The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Hey everyone!

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Grumpa's picture

Hey everyone!

Grumpa here writing to you from the cold and snowy environs of New Berlin, WI (a moderately sized suburb southwest of Milwaukee).  I found this site recently and I must say, it is certainly populated by a highly skilled and knowledgeable group of people and I look forward to reading through some of the history that is here. Lots of good info.

I have long been interested in cooking having been introduced to it at an early age by my maternal grandfather in the Italian section of NYC.  He used to do all the cooking in the house and I was the only one of all the family he would allow in the basement (where his kitchen was) to assist him.  No one else could be present when he was cooking.  Naturally, I am much like him.

I do all the cooking in my household because my darling wife is a lousy cook. (She is a Power Cooker - everything on high) This is OK with me as I mostly enjoy it.  I am a longtime baker mostly of cakes and cookies (those Pillsbury things are so easy! - NOT) and have always dabbled in bread never seriously but enough that I set a goal for myself to become proficient in bread making at some point in my life.  The motivation arrived last year when my eldest daughter, fresh from a term studying abroad in Italy, came home and said I should build a brick pizza oven because they had one on her campus which they fired up several times and had group pizza parties which she enjoyed.  Greatest Dad In The World that I am (hey! I have the coffee mug that proves it!) I said "Sure, why not".  Long story short, I designed and built one so I then decided that if I have a great oven for baking bread, I may as well learn to bake great bread so that is what I am doing, well, at least trying to do that with some success.

I have dabbled in all sorts of different breads lately mostly focusing on rustic and Italian types.  I use a variety of methods because it is just plain fun to try different things but use the No-Knead method as my main material test simply because of the repeatability it offers.  I am not very thrilled with the results of the NK method but, for testing, it works well. Also lately, I have been playing around quite a bit with durum flour (so much so I bought a 50 lb bag of it) exploring how it works in different recipes.  (If it passes the toast test, it is a keeper)  I have only been at this a couple of months and have a huge number of loaves to bake on the horizon as I have lots of variants to test with the different flours I have on hand.  So many loaves, so little time, so much weight to gain!

I look forward to improving my knowledge and hopefully, offering some.  Compared to many here, I have some ways to go but life is all about learning in my not so humble opinion.  I say that because I am


"I used to be young and stupid but I have changed.  Now I am old and stupid"

dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Grumpa.

Welcome to TFL!

Thanks for the nice self-introduction.

Hmmmm .... You think you have a "huge" number of breads to bake now! The endless "to bake list" is a burden we all bear here on TFL. 

So, have you found any favorite recipes for semolina breads you would like to tell us about. (We like photos too.)


cleancarpetman's picture

I am sooo glad to meet you.  I came to this site because I plan to build a brick oven in my backyard and thought it would be nice if after the oven is built that I know how to bake bread.  I have been baking bread for more than twenty years but all low hydration 45 minutes in a 350F oven.  It all tastes the same and can be used for bricks.
     This site has inspired me to get back into baking.  I have been baking high hydration slack doughs and I am amazed at the adventure.  I am having some success which says more about the wealth of information available here than any native ability on my part.
  Any pictures of the brick beast?  Alan Scott, or Rado?
 Either way its good to have you onboard.



Grumpa's picture

Ok, the post below was supposed to be in reply to Davids post but obviously, I screwed that one up.  Oh well....

My oven, in response to h.(if I get this one right!)  This could be a long post!

As you read, I had the same thoughts on bread and ovens!

I did read the Scott book and found it helpful but I chose to go with a modified dome type of brick oven because I wanted it primarily for pizza.  (In all honesty, I never even really considered bread but did think about all the other glorious things you can make in it)  It is a modified dome design because it is a truncated dome interior - think top of a silo - that had to meet a number of considerations.  I had few places I could situate it because of my yard and where I did site it, my underground utilities are so I had to make the oven float on the ground and be movable which limited the size. It ended up being a 42" diameter hemisphere truncated at a 36" diameter.... buzzer!

(Short break to take cinnamon swirl bread out of oven)

OK, where was I?  Oh yes, 36" diameter oven base. A picture would help here but I do not have them on the web anywhere yet so I cannot link to it.  Something else to do, I guess.  Anyway, the oven is all firebrick with a 5" thick hearth (2 layers of brick) and an 8" thick dome (1 layer of brick on edge covered with 2" of wire reinforced refractory cement and that covered with 2" of insulating refractory cement) a 21" dome height and an arched door that it is about 12.5" high by 18" wide, room for a 16" pizza.  All of this is mounted on a 42" square stainless steel table that I made and it is fork liftable if I need to.  All the materials are good to about 2000 F  The door arch to dome transition came out very well and the oven operates beautifully.  At times, during high temperature firing, the radiant heat from oven through the door is so intense that you cannot stand in front of the oven.  It is amazing

The oven is usable now but I have yet to build the exterior housing for weatherproofing and insulation so it is presently covered by plastic.  The day after Thanksgiving we had an impromptu pizza party (urrp) and I ended up doing 28 pizzas in it.  For pizza, I try to run it at about 900 F with a cook time of 60-90 seconds.  Hard to believe, but if your cook time runs much over 2 minutes, the pizza isn't nearly as good. The magic happens at that high of temperature.  650-700 F gives about a 3-4 minute cook time and it just is not hot enough.  Surprised the hell out of me.

