Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Building a wood fired bread and pizza oven - Lintel now cast, but not without some issues

The lintel has now been cast and cured for 48 hours.  Even after spending hours carefully compressing the layers of refractory into the mold, I am disappointed with the amount of voids, but I do think this this will still be strong enough for the job. I am also a bit concerned that the lintel has very bad abrasion resistance, probably, I did not reach high enough curing temperatures. I have re-covered the lintel now with a heater as I am sure there is still some curing to be done. I will have to find something to treat the surface with to improve the surface durability, probably sodium silicate.  There are a number of treatments that can be sprayed on and soak into the surface before hardening.

The back of the lintel shows the transition from oven to chimney.  This is an important feature designed to ensure a good airflow during firing of the oven.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Building a wood fired bread and pizza oven - Casting the door lintel

Further progress has been made on my wood fired bread and pizza oven.  The supports have now been build that will hold the cast refractory door lintel.  They need to be left overnight to harden enough to position the lintel mold in place.  The shorter brickwork are the reducer arch supports.

Lintel and reducer arch supports

While the mortar in the lintel supports is going off, the mold has been made.  This has been knocked together out of some left over exterior ply.  the inside has been painted with vegetable oil, which will stop too much moisture from being absorbed, prematurely drying out the refractory and will make de-molding easier.

The mold is filled in thin layers, each layer compacted to remove voids.  The thin layers ensure that the matrix of stainless reinforcing fibers are aligned in the plane that will give the most strength benefit to the composite. This is the same technique used and described in more detail in my earlier post Casting the hearth slab.
Filling the mold with refractory
The will be kept like this until tomorrow night when i will de-mold.  I can fee the heat generated by the chemical reaction.
The filled mold hardening

Friday, 27 December 2013

Building a wood fired bread and pizza oven - Hearth completed

My little project to build a wood fired bread and pizza oven is well on the way now.  There is much work still to do before any fires will be lit, but a few late nights with the help of my Dad and we have completed the hearth.  It has not been easy, the irregular shapes and inconsistent sizes of the brick have made job as hard as I thought it was going to be.  

The hearth bricks finished
Next time I build an oven I would sort through all the bricks before starting and pick out the most consistent sizes and undamaged ones.  There are a few locations on the hearth where there are local height changes due to some deformed bricks.  Before the brick dome is built the hearth will be smoothed with a diamond grinder to make it as flat as possible.

The next step will be to cast the over-door lintel on its brick supports.  This will be done in place as it will fit better that way.  Then the steel braising will be welded to fit what has been built so far.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Spiced Christmas Sweet Buns.

Yesterday I baked some sweet buns. This uses my general purpose sweet bun dough that I use to make a range of different treats like hot cross buns, Chelsea buns and tea cakes.  This time I am made a sort of Christmas spiced rolled bun.  In describing this dough, I have tried to be as exact as I can, but this is one of those dough recipes where I never way anything out, its all done by eye and feel.

I start by making a pre-ferment the day before I want to bake using half of the flour that I want to use in my final dough, in this case, it was about 250 g of flow and my final dough would contain approx 500 g of flour.  The flour I have used is standard Polish wheat flour, type 650, it is not a strong bread making flour as it is not available locally.  I have discussed this in more detail in my post Bread Making with Polish Flour.  To the flour I have added about 250 ml of cold water and 4 g of instant yeast.  This is not very much yeast for this quantity of enriched dough and if you wanted to make buns within 3-4 hours, you would have to use significantly more, but as I am going to allow the yeast to have a long fermentation, this will give the yeast plenty of time to multiply into a much larger active culture.  The long fermentation of the flour by the yeast will produce byproducts that will bring a far better flavor to the dough compared to using lots of yeast and short fermentation, which will give you the carbon dioxide you need for a rise, but no flavor.  The first 3 hours of fermentation was done at low room temperature to get things moving, approx 19°C and then left overnight at a around 10°C.

The next day I loosen the pre-ferment with 250 ml of milk and beat in one egg.  I then mix a teaspoon of salt in with 250 g more flour and then mix in my pre-ferment.  80 g of melted butter is mixed in and the whole mixture left to rest for ten minutes.  The result is a sticky dough that I knead using a dough scraper in one hand and ether flour or water on my other hand, depending if I want to adjust the dough to be wetter or dryer.  The dough is then left for another fermentation at room temperature for 2-3 hours.  During this time I will gently de-gas once to prevent the dough from over stretching.

