Baking on an Ultralight Esbit Stove

Baking on a Flat Cat Bobcat Stove

Trail baking or eating freshly baked breads and pies cooked while on the trail has long been a dream of mine, one that has been out of reach via my UL alcohol/Esbit stove cooking kit, or so I thought.

Some months ago I switched to the Flat Cat Gear Snow Leopard (FCGSL) cooking system because of the flexibility of the fuel options and reliability of the cooking/boiling results – you can read my detailed review here. As is true of many alcohol stove users, I mostly boil water to rehydrate trail meals or have a hot drink. I’m doing very little in the way of “real” cooking mostly due to the limitations of the stove. That’s been perfectly okay with me and I’ve been extremely happy using my FCGSL.

Yet I’ve always wanted to find a way to use my existing cooking system to see if I could really cook or bake while out on the trail. Sometimes you just crave one of those comfort foods – like freshly baked biscuits! Well, thanks to the relentless experimentation of Jon Fong, the founder of Flat Cat Gear, it is now not only possible but also pretty easy to do with an ultralight cooking system while other back country!

Baking on a Flat Cat Bobcat Stove

Baking Bisquick Cheesy Biscuits

The secret to being able to truly bake using an UL system is twofold: 1) You’ll need a fuel source that can be burned slowly for 30-40 minutes. Most alcohol stoves can run for up to 20 minutes before needing to be refueled which is doable, but a single Esbit fuel tab can burn reliably for 40 minutes in the right stove; 2) you will need to create a double walled cooking environment to help dissipate the heat evenly and avoid burning the food from the bottom. Most UL pots/cups have extremely thin walls on purpose. The easiest way to achieve this is by placing a second smaller pot inside of your main cooking vessel.

Baking on a Flat Cat Bobcat Stove

With those two points in mind I went about setting up my stove to do some test bakes. For simplicity I chose to use store bought Cheesy Biscuit mix, just add water and you’re good to go. I mixed it right in the pot I was going to bake it in, until it reached a dough consistency. Then I removed it, cleaned out the pot and used a little wax paper to line the bottom and sides of the inner pot. Note: I don’t know if this was a necessary step, but I thought it would help avoid the biscuits sticking to the pot and make clean up a lot easier – oh the shame of the extra weight from the paper!

So, pot lined and ready I dropped the biscuit dough inside and placed that into the Evernew TI pot I was using. I have not been able to find a pot/cup that will fit inside the standard SP600 cup I use with the FCGSL, so I will be using the bigger brother of that setup called the Bobcat System. Essentially the same thing but made for larger pots.

Baking on a Flat Cat Bobcat Stove

For the stove I used a prototype Esbit burning stove that Jon had designed called the Epicurean Stove. It has two rings that can be used to help regulate the burn of the Esbit fuel tab and in prior tests I had achieved single fuel tab simmering times of 40 minutes plus, which is quite amazing.

Esbit stove lit and ready, I placed the Evernew pot on the stove by slotting it into the windscreen holder. I placed the lid on top of the pot and added a lid coosie made of carbon felt to help keep some of the heat from escaping through the lid. At least that was my thought process. I set my stopwatch for 15 minutes and went to grab a ice cold beer.

Baking on a Flat Cat Bobcat Stove

After the 15 minutes were up I checked on the biscuits and found that they had barely begun to bake. They were gooey and had not risen at all. The Esbit fuel tab was still going strong and I couldn’t see any signs of burning on the bottom of the biscuits, at least for m a quick visual inspection, so I covered the pot and set my watch for another 15 minutes. The extra time was a complete guesstimate by me based on how little the mixture had cooked thus far. I thought about checking on it every five minutes but that was too much like hard work, the beer had started to kick in and I was only doing a test, so I left it at 15 minutes.

After the time was up I checked on the biscuits again to discover that there had been a lot of progress. The mix had risen significantly, it was set firm, and the smell of freshly baked cheesy biscuits was to die for, but they were not quite finished. My best guess was another 5-10 minutes. I decided to err on the side of less and set my watch for 5 mins. As it turned out it took another 8-10 minutes to be about perfect. The total cooking time for this mix was approximately 40 minutes.

Baking on a Flat Cat Bobcat Stove

I removed the pot from the stove and saw that the Esbit fuel tab was on it’s last legs with about 2-3 minutes of life left. No too shabby though for one fuel tab, the Epicurean stove had done its job of making it burn steadily and slowly. After letting the inner pot cool down for a minute or two, I turned it over to tip out the biscuit and to my surprise and delight it slipped right out, no doubt the result of the waxed paper I had used to line the inner pot.

