Saturday, 23 August 2014

Baking today after a little break

Its been a while since we baked regularly due to being away for work and taking part in Triathlons.  Later in the year we will be taking a holiday, but until then I am going to try to bake as often as possible.

6 am start today to mix the dough which is now in the fermenting containers.  Probably about 2 hours to go until shaping time.

The oven has to be re-lit this morning as I forgot to close the damper properly last night, the result was that the temperature of the surface of the oven had dropped to around 250 °C.  I like to bake at around 300 °C.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

First Victoria sponge in a wood fired oven

This weekend we did our first bake in some time as we have been away or working on finishing our kitchen. We had a fantastic time baking bread again, I have missed it a lot.  When I went to tidy the bakery this evening, I thought I would take a quick temperature reading of the hearth and it was around 200°C, something had to be done with this retained heat, so I decided to try my first Victoria Sponge in a wood fired oven.  I'm no expert at baking cakes, but I am very pleased with the results, maybe the lightest, moistest   sponge I have ever tasted (except my mothers!).  With a bit more practice, I may start to offer a special order cake service.  You can cook a big cake in this oven, 80 x 120 cm, if you had a tin big enough!

Friday, 18 April 2014

Easter Bake

Just finished our Easter bake.  We baked on a Friday this week so that people had their bread before this special weekend.  We baked more loaves than we have done on a single firing and on a new schedule that we have not used before.  The results are continuing to improve as we refine our process form week to week and I hope we can keep this up.

Rustic Sourdough

Wholemeal sourdough with sunflower seeds

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Bread in a wood fired oven - Improving week to week

There are still a few things to finish on the wood fired oven, but I have been focusing on improving the quality and consistency of the two types of bread I bake each week.  In the last couple of weeks we have started using a new source of flour and as a result the mixing, hydration, fermentation and proofing has all been adjusted. With what we learned baking last week some more refinements were made this week and the results are now greatly improved.

Quick lunch on bake day

Our wholemeal bread with sun-flour seeds is now being made with this new, freshly milled, wholemeal flour. This recipe needed more work than the rustic white bread, which I have been making for a long time.  This weeks changes have finally got close to what I have been aiming for.  The main difference from the rustic white method is that where the white dough is proofed cold for around 8 hours.  The wholemeal is fermented cold for 10 hours and then proofed warm for 1.5 hours.  The cold dough hold shape much better and then maintains this shape while proofing.  This results in a much lighter loaf with a more open crumb.
Wholemeal with sunflower seeds

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Recipe - Rustic Sourdough

This is the basic outline for my Rustic Sourdough bread.  With a brief set of instructions like this, it is only possible to show the approximate quantities and techniques.  There are entire books written on the techniques that go into making these ingredients into high quality bred.  I will not be able to go into anywhere near enough detail in this post, but I will, in the future, dedicate posts to specific parts of the process.  To explain my formula, I will be using baker percentages, where all quantities are expressed in terms of a percentage of the weight of wheat in the final dough.


2 KG of starter at 100% Hydration
1 KG strong bread flour
1L cold water

Final dough;

2 KG  all purpose flour
4 KG strong bread flour
1.5 % Salt
75% water

Two days before bake day, expand 100 g of starter with 200 g of strong flour and 200 ml of water, leave for 12 hours at around 15 °C.  Expand the 500 g of 1st starter by adding 750 g of strong flour and 750 ml of water.  Allow another 12 hours of cool fermentation.

Roughly mix the remaining 2 KG of strong flour with 3.5 L of water, this is then left to sit for 2 hours.  After this resting period mix the remaining flour, starter and salt to complete the dough formula.

I then leave the dough to sit for another 30 minutes and then hand knead for 15 minutes.  The final dough is then left to ferment for 12 hours at the same cool temperature.  The dough is then divided into 1 KG portions, shaped and left to proof in linen lined baskets.  After half an hour of proofing, the loaves are put in a cold room overnight at around 7 °C.  In smaller quantities the dough would be in the refrigerator or for these quantities, at a warmer time of year, this step would be omitted and shaping would happen just 2 hours before baking.  With the cold rest period the dough is removed from the cold room and allowed to warm up and proof at room temperature for 2-3 hours.

