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Offgrid novice/propane range wants to make artisan bread - LONG, sorry

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Cady36's picture
Cady36

Offgrid novice/propane range wants to make artisan bread - LONG, sorry

Wow, loved finding this site. Was looking for pizza crust and had been planning on looking up artisan bread recipes tomorrow, but hit this site. Wish there was a "New, green idiots" forum category.

I live off grid, in Idaho. Our oven is a gas range that (I assume) has been rejetted for propane. Most of the propane references I've found on this site have to do with some camping thingy that Coleman sells.

I live and work in heaven: an old funky log cabin in the Idaho low panhandle mountains. We moved here 5.5 years ago and I've been feeling a distinct lack of decent bread for that entire time.

I'm a really good cook. Dinner last night was homemade shrimp manicotti - shrimp/onions/garlic/herbs in ricotta and whole milk mozzerella, with homemade manicotti shells and a marinara cream sauce - and that's a weeknight dinner ;-). (Was great.) I'm not afraid of cooking, but I AM afraid of baking. I can invent anything when I cook, but baking is voodoo.

We moved here from Portland, Oregon where you could ALWAYS get good bread, even at corner grocery stores, I swear. The bread where I live...sucks. In the past six months (after almost six years!) they finally have started buying dough or something for two kinds of bread from some other company, but they don't cook it long enough, so these teeny, un-risen sourdough loave that they sell are sort of...pale, white - whatever you might call it. Just not cooked enough.

To get adequate bread, we have to drive 65 miles to either Coeur d'Alene or Moscow, and even then, it's sometimes hard to come by.

I used to bake on occasion - sandwich bread, basic braided loaves for Christmas, cinnamon rolls (and of course, cookies and brownies and stuff...I'm not into sweets but friends of mine are!)

This will probably only make sense to West Coasties - actually, I'm not sure where all these generic grocery stores are - but our favorite breads these days (65 miles away) are the artisan breads at Safeway. I'd love to be able to make something even slightly like what is sold there: Crusty, chewy, and given to lots of variations. Actually, I'd love to make stuff a bunch better, but I'd settle for Safeway "Artisan" breads- their generic Tuscan-like (only salted ;) loaf, parmesean whatever. I'd settle for just plain old bread. lol. (Seriously, you have no idea how bad the bread sucks here!)

One draw back I have is that we've got a propane oven (range). It just doesn't seem like I get the heat from this range that I would from a natural gas or electric range. (I notice it especially when trying to saute.) To make matters worse: All the numbers are worn off the oven dial. I finally got an oven thermometer and scritched a mark in the dial at 350 degrees. We just sort of guess from there.

Anyone have a suggestion of a bread recipe on this site I might try? For someone fairly technical who can follow directions, but hasn't baked much? I love crusty, *really* chewy, loaves. (Chewy chewy chewy - lol - I found a recipe a couple of weeks ago that I tried for french bread and to my way of thinking, it ended up sort of biscuit-y.)

Sorry this is so long!

Julie

P.S. We also have an old wood cookstove - I've used one of these for baking in Portland, but never used it for baking here.

 

Eli's picture
Eli

Welcome to TFL you will find most of what you need here to make that chewy loaf! Just do a search in the left hand corner. Try your hand at a sourdough. You can order them off the internet from several places. Northwestsourdough is one. I say fire up that wood cookstove and make some artisan dark, crispy, chewy bread.

Eli

Cady36's picture
Cady36

Hey, Eli, thanks for the reply. It's a really excellent site.

I did a lot of searching before I posted, and the problem is...that it's such an excellent site. lol. There are so many posts, that it's hard to narrow down the search results.

If you search for "propane" there are 52 - most of them have to do with some sort of camping oven, and the rest seem to have to do with natural gas.

If you search for "artisan" or "sourdough" in that box, there are 1000 hits. (That's to be expected, I guess - lol). The fact that the number of hits ends at 1000 in both cases, tells me that's probably a logical limit of the search, so who knows how many there are in reality? lol

Searching for "propane artisan" (no quotes) brings up several copies of the header of this post and a few posts about camping ovens.