Baking on a Flat Cat Bobcat Stove

The smell of the cheesy biscuit was fantastic! The base had not burned despite being on the heat for 40 minutes and the texture looked perfect. I felt a little like Martha Stewart, it’s “perfect!” you can see in the photo (above below) that the biscuit mix had baked through evenly and was firm but still moist and fluffy. Even though I’ve been on a Paleo diet for several months now, I couldn’t resist taking a bite to try it – needless to say it was delicious. My kids took great pleasure in finishing off the rest of the giant biscuit with huge grins on their faces. Imagine how cool it will be to make these on our next backpacking trip together :)

Summary

So how was it possible to successfully slow bake on an ultralight alcohol/Esbit stove? Here are the all of the factors that helped to achieve this:

  • Using a slow burning fuel/stove like an Esbit tab
  • Regulating the burn/flame of the fuel
  • Using a double walled pot to avoid direct heat
  • Covering the pot with a lid and insulating pad
  • Cooking slow and long, much longer than the directions (you’re not going to have the same high temperatures in this setup that you would at home in a conventional stove)
  • Patience and trial and error

Baking on a Flat Cat Bobcat Stove

I won’t always have 40 minutes spare to bake yummy biscuits or cookies while I’m on the trail, but when I do I’m going to plan to do a little baking instead of just boiling water and rehydrating – especially when I’m out with Jack and Maggie. I’m incredibly excited by the possibilities this stove setup offers, now the only limitation I can think of is coming up with new recipes to try baking on the trail. I’ll be doing a lot more testing in the coming weeks and attempting to substitute the Bisquick pre-mix with a more healthy version of my own – I have a very good friend and fellow GRT #192 teammate that is an incredible chef and whom has offered to help me with that :)

What do you think of baking on the trail? It’s technically possible, but does that make it something you would consider doing? I’d love to hear your thoughts and if you have any similar stories or recipe ideas feel free to share them via the comments below.

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  • http://twitter.com/maggiecanady Maggie Canady

    Well that just looks awesome Brian!

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      It SMELLED awesome Maggie! OMG – I don’t even eat this stuff any more but couldn’t resist at least trying it. Next step, making my own mix to carry on the trail :)

  • http://twitter.com/maggiecanady Maggie Canady

    Well that just looks awesome Brian!

  • James Conley

    I do that by steam baking; it works well enough but IMO muffin mix is fairly heavy compared to say grits or oatmeal but it’s a fun and interesting thing to do that gives you a tasty dessert for your meal.
    I could have sworn that you wrote about steam baking before but I get a foil oven liner from the store and cut a a round flat piece that fits inside the cookpot and punch a bunch of small holes in it with a knife, and then I cut a long 3/4 inch strip and put under the flat piece and put a half inch of water in the bottom of the pot. Then you can steam bake muffins / cupcakes / etc in foil cup cake liners.
    http://allisonoutside.net/tag/steam-baking/
    http://blog.trailcooking.com/2010/02/24/fun-alternatives-for-steam-baking/

  • James Conley

    I do that by steam baking; it works well enough but IMO muffin mix is fairly heavy compared to say grits or oatmeal but it’s a fun and interesting thing to do that gives you a tasty dessert for your meal.
    I could have sworn that you wrote about steam baking before but I get a foil oven liner from the store and cut a a round flat piece that fits inside the cookpot and punch a bunch of small holes in it with a knife, and then I cut a long 3/4 inch strip and put under the flat piece and put a half inch of water in the bottom of the pot. Then you can steam bake muffins / cupcakes / etc in foil cup cake liners.
    http://allisonoutside.net/tag/steam-baking/
    http://blog.trailcooking.com/2010/02/24/fun-alternatives-for-steam-baking/

  • Barb

    Have you experimented at all with solar cookers? There must be a way to make them small and light enough. Other variables to deal with would be latitude and sunniness where you’re hiking.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Barb, I haven’t simply because they’re a single use item and sort of specialized. I’ll do some research and see if I can find a small size option – good suggestion and agree on the additional variables. My test bake was close to sea level at home – points well taken though. More testing needed :-)

  • Barb

    Have you experimented at all with solar cookers? There must be a way to make them small and light enough. Other variables to deal with would be latitude and sunniness where you’re hiking.

