A Forest School activity you can do anywhere
Cooking bread on a stick over a campfire is a great Forest School activity that’s suitable for almost any age. The recipe is both super-simple and versatile, catering for vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free diets, while also allowing lots of scope to adapt and add ingredients for a more decadent treat.
Call it Damper bread, Bannock bread, or just plain bread twists, you can cook this over a campfire or barbeque in minutes, and it makes a fantastic (and slightly healthier) alternative to toasting marshmallows with kids.
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A simple damper bread recipe
The recipe for this campfire bread is so simple that it’s difficult to be sure where it originated, since most cultures have some form of simple flatbread in their repertoire, and at some point in their history would have cooked over open fires.
I was taught to make it at Forest Schools here in the UK, and when we cook this bread as a twist on a stick, we tend to use the Australian name of damper bread (after the simple bread cooked by bushmen). Australian damper bread was (and is) traditionally often cooked in a pan or buried in the ashes of the fire to cook, in a round, flat shape, rather than on a stick.
You can still use those methods with this recipe. For me, though, making campfire bread on a stick gives you a more interesting-shaped bread and is a much more social activity. Especially when cooking with kids!
Is campfire damper bread unleavened bread?
Incidentally, some people think of this as an unleavened bread because it contains no yeast. This is not strictly accurate, however, if the recipe uses (as most do) self-raising flour. Self-raising flour contains baking powder, which is a leavening agent – just not a yeasty one!
You could try making this campfire bread with plain flour instead, if you want it to be a true unleavened flat bread. I have to say, though, that the way the bread puffs up around the stick and goes all soft and fluffy under the crust is a big part of why kids love it!
Instructions for making campfire bread on a stick
Makes enough for 6 – 8 bread twists
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 10 – 20 minutes
- 1 mug-full of self-raising flour
- Pinch of salt
- 1 – 2 tablespoons of olive oil (or oil of your choice).
- approximately 250ml of water
The olive oil in this list is actually not essential – the recipe will work perfectly well with just water. But I find it is a little bland with just those three ingredients. So I like to include the oil to make it more tasty while still keeping it dairy-free and vegan.
Adding butter instead of oil, and/or milk instead of water are also ways to improve the taste. However I avoid these ingredients when making it for a forest school group, to avoid unnecessarily limiting who can eat it.
Optional extra ingredients
- Herbs or spices (for example, thyme, rosemary, cinnamon)
- 1 – 2 tablespoons of sugar (use as well as salt. You can use brown sugar for a more ‘caramel’ taste)
- 1 – 2 tablespoon of butter (use instead of oil)
- Milk (use instead of the water)
- Dried fruit, sultanas, olives, chocolate chips or other ‘chunky’ extras!
Directions for making the dough
1. Mix together your dry ingredients (flour, salt, and any herbs or spices if you are using these) with your oil, and a little bit of water. Add your water gradually to bring it to a dough. You want a consistency that is firm enough to knead.
If using butter instead of oil, you will need to rub the mix between your fingers to make a crumble, before bringing it together with water to make a kneadable dough ball.
2. Knead your dough for around five to ten minutes. The more you knead it, the lighter and fluffier the end bread is likely to be. During kneading, fold in any extra ‘chunky’ ingredients if you are adding dried fruit, olives, or similar, and make sure they get evenly distributed through the dough as you work it.
3. Once the dough is needed to your satisfaction, you can put it to one side while you sort out the fire and your cooking sticks.
Preparing your fire
You’ll need an open fire (a campfire or barbeque are both good) to cook your bread, plus sticks to cook it on. At my forest school, we cook this over a very large fire pit that’s big enough for lots of kids to sit around at once. However I’ve also cooked it with just one or two children using a kelly kettle, so you don’t necessarily need a big fire.
It is best to cook over the glowing embers of a fire once the flames have died down, as you’ll get a strong, consistent heat that is less likely to burn your campfire bread.
If you really have to, you can cook over the yellow flames, but you are more likely to end up with bread that is burnt on the outside and raw in the middle.
