The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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sortachef's picture

Moderating Heat in a Woodfired Oven

Small fires over time make all the difference


Most woodfired oven owners only use their oven once a week or so to bake pizza or bread at fairly high temperatures. There's another level of cooking available, at lower and constant temperatures, which requires pulsing the oven with small fires. This is useful knowing about both to protect the oven from unnecessary cracking from cold firing and also to expand your cooking repertoire.

There was a time in the not-too-distant past when many home ovens were fueled with either wood or coal. These ovens were used every day, and never lost their warmth. My father remembers his mother stoking the fire at the crack of dawn to bake the daily bread. Even today, I hear through this website of people in Greek villages and Eastern European towns using wood or coal as their main source of cooking fuel.

In order to replicate this method of everyday cooking, you have to commit some time. In order to roast a chicken today, I had to find three different times yesterday - in amongst a busy schedule - to light and maintain fires. If you can find the time, however, the benefits are astounding. When I was ready to roast the chicken (see Woodfired Roast Chicken), my oven maintained a stable temperature in the 350º range for 2½ hours with no active flame throughout the cooking time. With this ability, all kinds of baked goods (including dinner rolls and pastries), casseroles, roasted meats and fish become possible.


Pulsing your oven: The trick is to 'pulse' your oven with small fires over time, in order to slowly heat all of the masonry components - the walls, the floor and the bed of sand beneath the floor. The operative word here is 'slowly'. After a cold spell in which your oven has lain dormant, this will prevent the components from cracking. For more normal cooking or baking operations, this will raise the temperature of your oven into the range of a conventional oven, with very little charring or direct smoke.

Here's what to do:

  • Use a piece of newspaper, a handful of kindling, 2 or 3 pieces of hardwood the thickness of your thumb and 2 thicker pieces of hardwood that weigh about 1 ½ pounds each (2 ½ inches thick) to build successive fires in the center of your oven. Maintain the fire for an hour, relighting and adding a bit more kindling if necessary.

  • After the hour of active fire, put the door in place as tightly as possible. You may have to put a wood wedge under the handle, as I do. Let the oven rest for 3 hours. This rest time can be variable in length.

  • Light another fire using the same amount of wood as above, and maintain for an hour. Let rest again.

  • With each subsequent fire, there will be more unburnt wood from the previous fire. Leave this in the oven and continue to add to it, building your fires on top.

  • Light a third fire in the early evening, maintain for an hour and let rest. During this rest period, you can move the coals to one side in order to cook beans or a casserole, if desired.

  • Close up the oven and let rest overnight.

  • On day 2, start a fire with the same amount of wood, maintain for an hour and let rest. By this time the parts of your oven are hot enough to maintain a temperature of about 350º. From here, you can safely and quickly take your oven much hotter (for pizza, say), or you can build another small fire to maintain low to moderate heat for roasting or baking.


Here are the temperatures I measured in my oven. As atmospheric conditions and your oven will likely be different, you will probably have different results, particularly during the first few fires.

Starting temperature: 52º, which was approximately the overnight low air temperature in Seattle (measured with an accurate thermometer).

After the first fire: 150º (measured with oven thermometer, as are all others)

After the second fire: 225º

After the third fire: 350º (I baked a pot of pinto beans for 2 ½ hours when fire was almost finished)

Starting temperature, 2nd day: 160º

After the fourth fire: 375º (I baked dinner rolls after this fire)

After the fifth fire: 425º (I let the oven cool to 350º and roasted a chicken. After 2 ½ hours, the oven temperature was 325º and the chicken was perfectly cooked.)


Final note: I just checked (10 a.m. on the third day) and, with no active fire since yesterday's noontime fire, the temperature of the oven is 160º. Hmm. I could just keep this whole thing going. Flame on!

ramat123's picture

Are there any full length videos available?


I am trying to find DVDs of bread baking hopefully artisan bread baking and can't find any.

Are there any DVDs exist?

Thanks, David

jcamador's picture

firm starter HELP!!

Hi all- so I am a sourdough newb, but I recently made Prof. Calvel's starter which looks like it'g going to make it :) But...I do have a couple questions that I would really appreciate help with. I consider myself a pretty good internet researcher, but I haven't found anything to help me out..


Can a firm starter be used in place of a liquid starter? Is there a way to calculate this?

If I were to transform my firm starter to liquid or vice versa, should this process happen over a few feedings to let the beasties aclimate to their new surroundings or do I just feed one time with the appropriate percentages then use in the recipe?


Thank you so much in advance for the help...this site really has me excited to start my baking adventures. Thanks!



kdwnnc's picture

Hamelman's "Bread"

Today I finally got Bread by Jeffery Hamelman from the library!  I have only read a few pages, but I can already tell that it is going to be a fantastic book.  I already own two bread books, one of them being The Bread Bible by RLB, but I can't wait to bake from this one (isn't it cruel that the library deadline for returning is two weeks?).  But I suppose I could always renew it.  The big chalenge is going to be deciding what to bake from it first!  I want to make something unlike anything I have ever made before (such as focaccia, which I make a lot of), but please, please, please give me suggestions!  Is the cibatta recipe good?  I have only tried making ciabatta once, and it definately could have come out better.  I have never made baguettes either; should I try a recipe for them from this book? 