What I'm really looking for is an artisan bread recipe - even just a basic basic chewy bread recipe - that can be made successfully and consistently in an underpowered propane range oven by a beginner. (Full size range, just like you're used to, only jetted for propane, which seems to not burn as hotly.)

 Everything I've done so far has turned out sort of...biscuity. (Even the pizza dough on the pizza we just had - made a sponge that was left for eight hours, then created a dough out of the sponge that was kneaded for 15 minutes, let it rise, rolled out a pizza, let that rise for a few minutes...dough looked great, pizza looked greatbut the texture is still...biscuit-like. This is true even of bread made from store-bought bread dough, so at least part of it has to be the stove, though most if it is probably me!)

I guess, a recipe or a method that isn't temperature sensitive, isn't hard for beginners and still yields good results. I'll tackle the cookstove once I master the basics on our propane range.

I've bookmarked http://www.northwestsourdough.com/ and gotta say, I'm really curious about the difference between starters, and looking forward to trying them out.

(Once I learn how, I'd really like to start one from "scratch" so to speak. When we first moved here, store bought bread would last six weeks without going bad - was very strange. That time has moved up now to about 14 days. I'm assuming it's the mold/yeast added to the air since we moved here. I dunno if that would be good or bad for SD starter, but it'd be *interesting*. lol)

Thanks!

Julie

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Hi, Julie.

Welcome to TFL!

Your situation is totally beyond my personal experience, but it suggests you might want to look into building your own wood-fired oven outdoors. There are several members here who have done this in more urban/suburban settings. I'm sure they would be happy to advise you about sources for kits, plans, etc.


David

mcs's picture
mcs

I know you eluded to it in your original post, but are you sure your oven is set up for propane?  Maybe your supply line isn't properly sized?  Assuming there's nothing wrong with it and it's set up correctly, you should be able to get it just as hot as an electric or natural gas stove.  If you can't get your stove above 350, you're going to be limited in the style of bread you can make since most fancy shmancy breads will not develop the proper crust baked at such a low temperature.
I don't think you need to know exactly what the temperature is in your oven, but consistency is important or else you won't know what's causing issues with your bread. Plus if you can get your oven to hold a temperature of between 400 and 425 you should be better off with a lot more artisnal recipes.

-Mark

http://thebackhomebakery.com

Cady36's picture
Cady36

Huh. Wouldn't THAT be a riot, living here for 5.5 years with an oven that isn't set up correctly.

Ya know, honestly, I'm not sure. I assumed it was (because who would put a natural gas range into a house, put it on propane, and not have it rejetted?). We run from 25 gallon tanks.

My stove definitely goes above 350. It was just the place I marked because I bake a lot of homemade pasta, and that's often done at around 350 degrees. I'm guessing...probably 450 is the max though. The oven itself seems to be really consistent, unless we let the propane run too low!

My little mark helps me be consistent - lol- I've developed a good eye over the years.

I'm going to contact the woman who sold us the cabin (and put the stove in here intially) and find out for sure that she did have it adjusted for propane. Would be a quick fix, if she didn't, and would really improve my stir frys :P/

Thanks, Mark! I'll post back when I know.

Julie

 

 

Jolly's picture
Jolly

Hello Julie:

 

And welcome.

 

You might want to consider you're elevation too. I live in OR a high desert area, (elevation 5,000 feet). I had to revise my breads recipes. So check and see what you're elevation is before you start baking.

 

If you're living at a higher elevation than sea level consider buying this book (Pie IN The Sky) Successful Baking At High Altitudes. It's a great book and big help.

 

I couldn't even bake cookies, muffins or biscuits they would come out dry and hard. My breads would only rise to certain level. 

 

The book (by Susan Purdy) makes baking easy now and has all the answers.

 

I would love to bake bread in an old wood stove what a challange that would be. Give it try.

 

Jolly

Cady36's picture
Cady36

We're at about 3100 feet...not "high altitude" exactly, but high enough to affect stuff on the stovetop, so of course it probably affects baked goods. Duh?

I will look into that book - thanks!