Baking happens in our wood fired oven with the hearth temperature at around 250-260°C until the internal dough temperature is 98°C.  At these temperatures, baking will take approximately 25-30 minutes.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Baking weekend - Rustic and wholemeal sourdough

It was a very early start required for our first production bake in the wood fired oven.  The quantities we were planning this weekend are not big as it all needed to be mixed and kneaded by hand, but we wanted as many people as possible to taste our bread.  We had pre-orders for 17 loaves of our rustic sourdough and I was experimenting by making a small batch of 7 wholemeal and sunflower loaves. In the end we sold out of everything, but did leave ourselves a couple to eat during the week.  Unfortunately we don't have lots of pictures of all our lovely customer standing round the oven as the weather was appalling and with no proper walls yet on the bakery, it was too cold for people to stay outside.

In addition to this being the largest bake I have done, we were also trying out a new brand of flour.  The flour is an improvement from the bread flower we have been using, but as it is stronger, the hydration will need to be adjusted to achieve the same open crumb that we were getting.  

The real success of the weekend was the wholemeal, it was by far the tastiest bread I have baked and we will be looking to improve it further over the next few weeks.  This new recipe can also be baked at a higher temperature, enabling us to start baking earlier on the thermal curve of the oven, increasing its baking capacity.

We won't be baking for a couple of weeks.  Now we have done a larger scale experiment, there are a few things that need to be finished on the oven and bakery, we need to find a baking assistant for me and we are also considering buying a mechanical mixer.

First batch of rustic sour-dough loaves

Friday, 14 March 2014

Baking weekend - Pizza night

The wood fired oven is fired up ready for tomorrows bake, so we have been making use of the super hot oven this evening and having a pizza night.  

Mmmmm.  Pizza night!

Very excited about tomorrow.  We have pre-orders for all the bread we are baking, yes, completely sold out!  There may even be a little surprise treat for available for tomorrows customers.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Real bread from a real wood fired oven - Baking this Saturday

With the oven just about finished and a few test bakes under our belt, this Saturday will be the first big bake. We almost have more than enough orders from family, friends and Facebook followers than we can deal with this weekend, but we can accept a few more before 7pm this evening.  If you would like to get a loaf Saturday then you have a few more hours to get an order in.  The choice this weekend is our rustic sourdough or our sunflower seed Whole-wheat sourdough.  If demand increases at all, we will be looking to employ a part-time baker is a couple of weeks time to help out.

We can be contacted via google+ or our facebook page.

White Rustic Sourdough

Monday, 3 March 2014

Rustic sourdough, baguettes and Spelt.

This evening we have nice load of bread out of the wood fired oven, including my first sourdough spelt and baguettes along with my normal rustic sourdough.  Very happy with everything that came out the oven, but the baguettes can be improved by modifying the hydration.
Some bread from today's bake

Here is a quick outline of the spelt flour sourdough loaf:

2 KG of spelt flour type 630
200 g of wholemeal spelt flour (fermented as a starter)
30 g sea salt
68% hydration of final dough.

The dough was kneaded for about 10 mins and then stretched a few times during early stages of fermentation which was at a cool temperature overnight.  The dough was then divided into 3 and left to rise in plastic bowls lined with olive oil.  Baking took 30 mins in a hot oven until
the internal temperature was reading 98 C.

Soughdough from 100% spelt flour

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Building a wood fired bread and pizza oven - firing door

To improve the air flow while firing the oven, I have been working on a door that is put in place while wood is burning.  The extra large door combined with such a low arch does not really scale down to such a small oven.  Ideally the door / lintel should be a few centimetres lower than the reducer arch so that all hot gasses go up the chimney and not out the door.  In a larger oven the the door would be the same height as this one, but the main arch and reducer arch would be significantly higher.  The oversized door on this oven was always going to be a design trade-off so to compensate, I am experimenting with a firing door that fits behind the baking door, under the lintel.

