The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

OldWoodenSpoon's blog

OldWoodenSpoon's picture

It seems like everyone is baking Raisin-Walnut bread of one kind or another.  Me too!  With the holidays drawing to a close, we are generally "sweeted out", and wanted a flavorful loaf that is not full of sugar, to go with morning coffee and all.  This seems to fill the bill nicely.  The recipe calls for minimal sugar, and gains most of it's sweetness from the natural sweetness of the raisins.

I followed the BBA formula with only a couple of exceptions.  I am still trying to use up some powdered buttermilk from the fridge, so I substituted that here and adjusted the water accordingly.  Also, Mr. Reinhart does not instruct to plump the raisins for this loaf, but I prefer the results I get when I do so.  I soaked the raisins in about 1/2 cup of brandy and enough hot water to cover them over in the bowl.  I thoroughly drained them before hand-kneading them and the walnuts into the dough.  I hand-kneaded the nuts and raisins so they would not get torn up by the Bosch, where I did the main work of mixing the dough.

I baked the dough as two panned loaves, in 8.5" x 4.5" pans, prepared with my pan release.  The house has been much cooler these past few day, so proofing took an extra 45 minutes or so.  Baking, however, was done a bit sooner than expected, probably because I left my baking tiles in the oven.  The crust is not adversely affected, however, and the crumb is very nice.

As you can see, I did not do a perfect job of shaping these loaves for the pan.  The crumb does not seem to show the obvious lines you might expect, given the exterior appearance.

These two loaves are the end of my 2010 baking year.  Tomorrow starts a new year, and I have the rye sour working already for the BBA Pumpernickel to kick off the new year.  That is another story though.

Thanks for stopping by, and Happy New Year!

OldWoodenSpoon's picture

I thought:  I have just enough time to bake one more goodie.  With both our son and daughter coming home for Christmas, what could be better than a celebration?  Since I just got the BBA off the bookmobile, why not use Peter Reinhart's celebration loaf, the Cranberry Walnut Celebration Loaf to be exact?  Well, mostly exact.  I did not have any real buttermilk, but we have some powdered buttermilk in the refrigerator, so I substituted that instead.  I bought the orange extract for this loaf, deciding I would like that better than the lemon, and I am sure I made the right choice there.  I also decided to soak the dried cranberries before making this up, so I put them in a bowl with about 1/3 cup of brandy and enough hot water to cover them, for about an hour.  I mostly drained them before adding them to the dough.  I should have drained them a little better.

This was not a overly difficult formula but I had some trouble with the hydration.  At first the dough came out quite dry and I added several (4 or 5) tablespoons of water before it seemed right. I later realized this was because I used powdered buttermilk, and failed to adjust the water.  At least I failed to acknowledge the water required, but I did add it since I got to the prescribed dough consitency.  Then I added the cranberries that I should have drained more thoroughly and it got too wet.  A scant tablespoon of flour brought it around and made me happy.  The cranberries and walnuts were a little trouble to get well distributed too, but in the end it seems to have turned out well.

It took several minutes longer than the recipe called for to reach the internal temperature target, but the loaf developed beautiful color by the time it was finally done.  The aroma while cooking was redolent of oranges and cranberries mixed in with that "There's bread in the oven!" smell I imagine we all love so much.  It was a great house to go to bed in last night while this loaf cooled.  Here it is:

Cranberry-Walnut Celebration Loaf

And of course, the crumb:

We could not resist trying a couple of slices this morning.  It has a delightful texture with a tender and creamy crumb, plenty of fruit and nuts, and if anything, a bit too strong an orange overtone to it.  I think I will reduce the orange extract next time, or at least measure extra carefully to see if it was my mistake.  It is not overpowering, but it is a bit strong to our taste.  Regardless, we are planning to make sure there is enough left over for turkey sandwiches on Sunday.