Julie

 

LindyD's picture
LindyD

Welcome to TFL, Julie.  I used propane for cooking and heating for 20 years before natural gas became available here.  The only difference I found was the cost of the gas. 

I think Mark's suggestion that you check the stove is excellent advice.  Your oven dial sounds like the one I had on my old (piece of junk) stove.  I used acrylic white paint to mark the dial and had no problems getting the stove up to 500F.  I wound up replacing the stove because the thermostat quit working so it had one temp: 500+F - which was a real baking challenge, although great for pizza.

Since you have an oven thermometer, here's an easy recipe to try while you're diagnosing your stove. 

 

 

Cady36's picture
Cady36

Hi, Lindy - I scored my 350 degree mark, so I have to find it by feel. The only problem now is that it's wearing out and a bit tough to find sometimes! I may go through today and re-mark that spot and add a few more. 

I've got a great cast iron dutch oven that I think would be perfect for this :)

Julie

 

mcs's picture
mcs

OK, last bit of advice (from me) about your stove.  Since the previous owner may not actually know if it was set up correctly, instead call an experienced appliance repair man or HVAC guy to test it out. They can check the pressure where it comes into your oven and also check to see if it has the right orifice for propane.  They can also test if you've got any leaks and if you're breathing in carbon monoxide because it's not set up right.  I'm not trying to scare you, I just know out in the sticks people don't always follow code and sometimes install things with the 'if it looks good, it is good' strategy.
Unfortunately, that'll cost you some $$, but at least you'll know for sure.   If that's not a possibility (or a desire) since you live too far out in the sticks, then I'd just get out my awl and scratch a new mark at 425 on the dial.

-Mark

http://thebackhomebakery.com

Cady36's picture
Cady36

There are lots of really...interesting things about the way this place was built. It's not a kit home, it's this huge, sprawling, semi-crooked log cabin built by a bunch of hippies around 25 years ago after their original cabin burned down.

The DC "wiring" leaves something to be desired. (We run solar + generator.) Cold water is plumbed to the kitchen sink from a large holding tank and there are all of these weird pipes throughout the house (even upstairs) that don't go anywhere. Same with the wiring - lol.

At some point, someone actually plumbed in a couple of propane lights, which my husband lit once and I wouldn't let him touch after that.

When we moved here in 2003, the refrigerator that came with the place died about a week before we got here...so we lived for the first 4.5 years with coolers.

And the stove...I'm just not sure about the stove. The pilot light works on the oven, but not on the burners. I'm also thinking that we'd do better getting a 250 gallon tank up here and having it filled...I think the pressure would be more stable.

I've got an email out to the woman whom we bought the place from, and I'm pretty sure she bought the stove new. There's only one telephone number in the phonebook (so one firm within 65 miles) that does appliance repair. (The county we live in doesn't even have a stoplight - I think there's about 9000 people here.)

I may just snag a book or website on how to check this out, pull out a wrench, and see what happens! lol.

And yes, I need to mark the rest of the dial. I tried finding a replacement for it once, but didn't have any luck!

Thanks again,

Julie

janij's picture
janij

We own and HVAC company in Tx.  I think instead of an appliance repair man you should call a plumber.  You should be able to find one closer and plumber deal with gas lines as well as water lines.  HVAC guys actually can only do the lines to the furnace- or at least here in Texas that is the wasy it is.  Plus I think the plumber would be cheaper than the appliance repair guy.  Just a thought.

edh's picture
edh

Hi Cady36,

I'm in the sticks as well, though on the grid. Bottled propane is all that's available here, and I haven't had a problem with it. I think Mark is right, you need to get the stove checked.

My stove is, admittedly, totally wimpy; getting a canning kettle to a boil is an all-morning effort, but the oven will groan it's way up to 500 F for pizza night.

Given that you're just getting started, I'd recommend trying the New York Times no-knead bread. Many of us here got started because of that method.

One of the biggest drawbacks to backing artisanal breads with gas/propane is that our ovens are so well vented we really can't steam for that amazing crust. Baking in a dutch oven, or under a stainless steel bowl or a roasting pan is the only way I've ever managed to get a crust worth talking to. Check out the post on Susan's magic bowl method as well.

