/4 cups oatmeal
1–1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 /2 cup raisins
1/2 cup nuts and seeds
Blend the oil, honey, and egg, and mix in the milk. Sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt, and add them to the liquid ingredients. Then stir in the oatmeal, nuts, seeds, and raisins until the mixture is thoroughly combined.
Drop the batter by teaspoonfuls onto a medium hot skillet, cover the pan with its lid, and turn the cookies after 10 minutes or when they're browned on the bottom. Let them bake another 10 minutes and remove them from the skillet. Repeat the process until all the batter is used. This recipe makes 3 dozen cookies.
LEMON SUGAR COOKIES
2–1/4 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
1 cup raw sugar
1 egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cream the butter and sugar until smooth, then combine them with the beaten egg to make a fluffy paste. Stir in the lemon extract. Then add the dry ingredients to the liquid mixture gradually, beating continually until smooth.
Shape the dough into balls the size of walnuts and place the nuggets in a moderately hot, greased skillet, leaving enough room to flatten them with the bottom of a floured glass. Cover the pan and bake the cookies 6 to 8 minutes on each side. When they're crisp and golden, remove them to cool and repeat the process until all the dough is used. If you like, glaze the morsels while they're hot with honey or other frosting. This recipe makes 4 dozen cookies.
Here's a hot cereal that is so quick and easy to prepare you won't even need to make it ahead of time. Just stir it together in the morning and eat the dish while it's still steaming for a tasty and nutritious breakfast.
Combine 4 cups of your favorite granola ingredients oatmeal, wheat germ, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, coconut, dates, nuts, and whatever else you fancy. Pour 1/2 cup of oil into a large skillet and mix in the dry ingredients until they're evenly coated. Then cook the combination on top of the stove, stirring occasionally until all the makings area golden color. In about 15 minutes the granola should be ready to sweeten with raw sugar, honey, or molasses how much depends on you sweet tooth. Remove the cereal from the fire and serve it with fruit and milk. Mmmm.... good!.
In 1847, while Henry David Thoreau was living near Walden Pond in Massachusetts, he did his baking in an even more primitive fashion than the method I've described. Being a poet philosopher, he had a way of making a simple loaf into a grand treat, and to judge from his writings, I doubt that there's been as tasty a bread produced in New England since. If all else fails, you may find his system most helpful:
Bread I at first made of pure Indian meal and salt, genuine hoecakes, which I baked before my fire out of doors on a shingle or the end of a stick of timber sawed off in building my house; but it was wont to get smoked and to have a piny flavor. I tried flour also; but have at last found a mixture of rye and Indian meal most convenient and agreeable. In cold weather it was no little amusement to bake several small loaves of this in succession, tending and turning them as carefully as an Egyptian his hatching eggs. They were a real cereal fruit which I ripened, and they had to my senses a fragrance like that of other noble fruits, which I kept as long as possible by wrapping them in cloths.
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