Testing the firing door
If the proportions of the firing door are correct it will assist with a better, more efficient burn of the oven.  The reduced aperture improves the separation between the air flowing into the oven and the exhaust gasses leaving by the roof of the oven.  Today test has gone well.  The door proportions seem close to optimal, there is no longer any smoke or flames coming out of the door opening and the improved separation of airflow seems to have improved the amount of air flowing into the oven.

Baking light
The only other new feature to the oven is this light, so that I can see a little better when baking.

Looking forward to doing my second full load of bread tomorrow night.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Rustic Sour Dough Loaf

Now the oven has been insulated it is time to try my regular bake in a wood fired oven.  This is the first time I have done my regular weekly bake in a wood fired oven and over the next few weeks I will be refining my technique until I get the results that I want every time.

This week I chose to bake just 9 loaves as I don't yet know how the oven will perform.  As it turns out, the oven holds heat very well and looking at the cooling rate, it looks like we will be able to bake at least 5 full loads per firing.  

not quite a full load

The oven holds steam extremely well which results in a superb oven spring.  I have been experimenting and improving my technique for  a few years, but in a regular oven have never managed to achieve close to these results.
Shame you can't hear the crust crackling as they cool

With the long slow fermentation and natural leaven, this bread take 3 days to make, but the result is incomparable to a commercial baked bread in both flavour and texture.

Good structure to the crumb
There is still some work to do on the oven before we can start to bake seriously, but I think we are not far away now.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Building a wood fired bread and and pizza oven - Insulation and more Insulation

Tomorrow I am planning to bake my third load of bread in the wood fired oven, but this time it is going to be properly insulated.  First I have wrapped the oven in thick aluminium foil, followed by a layer of ceramic blanket and another few layers of aluminium foil.  

Oven wrapped in Aluminium foil and ceramic blanket layers
 The 1.2 cubic meters of Perlite have been pored over the top to fill the void between the inner brickwork of the oven and the exterior cladding.  This gives an average thickness of insulation of about 20 cm.

 Now the insulation is in I have lit a full burn with the oven almost full of wood, pre cut to the correct length.  The fire was lit at the front of the oven and it naturally burns to the back.  The first third of the burn is not very efficient as there is too much fuel/gases being burned as it goes up the chimney, but by the time the fire has reach a third of the way back the wood has been heated so much that it has turned to charcoal.  The remaining fire is super hot, controlled to a nice burn rate.
  Tonight, once the oven has calmed down a bit we will be having pizza.  The oven will then be sealed and left to equilibrate over night, ready for baking sourdough tomorrow.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Building a wood fired bread and pizza oven - A box to hold insulation

It will probably never be said that my choice of exterior cladding for this wood fired oven is anything to look at, but on the other hand in terms of function it is just a box to hold all the insulation in.  In this case that is going to be a very large amount of insulation.  It is thinnest at the front around the door at a thickness of about 11cm.  Around the remainder of the oven there is a gap between oven mass and insulation of approximately 20 cm.  Under the hearth there is 10 cm of Foamglass.

Exterior of the oven
 The outside of the oven has been tack welded together, in each corner there is steel angle which allows some overlap and allows some adjustment of the panels.  The corners were clamped together and checked with a spirit level.  The box is held up by first attaching some lengths of steel to the concrete slab with rawl plugs and  hex head screws.  The panels are then also welded to those lengths of steel.

Foil faced ceramic and mineral wool insulation can be seen
 The front of the oven and the exterior cladding is separated with layers of foil faced insulation, ceramic on the hottest side and then mineral wool.  This needs to be kept separate from my baking so this will be encapsulated with sheet aluminium 0.2 mm thick.  This is  enough to hold its shape, but not so thick that it will conduct lots of thermal energy away from the hot side of the wall envelope.
Aluminium sheet to encapsulate insulation around the door
Tomorrow I am hoping to finish insulating the oven and fire the oven ready to bake on Sunday and Monday.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Building a wood fired bread and pizza oven - Fabricating an oven door

So for my wood fired oven I am going to make the exterior case out of 3mm thick sheet steel.  This evening I wanted to get the front panel that includes the oven door made.  The corners of the exterior of the oven will be made of steel angle section which will give me some room to adjust the position of the panels before welding.  This should enable me to get the position of the door hole closely aligned with the opening of the oven.  To enable fast loading and unloading of the oven, I have opted for a door that is hinged at the top and swings up and our of the way.  I will need to come up with some kind of counter balance to both keep the door shut and open.