If you're up for starting your own sourdough, sourdolady has a really easy method here as well.

Welcome, and good luck!

edh

Cady36's picture
Cady36

Finally tracked down the "Susan's magic bowl" recipe on this site and the pictures look *exactly* like my favorite kind of bread! We have stainless steel bowls of all sizes. Wish we had a pyrex bowl, as it'd be fun to see it through the glass - lol.

It's funny - I ran across the NYT no-knead bread recipe early last summer at some point, which is what got me started thinking about baking. I never did try the recipe, though, because i had it stuck in my head that if you didn't work your buns off (so to speak) it wasn't "real" bread. Have to give it a shot :)

Thanks!

Julie

edh's picture
edh

No, really; if there's one thing I've gotten from this site (and there's way more than one!), it's that good bread doesn't require the working off of our buns. Between various versions of no-knead, and using stretch-and-fold techniques, the best breads seem to require the least work!

Keep at it!

edh

ehanner's picture
ehanner

Hello Julie,

All the advice you are getting above sounds good to me but I thought I would just add that in cooler weather, my propane pressure goes down considerably. Even with a full tank when I try to use my outdoor grill in the fall or winter I can definitely see a drop in heat potential. I do a BBQ for New Years eve and I usually warm the tank and cover it with towels so I can get a decent flame. So, maybe you are having a little pressure issue from the cold weather also.

As far as your jumping into baking. I was exactly where you are 2 years ago. I was a pretty good cook but baking was a stranger and totally unknown. I would suggest that you start off with yeasted breads. The one thing that will help you get to good breads is time. Just like cooking, if you slow cook that meat for a long time the results will be better. With bread dough, you can use 1/4 teaspoon of yeast in a pound of flour, a teaspoon of salt and enough water to make it feel like play dough and if you wait until it raises to double the size, it will taste way better than using the 2-1/4 tsp usually called for. That is the secret, time. Everything else is handling the dough and specifics for the desired bread. Take a look at the First Loaf link at the Highest rated stories on the front page. It's a good place to learn the basics and the results are darn sure better than anything at the Safe Way.

Welcome to the Loaf and I look forward to seeing your posts.

Eric 

Cady36's picture
Cady36

Our propane tanks sit out on the front porch. In the winter, there are usually a couple of weeks of 10 to 15 below (farenheit...I think that's -23 to -26 C.) I'd never really thought about the temperature affecting the pressure, but that certainly makes sense.

I'm also concerned about the humidity. It's pretty dry here in summers and winters. We got a total of about 20 feet of snow last year (only 4.5 feet of it on the ground, which was wayyyy too much...with what fell off the roof we couldn't see out of the windows in front and back without digging it out several times). Weirdly, that really doesn't put any moisture into the air. We keep a large pot of hot water on the wood stove at all times in the winter. Spring has about six weeks of WET - we call it mud season - but over all, the humidity is pretty low, considering where we live.

I've seen those recipes with 1/4 tsp of yeast. Sounds sooo weird - lol. Looking forward to it!

Julie

 

ehanner's picture
ehanner

Julie,

I can hardly get my BBQ started when it's that cold. I'm using 5 gallon home size tanks so maybe the size plays a part in delivered pressure. There are lots of people around here that still use those large tanks in the yard. Maybe you could protect your tank from the extremes. You wouldn't want to have it indoors unfortunately. Could be explosive!

I suspect that finding a place in your home that stays near 80 might be a challenge. Commercial yeast and also sourdough are directly effected by temperature. The ideal dough temp is near 78F and a few degrees either way will dramatically affect the bacterial activity. You can use the amount of yeast to compensate for the temperature. Usually it's a matter of reducing the amount of instant yeast in the summer to slow down the activity. If you don't reduce the amount of yeast the ferment will go to fast and flavor will be sacrificed. The reverse is true in the cold season. You will need to find the amount that works for your situation. 

A few days ago there were some people talking about proofing boxes. A small light in a cooler or some other place you can control the heat is a big help. 