After fermentation the dough is tipped out onto a floured board and gently stretched into a long thin rectangle.  The Dough is lovely to tough at this point, is is super light, soft and silky.  If is does not want to stretch far enough, I like my dough to be no more than about 4-5mm thick, then wait a few minuted between stretches for it is relax.

Portioning sweet buns in our temporary kitchen

While the dough was fermenting a mixture of butter, dark brown sugar, cream and  some flour to stabilise it all was blended together.  This mixture is spread of the dough and a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and mace, sifted over the surface.  I have used whole spices grown down in a pestle and mortar.  The dough is then rolled up.  I use this opportunity to further stretch the dough to make each layer even thinner.  The roll is then cut into slices with a dough scraper and placed on a baking tray. 

 Baking was done in a fan assisted oven at approx 170-180°C until lightly browned, turning once for a more even bake.

The first piece of our concrete counter tops just brought up to what will be our kitchen, with the sweet buns and the spices used.

Resisting the amazing smells long enough to take a few picture for the blog gives the buns just enough time to cool down.  I'm so happy with the first piece of concrete counter top to be finished that I had to use is as a background for this image.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Left over bread - Warming winter tomato soup recipe

If you have some left over bread, it's winter and your immune system needs a bit of a boost, My winter tomato soup recipe is just what you need .  Its really easy to make, takes very little time, one of the cheapest meals I know.  I used to make this recipe a lot as a student, and had not make it in many years until the other day when I was wondering what I can make from the large amounts left over from experimenting with a focaccia recipe.

You want to use a bread that is going to hold together, focaccia, ciabatta or a good sourdough are best, but you could use a slightly stale ordinary commercial bread.

This recipe can use tomatoes that you have preserved from the summer, or can use a combination of tinned and fresh tomatoes.  There are some very good quality tinned tomatoes available which will produce great results.  Here is what I used this time, because is was already in the house;

Makes about 4 portions

3 medium sized onions
400 ml of tomato passata (could substitute for 2 tine of tomatoes)
a handful of cherry tomatoes
one hole bulb of garlic
approx 500 ml lamb stock (also works with just water or stock cube)
salt and pepper
olive oil
sprigs of dried thyme
left over Focacca (or other rustic bread)

Finley chop the onions and soften in a olive oil, be very generous with the olive oil.  Chop and add the garlic, passata, season with lots black pepper, throw in a few branches of dried thyme and stock, leave to simmer for 15 - 60 minutes depending on how much time you have.  After simmering you can pull the twigs of thyme out, the good bits, the little leaves will have fallen off.  Put your fresh tomato into the pot and simmer for a few more minutes so that they are beginning to cook, this is a good time to finish seasoning with salt and more pepper. Cut the focaccia or other bread into cubes, approx 2 cm is a good size, then gently mix.  Most of the liquid will will be absorbed by the bread leaving a really thick soup.  After a couple of minutes sitting off the heat, the soup is ready to server.

Server on its own or topped with a spoon of sour cream or maybe some Parmesan.  This Soup is guaranteed to make you feel better on a cold winter day.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Building a wood fired oven - laying the hearth bricks

After a hard days work, it was time to unwind by laying a few of the hearth bricks for my wood fired oven.  It's not exactly the best time of year to be doing this, it is definitely winter here in Poland, dark by 4 PM and about -5 °C by then.

The mortar I will be using I have made by soaking some clay, dug from our garden, in water all day.  I turned the clay/water mixture a couple of time during the day and by evening it had soaked up lots of water.  

At first I though I would mix the clay smooth with a stick, but this soon proved very hard work, so I switched to a pain mixing attachment in a power drill.  To the clay, I then added an equal quantity of fine quarts sand and mixed for a few more minutes until smooth.  The result a very nice consistency of very sticky adobe mortar, minus the plant fibers.

To enable me to position my first brick correctly, first measured where the center of the hearth would be positioning a brick at the far end of the oven so that I could line up my first brick by siting down one edge lie a gun site.  Once this brick was strait and level the bricks on ether side were laid.

lining up the first brick
I'm trying to use a thin layer of the mortar and to enable me to adjust the brick as I set it, I am using a serated trowel to lay  ridges of mortar, much like you would do if you were laying tiles.  the bricks are placed with no mortar between them and and a tight together and as level as possible.  This was very slow going as the bricks are not very consistent in size or shape many do not have strait edges and have be rejected for use in a less critical part of the oven.