For bread, honestly, I have not done much with it yet (Hey, I only got it operational last fall!) so I can't say much yet.  I did do a couple of loaves for Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners that came out fairly well (oven was a little on the hot side...oops) and the ham that went in after the bread was utterly fantastic.

I really need to figure out the picture thing and then the construction will make more sense with pictures as a reference.  I'll get to it when I do because I can sometimes be a


OK, figured out pictures by reading the FAQ...duh.

This picture shows the ss stand, the hearth in place and the form I made to do the dome.  The form is a turned foam dome of 42" in diameter and now you can see how the hemisphere is truncated - at the base, it is 36" in diameter.  The bricks standing up next to the form show how the first layer of firebrick will be placed.  The white board that the hearth firbricks are on is an industrial high performance refractory insulating structural board called Marinite I and worked beautifully well.  It is such a good insulator that the hearth could be at 700 F and bottom of the board will not get above 200 F.  This protects the 3 layers of treated plywood that is the base.

This picture shows the door arch form in place and the beginnings of the transition from the dome to the door - a critical part of smooth oven operation.  It also shows the limestone hearth extension that forms a worktable.  I had this made at a fireplace shop.

This picture is of the first fire in the oven.  Here you can see how the door arch came out and that the oven looks like a giant turd on a table.  The cement covering that you see is the refractory insulating cement that provides some thermal mass and quite a bit of insulating value.  The outer housing will include more insulation and the front face will cover most of the firebrick of the door arch and sides.  I am presently thinking of doing a stainless steel facing transitioning into a stucco covered structure.  I also made a door that is made of 0.25" thick brushed aluminum faced on the inside with a piece of the Marinite.  The door overlaps the firebrick of the arch by 0.5" and follows the same relative curve

Hope this helps.

Wisecarver's picture
Wisecarver (not verified)

...Ooh Rah!  ;-)


Grumpa's picture

I have played around with a few different recipes but the one I am primarily using is from the Artisan web site here:

It is the Le Pagnotte di Enna - Mixed Flours one.  Curiously, I have found that a 100% durum flour bread is kind of....blah.  It tastes OK but it is just missing something and it does not pass the toast test.  Durum seems to need the synergy of a standard wheat flour to really bring out the complexity it offers.  This, of course, means what else can you add to it bring out even more tastes?  The mind boggles.

Please note that I am using durum not semolina here.  Semolina, though good in bread, offers a "gritty" texture to the crumb and it is not what I want here.

I am also pondering the effects of adding trace amounts of vanilla to bread to improve the taste.  Vanilla is subtle flavor enhancer, much like salt, when used in small amounts and works by improving the "nose" of what you are eating and I wonder if the effect will work in bread.  It may have been done before, I have not looked anywhere but eventually will.  Like you say, the endless to bake list.

I plan on baking a few loaves this weekend so I will try to get a couple of snaps then. That, of course depends upon if I am happy because often I am


Grumpa's picture

You asked and here are a couple.

This is a durum/wheat loaf made using a modified version of the recipe at The Artisan site listed in my post of 1/28 above.  It is modified in a few ways:

  1. The biga is made with half durum, half wheat

  2. I made one big loaf

  3. I used Sir Lancelot hi-gluten flour as the wheat component

  4. bake time was 40-45 minutes

  5. sesame seeds!

The variable in this trial was the wheat flour (Yes, I know durum is wheat too but I am using durum and wheat to distinguish between the two). Normally I use Sir Galahad but wanted a bit more "tooth" in the crumb that the Sir lancelot delivered very well.  Also note that the oven spring was a little less than I normally get because the loaf was overproofed a bit (only 45 minutes).  Something to do with a sunny day and temperatures outside finally above freezing (after 26 days below 32 F), it got away from me a little.

Taste and texture were very good (at least in my slightly addled mind).  With durum, the crust is never really mouth hurting crunchy as it seems to be a "softer" flour but it did sing out of the oven and the crust was excellent. This bread makes wonderful toast

The crumb.  The lighter streaks near the top are lighting/photo artifacts. The pale yellow is characteristic of durum and the color in the above picture is pretty accurate.

Actually not grumpy today but I still am