Merry Christmas to all

OldWoodenSpoon's picture

On Friday night I baked the ciabatta from Rose Levy Beranbaums's The Bread Bible (TBB).  On Saturday I decided to try Peter Reinhart's recipe from Bread Baker's Apprentice (BBA) for comparison.  I am glad I did.  My results were success-failures.  I failed to properly shape the loaves from TBB, and as a result I ended up with broad, flat, spreading loaves with little or no loft/spring.  As a consequence of that I nearly over-baked them, although by appearance you would not think so.  I should have pushed the hydration more in the BBA loaves, because they ended up a bit "bready".  Here are my results.

First, Friday night from The Bread Bible:



As you can see, there was little true "spring" in these loaves, but the crust came out thin and crisp as it should, and the crumb is filled with holes both big and small.  I especially like the gelatinization of the starches that is evident here.  This bread is not perfect, but it is good to both the eye and the palate.  We have been slicing it big, then splitting it crosswise, and making very tasty sandwiches from this.

After these results I decided to try a comparison to broaden my experience, so I let Peter Reinhart challenge me.  Saturday night I baked the ciabatta from the BBA.  I have a couple more pictures from that bake than I do of the TBB bake above.

The shot above attests to how wet this dough was, although after the bake I concluded it needs to be wetter still.  Below are the (very) rustic loaves proofed, loaded on my "Super Peel" and ready for loading into the oven.

I baked these on my unglazed quarry tiles, as exactly according to direction as possible, even spraying the oven repeatedly during the early 90 seconds of the bake.

These loaves were not shaped perfectly, but they live up to "rustic" in character.

The folds are quite evident in my loaves, not that I think that is a bad thing.  It adds to the rustic character, and does not detract from the taste at all in my opinion.  The overabundance of flour, however, is another thing entirely, as the next shot shows.

This dough needed to be wetter, and the crumb attests to this.  The directions specify a variable amount of water from 3 to 6 ounces.  I used most of the 6 ounces.  In a sidebar Mr. Reinhart advocates raising the hydration even more, so long as the dough will sustain the stretch and folds needed to develop the gluten.  My loaves indicate this is not only a good idea, but necessary to achieve truly good results.

This closeup of the crumb shows how truly "bready" the crumb turned out.  It very much needed more water/less flour.  In addition, the small white "scrolls" in the crumb disclose my excess in flouring the dough between stretch and folds, and in shaping.  I was a bit too enthusiastic in "generously" flouring the dough between operations.  Controling this, too, will help me improve next time.

These recipes are for the same bread, but as I turned them out they seem to be from different planets.  Despite the lack of loft in the RL version I think I did the bestjob of that bread.  I got a much more true result, albeit altitude challenged!  The BBA recipe bears repeating as well, because with still higher hydration, and more moderation in that "generosity" between operations it will, no doubt, turn out a beautiful loaf.  I much prefer the bBA approach to shaping, and I like the rustic nature of the loaves once they are baked.

Two pairs of slippers: Two different ciabattas.  Too much fun!
Thanks for stopping by.


Footnote:  For those not aware:  ciabatta is Italian for "slipper" and the shape of this loaf is supposed to evoke the image of a slipper when done correctly.  Hence the name.

OldWoodenSpoon's picture

My 30+ year old recipe card says this is Swiss Egg Bread.  I have no idea where I got this recipe, and I have looked it up by name on the web and found many versions that are similar, but none that are exactly the same as mine.  I do know that, whatever it's true name, this is a wonderful bread.  It makes excellent toast, which is my favorite.  It is popular with the neighbors for sandwiches and for French Toast as well.  I have been baking it every year at Christmas time and giving it away, for 30 years, and it has been popular wherever I have sent it.  I won't try to defend the use of Crisco in this recipe.   I bake it as it was given to me, and we like it.  I'm sure other fats could produce acceptable results.  Try them if you are averse to Crisco, or welcome a challenge.

In the original form the recipe below was stated by volume, but I have successfully converted it to weight, and I get much better results than I did when I baked it by volume.  Also, it is a big recipe that makes four 9" x 5" pan loaves if you use the full measure.   The recipe is very reminiscent of Challah and has similar consistency, and while I have never baked this as a stacked-braid loaf I think it would do well that way.

