How To Bake Without An Oven (plus a stovetop pizza recipe)
When we were planning our build, for whatever reason, we could not find any good information about ovens for vans or RVs. We found a few vanlife articles, but in every case, the person was installing a propane-fired oven that was explicitly intended only for outdoor use. The installations involved tons of work, tons of space, and still didn’t seem particularly safe to us. So we opted for a 3-burner propane cooktop, and I vowed to learn to bake on the stove.
Of course, as soon as we finished our build I started finding articles all over the place about RV ovens. Realistically, even if we had known about them, we likely wouldn’t have put one in. The space taken up by an oven, particularly one that is safely heat-shielded, would have meant making sacrifices elsewhere that we did not wish to make. But finding all those ovens that we’d somehow missed before did really light a fire under me to learn how to bake on the stove.
If you follow the #vanlife or #buslife community, you might have seen the Omnia stove top oven. It looks a bit like a bundt pan with a silicone liner. It is a Swedish product, and apparently well-engineered, as I have seen a lot of tasty baked goods coming out of it. We did initially think about buying one of these but, stubborn tinkerer that I am, I couldn’t think of a reason that I wouldn’t be able to engineer something better using only the tools already in our kitchen, and not need to spend $100 on yet another specialized piece of cooking equipment, which we would in turn need to make space for. You’d be amazed how much of our storage is already consumed by cooking equipment–we definitely don’t need to add anything else.
Below you will find the solution broken down into three sections: equipment, technique, and a starter recipe. While this is definitely not the only way to bake on a stove, we have been really happy with the ease and the results. We make pizza probably once a week, but we have also baked cookies, pies, biscuits, even roasted a Thanksgiving turkey breast! Hopefully this saves you some trouble and helps you bake up some tasty treats that aren’t ring-shaped.
-Cast iron pan with lid
-Wire cooling rack
-10-inch baking trays
-9-inch cake pans
The process is actually pretty simple. All you do is heat the cast-iron pan with the lid on and the wire rack inside until it reaches the desired temperature, and then toss in the food on a baking sheet, just like you would in a normal oven. You can stick the stove thermometer to the side of the pan to know when you’ve hit your desired temp.
The only real differences between this and a conventional oven are that temperature control isn’t automatic, and you need to make sure that you have a little bit of an air gap around your food, and a means to vent steam. I’ll go over each of these in a bit more detail below.
Temperature Management: When I started baking on the stove, I did it entirely by touch. When I could only touch the lid for a second or two, I knew that things were pretty hot inside. It wasn’t until a few months in that I remembered that we had a magnetic thermometer stuck to the side of our wood stove which would be perfect for this task, and perhaps even more accurate than my fingers.
Once that issue was solved, everything started to be a lot more precise. Not that I had any problems before. I made pizzas, pies, and a Thanksgiving turkey using only the touch technique, but as someone who is constantly working on recipes, the tighter I can get my data, the better. So, I would strongly advise spending the $10 or so to get a thermometer for the side of your pot.
Air Gap: The big difference between oven baking and other forms of cooking is the form of heat applied. Remember those from physics class back in the day? There are three types of heat: radiant, conductive, and convective. Radiant heat is transferred through electromagnetic waves, convective heat is transferred via liquids and gases, and conductive heat is transferred through solids. When cooking in a skillet, the heat is largely conductive, as it is transferred directly from the hot pan into your food. In an oven, the food is cooked by all three forms of heat: the outside of the oven heats, transferring radiant heat; the pan on which the food sits heats and transfers conductive heat; but, most importantly, the hot air in the oven cooks the food via convective heat.
Ovens apply dry heat to food and do so more gradually and evenly than a skillet. If you put a chicken in a skillet for an hour, it will be burned on one side and raw on the other. The same treatment in an oven cooks from all sides, creating that beautiful roast bird. Just as you need an air gap between your chicken and the heating element in a traditional oven, so you also need an air gap in your tiny stovetop oven. A little wire cooling rack does the trick just fine, reducing the conductive heat transfer and allowing things to bake without burning on the bottom.
Steam Venting: The pan that we use to bake on the stovetop has a little pouring spout on either side, which turned out to be a perfect steam vent for baking, but I think that sticking a wooden skewer on one side of a pot would work just as well. The degree to which you need a steam vent varies based on what you are cooking. If you are baking something with a lot of liquid in it and you don’t have an air gap, it will start dripping back onto itself, which can really mess up the texture of things like pies.
And that’s really all there is to it. Heat up your pan with the lid on and the wire rack in there until it reaches your desired temperature, then pop in your food on a baking sheet and bake for however long it says in the recipe. And, like a traditional oven, try not to check on it too often, as you will lose a lot of heat every time you open it up.
Here’s a recipe to get you started:
Stovetop Pizza Recipe:
Pizza was a logical place to start figuring out how to bake on the stove. It is the kind of food that even when it’s bad, it is still pretty good. It is also a food that no one will complain about eating once a week while you dial in a new skill. That said, the pictures used in this are the first pizza I made on the stove. Since then, the results have gotten better and the recipe has improved to match, which means that your first pizza on the stove ought to turn out even better.
(Makes ~4 personal pizzas)
1 packet yeast
1 tsp sugar
3.5 cups flour
1.5 cups water
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp olive oil
8 oz. tomato sauce
8-12 oz. grated cheese of your choice (some people like extra cheese)
Oregano, to taste
Whatever other toppings you enjoy. Ayana is a pineapple and jalapeno person, and I prefer a pepperoni and black olive pie myself.
Awaken the yeast by dissolving 1 tsp sugar into 1.5 cups of warm water. Add the dried yeast and stir until it dissolves, and allow this mixture to sit a few minutes until the yeast begins to form a foam on the water’s surface. At this point you can add the 3 tbsp olive oil to the mixture.
Pour 3.5 cups flour into a mixing bowl and stir in 2 tsp salt. Next add the bowl of water and yeast, and stir together until all the flour is taken up into the dough ball.
Transfer the dough ball to a well-floured work surface and knead for around 4-5 minutes.
Coat the dough lightly with oil, return it to the mixing bowl, and allow it to rise for at least an hour.
Once risen, briefly work the dough again to form it into a nice ball again, and slice this into fourths. Roll these out or spread them by hand. You can try tossing them if you want, but they’re a bit small. Spread the dough out nice and thin on your baking tray and fold a little bit back on itself around the outside to make the crust.
Add sauce, cheese, and toppings to the center. It is easy to overdo it when topping pizzas, so keep that in mind.
To cook the pizza, you will use a large pot with a lid. Heat this over high heat until the lid is quite hot to the touch (you can’t touch it for more than 2 seconds). When it reaches this level, reduce the heat to medium to medium-high. Pizza is meant to be cooked really hot, so you can keep it cranking at 450 to 500 degrees if you want. If you do not have a thermometer for the side of your pot, I have a rough technique for you to keep an eye on baking temperature. The lid should be quite hot to the touch throughout. If you can touch it for two seconds without it hurting, you need to increase the flame at the bottom.
Put a wire cooling rack in the bottom of your pot and place your baking tray on top of that to prevent the baking tray from making direct contact with the bottom of the pot.
Bake each pizza for around 15-20 minutes, or until the dough is cooked through and the cheese nicely melted.
When each pizza is done, remove it and allow it to cool for a couple minutes before slicing.
Baking on the stove is not the easiest task out there, but you will get the hang of it quickly.