I have  got as far as tack welding the door to the front of the oven.  I still have to make the door opener and complete these welds, but for now the tack weld will do as they will be easy to grind off if I need to move something.  I will also spend a bit of time cleaning up with a grinder to make thing look nice.

Currently the door is insulated with high temperature foil faced rock-wool sandwiched between the oven face plate and a stand off plate.  The finished oven door will have the rock-wool and stand off plate sealed by a thin sheet of aluminium to prevent any insulation falling out into the oven.

Hopefully tomorrow the panels will be attached to the oven ready for the loose fill perlite insulation.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Wood fired bread and pizza oven - The bakers has a roof

Finally the bakery has a roof and this is the first bit of work we have got someone in to do.  I can now keep the oven dry and finish the wood fired oven without getting dripped on through holes in a tarpaulin.

my two girls with the roofers working on the bakery

the finished roof
Once the oven is finished we will clad the outside of the bakery to match the house.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Building a wood fired bread oven - Rear wall - arch junction

Its been a couple of weeks since I had the opportunity to do any further work on the wood fired oven.  After rushing to get the oven ready for our daughters birthday, it's now time to correct the bits that I did not have the material to do correctly the first time.  It is desirable that the oven is as air tight and possible when the doors and damper is shut, but the junction between the rear wall and arch is a problem, the arch expands much more than the wall and it is therefore not possible to tie the two together rigidly.  This is all a bit of an experiment, but the approach I have chosen to try, is to leave an expansion gap of about 6 mm which is the blocked with a refractory gasket material.

To create the expansion gap, 3 courses of bricks have been removed from the rear wall.  This was a good opportunity to take a picture of the back of the reducer arch.

I don't think this gasket materiel will completely seal the oven, but the gap should help maintain the integrity of the brickwork and the gasket will keep some of the smoke / gasses and steam from escaping.

Now this is complete, the mortar will have to be left to dry for a few days and then curing fires will be started again to drive out any remaining moisture before the oven can be used again for baking.  This should give me time to build to exterior cover that will hold all the insulation.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Building a wood fired bread and pizza oven - first bread bake

Today we baked bread for the first time in our almost finished wood fired oven and as I have never baked more than about 2.5 KG of dough at one time before I thought it was about time I had a go at doing a larger batch.  The dough I was using today is my standard bake that I have been doing most weeks for the last couple of years.  It is almost the same every time but I do tend to vary the hydration.  This time I went to the wet end of the scale, which for this flour, which is not bread flour (as it is not readily available here) is about the following proportions;


  • 2 Kg plain type 650 flour
  • 2 litres of water

Final dough

  • 8 Kg plain flour type 650
  • 1.5% salt
  • 6 litres of water
The starter expanded from about 100 g to 500 g on Wednesday night and then again to 2 KG on Thursday morning. The final dough was mixed together Friday evening, rested for 30 mins and then kneaded by hand for about 20 mins. Fermentation was done for 5 hours at 15 °C and then retarded overnight at 6 °C.  The dough was degassed and stretched a few times during the initial fermentation.

I lit the fire before breakfast and did about 1 and a half burns over the space of about 3 hours, the slow burning embers were then spread out and took about another hour to lose most of their colour.  About the time of raking out the fire I divided the dough, a little shaping and then placed in plastic boles that had been greased with olive oil.  After 2 hours the embers were raked out of the oven and the hearth mopped with a wet rag wrapped around the rake.  This is a part I really need to refine as I currently do not really have a good way of cleaning the hearth after firing.

Towards the end of firing. 
 After about 2.5 hours of proving the hearth temperature was around 300 °C and the vault about 360°C so I decided to do a test bake with a single loaf.  This turned out rather well and after 30 minutes the internal temperature of the dough was around 98 °C, a little over baked.