Here is the recipe I use, as converted to weights.

Makes 4 large ( 9" x 5" ) pan loaves

                            WT (grams)
PART I - The Sponge
WARM MILK                    1044  (I use 1 quart of whole milk)
ADY                                           9
WARM WATER                    79
SUGAR                                   24
AP FLOUR                           468


PART II - Main Dough
AP FLOUR                            1300
MELTED SHORTENING      188 (I use 1 stick of Crisco)
SUGAR                                       95
SALT                                           12
LG EGGS (6)                           390 (You will have to adjust flour based, at least, on true egg size)

Scald the milk, then cool to lukewarm
If using Active Dry Yeast: Disolve yeast and sugar in the warm water and allow to proof
If using Instant Yeast: Add sugar and water to milk and stir to disolve sugar
                                 Reduce yeast quantity by 20% and mix instant yeast into flour
Combine milk, yeast and flour mixtures and beat with a spoon or whisk till smooth.
Cover and set aside. Allow to rise until light, about an hour or so.

Add main dough ingredients, holding back 150 grams of flour. Stir, adding reserved flour, until it
clears the sides of the bowl. When the dough becomes too stiff to stir, transfer it to a well floured
surface and knead in flour till dough is tacky but not sticky. Knead by hand until dough is soft and
smooth, about 10-15 minutes. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl or dough rising bucket and
set aside to rise until doubled in bulk.

Divide dough into 4 equal pieces. Divide each piece into 3 equal pieces. Shape each piece
into a rough log. Go back to the first and roll each piece out into a rope about 14" long.
Braid 3 pieces into each loaf, making four loaves. Pinch the ends and tuck them under
and place each into a 9"x5" loaf pan prepared with your preferred release. Cover and set
aside to rise until doubled.

Brush each with egg wash of 1 yolk + 1 Tbsp cold water.
Bake in 350F oven for 40-50 minutes, turning after 35 minutes to brown evenly.
Remove from pans immediately and brush tops liberally with melted buter.
Cool on a wire rack.

As I said, this is a big recipe, and it produces 4 big loaves like this:

This bread has a very cake-like crust when you don't put too much flour into it, but it also keeps well.

Here is a crumb shot:

And this is a closeup of the crumb:


My personal favorite uses of this bread are for breakfast buttered toast with or without jam, and with cheddar cheese in a good old fashioned grilled cheese sandwich.


OldWoodenSpoon's picture

A few days ago our son announced he had bought a scale, and he needed a straight dough formula for non-sourdough (his preference) "french bread".  He has been baking "French Style Bread" from "Beard on Bread" for a couple of years, and he wanted a weight-based formula for a similar bread.  I gave him some tips on how he could convert his cups-and-teaspoons formula to weights by baking to volume and weighing everything, and I also gave him the flour/water/salt/yeast basic formula for a 65% hydration straight dough bread for a loaf of about 850 grams.  I have not heard back from him yet on what he chose to do or how it came out.  He did, however, get me interested, and thanks to the influence of my recent experience with the Rubaud flour mix, I've taken a new interest in spelt as well.  I decided to try putting them together.

I put together what is, loosely interpreted, Pain Ordinaire...  Ordinary bread.  The formula is my own concoction relying on a basic hydration of 68%, and flour mix of 75% Pendelton Mills Power (Bread) flour, 10% BRM Dark Rye and 15% Montana Milling Whole Spelt (Thanks Stan!) flour.  I started with a 5 hour poolish of 160 grams of water, 160 grams of flour mix, and a scant 1/8th teaspoon of instant dry yeast.  Because the arthritis in my wrists has been bad lately, I assembled the dough, including the poolish but holding back the salt, in my Bosch mixer.  I mixed the ingredients for about three minutes, then left it to sit for 30 minutes (autolyse).  I then added the salt and "kneaded" the dough till it was well developed (8 or 9 minutes).  Considering the amount of spelt flour in my formula I think this came back to haunt me later.  I think spelt does not tolerate over-kneading well.  Here is the specific formula I used:

Flour  1158 grams     100%
Water  787 grams       68%
Yeast    17 grams       1.5%
Salt       20 grams      1.7%

Total Dough Weight:  2000 grams  (I planned for 2 1Kg boules)

After kneading I moved the dough to a dough bucket for bulk fermentation, noting that I had 2 liters of dough.  It hit 4 liters in less than two hours.  When that happened I decided to go ahead and shape the loaves and retard them overnight in the refrigerator to bake this morning. I hoped that strategy would slow down the yeast and help develop some flavor.  I preshaped the two boules and let them rest, then tightened them up and put them in my large round floured baskets, covered them with oiled plastic wrap and into the refrigerator.  I put them on the bottom, coldest, shelf in hopes of being able to hold them off till late afternoon or evening Saturday.

I looked in on them about bed time, four or so hours later, and they were obviously not very retarded!  I knew I was in trouble, but it was far too late to try to bake them before retiring.  Instead, I set my alarm for 6:30 AM, an inhumane hour for me for a Saturday morning.  When it woke me I got up, started the oven, and checked the bread.  Yup.  In trouble.  It had over proofed, even in the refrigerator.

Because of the size I baked them one at a time, directly from the refer with no bench time at all.  Even so, they fell badly when I slashed them.  There was some oven spring, but not a great deal.  I have a good deal to learn about spelt I'm afraid.  The loaves did not come out "bad", but rather, they look like their namesake:  ordinary. 

I got little oven spring because the dough had little left to give.  I got a great crust thanks to the roaster-pan-lid steaming method and a liberal spritzing with water before covering.  The crumb is dense, as would be expected from loaves that were over proofed and fell significantly on slashing, but supple and chewy.  Maybe even a bit "rubbery", probably because of the high gluten flour.  The flavor is very pleasant, and the poolish made a very positive impact.  I also like the flavor of the spelt and rye together.  It was not a disaster by any means, and it was a good lesson, but I look forward to trying again.  I will be much more careful of my timing next bake, especially if I use as much spelt flour again.

Here are some pictures to illustrate my points, beginning with the loaves.

And then the crumb shot:

As you can see, I even botched the slice, leaving a jagged surface.  And I did it twice.

This is not a candidate for the "Ugly Bread" thread, but there is plenty of room for improvement.  I'll bet it makes good French Toast for breakfast tomorrow or Monday though!


OldWoodenSpoon's picture

I think I'll post these here, and then start a new "Ugly Loaf" thread in the General forum.  It seems I'm always posting loaves I'm proud of because they look nice (to me), so it is time to admit I'm human.  Really, really human.

I spent the day yesterday baking, and making a giant batch of Red Sauce for pasta and lasagna.  In and among all of that I also started a batch of sourdough bread to ferment overnight and bake tonight.  Tonight, my wife made us a lasagna for dinner from the red sauce out of the refrigerator, and I planned to follow that in the oven with my bread.  The sauce was cold, the cheese was not thawed out, and things took a lot longer than planned, so by the time the oven was free and up to bread temperature, my loaves were, shall we say, more than ready!

On top of that, I broke the bottom of my La Cloche baker last week (another story for another time) so I started experimenting with the inverted roasting pan for steaming.  Yesterday went okay, but I need lots of practice!  Today these over-proofed loaves bested me easily.  The first stuck to the peel, which was not big enough for it's over-proofed girth anyway.  It ended up in almost the middle of my baking shelf and I could not move it.  I pushed the second one in alongside as close as I could get it and told my wife "This is going to be ugly." in my best deadpan tone.  I was right.  Here's proof!

The two loaves were overlapping "a little bit" in the middle.  They also spread out plenty when they hit the stone, and I could not get the roaster pan "around" them, so it sat on them, kinda, at the edges.  The results are worth a picture, and it says the prescribed 1000 words easily.  Many of them unprintable!

So, there it is in all it's glory.  An edible lesson.  Ah, the joys of baking.