  • Diane Pinkers

    Hey, Brian, I’d be interested to hear more about your hiking diet eating Paleo. I’ve flirted with Paleo and Primal diets, but I”m not sure what to take on the trail for meals.
    What’s going to Mt. Whitney with you?

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Well I can tell you that cheesy biscuits are NOT within my paleo diet :-) I’ve been offered some help to make a paleo friendly version of this for next time so I’m excited about that.

      I like to think of myself as 100% paleo, 80% of the time. When I can control what I eat and plan ahead I aim to be 100% paleo. When I have limited choices or say in the situation I simply do my best. Eating on the trail is often a compromise, but I try to stay wit simple ingredients like nuts, veggies, quality beef jerky (home made) and fruit.

      I’m planning on putting together a list of my recent non-cooking food menu fror Whitney, so I’ll be sure to share that as soon as I have it written up.

      • Rick

        I was recently guiding with someone who lead a Paleo group, and he said they survived mostly on pemmican. Thoughts on this strategy? Does it melt?

        • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

          Pemmican consists of lean, dried meat (usually beef, but also bison, deer, and elk) which is dried then crushed to a powder and mixed with an equal amount of hot, rendered fat (usually beef tallow). Sometimes crushed, dried berries are added as well. The theory is that a person could subsist entirely on pemmican, drawing on the fat for energy and the protein for strength (and glucose, when needed). I believe this was polar with the Inuit.

          Pemmican will keep almost forever. Pure, dried protein and rendered (mostly saturated) fat are both highly stable, so I wouldn’t worry about it going rancid. If it does, you’ll know about it very quickly from the smell.

          I tried making it once and have to say that pemmican wasn’t exactly delicious. In fact, it tasted a bit like what I would expect dog food to taste like. Maybe I’ll try again and add some better flavors or spices, but I don’t think pemmican is meant to be eaten for pleasure. This is purely a utilitarian food, perfect for long treks through the wilderness. It gets the job done and that’s about all.

          I don’t think pemmican would be suitable for hot temperatures. The rendered fat content of the pemmican would become soft and possible start dripping, it could make for a complete and nasty mess. Not what you want when you’re hungry. Typically pemmican is used in colder climes where this is not a problem.

  • Diane Pinkers

    Hey, Brian, I’d be interested to hear more about your hiking diet eating Paleo. I’ve flirted with Paleo and Primal diets, but I”m not sure what to take on the trail for meals.
    What’s going to Mt. Whitney with you?

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    It SMELLED awesome Maggie! OMG – I don’t even eat this stuff any more but couldn’t resist at least trying it. Next step, making my own mix to carry on the trail :)

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Barb, I haven’t simply because they’re a single use item and sort of specialized. I’ll do some research and see if I can find a small size option – good suggestion and agree on the additional variables. My test bake was close to sea level at home – points well taken though. More testing needed :-)

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Well I can tell you that cheesy biscuits are NOT within my paleo diet :-) I’ve been offered some help to make a paleo friendly version of this for next time so I’m excited about that.

    I like to think of myself as 100% paleo, 80% of the time. When I can control what I eat and plan ahead I aim to be 100% paleo. When I have limited choices or say in the situation I simply do my best. Eating on the trail is often a compromise, but I try to stay wit simple ingredients like nuts, veggies, quality beef jerky (home made) and fruit.

    I’m planning on putting together a list of my recent non-cooking food menu fror Whitney, so I’ll be sure to share that as soon as I have it written up.

  • karla from colorado

    Nice! How great to have fresh baked goods on the trail!
    [Trivially and off subject, I watched the 90s movie 'Hook' last weekend and now I notice that your kids have the same names as Peter Pan's kids... :D ]

  • karla from colorado

    Nice! How great to have fresh baked goods on the trail!
    [Trivially and off subject, I watched the 90s movie 'Hook' last weekend and now I notice that your kids have the same names as Peter Pan's kids... :D ]