Now I am anxious for when I get a scale in a few weeks!


robertdmay's picture

Using Fibrament baking stone

So I recently purchased a Fibrament baking stone to replace my old one, which was cracking.  My problem is this: whenever I bake on it, the bottom goes too dark and the inside bakes to between 200 and 210, but the top barely browns at all.  Strange, right?  Any one have any ideas why this happens?  I've been doing artisan baking for 6 years now, and I've never encountered this problem before. 

ilan's picture

Olive and Thyme Bread

This time, I wanted bread that brings more aroma and character of its own, something that can accompany a simple meal or to be used for a not too spiced sandwiches.

The combination of black olives and thyme is not new and since I love olives in both meals and sandwiches (depend on the dishes) I decided to have bread with it.

When I opened the fridge to get the olive paste, I saw a jar of dried tomato next to it. Olives and tomato is a good combo as well and I added the tomato paste to the mix but to keep the olive base of the bread I added only small amount of it.

Olives are very salty and call for salt reduction in the recipe. The dried tomato paste brings the acidity of the tomato in the game as well and it’s better to negate with a bit of sugar. So instead of salt reduction, I added ¼ teaspoon of yeast and ¼ teaspoon of sugar to the mix.

(The dough base is the same as the one I posted in the Baguette Attempt)

The recipe:

Preferment (15 hours in advance)

-       1 cups flour

-       2/3 cups of water

-       1/4 teaspoon yeast

The Dough:

-       2 1/4 cups flour

-       2 teaspoons yeast

-       1/2 teaspoon sugar

-       3/4 cup of water

-       1 ¾ teaspoon of salt

-       3 teaspoons of black olive paste

-       1 flat teaspoon of dried tomato paste

-       Handful of fresh thyme

Preferment was mixed the evening before and let rest for 15 hours

For the dough – mix the flour, yeast, sugar and water into a unified mixture and let rest for 20 minutes.

Add the salt, olive paste, dried tomato paste and thyme and knead for 10 minutes and let rise for 70 – 90 minutes (depending on the weather).

I made two batches of this bread. One of them I folded during the rising time and one I did not. The folded dough yielded better bread (texture) 

The result: (the colors in this pictures came out all wrong for some reason)

Until the next post


BadRabbit's picture

Cinnamon Rolls- cutting out morning rise time

I have been making my mother's cinnamon rolls for the last few years but have never figured out a way to have them ready first thing in the morning (without getting up at the crack of dawn).

The recipe is a basic yeast dough with a significant amount of sugar in it. It's usually mixed up and then left to rise overnight in the fridge. I then roll out the dough and roll it up with the cinnamon and sugar. I cut it and then place them in the pan for a second rise and then bake (with cold dough the 2nd rise and bake process is often 1 1/2-2 hours).

My three options to eliminate some of the time in the morning are as folllows:

All of these assume the first refrigerated rise was done at some time previous.

1. Cut and place dough in pan the night before and place in fridge. Hopefully it will rise enough overnight and I can pop straight in the oven in the morning.

2. Follow usual steps night before and then par-bake at least until oven-spring is done.

3. Stop just shy of fully cooking the night before and just pop in to warm in the morning.

What's my best option?

Pat_'s picture

Bee Sting ( sort of ) recipe wanted


my local continental bakery ( barbakan in chorlton uk) does a lovely cake he calls a  beesting but its not like any beesting I have seen before and he wont share his recipe - ( understandably)

I fancy having a go and wondered if any one recognised it and had a recipe

The cake is in 3 parts

1) a firm Genoese type sponge - soaked in a sort of almond syrup

2) then it has a thin layer of caramel with flaked almonds on top ( slightly chewy)

3) this is then cut into 2 1/2" squares and dipped in milk chocolate( up to but not over the caramel topping)

 Any one recognise this cake and / or could share me a recipe



inlovewbread's picture

Things are looking up!- Sourdoughs

My last few bakes haven't been so successful. Formulae that usually turned out well were coming out of the oven looking sad. I can't figure out if I was over or under-proofing. I kept trying at it to get the timing right on Glezer's Colombia. Incidentally I posted about it on my blog because it's the family's favorite bread, but lately the scoring just doesn't open up. The flavor is great, but I can't get it to look the way I want it to anymore! Ugh! Then I made a few other breads that just turned out so-so. How is it that my bread could be getting worse?

But alas, a little baking redemption:

Today's bake was dmsnyder's San Joaquin Sourdough (finally tried it) and my favorite Pain au Levain with whole wheat. 

The San Joaquin Sourdough- or "Idaho Sourdough" as I guess it should be called:

I took a risk and did not stick to the 21 hour cold bulk ferment as specified in dmsnyder's formula. I pulled out the dough for final proofing at about 14 hours. It looks like it woke up fine! The grigne looks a little jagged, I confidently scored these batards but I may not have gone deep enough. It turned out a pretty interesting look though.

The crumb:

Outstanding flavor, a little more sour than I have been getting- which is good!

The Pain au Levains:

It's good to see a grigne...

the crumb:

I really don't like doing math- so here is the *formula* for the Pain au Levain with whole wheat, and a little rye:

75% white flour (I used like 75% ap and 25% bread flour)

15% white whole wheat flour (WM Prairie Gold, freshly ground)

10% rye flour (whole rye)

40% of the flour was prefermented 

2% salt (I used french grey salt, and I think it really makes a difference)

roughly 70% hydration


LindyD's picture

And the winner of Best Baguette in Paris 2010 is:

Djibril Bodian of Le Grenier à Pain Abbesses

With thanks to Farine, who is always up on the latest in the world of bread.

Edit:  One of the judges posted a blog on the competition.  Gosselin took fifth.  Here's the link to her comments