Bake Your Own Bread! Are You Nuts? – Our Coleman Camp Oven

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Some of you have seen this image on Instagram: our first homemade bread, fresh from our brand-new Coleman Oven (find it here). It was a success, and ever since we have regularly baked bread.

Why would we want to bake our own bread, you may ask? And why after ten years on the road? If there’s one thing available in most countries, it’s bread. Right?

For bread you need stores and for stores you need to be a village/town. Often we camp in the countryside and thus can’t buy fresh bread. Starting in Greece (2003) we learned to stock up on (multigrain-kind-of) biscuits, a reasonable alternative to bread, but when got to the subcontinent (Pakistan/India/Bangladesh), we found only those super-sweet varieties.

From Indian Chapattis to Brazilian Beijus

In India we decided it was time to make our own bread, the local version that is: chapattis. In Pakistan we had bought a dough roller (find them here) and a flat, iron griddle (find them here) to stir-fry food over a wood fire. One of our hosts in India gave us a cooking lesson and we subsequently baked fresh chapattis on a daily basis.

Making chapattis is as easy as it can get. Mix flour with water until you get the right substance, make thin patties of them and bake them on the griddle. They are delicious when fresh and still warm, but turn dry and hard as stone when stored for the next day. We got fed up doing that every morning and the whole plan was abolished after a couple of weeks or months.

Our next attempt of preparing some kind of fresh breakfast came years later, in Brazil. We love tapiocas: small pancakes of tapioca flour (a specific kind of manioc/cassava flour). We watched vendors prepare them in their street stall and it looked easy enough: sieve the tapioca, sprinkle a handful of the flour in a hot, dry frying pan, top it with sweet or salty toppings, and there you go.

You can read the long story on this exploration here but to cut it short: We bought a sieve (find them here), dug up the frying pan (find here) that we hardly used and enthusiastically set to work. However, our attempts initially led to a handful of burning tapioca grains and not much else. We sought a cooking lesson from local friends and learned making the proper flour isn’t as evident as it looks. We did learn to make reasonable tapiocas after a lot of practice, but truth be told, we found it too much work to do on a daily basis.

Needing it or Not Needing it, That’s the Question

Meanwhile Coen had read about the Coleman Camp Oven. The discussion on buying one or not had been going on and off for the past 8 years or so.

When it comes to buying stuff it generally goes like this:

Coen, our gadget guy, has the idea. “Why don’t we buy product X, Y, or Z?”

KM, who likes an uncluttered car and is totally not into gadgets, immediately resists, retorts with an autopilot response, “We don’t have space,” and, “We don’t need it.”

This discussion goes back and forth for a while, which gives us time to think about it. Sometimes we buy something which indeed turns out to be a waste of money and/or space and gets thrown out rather quickly, while at other times the purchase has been well worth the money and space it takes in the vehicle.

The purchase of our Futura Pressure Cooker (find it here) was one of these typical discussion rituals that lasted months, eight years ago in India, and turned out to be one of our best cooking equipment we ever bought.

Why Buy the Coleman Oven?

With the Coleman Camp Oven (find it here) the discussion was a bit different as it wasn’t a total ‘yes’ from Coen nor a rigorous ‘no’ from me. We both hesitated. Hence not the discussion for weeks or months, but years. Were we going to use it at all? How much space did it take for the few times we might use it? Our food schedule has generally consisted of eating local (white) bread for breakfast, taking lunch at a restaurant and skipping dinner or eating a noodle soup.

First of all, we were fed up with the South American white bread rolls, which are often tasty enough when fresh but are empty of nutrition, as well as the so-called whole-wheat bread from supermarkets that are so filled with god-knows-what, and that are so gummy you can roll the bread into a ball and play with it for weeks on end.

Second, during our annual visit to the Netherlands Coen brought me to an outdoor cooking store. We needed to buy a thermos (find it here) and a set of stainless-steel camping cookware (find it here) to replace the more-than-forty-year-old aluminum version my parents took on their first camping trips.

This shop also had the Coleman oven and I had to admit, yep, in its folded state it doesn’t take much space. Space was no longer the argument. So how about whether we were going to use it? Neither of us could answer that. As the oven cost a very reasonable 65 euros, we figured it wouldn’t hurt to buy it and try it out for a year. If it didn’t work, we could sell it on E-bay next year.

