Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Bread Baking Day

Below you can see one of the "hearths" in Island Hearth and Handicrafts. I took photos last time we fired up our outdoor brick oven so I thought I'd share them. If you have aspirations of brick oven building and baking I highly recommend you go for it. It's extremely rewarding. My husband build our oven out of plans found in The Bread Builders by Daniel Wing and Alan Scott. He also aquires and splits all wood, builds all fires and rakes out all hot coals. I've done these things so I know how to do them but it's so nice having him do the dirty/hot work! That way I can concentrate on the bread. It's definitely a team effort around here on baking day...

The oven has only one chamber in which the fire is built and the bread baked. Here's the fire getting started. It will burn for about 4-5 hours or until the oven ceiling is so hot that the black, smoky soot burns clean off clear to the back of the interior of the oven. Here are the whole wheat sourdough loaves that I made the day before and kept in the refrigerator overnight. When the fire is about finished burning I pull the formed loaves out of the fridge and let them finish rising in the warming oven of the wood cookstove in our kitchen. (They rise in floured baskets.)
After the fire has burned down the coals are raked out evenly to distribute the heat over the hearth. They are are then shoveled out and put into the fireplace right next to the oven (below left). The oven chamber is then scraped and mopped out to clear all traces of coals and ash. The door is then put on (held in place by bricks) and the oven is left alone for a little while for the heat to even out in the thick masonry.
I know the oven is ready for the bread when I can stick my hand inside and count to about 7. If I can't make it to 5, it's too hot and I need to wait a bit longer. If I can count to 10 I've waited too long. If I can smell the hair burning off my arm I really need to wait a while! We tried using an oven thermometer a few times but it soon melted. I'm telling you, it's hot in there! The unbaked loaves in the baskets are flipped upside down onto a semolina-dusted wooden peel (again, made by hubby). They are slashed with a razor blade then loaded two at a time into the oven. As I flip, slash and load, my husband is opening and closing the oven door. The last thing I do is spray a bit of water on the inside oven dome. I then close the door, mark the time and hope for the best. I can fit 9 2-pound loaves in our oven (more if they're smaller). The heat radiates from every direction, surrounding the loaves, making them rise and brown beautifully. They're ready in about 25 minutes.
Here's the bread about to come out of the oven and the finished product below. This batch got delivered to friends and family. I still have a loaf in the freezer. The bread is simply made from freshly ground whole wheat, wild yeast sourdough starter, water, salt and the most important ingredient, time. It's nicely sour but still rises well. I loosely follow the Poilane-Style Miche recipe in Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice. You can see the nice crumb in the top picture. Yum!