I think the first five bricks here have taken me more than an hour, but I'm not really worried how long this takes as long as its right.  These are the first few bricks I have ever laid, so at this point I'm hoping that I'll get better at it and things will start to move a little faster.  After about 20 bricks I'm starting to work out a few tricks, better at judging the amount or mortar, and better at tapping the brick in the correct position to steer it in the direction I want it to move.

Its getting very cold by this time, a quick cup of tea, and a few more bricks and I'm ready to pack it in for the night.

Two rows down, 4 more full rows and the ones around the ash slot.  A few more hours work and the hearth bricks will be laid.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Working on a focaccia recipe - part II

I have now baked and partially eaten the second half of the focaccia dough that I wrote about yesterday.  This half has been retarded in the refrigerator overnight.  I removed the dough 3 hours before baking to let it warm up.  I was not happy with how I baked the previous batch, so this time I decided that I would use a much hotter oven.  I preheated the fan oven to 270 °C with a baking tray on the bottom shelf, put the focaccia dough on the top shelf and a cup of hot water in the baking tray for a burst of steam.

I am much happier with the results this time.  The extra slow fermentation and over night retarding seem to have developed the texture and flavor and the hotter bake has produced a lovely crust this time.  The crust gives the bread a much better smell, crunch and a nuttier flavor.

Ideas for next time - I think less salt and the use of some mineralised water will improve my focaccia.  I also think the herbs I chose are not the best filling for this bread.  I may try making a plain dough so that I can be more critical of the dough's flavor.  I also need to get a deeper pan so that I can put considerably more olive oil on the top before baking.  A few more goes and I may write this up as a proper recipe.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

working on a focaccia recipe

As I have called my blog Fire and Focaccia, it is probably a good idea for me to have a fairly decent focaccia recipe. I don't often use commercial yeast except for things like sweet buns, tea cakes, hot cross buns, pain au raisin, etc.  So my starting point for this focaccia recipe is my sourdough starter.  I refreshed my sourdough starter Thursday evening and the next morning, yesterday, I made a poolish style pre-ferment (I will blog more about sourdough starters and pre-ferments another day), approximately 100% hydration and for a large proportion of my finish dough volume.  My pre-ferment in this attempt accounted for approximately 50% of the flour weight of my final dough.  The pre-ferment consisted 600 g of flour and about 600 ml of water.

Yesterday evening I made the dough.  600g of flour and 150 ml of olive oil mixed together, the pre-ferment and another 300 ml of cold water, mixed together and then rested for 15 mins before kneading.  I was a little concerned that with only a natural sourdough leaven, this quantity of oil would retard the yeast enough to make this a complete failure.  Half way through kneading I added 30 g of salt and then increased the hydration of the dough by continually wetting my hands for the remaining 10 mins.  This way I worked in another 150 ml of water so that the dough became wet enough.  I wanted to make this dough wet enough so the finished product would look like focaccia at least.

After fermentation all night in a cool room, maybe 14 °C I fermented for another hour at room temperature before halving, rolling in olive oil and while gently de-gassing by folding the outsides into the center a few times, I folded in some dried herbs.  The dough was then gently stretch onto two separate baking trays, dimpled, more olive oil and herbs a bit of black pepper and another hour at room temperature before pre-heating the oven.  One of the two trays then went in refrigerator to retard overnight to see if that makes any improvement, the other tray was baked for lunch.

I'm fairly happy with the end result, I will make a few changes to the way I bake the second batch tomorrow.  The flavor was there, the crumb was super soft and light, but the crust can defiantly be improved a lot.   A few more goes and I will be ready to call this a recipe!

Friday, 13 December 2013

Dinner tonight - easy lamb tagine

A lamb tagine, but in this case not cooked in a tagine, as we currently dont have a kitchen, let alone a tagine, is one of may favorite easy meals.  It uses one pot, it does not take much of my time up and they taste amazing.  This is not really a recipe as I tend to do it differently every time, depending on how I am feeling and what we have in.  It was about time that I  tried out some of the lamb that I butchered last week.

I have started by toasting some spices in a heavy pan, slowly, as I did not wish to burn them.  I did this while making an omelet for my lunch.  I have used, cinnamon, cumin, coriander steads, black pepper and 3 cloves. 

I like to then grind my spices by hand in a pestle and mortar.  I think it is really worth spending some time doing this rather than using a machine or using pre-ground spices.  I have then chopped a few vegitables, onion, carrot, celery, lots of garlic and some ginger into a heavy pot with a lid.  I have rubbed my lamb in the spice mix, which is sifted to remove any larger lumps.  The lamb is then added to the pot along with a good handful of prunes and I mix everything around a bit with my hands.