Additional Needs

Having said that, only an oven is not enough. You need baking molds. The oven came with one grate, which is an inefficient use of time and heat so we bought a second. And on that grate you can’t put cookies and I don’t want to use aluminum foil each time so we bought two silicone sheets. The extra grill and silicone sheets fit in the box.

The baking molds (find them here) are used to keep the baked bread in so they won’t fall apart driving bumpy roads. So, all in all, it doesn’t take up too much space. The extra bowl we bought to knead the dough in (as our pans are too small for that) has turned out to be multipurpose as well.

Back on the Road

The oven stayed hidden in the bowels of the Land Cruiser for a while because neither of us really had a clue what to do with it. Until we reached Cusco and met Johan and Christa (their website) on the Quinta Lala Campsite. Christa had been a chef at her own restaurant in Switzerland for years and has always baked her bread, including while on the road. They have a Coleman oven as well. So with an expert on baking bread in the same oven as ours, Coen was a happy man.

Christa gave us a list of ingredients, we bought them, and we had a fun instruction morning.

Baking Bread in a Coleman Camp Oven

Whole-wheat flour is practically non-existent in Peru (and most of South America). Locals use white flour. Later on, I found (expensive) whole-wheat flour Lima’s organic stores/markets.

Christa pointed out while you can’t find whole-wheat flour, salvado de trigo is a common product, which is the husk of the wheat. In this manner we can sort of create our own whole-wheat/multi-grain version by combining the two, plus a number of other ingredients.

For our first bread we used:

  • 2 cups harina (white flour)
  • 1/2 cup salvado de trigo
  • 1/4 cup avena (oats)
  • 1/8 cup cebada (barley)
  • 7 grams yeast
  • 7 grams salt
  • 1 cup tepid water
  • a handful of crushed nuts and seeds

Coen followed Christa’s instructions:

  • Put the yeast inside a cup of tepid water and set it aside.
  • Mix all ingredients in a bowl except the salt in a bowl. Put it so that it looks like a ‘volcano’.
  • Spread the salt evenly along the outside border.
  • Pour the yeasty fluid inside the crater of the ‘volcano’ and slowly stir with one finger trying to leave the salt untouched for as long as possible.
  • Knead for 20 minutes or so.
  • Cover the bowl with a towel and let it rise in a warm, wind-free spot until it doubles in size.
  • Take out the dough, knead it six times by folding it outside in. Put it in a baking form and let it rise again until it doubles in size once more.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (Fahrenheit), bake the bread for 25 minutes in the middle shelf.
  • Take the bread out of the baking form and put it upside down on the grate to color the top for 5 minutes.

The bread should sound hollow when you knock on it.

Challenge: Keeping a Steady Temperature

The oven fits on our Coleman 424 stove (find it here). Johan and Christa like baking on a campfire or BBQ and put coals on top of the oven. One of the difficult issues of this oven is to get the heat evenly divided. You easily burn the bottom of whatever you’re cooking, while the top stays white. Whereas a bread is easy to turn around for the last couple of minutes, this is less evident with a cake or potato dish. 

Later we read that putting a ceramic tile or pizza stone at the bottom of the oven may help spread the heat more evenly in the oven. That may be a next on our list of purchases.

Keeping the oven at the right temperature is a challenge for those who depend on cooking outdoors. When it’s cold but especially windy, it is hard to keep the temperature constant. It’s best to secure a spot void of changes in wind or temperature. At one place, high on the Chilean altiplano, we baked inside the Land Cruiser instead, converting the vehicle into a sauna in the process.

So there it is: our story of baking our bread. We enjoy doing it and love eating it. It doesn’t appear to be another whim, like the previous bread-baking attempts, but time will tell.

By the way, here is more on what we like – and dislike – about our Coleman Stove.

(Originally published in 2013 / updated in 2017)

For more on Cooking Equipment, check out these articles:

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Thank you for your support — Karin-Marijke & Coen

18 thoughts on “Bake Your Own Bread! Are You Nuts? – Our Coleman Camp Oven

  1. Funny, we have exactly the same discussions about every additional item in our camper and the Coleman oven has been sitting in the back of the van for about two weeks now – we still haven’t used it. Seems like the bread will be the first thing we make, thanks for the recipe.