Thanks for stopping by, and I'll bet this never happened to you.

OldWoodenSpoon's picture

The wood-fired oven project must go on hold till Spring comes.  It is located in a very wet area of the back yard and I don't have enough dry days left free to do anything about it, or to protect it if I press on.  So, it is under cover for the winter, and I'll pick up with building of the new dome once the rains have passed.  That could be January, or it could be May.  I'll just have to wait and see.


Here is the WFO then, bedded down for the wet.


It is not all a bad thing though.  We heat with wood in the house, and the kitchen heat from baking always helps keep it toasty, so I don't mind that much baking in the kitchen all winter.  It is the 100F and hotter summer days with 75F and warmer nights when baking indoors is a lot less acceptable.

So, I've been baking in the kitchen...  I have been intrigued by the work of Gerard Rubaud as beautifully rendered on Farine, MC's bountiful blog.  I only learned of him through the tributes to him here on The Fresh Loaf by respected bakers such as Shiao-Ping, David Snyder and others.  I have baked some real bricks in attempting to emulate their success, and finally decided to back off a bit, and take it a bit more slowly.  That's more my speed anyway.

Two weeks ago I backed way off, and completed a single instant-yeast, straight dough boule using only "the Rubaud flour mix".  Instead of re-describing it myself I gratefully stand on the shoulders of my predecessors here and direct you to the excellent work of David Snyder again, in the form of his tables for the blend of flours for this bread.  You can find them here:  Gérard Rubaud formula in a single table, FYI

The straight dough effort was a success, and thus I gained enough confidence to revisit it in sourdough.  I'm still holding back though, because at this point I am using my own "standard procedure" to prepare the dough at 72% hydration using the Rubaud flour blend instead of my usual, more mundane concoction.  Inspired, I made two boules this time, although only one survived intact for the camera.  The other will be acceptable only for crumb shots since we were eating it by the time I remembered pictures.  So, first, the pictures...

The one remaining intact boule


A shot of boule and crumb together...


And finally, a closeup of the crumb.


I mixed this dough as I do my usual sourdough, with an initial autolyse period of 30 minutes followed by 2 x 40 stretch-and-folds in the bowl at 45 minutes intervals.  I then did one tri-fold on a lightly floured board and was able to pull a very nice window pane so I put the dough into a bucket and into the refrigerator to bulk ferment.  I did not want it to go very sour because I wanted to be able to taste the flour blend, so after 6 hours I pulled it out to rest on the bench for about an hour before pre-shaping.  It had more than doubled after the six hours in the fridge.

I pre-shaped the loaves into two round boules of about 800 grams each.  In shaping I learned that this flour mix produces an amazing, pillow-soft, supple dough that is such a great pleasure to handle.  After 10 minutes of bench rest I pulled them tight and put them in floured linen lined round collanders to proof.  Because I planned to bake both loaves in my La Cloche clay baker I needed to serialize their proofing, so I moved one loaf back to the refrigerator for an hour to slow it down while the other proofed normally on the counter in my 68F kitchen.  This delaying tactic of cooling one loaf immediately worked perfectly this time.  It has not always been so successful, but this time it was.

After scoring, I misted each loaf while on the peel before slipping it into the La Cloche, baked at 525F for 10 minutes, then turned the oven down to 475F.  After 5 more minutes I quickly removed the cover on the La Cloche baker and continued to bake at 475F till done (internal loaf temperature of about 205F).  The overall baking time was approximately 35 minutes, with the first 15 minutes under cover, ie: with steam.