I need to add some liquid to start things off, I could just use water, but as I have some fresh lamb stock left over from butchering the lambs, I will add a bit of that too.  the cut of lamb I have used is a really cheap cut.  It is the top four ribs including the breast bone.  I'm not even sure if a butcher would sell this bit, but it has loads of gelatin and connective tissue that is going to make an amazing gravy during a long slow cooking.

I double seal my pot with foil and a lid to make sure that a little moisture as possible is going to escape. Then I will put in the oven on a low, 120°C, for as long as I can leave it for, but at least 3 hours.  If I only have 3 hours then I will turn it up for the last hour to make sure the meat is really well cooked.  As long as the first hour or so of cooking is very slow, the proteins will already have cooked and tenderised at the low temperature, you can then safely turn up the oven and finish if quicker without the risk of the meat being tough.

So far, this is all that is finished in our kitchen.  We have a couple of gas rings in the basement, but looking forward to moving up here in a few weeks.  I'm really happy with, what must be my best ever ebay purchase, this Lacanche oven is as quality piece of kit.  This one is probably 15 years old, has no numbers readable on the dials, but in the few times I have used it, I have already grown to love it.

3 hours of cooking and the meat is soft and along with the vegetables have melted into an amazing looking and smelling gravy.

To this I add have added a 250 g bag of couscous.  At this point I put it back in the oven and turn it off, leaving it in the warm oven for another 15 minutes will be enough for all the juices to have been soaked up by the couscous and cooked it through.

I'm very happy with this years lamb and cooked like this, it was really special.  I cant get over the colour of the meat and how much flavor it's got.  I have never managed to buy a piece of lamb this good, but it has been a year of work in the making.

Hearth slab uncovered

Today the cover and the shuttering came off the hearth slab.  The slab has been kept wet by sealing it in plastic sheet for about 48 hours and then kept warm (maybe only 10°C ) under a small tent using a fan assisted electric heater.  Without this, the refractory would not have cured properly in the -6 C that we have been getting during the night.

This shot shows the uncovered slab sitting on top of the Foamglas insulation.

In this picture you can see the 3 layers so far.  The 10 cm thick reinforced conventional concrete support slab, the 10 cm of Foamglas and then the 5 cm of refractory.  During firing, this refractory slab will reach temperatures around 400°C

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Casting the hearth slab

My oven design has a 5 cm thick slab of refractory concrete cast over the Foamglas insulation, on this we will lay the hearth bricks set into a thin layer of adobe mortar.  The reasons for casting this slab are to provide a flat level base to form the hearth, to increase the effective thickness of the hearth to 5 cm more than the walls and roof of the oven and to create a structurally strong base to the oven.  The ridged slab will spread the heavy load of the oven masonry, protecting the Foamglas, it also has a higher thermal conductivity and thermal capacity compared to the hearth bricks, that will improve the thermal characteristics of the oven.

The slab is made from castable refractory reinforced with stainless steel fibers.  Seen below, these are drawn fibers, approximately 25 mm long.  This type of reinforcing is used instead of regular mild-steel bar. Reinforcing using construction steel bar expands at a very different rate to the refractory and will cause the cast component to crack and fail.

This mix we are using consists of;

1 part refractory cement (Secar 70)
4 parts crushed metamorphic rock
2% by weight stainless fibres
12% Water

3/4 of the water, crushed rock and fibers are mixed using a power drill with egg-beater style attachment for 5 minutes.  The Cement is then added along with the remaining water and mixed for a further 3 minutes.

The refractory concrete is then spread out in our form work in a thin thin layer.  This will produce a much stronger slab than if one thick layer is used.  Using this method forces all the fibers into a  flat 2 dimensional matrix, aligned in the direction that will give the slab the most strength.  In this photograph you can see how the form-work was made by using relatively flimsy plywood strips, leveled in the corners on little wedges and then stiffened by the addition of blocks aver 15 cm attached temporarily with hot-melted glue.  This is a very fast way of making an accurate form that does not require lots of ridged material.  The form-work is then sealed against the Foamglas around the edge using a general purpose silicone. This will be removed later along with the form.

This shows the progress after 4 layers have been built up.  The mix is quite dry and requires quite a lot of working to remove any voids.  A dryer mix is preferred to putting in too much water.  If lots of water is used then there is more to evaporate and there will be more shrinkage and potentially cracking.