    • I’ll post my ultimate brown bread recipe when I have figured it out. You’ll love it. If you have specific questions after your initial try, don’t hesitate to ask. One thing to remember. The oven needs a flame in the centre under it. For some this is not that evident 😉 and the grate has to sit in the middle option for most recipies, so also the bread. If you tried other stuff, let us know how they turn out and what the recipe is.

  2. I have owned one of these coleman oven for years, mainly for making bread, but without much succes. Hate the way the oven doesn’t really fit on the stove. The flame is either to much to one side and will not heat the oven properly or, if you position the hole of the oven directly over the flame the oven almost falls of. I own a coleman 424, one of the best things I ever bought.
    I have never really succeeded in getting nice bread from my coleman. Somehow the temperature gage gives the wrong temperature, on my first try i even burned my latex/silicone baking form to a crispy black. I can asure you, it was not tasty.
    Lately i discovered you can perfectly bake potato’s in the coleman, as long as you use a heavy pan or thick glass bowl. Just put little oil, your potato’s and some rosemary. Stir ocasionally and after 30 to 40 minutes you have delicious potatos. You could even mix some minced meat or, at the end, some cheese or feta.
    Coen and KM, enjoy the bread. Just as you, here in Mali its hard to find whole wheat flour, so I am interested in all your recipies.

    • I have no problem setting the oven over the 424. It looks a bit odd at first, but looks stable to me. For the temperature gauge, I agree, in different circumstances it will give different readings, that’s why I guess it’s called not a temperature gauge, but it says heat indicator. When there is much wind things can look completely different. Also when some big item is blocking the indicator.
      On the silicone I have noticed you shouldn’t get it to hot, it will even say on the form, but for baking bread that should be okay. Make sure you put your rack on the middle position and not on the lowest point!
      I’ll be sharing my ultimate bread recipe soon.

  3. I’ve had good luck with a GSI anodized aluminum Dutch oven with the aluminized Backpackers Pantry Pot 12″ Parka over it. It keeps the moisture in for first part of bake. The bread sitting in a pan off the bottom on a rack. For last ten mins. take lid off and just let heat coming inside Parka brown the top. The Aluminum dutch oven transmits the heat around bread fast, evenly, and with less flame needed. I then can use the Dutch oven for many other cooking chores including over coals outside, or frying meats and eggs on inside of it’s non stick lid on stove or over fire. Rack and Parka go inside along with some other pans for storage. And much lighter then cast iron. With a little water in bottom, two frozen TV dinners cross stacked on rack are done in 20 min. for fast road meals. I had a Coleman oven, just seemed to waste a lot of heat and took too long to heat up on my camper’s propane stove, wasting a lot of fuel. And, then was only good for baking. The Anodized aluminum surface is harder then stainless steel, near bullet proof.

    • Hello Mike, I have looked into those Parka’s before and I think they are awesome for on the trail. Your setup sounds cool and it works perfect for you. We started out with a powerful Coleman stove which generates way more heat then the general camper propane stoves. So that was our basis, from there on I think the Coleman oven makes perfect sense.
      I think that if we were having an indoor propane setup we would maybe be less enthusiastic about the oven and would have evolved more like you have. We haven’t been in touch with much Dutch oven users and while we have tried some basic pot-in-a-campfire recipes, we have opted for a pressure cooker [ours is also anodized!]. Camping in high altitudes and little wood around for us makes the choice for a pressure cooker more obvious. And since space is always an issue we don’t want to add something that we would barely use… for now. You know things change and as we are driving around South America now we don’t find the need, but that might change if we are driving in another continent…

      While looking for more information, I just came across another neat thing, the Bemco Backpacker Oven and there was another thing in combination with your Parka that I looked into a year ago, but can’t find anymore. These are all backpacking related, but so cool.

      Thank you for putting another angle to this story.