These loaves smelled wonderful when done!  None of my other bread baking has produced such a pleasing aroma in the kitchen.  I read in the noted sources that Msr Rubaud's bread is known for it's pleasing aroma and if my own experience is of any relevance it must be so.  It has to be something special in the combination and proportion of grains in the flour blend that makes it so.  The flavor was pleasing as well, but I was less struck by the flavor than I was the aroma.  My wife disagreed with me and thought the flavor was superb.  The crust came out thin and crisp, and crackled all over the counter when I cut into the first loaf, showering crust flakes everywhere.  The crumb is soft and tender, and almost has an "enriched bread" consistency to it, although there was nothing but flour, salt, wild yeast and water in the dough.  That the crumb is not more open is owing to my still clumsy handling, but I am getting better with lots of practice. I do wish I had let the dough spend the night in the cooler though.  I'm certain the not-quite-stupendous flavor is the result of insufficient development of the acidity.  It needs to be sour more, and then it will be better yet.  Make no mistake though:  it tastes great!

Next time I revisit this I shall try the multi-stage build again as Msr Rubaud himself makes it, but probably not yet going all the way to the firm starter he uses.  I still feel the need to sneak up on that more slowly for a while, and in a much smaller batch of course.  That way I get to bake more often.

Thanks for stopping by.

OldWoodenSpoon's picture

Well, my last post was all about my new WFO, and I said I would keep everyone posted on how things go as I complete the oven and learn to bake in it.  Some of the lessons have been hard to learn.  Having finally recovered (mostly) from the internet connectivity disaster my ISP wrought a couple of weeks ago, I'm now able to post some progress. 

I did bake in the oven, on September 29th.  I got three very nice loaves of Beth Hensperger's Pain Ordinaire, from her book "The Bread Bible".  I chose this recipe because it is a straight dough that can be completed start to finish in about 2-2 1/2 hours so it made my timing very simple for my first wfo bake.

This bread was very exciting, if only because it came out of the WFO and confirmed all of my hopes for how the concept of a wood fired oven would perform.  I was pleased with how well I was able to coordinate the dough and the oven, having both ready at nearly the same time.  Truth is I rushed the bread.  It could have used another 20-30 minutes to rise, but I wanted to bake!  The results were not at all bad, and the bread came out very well. (I took and processed these shots myself, so blame me not my photographer-wife!)

We ate two loaves, and I gave one to the neighbor that helped me so much in finishing off the dome build a couple of weeks earlier.

That, though, is the end of the good news.  In fact, it was the end of the oven (sob).   I said the first bake was on Sept. 29th, and on October 2nd we pulled the oven down.

The above is a shot from inside the dome of one of several through-cracks in the dome.  And here is the outside.

They were not originally this wide, but I was expanding them so I could patch them, then I found the through-cracks, and the roof fell in, almost literally.

These pictures speak pretty well for themselves, and I have not much to add...

And finally...


What can I say, but that it was my fault.  We did a good job of building the dome, and I ruined it by over-firing it in one of the very first "small drying fires" (see my earlier blog post for the original admission of this sad truth).  I called my neighbor that helped me put it up and he came over and helped me pull it down.  His words of greeting were, "So, when do we do it again?".  My answer was "Soon!" and my wife's was "Start today!".  We did, but the starting was in cleaning up the mess and hauling away the first try.  I have a huge pile of busted up oven dome in a ditch behind the woodpile.  The winter rains will melt it down and I'll add it gradually to the garden where clay and sand will be welcome additions to the complete lack of topsoil around here (It seems like everything growing around here is in hauled-in soil).

So, I began again.  I learned from my first oven that this time I want a chimmney because I am tired already of getting covered with soot just by going near the oven door.  I also learned that my clay-sand mix was way too short on clay and long on sand.  I learned lots of lessons about patience in waiting for natural drying (no more "drying fires" till the oven is already dry!) and about how it is not as hard as it seems to put one of these domes up.  Next time I'll be better prepared, and more relaxed about it.  There is much less need to hurry than I thought the first time out.

I spent a couple of weeks researching design options to add a chimmney, on materials, and on trying out mock up designs to see how they looked and how they fit my somewhat odd eliptical basic shape.  And now I have started to rebuild, beginning with a new, square arch.  I concluded that the square arch, while much less romantic, is (imho) more practical in form, function, and fits my skill set better.  I can build a square arch that will stand.  My track record for the curved arch is less sterling, to say the least. So here I go again, rebuilding my wood fired oven from (almost) scratch.  I have had to partially reset the oven floor, but not entirely.  I have moved everything forward toward the mouth of the oven to preserve space inside for baking.  Here is what I have so far, beginning with the new arch vertical columns.