We have been making baguettes from a method from France that produces great bread that does a long 21 hour ferment in a refrigerator at 45F. So there is always a way to make good bread. 

Eric 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

propane tanks in any dug down or enclosed areas.   I asked my fire department and was told that tanks should not be stored in a basement or pit.  That any escaping gas sinks and if it can collect it becomes a hazzard.   They can also be a source of information, after all, they deal with improper use. 

Mini O

ehanner's picture
ehanner

If you ever spend any time on a boat with a galley they use CNG which is lighter than air. It's bad style to blow the top half off the ship!

Eric 

Cady36's picture
Cady36

This may sound nuts, but running a small light continually in our situation isn't possible. Our DC lights don't generate heat. At night time, the inverter (the thing that converts batteries to AC power) goes *off* completely. We use kerosene lamps in bed. lol

Surprisingly, though, finding a good place for raising bread isn't difficult. We have a wood fire going 24 hours a day for 9-10 months a year. (There's about 6 weeks per year where we don't have to run a fire at all.) There's a brick pad near the wood stove that gets nicely warm on the bottom (not hot, just comfortable) and I have been just picking my distance from the stove on this pad for letting bread rise - it's been working OK.

In the winter, we mostly live in the living room - it's where the computers are (I work from home), the bed in the winter time, the wood stove for heating, etc., so we keep really good control of that stove temperature! (The first year we were here I think we went through 12 cords of wood! I think we've gotten better since then...takes about 5-6, usually.)

We *could* using a proofing box during the day, though, and that might be worth looking into.

Julie

 

 

 

mcs's picture
mcs

Where we are in NW Montana propane is the norm and obviously our 500 gallon tank for our hot water heater, oven, Jotul...sits outside all year round and gets covered with snow.  It's only the high class people who have the big $$$ that bury their tanks underground so they don't have to look at them. 
I'm also BBQing in the winter regardless of the weather and used to use propane burners with a 5 gal. tank to melt ice off of logs before peeling them (that was LOTS of fun) so I don't know how much of a big deal the cold is.  Of course with the grill and burner I'm not so worried about a consistent temperature.  

-Mark

http://thebackhomebakery.com

Cady36's picture
Cady36

Hey, Mark - Looks like you're about 120 miles from me as the crow flies, and at almost the same elevation! And it's only you high class people who get those nifty giant propane tanks - lol - we drag 25 gallon tanks to and from the store. We really need to get one of those some day. :)

Julie

 

 

mcs's picture
mcs

If we were high class, we'd be able to buy our tank rather than renting it from the propane company.  Then if we bought it, we could bury it like the really high class people!  Ha, ha. 
I've driven through your area down there in Idaho and it's beautiful country!

-Mark

http://thebackhomebakery.com

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

Hi Julie,  Welcome to TFL. 

I agree that the oven should be checked out by a professional.  Hot air balloonists also have problems when their propane tanks become too cold so that could be an additional problem of firing up the oven..., Never ever trust the setting dial to provide the right oven temperature unless it has been calibrated recently.  Get a good quality oven themometer and use it to "scritch" the marks on the oven dial.  I use a sharpie black marker to place a dot on the dial.  You'll also need a cooking stone or tile an oven rack with terra cotta tiles.  This will give you an improved oven spring and bloom.  Also the cloche method (upside down pan over the bread) will greatly help the oven spring keeping the dough from drying to quickly during the rapid expansion phase of the dough.

Looking forward to more stories from the outback...,

Wild-Yeast 

Cady36's picture
Cady36

I've got a great, rather large pizza stone. My current oven thermometer leaves something to be desired - it's better than not knowing the temperature at all, but not by much. If nothing else, it gives me an idea of relative temperatures.

Re: Outback, sometimes I feel like I live in "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom" - we have huge herds of deer, plus elk, moose, bears, coyotes and flocks of wild turkeys. (I guess there are big cats and wolves up here as well, but I've only seen their footprints in our yard, not the actual beasties!)