    • This is what it looks like from Camp Chef site, link below. The Backpackers Pantry “Parka’ is much smaller in diameter then Camp Chefs “dome”, which makes it easier to center on camper burners. This could be a challenge on Coleman’s smaller size??? I do use the steel diffuser, and folding legs with the smaller 10″ GSI aluminum dutch oven for pies, flat breads, biscuits and scones, or Irish soda breads that don’t rise much, because of it’s reduced height, and it does not have the “legs”, making it double as regular pot for pasta etc. The smaller bread size is plenty for solo or two campers, keeps me from eating too much 🙂 So, I have on board one non-stick light weight pot for everything. from baking to frying in the nice GSI 11″x4″ padded case.
      . My experience is that the Aluminum dutch oven works much better for baking then the cast iron, seems to distribute the heat around better without burning bread bottoms. Just did some scones with an experiment of not taking the top off and just turned heat off last 10 mins. browned on top just fine. Just a little steam exited when lid lifted, may have to do with moistness of dough? Didn’t seem to get the steaming effect at all? I lay an oven thermometer on top of oven and can see it through hole of parka, gets to 425 degrees in 15 mins. on medium flame.

      http://lghttp.16485.nexcesscdn.net/808325/mage/media/catalog/product/cache/1/image/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/d/o/docover-lines.jpg

      Photos of set up:

      http://www.keepandshare.com/userpics/1/8/0/p/ilot/2014-09/sm/imag0166-3420037.jpg?ts=1410204334

      http://www.keepandshare.com/userpics/1/8/0/p/ilot/2014-09/sm/imag0165-31986712.jpg?ts=1410204334

  4. Bemco 9″ is interesting, but sheet aluminum looses heat fast, and a little on small size, would like to try one inside. Says it will get to 500 degrees in 90 secs.????? anyone seen a verify on that?

    • OBTW, ditto on the pressure cooker, my 4 quart Presto SS’s (have 2), are always in service, love 6 min stews….from frozen meat and veggies….

  5. camped with this oven in 1965 while roaming the jungles of Yucatan in my almost faithful 1947 willys…baked a chicken for christmas at the foot of the pyramid steps at Tikal…had to turn it over once, but what the hey…great camping add on …

  6. I use the coleman oven cooking for hunting camps. I first make a shelf with camping wire, then wrap the whole oven in foil to close all the holes. than put a small skillet or tile in bottom of oven to hold heat and even the temp. breads come out brown on top and brown on bottom. I use a oven temp gauge and bake at 400. good luck

  7. I live in the Philippines and only have a two-burner gas stove. I missed being able to bake and could not afford to buy a “real” oven. I saved up and bought my Coleman oven (cost two-weeks salary).

    The first time I tried baking (brownies) I found the oven burned the bottom of the food before the the cooking was completed. I put this down to too much radiant heat from the bottom of the oven.

    To solve this problem, I bought a 20cm x 20cm ceramic tile that I positioned inside on the bottom of the oven. This worked well and now I get a good even heat throughout the oven when cooking.

    My oven is now mainly used for cakes and roasts.

    • Thank you Richard, for that excellent idea. I’ve read it before somewhere and although we don’t have too much of a problem with the problem you are describing, it might help other people that read your comment.

  8. The main design difference between the Coleman oven and the natural gas oven in my home is insulation. Many web posts talk about uneven heating in the Coleman, and the lack of insulation may be the reason. I insulated my Coleman using a water heater blanket which is fiberglass encapsulated in aluminum. Cut into the shape of an inverted T, it covers the top and sides with the leg of the T folding over the back. It is about 1″ thick and held onto the oven with 4 metal spring clips, one on each corner. Aluminum foil tape seals all edges. Slits are cut in the top for the vent and carry handle. I don’t have as much experience as you and your friends cooking with the Coleman, but this insulation seems to help a lot.
    Love your web site!

    • Hello Keith, that sounds like a wonderful idea. I will look into that as well. Any way to share an image of the spring clips and how those hold onto the oven?

      • I used stainless office paper binder clips. Not elegant, but simple, secure, and cheap. The clips on the back hold the two edges (side panel to back panel) of the insulated blanket together, and the two clips on the front attach the side insulation panels to the vertical ribs of the oven. Sorry, but I don’t know how to post pictures on this forum, but I can reply to an email with an attached photo that you may post

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