Next I added the top row of cap-bricks on the arch as you see here.

Finally, so far, I've started cutting and laying out the "inner firewall" that will be the face of the oven itself.  I'll post more about this later, but for now I'll just say that when I saw the concept it made instant sense to me, and using the basic idea I was able create a plan that gives me a chimmeny, an insulated gap between the heat sensitive front arch structure, and a solid face for the dome itself.  As I said, more on all that later.  For now, here is what it looks like  (from the back, inside-the-oven view) with the bricks cut but just laid in place for now.  Mortar will come this weekend.

So out of the disappointment of my first failure I press on, with determination to be more patient this time, and to end up with an even better oven.  Mean time, I'll just keep baking in the kitchen!

Still hanging in there

OldWoodenSpoon's picture

Okay, after all the compliments and enthusiasm over my new WFO, it is time to tell the dirty details of something I only just touched on in my earlier blog post:  the little matter of too much fire too soon, and the problems with the doorway arch.

Saturday morning I got over enthusiastic throwing wood into my "small drying fire".  My wife admonished with "Isn't that a little big?", to which I replied in my best know-it-all tone "No honey, you should see a big fire!".   Then we noticed the cracks, and the top bricks of the arch sagging from thieir proper position.  After much running around for steel buckets, fireplace tools, water and my heavy elbow-length gauntlets (it was really hot in there) I shoveled the live fire out of the oven as fast as I could and doused it with water in the bucket.  It was too late though, and the damage was done:

The crack is not all that bad, but the brick problem is another story.  A couple of days earlier we had noticed these bricks had come loose.  When I investigated, the mortar and the bricks had all separated from each other and the mortar was just loose slabs between the bricks.  This next shot makes it easier to see both the loose mortar and the keystone brick dropping through the top of the arch as well as a head-on view of the crack.



I hoped the insulation layer would secure things together, but the heat expansion in the dome proved I was just wishful thinking.  Something had gone wrong somewhere and my arch was coming apart as I stood there.  You can see the tops of two bricks I wedged into the arch to hold things up while the oven cooled off and I figured out a plan.


Here you can see my solution, if you look carefully.  I hope we can get a better shot of this tomorrow when the light is better, and I will edit that shot in here if we are successful.  However, if you can see it, my solution was to break another rule about ovens:  I installed a metal arch support in the form of a hoop shaped to fit inside my arch.  I made the hoop loose fitting, and then loosely packed a wood stove door gasket made of a fireproof, non-volatile glass fiber between the hoop and the brick to take up the slack and provide compressible space between the hoop and the masonry.  These materials expand at different rates and to different extents, and I have no idea if this will work or not.  Since my alternative if it fails is to rebuild the arch, and my alternative if I don't try this is to rebuild the arch, this is a free chance to get lucky.  As you can see in this shot above, I pulled all the old loose mortar out of all the arch joints.  That's all it took too:  I just grabbed it bare-fingered and pulled each wedge out in one piece.

While working on all this and running around I noticed something I now call "probable cause".  Earlier, I blamed this whole incident on too much fire in a green oven, too soon.  The next shot proves I could be wrong about that.  It certainly was contributory, but I'm not sure it was the cause at all.  I think I made a bigger strategic error earlier in the building process, in how I joined the arch and the dome.  If you look carefully at this next shot, especially at the very top brick, you will see it is tilted up to the right.  This brick was dead-level when I built the arch.

Here's what I did and what I think happened:

- When I mortared the arch originally I only mortared the front 75% or so of the wedge-shaped gaps.  I left the rear 25% empty so I could tie in the oven dome itself.  This was, I believe, the fatal flaw.

- As planned, I built the dome and filled in the rear-most 25% of these mortar wedges in the same pass as building up the dome, effectively making those parts of the arch an integral part of the new dome.  I also added a layer of oven mud over the top of the back 25% of the arch as well, thoroughly integrating the arch and the dome.

