The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

First bread in rebuilt WFO

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varda's picture
varda

First bread in rebuilt WFO

Last year, I built a WFO platform and hearth,  and a dome out of sandy dirt that I dug up from a pile in my yard.   I had hoped (and convinced myself) that there was enough clay in the dirt to make the dome hold together.   That was not the case.   The dome slowly crumbled over the course of the summer.   I patched it up and patched it up again and finally wrote it off in the fall.    Amazingly the platform survived intact through a very difficult winter.   This summer I decided to build a new dome using real instead of imagined clay.    So I bought fire clay from a potter's supply and with help from my husband mixed up 600 pounds or so of clay, sand and water and built a new dome.   Then my husband, who finally took pity on me taking on a project like this with no building skills whatsoever, decided to make me a good door.   He built an offset with the leftover clay/sand mix which perfectly fit a door made of thick plywood.   This morning after waiting forever for the oven to dry, it was time.   I fired it up (and up and up and up) and finally loaded it with a loaf of bread.   After 30 minutes, I checked it, and the loaf was pale, so I closed the door and let it bake for 15 more minutes.    

The loaf was still pale, but I checked the interior temperature and it was 210degF.    Then I paced around in the yard pulling weeds and thinking this over, and finally figured out that the door was so carefully fit that no steam was escaping from the oven at all (I didn't add steam but there is plenty of moisture in the dough) and the crust simply hadn't baked even though the bread had.   By that time I had opened the door so much that the heat was way down, so I took the loaf inside and baked it for 15 minutes at 450 to brown it up.    I certainly didn't have this problem last year, when the door was just a piece of plywood leaned up against the opening with plenty of room for steam (and heat) to leak out.   Fixing this isn't as easy as you would think - the door is fit so tightly (and the bottom beveled so that it's flush with the hearth) that you can't just move it over a bit.   Undoubtedly a precision venting system is now on the drawing board.

But anyhow, the bread.   I decided to go back to yeast water, since I didn't think I had much chance for success today, given that i was just getting to know the oven.   I continued reducing both the hydration of the yeast water based starter and decreasing yeast water as a percentage of total water.   I also interpreted an earlier post by Andy (on enzyme issues in high ash content flour bread) pointed out to me by Juergen Krauss and added salt with the first mix instead of autolyzing.  All this seemed to get the enzyme problems I've been having with yeast water doughs under control.   But perhaps not completely so, as you can see below.   But (as seems to be a feature of yeast water) this is a delicious bread and more successful than I expected under the circumstances. 

Comments

ananda's picture
ananda

There is a lot of "character" in that bread, Varda.

Always, there seem to be issues to deal with re-WFO.   I know only too well!

All good wishes

Andy

varda's picture
varda

As far as the bread goes, we had it for dinner.   When things get really bad the coyotes are the ones who have it for dinner.  I see you are worrying about smoke.   I worry about that too.   I haven't applied for a burning permit because I'm not making an open fire - in fact quite the opposite.   But given the amount of smoke the oven throws off I sometimes wonder why I haven't had a visit from the fire department.   -Varda

SylviaH's picture
SylviaH

Getting to know your oven, that's what it's all about and for your first loaf...I say fantastic, keep up the great work..I have to go make dinner, now!  I'll stop by later!  One quick question...did you pre-fire your oven with some small fires before the big firing for baking, or do you have to do this with a clay oven?

Sylvia

varda's picture
varda

I don't know if I would call it pre-firing, but I tend to build a small fire and start the process of heating things up and then build up to the larger pieces of wood, which takes awhile.   It was almost 3 hours before the temperature was high enough to put the bread in.   I have a very small oven - interior diameter is 28 inches - interior height is around 15 inches.   Ironically this means I end up spending more time tending the fire, as I have to keep feeding it to keep it at the right burning level - not too big, not too small.   I imagine with a larger oven you could just throw in a lot of fuel and then walk away, but if I did that, too much of the heat would go right out the door and be wasted.   I built this fairly far away from the house to satisfy the local safety officer (my husband) so I get a lot of exercise running back and forth.   In any case, I appreciate your encouragement.  -Varda

SylviaH's picture
SylviaH

Hi Varda, 

What I meant about the firing was did you need to cure your clay oven first before baking.  It just didn't sound like you had and I think you probably should even if you have already had a large fire in it.  New ovens have moisture inside the walls or older ones have come out of winter storage, whatever the reason, but even after any oven has sat for a while without use, it's a good idea to dry it up with some small fires.   It can save an a wfo from cracking or damage.  Now I feel like a really bad news person, to have to tell you this.  Let your oven cool down real good and check it over. Here's just one site might help explain..it's a pretty simply process.  http://www.alforno.comau/wood-oven-firing-tips , or just in search type in Alforno Wood Oven and click on tips.  It's a traditional oven, but the same curing process applies to most any type wfo's.   