Preparing your sticks
Choose long, sturdy sticks that are about the same thickness as your finger. You want them to be strong enough to hold the bread without bending, and long enough to enable you to hold them over the fire without burning your fingers.
Use a vegetable peeler (great for kids) or a knife to scrape off the bark at the end you will be cooking on.
Make sure to choose a wood such as hazel, ash, oak or maple. Some common species of trees have wood that is toxic (yew, elder, rhododendron, and laburnum are all common trees/woody plants that have bark and wood that is poisonous to humans), while others (such as sycamore and holly) have poisonous leaves, seeds, and berries, so are also best avoided when cooking.
Cooking bread on a stick over the campfire
Once you’ve got your fire, sticks, and dough sorted, it’s time to cook!
1. Take a good pinch of dough – about a golf ball-sized amount is usually good.
2. Roll it into a snake shape. Make it quite thin (the thickness of a grown-up thumb at most) if you want it to cook quickly.
3. Wrap your dough snake around the peeled part of your stick. It should be sticky enough to stay in place but you may need to press down the ends a little bit to be sure.
4. Hold your bread over the fire, rotating every now and then to cook it evenly an all sides.
Once the bread is cooked, if you squeeze it gently it should feel crisp on the outside, but light and soft on the inside (all together now, UK 90s kids, “armadillo!“).
You also should find it slides easily off the stick in a cool-looking bread spiral. If the bread sticks as you try to take it off, cook it for a little longer, just to be sure.
Damper bread portion size and cooking tips
A little tip for you, from previous hard experience! The thicker the dough snake, the longer it will take to cook all the way through. And so also the more likely it is that the outside will be blackening before the inside is done. There’s also a greater risk of bits sagging and falling off if they are too big.
If you are cooking with small children, I recommend give them a small amount of dough to make a thinner dough snake that will cook quickly all the way through.
With some of my forest school sessions, there isn’t time or there are too many children for it to be possible to make the dough with them. So for those groups, I make and divide the dough into small balls (no bigger than a ping-pong ball) ahead of time. The dough balls are kept in a cold place, stored in a sealed container until needed (I only do this a day before at most). Dough balls of this size are perfect for little hands to handle, and make perfectly sized bread spirals.
During the session, the children take a dough ball and roll these between their hands to make their dough ‘snakes’, which they then wrap them around a cooking stick to hold over the fire.
Eating your campfire bread on a stick – toppings and fillings
These twists are great to dunk in soup or stew if you’ve been cooking a potful of something over the same fire, and taste wonderful with just a bit of butter.
Many kids are bread fiends, who will be quite happy to gobble down their bread twist straight off the stick.
For the more adventurous or refined out there, you could also try dribbling some jam or honey through the middle of your twist, or (heavenly!) putting on a little chocolate spread.
And if you happen to have any of that evil marshmallow fluff spread as well, you’ve got yourself a delicious bready version of a campfire s’more!
Looking for more nature-based forest school activities? Try these!
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Quick Read Instructions
For when you just want to get right to the point…
How to Make Campfire Damper Bread on a stick
500g self-raising flour
Pinch of salt
1 – 2 tablespoons of olive oil / oil of your choice
250ml water (approximately)
1. Combine flour, salt and oil and mix well.
2. Add water a little at a time until the mixture comes together into a dough.
3. Knead the dough for 5 – 10 minutes, then set aside.
4. Peel the end of a stick to create a smooth, clean surface for cooking.
5. Take a golf-ball sized pinch of dough and roll into a snake shape.
6. Wrap the dough snake tightly around the peeled end of the stick.
7. Cook over an open fire, turning slightly to cook evenly on all sides.
8. Once cooked, slide the bread off the stick to eat.
HINTS & TIPS:
Thinner snakes cook more quickly all the way through.
Putting too much dough on the stick may also mean bits fall off during cooking.
Make sure to use sticks from non-toxic trees, such as hazel, ash, oak, or maple.