Removing the test bake

Testing the internal temperature of the loaf

With only a little insulation on the oven and only a partial firing today, the oven was cooling quite rapidly, so the test bake was probably done at the best time for baking and the remaining loaves could have done with a little higher vault temperature.

The remaining dough was then put into the oven and due to a very wet dough that wanted to spread out and some very inexperienced oven work by myself, only 7 of the 8 loaves fitted.  These cooked well enough in about 40 minutes, but had a little less oven spring than the first and less colouration of the crust.

The main bake
The final loaf went in on its own and cooking in about the same 40 mins that the main batch took.  So in all there was enough heat in the oven to do 3 batches of bread.

Last few coming out
The test loaf was cooled on about 1.5 hours and then went to the family for testing.  As you can see from the photograph below it turned out exactly how I have been trying to get my bread to be but had never really achieved in a normal domestic oven.  The crumb was super light and soft and the crust nutty and aromatic the sort of bread that you can still taste in your mouth for a couple of hours.  Unfortunately I was only able to save one slice long enough to take a picture. Looking forward to finishing the oven and doing the next bake.

The last surviving  slice of the test bake.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Building a wood fired bread and pizza oven - Pizza Time

Exciting day today in the storey of building our wood fired bread and pizza oven.  The first hurdle was to make a safe exit for the exhaust gases from the bakery.  This required a double walled insulated stove pipe with a flashing to stop the rain and snow coming in.  None of this was available so we fabricated our own.  

Using two different diameters of stove pipe made from 2 mm mild steel, 160mm and 200mm diameters, the inner pipe is wrapped in high temperature, foil faced mineral wool.  We bound the mineral tight to the inner pipe by wrapping it in thin mettle wire and with a bit of teasing the 200 mm pipe squeezed over.  The outer pipe has the flashing welded to it at the correct angle for the ridge of the bakery roof.  The flashing we cut out of 2 mm steel sheet.  The whole thing was then cleaned up with a wire brush attachment on the angle grinder and painted, first with rust resistant primer and then a black finish coat.

Today we also took delivery of the Perlite that we will be using as a loose fill insulation around the oven.  As the delivery charge was initially more than the cost of the perlite, I decided to get a whole pallet, about 1500 L, about a hundred pounds.  More than we need, but maybe I will start growing plants in this stuff in the spring.

A little perlite insulation

With the flashing painted we could then complete the remainder of the work on the chimney.  The path the chimney takes was done so that the minimum distance between any hot surface and and flammable material is 450 mm.

Finished chimney

With the chimney completed and my parents arriving today ready for our daughters 1st birthday party on Sunday, I could not resist the temptation of have a practice run.  As mentioned in a earlier blog post, a couple of weeks ago, I promised that that oven would be ready in time to cook pizza for the party guests. At times I thought we would not get everything ready, but by getting help from Damian, we are just about ready. Last minute fabrication of a peel, handle of rough cut wood, smoothed to remove and splinters with an orbital sander.

making a peel

2 mm steel paddle cut out with an angle grinder.  Stainless would have been better, but I don't have any laying around.  Cleaned up with the wire attachment and then treated with vegetable oil and heat.

cutting out the blade of the peel

This is my first time making pizza, but I know the basics.  Really hot oven with the embers still sitting around the edge of the oven.  I made a simple dough similar to my focaccia recipe here, but not as wet and as I had not time to mess around, instant yeast was used instead of sourdough.  

After firing the oven for a couple of hours the embers were pushed to the sides and the hearth, mopped with a wet cloth wrapped around a garden rake.  The temperature of the hearth at this point was around 500 °C.

Mopping the hearth to remove some soot

measuring temperature of the hearth

A tomato sauce I have used is half good quality tinned tomato half passata.  Lots of garlic black pepper and a glug of balsamic vinegar, simmered for a while to intensify the sauce.  The first pizza was topped with home made air cured pork belly, onion and spinach.
Spinach and air cured pork belly

The second pizza was topped with home made chorizo, onion and black pepper.

