Backpacking with Bread

Backpacking and camping trips require creativity to create meals that are both delicious and satisfying, but also quick and convenient. Often, however, the quality of bread or baked goods on these trips is compromised for durability and ease of packing. This usually means that poor quality tortillas and crackers are standard fare when out in the backcountry. Last week I was backpacking and climbing in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range of southeastern Colorado. When planning for the trip I made it an imperative to bring good quality bread along with me that was both nourishing and would stay fresh for the entire week that I was out. I also wanted to bake something that was appropriately ‘summer’-ish.

Thus, I settled upon a unique cornbread recipe. It is distinctive in that it requires yeast and no quick rising agent. It looks, feels, and tastes more like and actual bread than the traditional cake-like cornbreads. It also uses a combination of fresh corn kernels and cornmeal to provide a distinctively corn-rich flavor. In addition, a healthy dose of honey, eggs, and olive oil keep the dough sweet, rich, and light. I decided on this recipe because it is baked in a loaf pan and is relatively resilient to the rough handling and vagaries that accompany a backpacking trip. Its squat, brick form nestled well in my backpack among my warm layers and sleeping bag. To keep it fresh for the entirety of the trip I wrapped it tightly in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil. I also baked a loaf of the sweet rye bread that I made in an earlier posting. Sliced and spread thickly with almond butter, this made the perfect trail lunch on a high mountain ridge. These two breads brought a touch of home baking to the mountains that I would have dearly missed otherwise. I am happy to report that backpacking and bread can and do go harmoniously together.

The following cornbread recipe is adapted from Maggie Glezer’s Artisan Baking Across America. I used King Arthur all-purpose flour, which has a higher protein content than most all-purpose flours. You can use bread flour by another company for a comparable protein content.

Yeasted Corn Bread

Yield: one 9 x 5-inch bread pan

125 g all-purpose flour (King Arthur)
4 g instant yeast
125 g water, lukewarm

Combine the flour and yeast in a bowl. Mix in the water in until thoroughly combined in a thick batter. Cover the poolish and let rest at room temperature until light and bubbly, about 2 hours.

Final Dough:
109 g water, lukewarm
Fermented poolish
248 g all-purpose flour (King Arthur)
93 g stone-ground yellow or white cornmeal
110 g fresh corn kernels (~1 medium ear)
1 large egg
26 g honey
13 g olive oil
9 g salt

Add the water to the poolish and stir to loosen it.

Combine the flour, cornmeal, and corn in a bowl. Add the poolish-water, the egg, honey, and oil to the flour mixture. Stir the dough until roughly combined. Continue to knead the dough until soft and sticky. Add the salt and knead until it is dissolved and the dough is smooth and tight.

Place the dough in an oiled container or bowl and cover tightly. Let the dough ferment until it is light, well-risen, and doubled in bulk. This should take about 1.5 hours.

Butter and flour a 9×5-inch baking pan. Generously flour a work surface and, using a rolling pin, gently roll out the dough into a rectangle ¼ inch thick, pressing out all the bubbles. Fold two opposite sides of the rectangle into the center, letting the overlap by about one inch. Roll out the dough again so that it is as wide from folded edge to folded edge as the baking pan. Moisten your hands with water and lightly pat the dough so that the surface is slightly tacky. Roll the dough up, keeping the folded ends on either side. Pinch the seam to form a sealed cylinder. Place the cylinder seam side down in the prepared pan. Cover the pan tightly and let the dough proof until risen significantly (either to the crest of the pan or over it), about 2 hours.

About half and hour before the breads are fully proofed, preheat the oven to 350 °F. If desired for a shiny, browned crust, beat another egg until well blended and brush the tops of the loaves with it before placing in the oven. Bake the breads until well browned, 50 to 60 minutes. Remove the breads from the pans and let them cool on a rack.

A half-eaten loaf at the campsite.


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