Sylvia

varda's picture
varda

I did do a small drying fire the day before baking.   That is after drying for 10 days.   I'm not sure if that's equivalent to what you are recommending.   I have been following Kiko Denzer's book on building cob ovens.   He says you can either do a drying fire or not.  People disagree (based on arguments I've seen on line) on whether you should do a drying fire or not or just let it dry out by air.  I am on a listserv yahoo brick ovens which is mostly about brick ovens (what a surprise) but there are some people there building ovens like mine.   So I'll look it up over there.    Thanks for the information.  -Varda 

SylviaH's picture
SylviaH

Your welcome, Varda.  Glad to hear you did a small oven fire the day before.  I had remembered seeing one mud oven builders effort all gone to waste when his oven cracked nearly in half, because he did not cure his oven.  I always give mine a warm up firing the day before if it's been sitting for a while, especially after a lot of rain or damp, cool weather.  A little extra stored heat also helps the baking.

Sylvia

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

Varda,

I am impressed with how you built the oven....REALLY impressed!  Quite an undertaking for someone with no formal building skills....

Now you will have to get into scrounging for wood and chopping it up to fit the firebox.  People over on Hearth.com are the wood experts....IMHO...and there you will find just about all you need to know about wood burning......another adventure for sure.

By the way, the loaf is nice looking too :-)

Take Care,

Janet

varda's picture
varda

Thanks so much for your comments.   I'll take a look at hearth.com.    I live in a little forest, so finding wood is not a problem.   The oaks drop a branch now and then, and one of those is enough to burn for a summer.   But then as you say there's the cutting and the splitting and so forth.   No wonder people gave it up for little metal boxes with gas hookups.  -Varda

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

For splitting you might look into a Fiskars Super Splitting Axe.  Available on Amazon.  Light weight, sharp and easy to handle.

You are lucky to have oaks on your property.  A great wood to burn.  Just make sure you let it season for at least 2 years before burning or a lot of your heat goes to burning out the moisture - ie goes up in steam.  Make sure it is split and then seasoned or else the centers do not dry out.....

Janet

varda's picture
varda

and a mistake I think I made last year.   You burn and burn and nothing gets hot.   Thanks.  -Varda

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

No problem....just passing on what I have learned from the folks at hearth.com.....

You will be amazed at how much more heat you will get from really dry wood.  20% or less moisture is optimum.....and your oak is the best for a hot and long burn.  May take a bit to get it going as it is a really hard wood - I use pine as kindling before adding oak.  Any cuttings off of bushes or trees works great too - the stuff you find laying around on the ground....

Take Care,

Janet

Syd's picture
Syd

Looks delicious, Varda.  And, as I said before, I am envious of your WFO!  That's right, blame the pale loaf on the precision building skills of your husband! :)  I love the glossy, gelatinised look of those big holes.  Looks really scrumptious.

Best,

Syd

varda's picture
varda

to help me, won't it.   Thanks for your comments.  -Varda

Franko's picture
Franko

Hi Varda,

You said in a previous post that my envy of your WFO might be misplaced...well it's not! That's a great piece of equipment you've built for yourself and much more appropriate for bread baking than our kitchen ovens are. Your loaf is evidence of this as an inaugural bake. I'm sure once you've become accustomed to the ovens heat retention and other properties you'll be using it as often as possible. Thanks for posting this, it's very encouraging to me in my quest to one day have a WFO of my own.

Best Wishes,
Franko

varda's picture
varda

I appreciate your comments.   I hope you will get / build a WFO soon because you will really know what to do with it.   -Varda

ehanner's picture
ehanner

Well Varda, you sure know how to get a project done. Great job on the rebuild.

I think you will find that your oven will perform better as it dries out and if you put a load in after you are done to dry for the next firing. Janet is right about the moisture in the wood. I think a lot of folks dry the next load for just that reason. I look forward to seeing more of your adventures.

Eric

varda's picture
varda

for your remarks.   Mind over matter (or perhaps out of my mind over matter.)   I have not given nearly enough thought to burning wood efficiently.    But with you and Janet to point me in the right direction...  -Varda

breadsong's picture
breadsong

Varda,
It's so great to see the results of you and your husband's hard work in building that oven.
You have so many wonderful bakes to look forward to!
Thanks to you and Sylvia and Janet for noting online resources for more WFO information.
I just found out about a company that sells plans if you want to build your own WFO - I'm going to look into it further - inspired by what you've built for your backyard!
:^) from breadsong

varda's picture
varda

Hi Breadsong.   Thanks for your remarks.   I wish I could bake outside today, but the thermometer is heading up to 100degF.  Good luck on your research into WFOs!  -Varda

holds99's picture
holds99

Hello Varda,

I salute you for your tenacity and hard work on your oven.  You did good bringing the loaf inside and finishing it in the kitchen oven.  Something about "necessity being the mother of invention" or however that saying goes.  Your oven remodeling looks nice and your bread looks very good.  I know nothing about wood fired ovens.  Ever since I read about Poulain's ovens in Paris I have been interested in the WFO process.  I should, and will, do some research on WFOs, in the meantime I was wondering if your oven is vented at the top or do you have to rely on the front opening for oxygen to keep the fire inside going? Re: the problem of your oven not reaching max heat has me curious about cross-ventilation.