  • Snctool

    Brian, there is a much simpler method of baking on the trail as I have been using it for years now. You don’t need an extra pot and there is no cleanup but you do need an alcohol stove with simmer capability like the one I sent you to try (by the way you never did get back with me on that one). It doesn’t matter. The method I refer to is the Bakepacker method. Go to bakepacker .com for more info. I make a similar device myself and it works great. You place the device in the bottom of your pot. Fill the pot with water to the top of the device. Place your biscuit, muffin mix, omelet, cut up potatos with seasoning, etc. in a regular sandwich bag but do not seal. Set the bag on top of the bakepacker, place the top on the pot, light the stove, bring it to a boil and set the simmer ring on the stove. Approximately 40 minutes later you will enjoy a beautiful biscuit or muffin. Exactly 8 mins. later you will have a beautiful 2-egg omelet. You throw the sandwich bag away and voila there is no cleanup.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      The only reason I haven’t gotten back to you, or written up my post, is because I’ve been so busy. I have it on my list of blog posts to complete, and so far my tests with it have been great :)

      I’m way behind on things, but promise I’ll have it out soon. On a side note, the quality and finish of your hand-made stoves are far superior to anything else I’ve seen, not sure if I mentioned that.
      People are going to be blown away by the SNCTool stove system – hope you’re ready to accept orders on your website…

      Sneak Peak photo of the SNCTool top “jetted” alcohol stove.

      • Snctool

        Thanks for the update Brian. I have been very busy making the stove kits lately. The sneak peak photo of my stove does show superb fabrication if I do say so.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      I’ve never seen this or the bakepacker before – very cool!

  • Snctool

    Brian, there is a much simpler method of baking on the trail as I have been using it for years now. You don’t need an extra pot and there is no cleanup but you do need an alcohol stove with simmer capability like the one I sent you to try (by the way you never did get back with me on that one). It doesn’t matter. The method I refer to is the Bakepacker method. Go to bakepacker .com for more info. I make a similar device myself and it works great. You place the device in the bottom of your pot. Fill the pot with water to the top of the device. Place your biscuit, muffin mix, omelet, cut up potatos with seasoning, etc. in a regular sandwich bag but do not seal. Set the bag on top of the bakepacker, place the top on the pot, light the stove, bring it to a boil and set the simmer ring on the stove. Approximately 40 minutes later you will enjoy a beautiful biscuit or muffin. Exactly 8 mins. later you will have a beautiful 2-egg omelet. You throw the sandwich bag away and voila there is no cleanup.

  • Snctool

    Brian, I hope these pictures work of the bakepacker device I make.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      I see three photos, thanks for sharing. Now you’re gonna get everyone excited :)

  • Snctool

    Brian, I hope these pictures work of the bakepacker device I make.

  • Snctool

    Bakepacker device pistures.

    • Knotty

      Have you been able to compare your device with an actual Bakepacker? By not having the individual squares that go down into the water, I’d guess that you don’t get the “heat pipe” effect the Bakepacker claims to use. Still, if yours bakes, then it bakes.

      • Snctool

        Knotty, my device bakes like a dream. I have not had a true bakepacker in hand or ever used one.

  • Snctool

    Bakepacker device pistures.

  • Knotty

    Brian, great to see you had success with this method. Even better that it can be accomplished with just one Esbit tablet! Despite being slow, it would be nice to have some fresh baked goods now and again when on the trail so I’ll have to give it a try.

    The Bakepacker method also looks interesting and perhaps more flexible but I’m guessing the trade-off is it will need more fuel. Would love it if someone can try the Bakepacker with Esbit to compare.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      To be fair, Steve at SNCTool send me the most exquisite alcohol stove that I have ever seen (he makes them himself) but I haven’t had time to test it and write up my results – it just got bumped up on my list. I think an Esbit comparison with the bakepacker would be cool too.

  • Knotty

    Brian, great to see you had success with this method. Even better that it can be accomplished with just one Esbit tablet! Despite being slow, it would be nice to have some fresh baked goods now and again when on the trail so I’ll have to give it a try.

    The Bakepacker method also looks interesting and perhaps more flexible but I’m guessing the trade-off is it will need more fuel. Would love it if someone can try the Bakepacker with Esbit to compare.

  • Knotty

    Have you been able to compare your device with an actual Bakepacker? By not having the individual squares that go down into the water, I’d guess that you don’t get the “heat pipe” effect the Bakepacker claims to use. Still, if yours bakes, then it bakes.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    The only reason I haven’t gotten back to you, or written up my post, is because I’ve been so busy. I have it on my list of blog posts to complete, and so far my tests with it have been great :)

    I’m way behind on things, but promise I’ll have it out soon. On a side note, the quality and finish of your hand-made stoves are far superior to anything else I’ve seen, not sure if I mentioned that.
    People are going to be blown away by the SNCTool stove system – hope you’re ready to accept orders on your website…

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    I’ve never seen this or the bakepacker before – very cool!

