Sailors, survivalists, and hikers have been eating pilot bread and other long-lasting dense breads for quite some time–although I confess that I’ve never found much of a taste for it myself. You need a lot of confidence in your dentist to eat the stuff, and it’s really more of a cracker. Why anyone calls it “bread” is beyond me–much like calling pork rinds “food” or calling Coors Light “beer.”
Now bringing real bread on the trail, that’s a different story. Bagels are often the choice, since they last a long time and don’t tend to get crushed. But the thought of baking a real loaf seems even better. And since camp ovens are way too gimmicky and impractical, the frybake is clearly the tool of choice.
One can certainly make the dough at home, let it rise, and then wrap in plastic and hit the trail. Or you can do the whole thing in the backcountry with a little bit of planning. Just be sure to do the messy prep away from your tent if you are in bear country!
There are lots of bread recipes out there, but this one has worked well for us. As with most breads, we first mixed the yeast in warm water, then mixed in sugar, oil, and salt. Then we mixed in the flour, kneaded it into a soft ball, placed it in a covered bowl, and let it rise for an hour and a half (sit it near the fire if it’s cool out or if you want to speed things up). Then we kneaded it briefly a second time and put it in the frybake for a second rise (patience is key in backcountry cooking, eh?). Finally, we baked it for 30 minutes (14 coals on top, 7 on the bottom).
The very top got a little brown–but it was pretty evenly cooked. And it took about the same amount of time as bread we’ve done in the oven at home.
Some final notes: in addition to a large bowl, bring a lightweight bendable plastic cutting board and find a flat rock or some level ground; you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to work with the dough. And you’ll be pleased at the notion that backcountry clean-up of any loose flour basically means “wait for rain.”
Obviously this isn’t a recipe for bad weather, or if you are in a hurry. But it’s fun to make, gives you something to do after you sucker everyone else into gathering firewood, and it tastes a lot better than pilot bread!