Baking Bread without Power
Bread is the staff of life, so they say, and it’s no wonder. Bread provides pure carbohydrate calories which translate into energy for the body. The density and calories in bread also make it filling, an important aspect in survival settings. Maybe just as important is the comforting aspect of bread: fresh and warm makes most things better.
It’s commonplace to store grains as part of an emergency plan or food storage. While grains like wheat kernels will store for dozens of years if kept dry, the challenge of preparing is to be able to make bread from the stored grains.
How do you use that grain if you don’t have gas or electricity in your home to cook? How do you bake bread without electricity?
Those are questions my father-in-law, Dan Weatbrook, Sr. has asked for years.
Here are some considerations:
Store flour and grains. Some advise against storing ground flour because of its short shelf life-about a year for optimal freshness and nutrition. When ground flour goes bad, it will smell and taste rancid. Whole wheat flour has an even shorter shelf life because the entire wheat kernel, which includes some oil, is ground to make whole wheat flour.
However, it’s important to store some flour. Having ground flour on hand will make the early days of a survival situation more convenient. Of course, wheat and other grains are absolutely essential to store. Wheat and other grains can have a long shelf life (30+ years) if they are kept in a relatively cool, dry area (below 70 degrees is recommended) so you can make bread when the power goes out.
Eat whole grains as part of your normal diet. If you don’t have allergies to wheat, be certain to incorporate whole wheat into your family’s regular diet. Whole wheat is more nutritious than white flour because it provides complex carbohydrates, fiber, and other nutrients.
That being said, whole wheat can be harder to digest than white flour if you aren’t used to eating it. And, children may balk at fare they’re not used to. Using your stored wheat in everyday life makes using whole wheat in an emergency situation one less uncertainty to deal with. Be it unemployment or the aftermath of a hurricane, eating familiar food makes a disaster less disastrous.
Store a hand grinder. Because whole wheat and other grains have a long shelf life, they become the backbone of your food storage preparations. Grains can be soaked and cooked to make cereals, sprouted for salads, and even toasted, but in order to turn grain into bread it needs to be milled into flour.
A hand grinder is an essential prepper tool and it’s a good idea to buy and use a hand grinder before a real need ever arises. The first time Dan made bread without electricity from stored wheat with the grandkids, it took nearly ten hours! This cooking experience was one of the experiences that led Dan to perfect his rocket stove and rocket oven!
Store leavening, salt, and vital wheat gluten. Rising agents like yeast, baking powder, and baking soda make the difference between choking down a lumpy paste of flour and water and biting into a fluffy biscuit.Yeast, baking powder, and baking soda have long shelf lives.
It doesn’t take much salt to add to a bread recipe, but the difference of a bread with and without salt is incredible. Salt also has a long shelf life.
Of course, this entire process of cooking with wheat brings shivers down the spines of people with gluten intolerances, and adding vital wheat gluten to the mix only adds insult to injury. But for the wheat-eaters out there, vital wheat gluten gives whole wheat bread the right amount of elasticity to raise and cook better.
So, How are You Going to Cook this Bread without Power?
Most preppers have made arrangements for several methods of cooking: gas grills, charcoal grills, propane stoves, camp stoves, and fire pits top the list. Luckily, bread cooking in an emergency lends itself to a variety of cooking techniques:
Griddle top. Pancakes, flatbread, and tortillas can all be easily cooked with dry heat from a griddle top. Even a hot rock in a fire would work. These are simple breads but a hot meal means everything. Griddle tops can be on rocket stoves, camp stoves, and even campfires.
Frying. Nothing beats hot scones, fry bread, or sopapillas deep fried in oil. Store oils like refined peanut, soybean and safflower oils which have high smoke points. Livestrong explains that oils will degrade if heated above their smoke points and each time an oil is reused, its smoke point lowers. Livestrong explains oil can be reused if it is stored properly.
By straining used oil into a glass jar through a cheesecloth or coffee filter and storing it in the refrigerator or freezer, it can stay good for up to a month. The oil may become cloudy in the refrigerator or freezer, explains the healthy living website, but will clear at room temperature. “Never reuse oil if it foamed or changed color during heating, or if it has an odd odor or smells like the food you cooked,” warns Livestrong, as the oils may have degraded and harbor bacteria.
Boiling. A simple pot of water over a fire or campstove can be the easiest way to cook bread without electricity. Dumplings in soup are an excellent example of bready-goodness baked without an oven. Bagels and pretzels are also cooked via boiling. They can be finished in the oven to given them a crust or fried in a little oil afterward to crisp the crust if an oven isn’t available.
Steam. Create a steam tent in your firepit and bread dough can be steamed overnight in small containers like tin cans. Your great-grandma’s famous carrot puddings were made by steaming the bread pudding in mason jars in the canner, a recipe that usually took over 4 hours to produce the wonderful results.
If you’re still uncertain about steaming bread, think Chinese stuffed buns. A bamboo steamer set in a pot of boiling water produces perfect, yummy results.
Dutch ovens. If you have charcoal, you’re all set to cook whatever you want in the dutch oven. Bread and rolls turn out incredible in the dutch oven. It’s important to start out with hot, ashen-colored coals. Use coals both on the top and bottom of the dutch oven, typically with more coals on top than on the bottom.
Dutch oven food tastes fabulous, but there is typically a learning curve to getting your bread to turn out successfully. Your family won’t mind one bit if you practice making homemade dutch oven rolls for them!
Traditional ovens (and, of course, rocket stoves!) Tandori ovens, earthen ovens, and brick ovens create the ideal environment for baking bread. These are cooking methods you’ll want to have in place before they are needed for an emergency, but the results of wood-fired bread are well-worth the preparations!
A rocket stove is a wood-burning stove with an interior elbow heating unit. Rocket stoves are very energy efficient and easy to use in situations where fossil fuel and electricity are not available. Because they burn wood or brush, the fuel is more readily available.
You can cook almost anything that requires stovetop cooking on a rocket stove. Since they easily burn twigs, leaves, and wood debris--all readily available after severe storms or earthquakes, rocket stoves are a resourceful solution to survival cooking. The Bear River Rocket Stoves are unique in that they are designed to cook for a crowd with maximum efficiency. Two of the rocket stove models even have ovens! Temperature gauges help monitor the heat of the rocket ovens, allowing for the most kitchen-like experience you can have while cooking outdoors.
Consider Your (Fuel) Source
Each of these methods of cooking bread without electricity will require an alternative fuel source. Propane, charcoal, and camp fuels can be limited. Firewood can be easier to find, especially considering storms usually produce debris that can be used as firewood. Because of the efficient air flow in rocket stoves, they use less firewood than any other wood-burning cooking method.
Learning to bake bread without power might just become your newest hobby!
There’s something well, fun, about cooking without power. Whether you plan a long weekend in the mountains to cook on a backpacking stove or over an open fire, or simply fire up the barbeque in the backyard, being able to cook off grid is definitely an adventure.
Stacie Draper Weatbrook makes a mean wood-fired pizza in the brick oven her husband, Dan Jr., built.