I was recently looking at the Poulain baking process and it sounds grueling:  "[after making the loaves] ...the baker’s job is far from over. The fire must be stoked and fed again for the next batch of bread. Poilâne’s bakers work 6-hour shifts around the clock, continuously mixing, kneading, weighing, shaping, rising, with loaves going into the oven every two hours. That fire burns 24 hours a day!"  Sounds like a Roman ship with a guy on the drum keeping time while everyone else pulls the oars---Ram Speed!

If you're interested here's a link: http://annmah.net/2009/04/23/behind-the-scenes-at-poilane-bakery/

Getting back to your oven.  Maybe I'm missing something, but why not put slide vents in the existing plywood door your husband built if you need to get air into the chamber?  That's assuming there's a vent somewhere in the top to create a draft.

Best of luck with your engineering changes to the oven and looking forward to future reports on your progress.

Howard

 

 

varda's picture
varda

 Cool article on Poilane.   I guess you have to have good heat tolerance.   As for venting.   Some mud/clay ovens are built with chimneys, but generally those ovens are a lot bigger than mine, as the chimneys have to be built way offset from the main chamber, or else not only the smoke but also the heat simply vanishes.   When I made my first dome last year, I put in a chimney (I couldn't imagine being able to keep a fire going properly without one) and then my oven never got hot.   I filled it in pretty quickly.  The key with these ovens is retained heat.   You put in a lot of thermal mass just under the hearth.  I put big chunks of brick wall that I begged from a demolished gas station - the construction guys helpfully loaded up my trunk with it and seemed to think it was the funniest thing they had ever seen.   The clay dome is also a heat absorber.    So the more thermal mass the longer it takes to heat up.   All the venting goes through the door.   There is a study that everyone quotes (including Kiko Denzer) that says the best clay ovens have interior door heights that are 63% (I'm not looking it up) of the total height.  I am somewhat skeptical that the tolerance is so narrow.   So mine is roughly 63% or maybe it's 70% - it's hard to say.  I do know you have to be able to get the wood in.   I have read that 2-3 hours is typical for firing time, but I wonder if by making the process more efficient you can get down to the low end of that.  I have a question out on the yahoo brick oven listserv, but that is not such a chatty group as this one and so I haven't heard much back yet.    In any case, the resident engineer recommends tipping the door slightly ajar at the top when it's time to bake the crust.  So that's what I plan to try next.  Thanks for your comments and the cool link.  -Varda

holds99's picture
holds99

Thanks for taking the time to explain the concept so clearly.  Now I understand that it's about retained heat and how you get there.  You covered a lot of ground in your reply.  Now I'm really interested in finding more.  I'm going to keep your reply in my bookmarks and follow up on it and do some reading.

Thanks again and best of luck with your project, and your baking,

Howard

P.S. I was wondering which state you live in in the U.S.?

varda's picture
varda

Howard,  I live in Massachusetts but it feels more like Texas today.   And this following such a tough winter.   It doesn't seem fair.  -Varda

SylviaH's picture
SylviaH

I've refered to this site many times before, not just because this is where my wfo came from but because I have yet to find a site that gives so much information on using and how a wfo oven works..there are easily understood charts, graphs, reading....very enjoyable and informative.  Just go to http://www.fornobravo.com On the left there is a list, scroll down to How to- Manage your oven, You'll see another list,  Additional resources, check them all out.  This contains a lot of information, basically how all wfo ovens work.

Sylvia

varda's picture
varda

Sylvia,  I did sign up for that site but never warmed up to it.   With your encouragement I'll take another look.   The yahoo brick oven group is much more lowkey and low traffic but I have already got a lot of help on it including from Kiko Denzer who participates.   Thanks for the recommendation.  -Varda

SylviaH's picture
SylviaH

Though I don't participate in the forums, I do like the information available, especially the charts that I refered to...when I first got my oven..I had the rude awaking that I didn't know how to 'start a fire'..now I can make a fast fire with very little smoke..felt like I was back in the Brownies making that first campfire, under a coffee can, to fry a hamburger...that was so much fun..I've always loved cooking outdoors ever since :-)  Your going to have so much fun with your oven..do try some fire/coal, cooked, food and don't waste the fire...OMG you'll love the flavor it gives to just about anything you cook, roast or bake..you have some wonderful wood supply around your property...oak the best for long burning, hottest, cleanest, a nice flavor, fired ovens.

Sylvia

holds99's picture
holds99

I'll check out forno bravo link.  You produce some great things with your wfo.  I think I've got the wfo bug.  

Howard