Home made air cured chorizo

Had lots of fun finally using the oven that has taken so much planning and time to build.  Next step is to bake bread on Saturday followed by a very large number of pizzas on Sunday.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Building a wood fired bread and pizza oven - Chimney transition and more fire

Last few days have mainly been concerned with making the chimney transition, this part will act to smoothly transfer the exhaust gases to the round chimney pipe and will also contain a flap that can be moved to adjust the flow rate.  Fully closed the chimney damper will enable to oven to be sealed during baking of bread.

The transition section has been made from 2mm sheet steel, cut using an angle grinder and then welded using a cheap stick welder. The shapes were worked out by first drawing it in Sketchup and then transferring the measurements to the sheet steel.

Chimney transition in place
With the chimney transition in place, the curing fires are a lot easier to light, keep it burning and a cleaner burn with less smoke.

The oven dome has also been covered with some temporary insulation, the insulation is a foil faced mineral wool that is rated to 530°C.  I have covered the dome in this as it enables a more even heating of the dome during the curing process.

The curing fires have gradually been increased in temperature, the oven has now been fired for a total of about 24 hours.  Unintentionally, the curing has now been completed, after (I thought anyway!) fire had gone out last night, I completely filled the oven with alder logs.  I had planned to leave the logs in the oven as they had been in the rain, leaving them not dry enough to fire the oven.  Unfortunately there must have been some embers left in the oven and once the logs had dried out they ignited.  When I woke up this morning there was a large hole in the roof of the bakery (fortunately, it did not set fir to the structure) and there was a very small amount of ash where the logs had been.  The fire must have been seriously hot, all the black soot that had collected inside the oven was burned off, even on the reducer dome and chimney transition.  Several hours later the temperature of the brickwork is still over 300°C and the temperature of the hearth insulation transition is at 230°C.  I had intended to spend a few more days gradually increasing the temperature, but I guess the curing process was expedited.  There has been some cracking near the centre of the oven, but nothing more than I had expected even with a proper curing process, some in the brick dome and one crack in the refractory slab that the hearth sits on.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Building a wood fired bread and pizza oven - First curing fire

In the last couple of days we have made significant progress on my our wood fired bread and pizza oven. The final bit of cast refractory needed to be finished as early as possible as it needs at least 24 hours to dry out at 20 – 30°C before it can be cured at higher temperatures. This last bit of cast refractory covers the reducer arch and brings it up to the height of the door lintel. On the centre of these two components will sit the chimney.

pointing the inside of the oven

After all the vibrating of the cast, refractory is completed. We are confident that the reducer arch temporary supports can be removed. This then allowed just enough space for me to squeeze in and do a little pointing and cleaning up any unwanted mortar.

The main bits of brickwork have been heated for a few days now with an electric heater. The temperature has been gradually increased until for the last 24 hours the brickwork was held at around 40°C. The small amount of mortar used for pointing quickly dried out and so this evening I decided it was time for the first curing fire. The first curing fire was started, very small initially and then increased in size until a reasonable amount of embers built up.

For the first hour the inner surface temperature was kept to less then 120°C, this was at the point directly above the fire, then in the following 3 hours the temperature was gradually increased until most of the inside of the top part of the dome was at around 160°C. The highest surface temperatures reached were directly above the flames and were no higher than 220°C. At the front of the oven, around the chimney transition, where the refractory was only cast 24 hours earlier, the temperature did not exceed 90°C. This is in line with the curing protocol provided by PCO the manufacturer. The final temperature reached on the outside of the dome brickwork was 80°C. This was my target temperature for the day as it is the maximum surface temperature for the extruded polystyrene that is currently cladding the outside of the oven.

Monitoring internal surface temperatures using an infra-red thermometer 

Buried in the hearth of the oven at the hearth / insulation transition is a thermocouple. The temperature reached at this point, after 4 hours of gently firing was 46°C. I expect this continued to rise for some time after I wrapped up the oven and stopped monitoring in order to come inside and write up this post. It is -10°C outside at the moment, so I am glad to be finished for the night and inside drinking a hot coco.