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    I see three photos, thanks for sharing. Now you’re gonna get everyone excited :)

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    To be fair, Steve at SNCTool send me the most exquisite alcohol stove that I have ever seen (he makes them himself) but I haven’t had time to test it and write up my results – it just got bumped up on my list. I think an Esbit comparison with the bakepacker would be cool too.

  • Snctool

    Knotty, my device bakes like a dream. I have not had a true bakepacker in hand or ever used one.

  • Snctool

    Thanks for the update Brian. I have been very busy making the stove kits lately. The sneak peak photo of my stove does show superb fabrication if I do say so.

  • http://sticksblog.com/ Chad “Stick” Poindexter

    Great job Brian, and of course, another awesome write up! Thanks for sharing…
    I need to see if I can get some baking done on my Caldera Cone…Heck, the way I see it, this can be going once I get to camp while I am getting everything else sorted…
    Also, did you use a bit of water inside the 1.3L pot?

  • http://sticksblog.com/ Chad "Stick" Poindexter

    Great job Brian, and of course, another awesome write up! Thanks for sharing…
    I need to see if I can get some baking done on my Caldera Cone…Heck, the way I see it, this can be going once I get to camp while I am getting everything else sorted…
    Also, did you use a bit of water inside the 1.3L pot?

  • http://twitter.com/We_GetOutside Mike And Cal

    I bake on the trail using an Evernew pot, a bit of tinfoil, and the coals from our fire (http://wegetoutside.ca/2011/06/recipe-mixed-berry-crisp/). I find, with a bit of trial and error, that I can bake without burning anything, provided I let the coals burn down sufficiently, and then arrange them around the pot evenly. However, it’s not always practical or safe to burn wood, so your option is rather appealing :) However, I am going to have to acquire the right set-up now, LOL, since we generally boil water on a pocketrocket.

  • http://twitter.com/OutdoorBlogging Mike And Cal

    I bake on the trail using an Evernew pot, a bit of tinfoil, and the coals from our fire (http://wegetoutside.ca/2011/06/recipe-mixed-berry-crisp/). I find, with a bit of trial and error, that I can bake without burning anything, provided I let the coals burn down sufficiently, and then arrange them around the pot evenly. However, it’s not always practical or safe to burn wood, so your option is rather appealing :) However, I am going to have to acquire the right set-up now, LOL, since we generally boil water on a pocketrocket.

  • Rick

    I was recently guiding with someone who lead a Paleo group, and he said they survived mostly on pemmican. Thoughts on this strategy? Does it melt?

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Pemmican consists of lean, dried meat (usually beef, but also bison, deer, and elk) which is dried then crushed to a powder and mixed with an equal amount of hot, rendered fat (usually beef tallow). Sometimes crushed, dried berries are added as well. The theory is that a person could subsist entirely on pemmican, drawing on the fat for energy and the protein for strength (and glucose, when needed). I believe this was polar with the Inuit.

    Pemmican will keep almost forever. Pure, dried protein and rendered (mostly saturated) fat are both highly stable, so I wouldn’t worry about it going rancid. If it does, you’ll know about it very quickly from the smell.

    I tried making it once and have to say that pemmican wasn’t exactly delicious. In fact, it tasted a bit like what I would expect dog food to taste like. Maybe I’ll try again and add some better flavors or spices, but I don’t think pemmican is meant to be eaten for pleasure. This is purely a utilitarian food, perfect for long treks through the wilderness. It gets the job done and that’s about all.

    I don’t think pemmican would be suitable for hot temperatures. The rendered fat content of the pemmican would become soft and possible start dripping, it could make for a complete and nasty mess. Not what you want when you’re hungry. Typically pemmican is used in colder climes where this is not a problem.

  • Jon Fong

    Brian – thanks for the write up! Our method of dry baking produces crusty bread. To do this, the surface of the bread must reach a temperature of at least 325 F in order to caramelize the sugars in the flour. Water based baking will not reach these temperatures. Best regards – Jon

  • Jon Fong

    Brian – thanks for the write up! Our method of dry baking produces crusty bread. To do this, the surface of the bread must reach a temperature of at least 325 F in order to caramelize the sugars in the flour. Water based baking will not reach these temperatures. Best regards – Jon