Unconventional Oven

The Unconventional Oven: Fruity Chocolate Vancake in a Tin Can!

Recently in the Backwards Van, we had a little cause for celebration. Williams birthday was upon us, his first one living in Dixie and not wanting to let the occasion pass unmarked, but equally not wanting to spend a lot of money, the birthday boy himself decided to bake a cake, from our leftovers, without even shopping for ingredients… A chocolate cake he said, in the van, with no weighing scales, no equipment and not even an oven in sight…

Not a lot to work with, let’s face it. But far be it from me to tell a master baker what he can and cannot bake so I left him to it, took my coffee and retired to my office (a.k.a. the drivers cab) to write for an hour, checking in now and again to see how things were going. He was using a large tin can for a cake tin which was last seen half full of pineapple. Baking like this is all about the leftovers he shouted, from the kitchen, through a cloud of flour, surrounded by jars and bags of raisins, yogurt and cocoa powder lined up like soldiers on every available hard surface. About an hour and a half later, the cake was proclaimed ready.


Well, surprise surprise, the cake looked and tasted great! Fun how it slides out of the can and onto the plate. We ate the whole thing in thick slices, still warm from the can and spread with real Irish butter… mmmm. Happy birthday to William!


So delicious, like a kind of soft spongey raisin loaf. Suddenly after tasting the cake I was A LOT more interested in his van can baking methods. I asked him to repeat the process slowly and allow me share the recipe so here goes:

Chocolate Raisin Vancake in a Tin Can

(Makes a whole cans worth!)

-First, wash your hands. If you live in a van, wash them again. And again.

-Take a handful of raisins. Now, I hate to raise an issue right away here on the first ingredient but William is a country man, if you know what I mean, and he was born with hands like shovels. A handful of raisins to little me is probably around 20. For the sake of clarity (and only after I insisted and persisted) he eventually guesstimated the amount at about 50g. Plump the raisins up by soaking them in a half a cup of hot coffee (or tea, if that’s your thing) and allow them to rest and absorb the delicious flavours while you mix up the dry ingredients:

-1/4 can plain flour
-1 pinch of salt (a good one)
-1.5 teaspoons baking powder
-1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
-2 tablespoons cocoa powder
-1 tablespoon dried skimmed milk
-1 tablespoon castor sugar

Mix dry ingredients, add a heaped tablespoon of butter and work the mixture into a crumble.

Originally William said “take it to a crumble” as if A Crumble was a place that we should all be well aware of. Bakers speak a different language to the rest of us, sometimes I think I need a translator! Eye-balling is also a favoured technique of William in lieu of weights and measures, though most of us are not qualified to guess with such certainty, he suggests playing around with the mix and using up any left overs. This loaf tasted fruity, chocolatey and light. You could leave out the cocoa for a plain spongy pudding, or for a richer chocolatey taste, add more cocoa or even chocolate chips!

Butter the can (which by now should have no traces of pineapple left inside because I have eaten it all with big chunks of red cheddar) inside very well. When you think it is well covered, give it an extra spray of light frying oil to really prevent any sticking and to ensure the loaf can make a slippery smooth exit from the can.

Add the wet ingredients.
-250g natural yogurt
-1 free range egg

Mix well and test for consistency. Add the raisins. Williams mix was just a little too wet at this stage so more flour was added to form a thick porridgy textured batter.

Now comes the fun part. Cover the bottom of the can with a layer of tinfoil (that’s what we call aluminium foil on this side of the Atlantic ๐Ÿ˜‰). Cover the top and sides of the can well with foil. William says here that it’s almost like steaming a pudding. Boil the kettle and fill a saucepan about halfway with the water, (use the rest for a hot water bottle to warm your feet as you wait), put the can in the pan and cover the lot with more foil, leave a little opening for steam and bring it to the boil quickly before leaving to simmer for about an hour and a half on medium heat.

Regulating the heat produced by a gas camping stove is not as easy as an oven but not impossible with a watchful eye. The smell of baking fills the van entirely and even full bellies were rumbling by now. After about an hour and a half, test the cake by lifting the foil and pushing down on the mixture with your finger, if it springs back it is ready. Alternatively you can insert a wooden skewer (or twig or branch or anything really) and if it comes out clean, it’s good to go! If not, return to the pan and try to be more patient ๐Ÿ˜‰


Now, the first bite is with the eye, so find yourself an amazing spot to enjoy your cake. We just happened to be beside the beautiful Huisinish beach on the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides when our cake was ready. Luckily the sun was out and the day was rather warm so we took the table and chairs onto the beach.


Any kind of fruit tastes great with this cake, you can use fresh or whatever came in the tin and we reserved 3 rings of pineapple which unsurprisingly fit perfectly on top. Served with a large dollop of natural yogurt and a sprinkle of cake crumbs. William recommends a good strong pot of coffee to compliment the flavours but he would literally recommend coffee with anything and he is never wrong there.

What did we learn from the baking experience? Ideally, baking would serve a dual purpose in also heating the house. Having the gas ring on for over an hour really steams up the van! It is probably best done on a chilly evening, not on a glorious summers day on a beautiful beach like we did, but a birthday is a birthday and the end of May is a lovely time of year in Scotland, not too hot, not too cold and no need for insect repellant, yet. One of our favourite parts of vanlife is eating our meals outdoors so go for it, take your table and chairs out and enjoy your tin can vancake al fresco ๐Ÿ˜‰



If you try this van cake for yourself, or any variation of the recipe, let us know what worked (or didn’t) in the comments. I’ll try to translate the bakers response into Englishย ๐Ÿ˜‰ Happy baking!



1 thought on “The Unconventional Oven: Fruity Chocolate Vancake in a Tin Can!”

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