- I sat back and watched it all slow-cure as I kept the dome and the dome-arch joint draped with moist towels for three or four days, and then under cover of dry towels for two or three more days, all to slow down the surface drying and let the inner clay keep up better.  During this time the new dome showed some stress cracks from drying, which I worked over with the back of a spoon as much as I could to try to iron them out.  Honestly, it did not help much, and my overzealous drying fire on Saturday morning brought them all back.

Now, look again at the tilt up-to-the-right of that top brick in the shot above.  I believe the oven dome shrank significantly in drying, and because the doorway arch was so throughly integrated into the dome, the dome squeezed the arch in on the sides and down on the top at the back edges of the arch bricks, popping all the mortar loose and opening up bigger gaps between bricks than were there when I built the arch originally.  When the arch alone was complete, the inner surface was continuous, with the inner edges of each brick neatly and firmly in contact with the edges of it's neighbors.  Now it looks like carved jack-o-lantern teeth.

The fact that I built too hot and too large a fire on Saturday only brought all this to the fore sooner.  I now believe I doomed this arch when I tied it so tightly to the dome of the oven.  Nothing I read told me I should do this, and it also did not tell me I should not.  I learned that part myself.

I installed the new metal arch support today, and also re-mortared the arch.  Now I will give the fresh mortar in the arch a couple days to dry out and go back to small (yes, really small!) drying fires to slowly cure the oven dome and all, and see how it goes.  When I am finally able to really heat things up I will find out if my metal arch is going to be a help or the final straw that destroys the doorway arch.  Then I will know what the next chapter will be.

Thanks for listening, and stop by again.  I'll continue to post my progress, positive and negative, right here.



OldWoodenSpoon's picture

First I want to say hello to all of you again after being "away at my summer job".  I've missed you all, and have not even had much time to just lurk, let alone post.  I've purposely held back from posting knowing I could, at any time, be completely unable to follow up or hold up my end on a discussion.  The latest part of Spring and the main part of Summer are my very busiest times of the year, when weeks and even entire months can and do go by without a break.  I've had the liberty of rearranging my schedule some this year so I have had some daylight time off, as a trade for night time on, to get some things done around the house, where I work.  That's the only reason I've been able to continue baking at least, to keep my hand in and the store-bought bread out.

The juggling of my work and off time schedule comes at the price of sleep too often, but it has permitted me to accomplish some baking things I'm proud of.  The biggest one we celebrated just tonight, with:

First Fire!! Woohooo!  The WFO got lit for the first time tonight with a small drying fire.

First Fire in New WFO

Thanks to a herculean effort the last couple of weeks, and the blessing of a wonderful neighbor who pitched in and helped, my earth oven is nearing completion.  Whenever I've been able to steal or swap for a couple of hours of daylight off duty time I've been working on this, since back in March originally.  Finally the rains quit and I could make some progress, then my "summer job" started and it has been pretty slow going.  I had to get it finished enough to use this winter before the rains come again!  I'm there, and will probably get it insulated in the next couple of weeks.  It must finish drying out first though, and this was just a small drying fire for less than a half hour to speed things along some.  It got things warmed up really well though.

This has been the highlight of my summer, without a doubt.  I've done some baking, of which this (back to front, RLB Beer Bread, RLB Sweet Potatoe bread as dinner rolls, and some of "my" sourdough) is my most recent highlight,

and I continue to explore the world of bread.  This oven will expand my horizons and challenge me even more.  I look forward to it with excitement.

I've many pictures of the entire building process from footing to, yes, first fire, thanks to the diligence and skill of my wife/photographer.  I plan on posting them somewhere (Flicker, or ...?) one of these days when summer is completely behind me and I have time to write the story.  Till then, well, we'll just take it as it comes.  It is starting to come easier as the harvest season here in The Valley heads into the home stretch.

It's good to be back on "The Loaf".  Thank's for stopping by for a visit.



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