After checking the flatness of the slab with a straightedge run along the form the surface is given a careful smoothing.  

The slab is then covered in a thin plastic wrap in order to slow the rate of drying.  The Curing process will only continue while there is moisture in the concrete.  As it is very cold here at the moment, probably -4 C tonight, we have erected a smaller tent over the slab and placed an electric heater on a low setting.  The temperature of the drying slab will be maintained at a minimum temperature of about 4 degrees C for the next few days until the slab is fully cured.

The slab should be hard enough my the weekend so that I can start laying the hearth bricks.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

It's time for the Lambs - How I butcher lamb

Winter is just about here now, the grass has stopped growing, we have had to supplement their usual food intake with grain for the last weeks so it's time for this year's lambs.

Since slaughtering them last week, we have been hanging the 3 carcasses in the basement for about 5 days now, over the next two evenings, it is time to butcher them and get them into the freezer.  The Lambs have already been feeding us for the last few days, the liver, kidneys and other bits of offal have been a real treat.

I have put this quick photo guide together to show how I butcher lamb.  There are some differences between how I do this and how I would do it if I was selling the meat for profit.  Some parts of the animal would usually be cut divided up into smaller cutlets, but I like to leave pieces that I know will make a good curry or stew on the bone.

Here is one of the whole lambs, untrimmed, after being hung for 5 days.  First I halve this, usually while it is still hanging on hooks from its rear legs, by separating between the 13 and 14th ribs.  This leaves the rear end hanging up in the cold room while I deal with the front end.

The front feet followed by shanks are removed at the elbow joint, this can be done by cutting around the joint to separate the two bones, but I like to use a bone saw, its much faster and because it cuts through the bone. This will allow the bone marrow to escape during cooking.  Whenever the saw is used it is very important to remove, by scraping with a knife or plastic scraper, and bone dust that the saw leaves behind.  The bone dust/fatty residue left by the saw is not nice to eat, it has a gritty texture and can cause the meat to spoil quicker if left on.

Next I separate the fore-saddle from the shoulder and neck, this is done between the 4th and 5th ribs. A knife is used as much a possible here and the saw is only used when really necessary.

This is a close look at the cut through the fore-saddle.  I've very happy with the quality of the meat, there is a very good proportion of fat to lean meat and there is a good level of marbling of fat within the leaner muscle mass.

Next, the shoulders are separated from the neck by following the natural separation between the upper fore-leg and ribs. By gently pulling the cut leg section, shown above, away from the ribs, it is easy to see where to separate.  I like to leave as much meat as possible on the shoulder removing some of the neck meat in the process. 

 The ribs, still attached to the neck section, are trimmed off using the saw and the neck section I cut in to 3 or 4 good 'Curry recipe' size pieces.  These could be cut into neck cutlets, but I like to leave them like this.

The ribs are then trimmed off the fore-saddle.  After removing the spine using the saw I will then cut this section into individual cutlets or larger loin roasts, or a combination of both.  All the bones that are removed go to make stock.

The saddle is separated from the legs about 4 cm above the end of the leg muscles. 

Below I am removing the tenderloin, it runs along ether side of the spine on the inside of abdominal cavity.  

The tenderloins, I have left a little fat on them.  I recommend removing the outer membrane before cooking as it will shrink causing the tenderloin to curl up in the pan.  This is the most tender, delicate part of the animal, I like to fry them gently in a butter with a little salt and pepper, just a couple of minutes, left very pink in the middle.  Dorothy can eat this cut of lamb and she only has 2 teeth.

The belly is trimmed off the sides of the loin.  I will probably slow cook these between two baking sheets, sliced, then added to a salad or couscous.

The loin then has the back-bone removed using a saw, I usually then leave this in one piece, I will probably stuff it with herbs, roll it up and tie together, brown in a pan and then finish off in the oven for 10 mins.  Again, this is a very tender part of the lamb and needs very little cooking, I always server rare.

The leg is then removed from the pelvis by cutting leaving as much meat as possible on the leg.

This pointed bit I then trim off the top of the leg.  I like to colour in a pan, then cook sous-vide slowly for a few hours and then finish of by browning for a second time.

Rear shanks are then removed by cutting around with a knife and then through the bone with a saw.

The finished trimmed legs, the shanks will be slowly pot-roasted with lots of root vegetables and fennel, tonight probably!

Now the lamb is all in the freezer, I hope this has been of some interest.  I will be posting some recipes and results soon.