In my family’s tradition, no Christmas is complete without a Christmas tree, decorations and Christmas cookies. If you decide to go camping for the holidays, you don’t need to go without. Decorating a tree at your campsite is pretty straightforward. Just pick a tree and find things in the wild to hang on it. Bring a little tempra paint to add color to your decorations and some LED twinkle lights to top it off. At the end of your trip, make sure to clean up and pack-out your decorations.
Warm Christmas cookies, fresh from the oven, pose a slightly greater yet easily surmountable challenge. Whether you're kayaking in Baja California or in a hot-tent in Minnesota, making Christmas cookies at the campsite is a great way to get into the wild Christmas spirit.
My favorite way to bake anything at a campsite is to use a Dutch oven, a heavy cast iron pot. These pots are steeped in tradition, favored by explorers, travellers and homemakers alike. There are different versions, with different names used all over the world. In America, Lewis and Clark used them on their famous expedition to explore the American North-West. Apparently, George Washington’s mother specifically listed her Dutch Ovens in her will, leaving them to her grandchildren.
Check out my previous article for all the details on baking with a Dutch oven at your campsite. This article lists everything you need for baking with a Dutch oven and describes how to set up your Dutch oven to get a nice even heat for baking at your campsite.
With some practice, baking in the Dutch oven is basically like baking in an oven that is 350-375 degrees F. You can use your regular Christmas cookie recipes, but most are very labor intensive. To maintain an even temp for baking in the Dutch oven, it is important to keep it closed and surrounded with Aluminum foil. This, and the small surface area (compared to a cookie sheet) make baking batches of individual cookies difficult and time consuming. I have tried various recipes, including rolling out and cutting dough into Christmas trees and snowmen. Flat surfaces for rolling dough can be hard to come by at a campsite and handling dough in sub zero temps is nearly impossible. For a nice balance between labor, simplicity and awesome Christmas cookies, I have settled on the recipe below and enjoyed it on paddling trips all year round, with different decorations of course.
How to make Dutch oven campsite Christmas cookies:
For the reasons mentioned above I have settled on a “cookie pie” when using the Dutch oven to bake cookies. This means you get one big round cookie. For Christmas if you cut the cookie into wedges, they can be easily decorated to look like Christmas trees. This is a standard sugar cookie recipe with double the baking powder to give it a little extra rise. This recipe will give you enough dough to bake a cookie pie in a 12” Dutch oven with a little dough left over to decorate your “cookie pie” or munch on.
- 2 and 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1-teaspoon baking soda
- 1-teaspoon baking powder
- 1 cup butter, softened (you can use margarine but real butter is way better)
- 1 and ½ cups white sugar
- 1 egg (or 1 tbsp powdered egg or your favorite egg replacement)
- 1-2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Decorations: Icing, sprinkles, chocolate, candies etc.
1) Gather your supplies and prepare your Dutch oven. Details here.
2) In a small pot or bowl, mix the dry ingredients, flour, baking soda and baking powder.
3) In a large pot or bowl mix the softened butter, sugar, egg and vanilla and blend until smooth. This will take some effort without an electric mixer. It is worth packing a whisk for mixing if you are planning to bake cookies on your camping trip.
4) Once you have a nice smooth paste with the wet ingredients, slowly add in the flour mixture, combining until you have a nice even dough. The dough should be dry enough to handle but moist and a little sticky.
5) Grease the bottom and sides of your Dutch oven with butter or oil.
6) Roll ¾ of your dough into a ball, flatten it and place the ball in the bottom of the Dutch oven. Press the dough out to evenly cover the entire bottom of the pan, approximately ¾ of an inch thick. (Add more dough if necessary).
7) Use the leftover dough to make decorations to place on the “cookie pie” before baking or enjoy it raw while you wait for your cookie to bake.
8) Heat your charcoal, place it below and on top of your Dutch oven, cover with foil as described here and bake for 10 – 15 mins.
TIP: It is difficult to remove the cookie from the Dutch oven before it cools. Remove it from the heat when it is barely cooked, it will continue to bake as the Dutch oven cools down.
Decorating your Cookie(s):
Once your Dutch oven has completely cooled, it's time to decorate. To remove the cookies from the Dutch oven you can flip the entire oven onto a plate, if this fails you can decorate your “cookie pie” in the pot and cut to serve later. Or you can cut and remove the “cookie pie” in pieces.
For this Christmas cookie, we cut it into wedges and decorated it as 8 separate Christmas tree cookies.
A simple icing is the best way to get your decorations to stick. Bring a pre-made icing with you or use the simple recipe below. We forgot food coloring and used green tea matcha powder to make our icing green – it worked and tasted great!
Easy icing recipe:
- 1 cup of icing sugar
- 2-3 Tbsp of milk (or water)
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 1 Tbsp honey or corn syrup
- food coloring (optional)
Mix it all together, I find it easier to make it a little thin for easier mixing. Then add some more icing sugar to desired thickness. Decorate your cookies however you like and don’t forget to pack some candies or sprinkles to top it off.
Going camping is a good idea for any holiday! With a little creativity you can have all your traditional trimmings. I hope you enjoy some Dutch oven Christmas cookies this holiday season and that all your wild Christmas dreams come true.
Inspired by wanderlust and a passion for rivers, Adrian's paddling addiction has taken him across the globe. After pursuing his degree in Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Management, Adrian eventually settled in Palmer Rapids, Ontario. Here, he has worked for over a decade as the Director Of Operations at The Boundless School.
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