Campfire desserts are messy, scrumptious and oh, so good
Article by Karen Wehrstein/Photography by Tomasz Szumski
Think “campfire desserts” and two things spring to mind: messy, scrumptious s’mores and marshmallows doubling as torches yet still stickily sweet, right? In this month’s culinary trip, we will take you to both these things at a pro level, and beyond.
Grace Willows, who owns Windmill Bakery and Bistro in Huntsville with her husband Dan, has a take on s’mores whose foundation is a light crispy oatmealish cookie, adapted from a recipe by the 45-year-old bakery’s previous owner, Tjeerd Wouda.
Born of an American father and a German mother, Grace grew up in Belgium, speaking both English and French from childhood. She met Dan, born and raised in London, Ontario, when he was working in Belgium with a Christian organization as a carpenter. Because English was easier for her than French for him, they moved to Canada, landing where his parents had had a cottage – Muskoka – to raise four children, teach (Grace) and work their construction business (Dan).
How from there to a bakery?
“We surprised ourselves,” says Grace. “But we both had a love for good, wholesome food and appreciated the art of baking.” Former Windmill owner Tjeerd Wouda agreed to train them, Dan got right into it and Windmill became theirs in 2015. To expand capacity, they hired master baker Michael Meier in 2016 and have never looked back. Working one business has even improved their marriage, Grace says, forcing them to learn the art of working through disagreements.
Windmill offers too many products to list (see their website) with more than 12 varieties of bread as the core and a definite tilt towards European style. The Willows are working on doubling the size of their premises to allow more production space to supply an increasing demand. Look for a bigger store, take-out and dining space by next spring if things go according to plan.
The light, crispy cookie dipped in chocolate travels well. Just take two and squish roasted marshmallows between them for a crunchy, gooey uber-s'more.
Like every other eatery on the planet, Crossroads in Rosseau took a hit from COVID-19. However, muses baker Julie Lalonde, when the 12 hectic years it took her and her chef and co-owner husband Richard to transform a coffee shop into one of Muskoka’s most loved gourmet restaurants came to a crashing slowdown in March 2020, there was a silver lining.
“We’ve really changed. We’ve learned that our family, our kids, are very important. Everything goes faster than you think… we weren’t taking the moments that we should to really enjoy family. COVID forced us to do take-out, online ordering and we now have our gourmet shop – we got to know customers on a different level. I don’t think I breathed before this past year, keeping up with emails, weddings, restaurant, cleaning…
I’m more calm, I’m a better boss, we’re better organized, have better connection with employees.” COVID forced the couple to reconfigure their life-work balance, they’ve decided on a five-day week and they’re happier for it.
When I first experience Lalonde’s s'moresque offering, it is elegantly arranged in a gleaming white oval dish and artistically bedecked with strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, two colours of drizzled sauce, marshmallows browned to perfection and a sprig of mint. No surprise from someone who has been cooking her entire adult life, since age 17 (“I just love to cook!”). But if any camps serve campfire desserts that way, they were camps my parents couldn’t afford to send me to. Lalonde credits her best friend Chastity Downs, who hails from the United States, with inspiring the simpler core recipe. “She’s all about her whoopie-pies.” Without the accoutrements it’s still deliciously and softly ripe with the mixed tastes of chocolate and peanut butter.
While Chef Glenn Kitchen works at the Inn at the Falls in Bracebridge, his wife, Chef Diane Kitchen, owns and operates Kitchen’s Buttertarts on Manitoba St.
The aptly-surnamed couple’s career and married lives have been closely entwined. They met while both were earning their chefs’ papers at George Brown College; she then apprenticed under him in various establishments in Toronto. While she was pregnant with their third child, he was hired by a now-defunct resort on Lake Joseph, so the family moved to Muskoka and has stayed here ever since.
Diane bought her business in December of 2019, little knowing what would befall in three months. “Because I was a chef, I started to do dinners and get a catering company, but there was just nothing going on,” Diane reminisces. “Might as well dive into just the buttertarts and pies.” The buttertart-filling recipe that is at the core of the business, and a closely-held secret – no doubt due to how absolutely delectable it is – was passed on to her by a chef friend, the late Rick Bradshaw, when ill health forced his retirement. Despite COVID, life goes on. Diane became a proud grandma in March.
Away from s’mores and into the magic of cooking with tinfoil, she will take us. This recipe, she confides, “was probably inspired by Girl Guides. We used to do it when we went camping with the kids. They loved it.” Absurdly simple, it can easily be made by youngsters. Note: during the month of July, Kitchen’s Buttertarts will be featuring a Banana-Boat-themed tart.
Born near Niagara Falls, Christine Kropp took her diploma in hospitality at Georgian College. Finding she preferred baking over cooking, she attended the Bonnie Gordon School of Confectionary Arts. She and her husband moved from London to Muskoka in 2012, opening a bed and breakfast as well as her cake and pastry business. She grew that into Whimsical Bakery in Huntsville, moving into its Main St. location in 2017.
However, her interests shifted more towards consulting than confectionary. “COVID came at the right time for us,” she says, unlike virtually every other business owner. “My focus with the bakery was to get connected to the community, and we did that, we really made our brand. I wanted to get to helping people with their businesses rather than the front counter. I enjoy working with entrepreneurs.” Instead of muffins and Chelsea buns, Kropp now serves up concepts and plans for menus, execution, entertaining guests, and so forth for B&Bs, Airbnbs, boutique hotels, pop-up bakeries – whoever has need. To get a taste, you might check out her blog, “The Sweet Life.”
