Monday, May 14, 2012

First Fires and Baking

Wood-fired baking is an art and every oven firing brings its own challenges -- that's what I learned from Jeffrey Hamelman, who is a Master Bread Baker at King Arthur Flour.  I took his two-day course on Baking Bread in a Wood-Fired Oven a few weeks ago.  There's a lot to learn about life from baking bread and I left encouraged to keep working with my oven and learning life's lessons.  Thirteen people participated in the class and in baking our bread from the same recipes -- there were thirteen unique interpretations of each recipe.

Home again -- and I fired up the oven and when it was the hottest -- I cooked a couple of pizzas.  Jeffrey gave us a great pizza dough recipe and shared secrets on flipping the dough.  I can now say that I can twirl pizza dough in the air (and catch it). 

Firing up the oven
Coals spread - oven is ready to go

Great pizza!  A little carbon is good.

Inspired by the baking class, I prepared a loaf of country white for my first bake.  At the end of the bread class, Jeffrey gave each of us a starter from his 15 year old chef and I nurtured it to create enough for my bread.  Pizzas and bread have different temperature requirements -- pizza cooks when the oven is the hottest and bread cooks from retained heat at a cooler temperature.  On each firing, you have to heat the oven to the hottest to drive heat into the oven structure. You have to monitor the oven as it cools from 700-800 degrees to 500 or so degrees.  I ignored what I knew and put the loaf in when the oven was around 600-650 degrees -- resulting in a totally charred loaf.  Life's lesson -- be patient!

Yesterday was a beautiful day in Saratoga and I fired the oven for a pure bread bake.  I made 2 loaves each of country white and miche pointe a calliere (whole wheat).  I timed the firing process and my oven fired up to 800 degrees in 45 minutes -- with using the equivalent of 2 split pieces of wood and a generous amount of wood scraps.  The temperature dropped gradually and I loaded the oven with the 4 loaves of bread when it was around 575 degrees.  I steamed the oven before and after loading it which gave the finished loaves a nice crust.  My take on the final output is that the loaves burned slightly and I should have let the oven cool a little more before baking.  The white loaves were slightly undercooked (by about 5 minutes baking time) but they are still quite good!   

Loaves prior to baking
Miche pointe a calliere  loaves
Country white loaves

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Back on line with Wood-Fired Baking

After fumbling with my new wood-fired oven in 2011, I've set 2012 as the year to develop skills in cooking on it.  Last year I struggled with fires -- how high to fire the oven and how to cook more than pizzas!  So I decided to start with the fire and found a great book -- The Art of Wood Fired Cooking by Andrea Mognaini and John Thess.  Quickly I learned that I wasn't firing the oven correctly -- that it takes three stages of firing to get the heat driven into the oven -- and was only firing it in one stage.  It amazes me that I was able to cook anything in it last summer.  I've fired the oven several times already this spring and the new technique is working.

Friends and neighbors setting up the new bake oven - May 2011

Bake oven before first use

Bake oven ready to fire - 2011