Thanks

Julie

 

davec's picture
davec

Hi, Julie,

I was exactly where you are with regards to breadbaking a year ago.  I'm a good cook, but never baked, except for a weekly whole wheat loaf in the bread machine.  Then I saw an article about the New York Times no-knead bread, and had to try it.  It sounded too good to be true, but it works great, and the bread is fabulous.

 Like you, I have a range that's been converted for propane.  You're right, burner-for-burner, they don't burn as hot as naturel gas, but you should be able to get 450 degrees, which is what I use to make this bread in my cast-iron Dutch oven.  I think you said you have one of those.  I have found it best in my oven to bake the bread for 30 minutes, then take it out of the Dutch oven, and finish it on the oven rack for 5-8 minutes.  I use an instant-read thermometer to make sure it's over 200 in the center.  If I leave the bread in the Dutch oven to brown, even with the top off, the bottom crust burns.

I'd recommend you start with the plain-vanilla no-knead method, and start experimenting only when you have that down pat.  An excellent video here: http://www.breadtopia.com/basic-no-knead-method/

shows exactly how.  You can move on to sourdough, and to more advanced artisanal techniques, later.

Have fun!

 Dave

Cady36's picture
Cady36

I do realize this is probably not the most appropriate place to post this, but since it was specific to a post on this thread, I posted here.


I was getting ready to try the NY Time bread recipe tomorrow (my fellow-bread-baker - FBB - is really excited about it) when I realized it called for "instant yeast". I have active dry yeast (and I've heard of rapid rise yeast...lol - but I've never heard of "instant yeast").


Do I need to get another kind of yeast to do this?


Thanks,


Julie, who doesn't even know what "Instant Yeast" IS! lol


 

dougal's picture
dougal

"Active Dry" yeast should really be called "actively dried" - because that's what it is, dried by heat.


It was invented in the 1940's as a form of storable yeast. It has all the gourmet qualities of  long-shelf-life military rations. Or instant coffee of the 1940's.


 


Back in the 1970's, freeze dried instant coffee was invented, and so too was a dried yeast that was not dried by enough heat to kill a large proportion of the yeast.


Because more of it is 'viable' (working) yeast, you do need less of it. About 3/4 the quantity of "actively dried". (No more than 1/3 the quantity specified for 'fresh' yeast.)


And because its not encased in a protective layer of dead yeast 1/ you don't have to 'start' it in warm water but 2/ you need to be a little more careful with its storage. Store open packs in a closed jar in the fridge and it should easily store for a year or two. An open packet will only be good for a month or so if left open in the kitchen - keep it dry and cool to preserve it.


This stuff doesn't need starting, you can just mix the powdery granules with the dry flour, and only then add the (ideally about blood heat) water. Hence its called easyblend or "Instant Mix" yeast - though some people get confused by marketing that calls it 'instant' or 'rapid rise' and think its faster. Use the right amount (ie less than active dry) and it isn't faster. Its better though - less 'yeasty' taste and less weakening of the dough.


Just as there are many brands of modern instant coffee, so there are different "instant mix" yeasts. You might choose one without 'enhancer' additives. All 'instants' have just a trace of a "wetting agent" to help them disperse nicely. This is just a trace of soapy stuff - so don't worry about (mono)stearate on the ingredients listing. Or ascorbate/ascorbic acid - that's just a sniff of good Vitamin C. Those apart though, the only other ingredient you want to see is "yeast" !! Best to avoid those stuffed with improvers for bread-machine use.


Here in the UK. I use Doves Farm. In the USA, SAF Red seems to be an unadulterated 'instant' which seems to be available from PleasantHillGrain for about $3.50 a pound...


 


Instant mix yeast is very forgiving, you can even mix the granules straight into already-mixed dough - though this is generally not the best way to use it!

mkelly27's picture
mkelly27

I am a crew mwmber for a Hot Air Balloon. And yes, temps are a factor, but not so much that a baker should worry.. We bank our tanks with pressurized inert gas in order to propel it through the burners in cold weather.

 

    Most propane configuations will deliver gas to the orifice site regardless of temp.  if there are problems, have your tanks checked 

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