Kropp’s simple tin-foil-cuisine dessert concept, she says, “was a big hit around the campfire. Everyone can make their own creation. Kids can make their own dessert.” It’s basically wrap some fruity stuff, some cakey stuff and some butter in foil and toss it on a fire. The woman who told me last time we featured her that you should carefully measure ingredients by weight because the amounts are more precise says these ones can be very approximate indeed, as can cooking time. “Open it and take a peek; you can tell when it’s ready.”
The cherry pie filling in her first dish has that lovely homey, comforting cherry taste, and the butter combines with the cake mix to form a crusty layer, as in a pie. Pineapple is a wake-you-up flavour as a rule, and what really pops in the second dish is the brown sugar combining with the butter to form golden-brown crusts on the cubes of pound cake, adding a lovely crunch.
“The butter makes it, doesn’t it?” I ask Kropp.
“Butter makes everything,” she replies.
That was a baker’s tip, folks.
Get that campfire going, and enjoy!
1 ½ cup sugar
1 ½ cup unsalted butter
2 large-size eggs
1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1 ½ cup oatmeal
1 ½ cup melted chocolate
- Cream together butter, sugar and eggs.
- In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.
- Add dry ingredients to wet mixture, mix till smooth.
- Stir in oatmeal till combined.
- Let dough rest several hours.
- Roll out dough ¼-inch thick, and cut out 12 circles using a cookie cutter or cup. Bake about 2 inches apart on cookie sheet until golden, about 20 minutes at 325°F.
- When cool, dip one side in melted
chocolate. Cool cookies until chocolate sets.
- Use two cookies to sandwich your roasted marshmallows by the campfire!
- Makes approximately 45 cookies. (Can be frozen; refrigerate but don’t freeze dough.)
- Don’t skip resting the dough: it’s key to consistency and flavour. If you rush the dough, it won’t hold together as well.
- Chocolate can be Bakers, or a dark chocolate bar.
Whoopie Pie Cookies
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
(not Dutch process)
1 ½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp fine salt
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup vegetable shortening
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 cup whole milk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate,
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt into a small bowl.
- Add butter, shortening, and sugars to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; cream on high speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add egg; beat until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add half the flour mixture, then the milk and vanilla; beat until combined. Add the remaining flour mixture. Beat together.
- Drop 12 slightly rounded tablespoons
of batter 2 inches apart on each baking sheet. Bake cookies in the upper and lower thirds of oven, 10 minutes; switch the positions of the baking sheets, and rotate each one. Continue baking until the cookies spring back to the touch, 2 to 4 minutes more.
- Remove from oven; let cool on baking sheets, 10 minutes.
- Transfer with a metal spatula to a wire rack and let cool completely.
- Repeat process with remaining batter.
- Spread 1 scant tablespoon buttercream (recipe below) on flat sides of half the cookies. Top each with one of the remaining cookies, flat side down, and gently press together. Transfer to a tray.
- Melt half the chocolate sauce
(recipe below) in a saucepan over low heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat; add chopped bittersweet chocolate and
stir until melted and smooth.
Transfer to a pastry bag fitted with a plain round tip (Ateco #2 or #3) or a small parchment cone. Pipe chocolate in a spiral pattern on top of each pie.
Let chocolate set before serving, about 1 hour.
Peanut Butter Buttercream
2 cups of smooth peanut butter
½ cup of cream cheese
1 cup of icing sugar
Mix together with an electric or hand
mixer until light and fluffy.
4 cups water
2 cups white sugar
2 cups cocoa powder
500 g milk chocolate
- Heat sugar, water, cocoa powder mixed together.
- Remove from heat, add chocolate. Stir until combined.
- Let cool, place in container.
Yield: 2 litres. Keeps in fridge 1-2 months.
- Rotating the baking sheets is important.
- Grown-ups’ version: add a little bourbon to the chocolate sauce.
- Other possible additions: pecans, berries, any flavour ice cream, dulce de leche (ridiculously easy: remove label from 1 can Eagle brand condensed milk, simmer unopened can in a pot with enough water to cover for 3 to 3 ½ hours, let cool).
Cherry Cobbler, Campfire Version!
Can of cherry pie filling
White cake mix
Ice Cream or Whipped Cream
- Tear off a rectangle of tin foil and spray the shiny side with cooking spray.
- Add a big dollop of cherry pie filling.
- Add about a ¼ cup of cake mix on top of the pie filling.
- Top with 1 Tbsp butter.
- Fold the long edges of the foil together and fold up the ends to keep liquid from escaping.
- Place on the cooking rack of your campfire (or barbecue) for about 15 minutes.
- Open the packet for the last few minutes to brown up the cake a little.
- Serve with a scoop of ice cream or whipping cream.
Upside Down Cake,
Can of Pineapple chunks
Pound cake, cubed
Ice cream or whipped cream
Cinnamon or nutmeg
- Spray a double layer of tin foil with cooking spray.
- Add a handful of pineapple chunks.
- Add pound cake cubes on top of the pineapple.
- Top with 1 Tbsp butter, 1 Tbsp brown sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon or ¼ tsp nutmeg.
Follow Steps 5-8 as in Cherry Cobbler.
Ingredients for one Banana Boat
1 large banana, ripe but not too ripe
(no brown spots - it will become
mush if too ripe)
¼ cup chocolate chips
3-4 regular-size marshmallows
(enough to cover banana)
- Peel banana and slice in half.
- Tear off a large enough piece of tinfoil to wrap around banana. Spray tin foil with cooking spray, then lay banana in it.
- Place chips and marshmallows on/between banana halves. Wrap tightly.
- Cook on grate over fire for 5-7 minutes. Oven version: 325°F for 10 minutes.
- Serve with toppings of your choice. (Be careful when opening: it’s hot.)
Suggested: whipped cream, graham
cracker crumbs, maraschino cherry,
berries, syrup of your choice, Kahlua or Baileys for the grown-ups, etc.