Pane Nero di Castelvetrano and my new Oven
In my previous post, here: http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/24641/tumminia-and-pane-nero-di-castelvetrano  I told the tale of running through the village to find an alternative oven, having blown up my own early in the bake cycle for my first attempt at the Pane Nero di Castelvetrano. The result was a minor miracle, given the circumstances, but not one yielding a particularly dark crust, implied as pre-requisite in the real loaf.
Subsequently, I dismantled the old electric oven and found that the wiring point where the mains lead enters the cooker was completely melted through. I weighed up a couple of alternative solutions. Firstly, to call out an Electrician to repair the wiring and re-assemble the cooker safely? I figured that the oven just wasn’t up to the job, and that the same situation would only happen again soon, with further risk of setting fire to the kitchen. Not a good idea!
Alternative Two was therefore necessary. I’d better find a new oven. A good trawl through E-bay, and I’d found a great solution. I needed an oven with a much better specification to cope with bread baking, that wasn’t going to cost a small fortune. Given that the expensive ovens all have fancy features which I have no use for, there was no point me buying something with “all mod cons”. So, I happened upon a SMEG oven, some years old now, yet brand new and unused, if you get my drift? It had been displayed in a Showroom, but certainly never turned on. The oven door still had the protective plastic covering attached, and everything arrived pristine…by Courier on a pallet, just a couple of days later!
I had fitted the oven and it was up and running by teatime, but didn’t use it that evening. Yesterday [Saturday] we stayed in and watched back episodes of MadMen on the dvd player on my pc to take us to the end of Season 3. I cooked Fassolia, and baked a tray of Spanokopita for a really tasty meal. Yes, I did make my own filo pastry too!
Anyway, I set to, and baked another Pano Nero di Castlevetrano today, to see if I could test out the new oven. The formula is the same as before. I made 1.15 times the quantity in the last post, giving just over 2 kg of dough, which I divided into a 600g loaf and a loaf just short of 1400g.
First revelation; the oven will pre-heat to 280°C! I replaced the old 3 bricks with 3 firebricks left over from building the wood-fired oven. These are really heavy, and I am not going to keep them in the oven like I did with the ordinary bricks in the old oven. Other than that, the set up was the same. I pre-heated the oven for 1 hour with the fan, then another half hour without the fan at 250°C, before cranking it up to 280°C again ready for baking.
I used boiling water poured onto hot stones for steam, and kept a steady supply going for 10 minutes, with the oven set at 250°C and the fan switched off. Then I dropped the heat back to 235°C and kicked the fan in for convection for the rest of the bake. For the last 10 minutes, I switched over to top heat only, with the fan off, and the oven door just slightly ajar. This was an attempt to darken the loaf top. Personally, I would have fired the small loaf some more. However, Alison is less fond of well-fired loaves, so the pictures show what is actually a bit of a compromise. I managed to go completely over the top with the big loaf, and had to scrape off the layer of charcoal on the top, just to rescue it from oblivion. Hence, no pictures of this loaf, sorry!
Wow, it’s so good to have a good oven in the kitchen to bake on, although I need to pay more attention in order to know exactly how it works!
Meantime, my brother is visiting in a couple of weeks’ time. We have a mission to set up the wood-fired oven so it functions well and without hindering other peoples’ lives [the smoke situation!!!] If we enjoy as much success as I have with my new SMEG, then I’ll be very happy indeed!!!  
All good wishes