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shimpiphany's blog

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cooking in the wood fired oven is very different than cooking in the house. it is both easier and more difficult - easier in that the oven holds its heat steady so there is none of the temperature compenstation strategies, and the hearth makes a huge difference in the crust. more difficult in that it takes SO MUCH LONGER and the timing is really tricky.

overall, though, i want to retire so i can just cook all our meals in it. this is the best and most satisfying project i've done yet.

anyway, here are some pics from the last few weeks:

olive sourdough, rye sourdough, and 100% sprouted wheat and rye berry bread


jim's basic bread - this was the tastiest sourdough i've yet made. the crust was beautiful, with wonderful fermentation bubbles, and the crumb structure was great.

i'll post more pics of the pizza party when i get a chance to download from my camera.

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i fired up the mud oven on thursday, and had a hectic evening of trying to time everything correctly.

i made pizza, brussel sprouts with garlic, onions and breadcrumbs, sourdough rye, french bread, and roasted corn, sweet potatoes and garlic.

as you can see, i overproofed the french bread, but the sourdough came out perfect, with a great oven spring. i soaked my door a second time before the bread to increase the amout of steam in the oven, and it really seemed to work.

sorry for the lousy pictures, but by the end of the evening i was exhausted. getting the timing down to maximize the oven is really going to be a challenge.

here's the group shot. i took this while all the veggies were roasting. leftover pizza, sourdough, french and brussel sprouts:

i saw the brussel sprouts at the farmer's market and knew we had to try them in the oven. i roasted them at about 600 degrees. they look ugly but taste fantastic:

the bread. the sourdough was about 25% rye made from my 100% hydration starter, thaddeus. thad's been lounging in the fridge since the weather started getting hot, so this is not only his inaugeral run in the mud oven but first bake in about 5 weeks.

the french bread in the back is based on reinhart's recipe in BBA. i overproofed it because of timing issues, and it tastes okay but is really a disappointment.

i'm going to try and fire the oven again next week. i just brought in a fresh supply of almond wood, and the starter is back to living on the counter. i'm going to try and see how many loads of bread i can cook in one firing.


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i finished the earth oven to the insulation layer a week ago, and had the first "dry firing" this weekend.

i've fired it twice to try and dry the insulation layer and track the fuel and heat usage, although i won't get accurate estimates on this until i'm sure the entire oven is dry, at least a few weeks from now.

on saturday, i fired it and made pizza. because of some bad scheduling on my part, i was unable to have any bread ready to bake in it, although we did use the tail end of the heat for potatoes and roasted garlic.

i'll fire it and bake bread this week, hopefully tuesday.

here are some photos:

here i am getting the fire started and losing some eyebrows:

here is the fire once it got going. after the fire got some momentum, it became a lot easier to keep it alive - wood placed in the oven would instantly burst into flames instead of needing to be coaxed. at this point, my infrared thermometer (which reads up to about 1000 degrees F) was off the charts:

the tongue of smoke. smoke means an inefficient fire. efficient firing and use of fuel is a very challenging part of this oven:

another view of the fire:

the infrared thermometer. its max is around 1000 degrees:

the themometer. a very fun tool:

here i am rolling out the pizza. i like the flat crust, so i use a rolling pin (blasphemy, i know):

the pizzas. porcini, homemade sausage and onion; and goat cheese and braised leeks. the sauce and crust are adapted from reinhart's american pie:

i'm experimenting with sizes to see how i can best maximize the floor space: 


my father-in-law wielding the oven door, several 4x4's joined by countersinked (countersunk?) screws, joined to a 1x12 sleeve and mounted with two concrete float replacement handles:

with the door in place:

the finished product:

more to follow once i finally get some bread in there...



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with the help of my dad and sister, i finished the insulation layer on the oven. the only thing left to do now is a plaster layer - which won't affect the performance. that means baking can begin as soon as this layer is dry enough.

before we applied the final layer, though, i ran a cook of four pizzas.

we gobbled the pizzas after they came out, so this is the only "cooking" photo.  i used parchment paper because i don't have all the oven tools yet, and couldn't clean out the ash.  my sister is fabricating most of them for me (she is an artist and metalsmith), so i should have all i need soon, well under my $200 budget:

a few days later we put on the insulation layer, a 5 inch thick layer of mud, sand and straw.

here we are mixing:

here's the final layer. we were all covered in mud with no one to take pics of the process, so i only have a photo of the end result:

i'm going to build the door this week, and with the weather as hot as it has been, it should be ready to bake by friday.

wish me luck, and thanks for all your support.

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as some rather large cracks were forming last night, i decided to pull out the sand.


and it didn't collapse, explode or catch on fire.


i spent an hour or so patching the cracks and then put a pan of charcoal inside to help with the drying process. tonight i'll light a small fire.

here i am putting the mud layer over the sand form:


here are the pics of the cracks after one hot day of drying. i think i didn't use enough sand in my mud mixture:


another view of the cracks:


the oven without the sand form, after patching:




next: the insulation layer of mud and straw. so far so good!

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up to the thermal layer on a new earth oven, and i hope to be baking bread by the end of july.


I built the base out of reclaimed concrete (a former backyard patio) and scavenged concrete blocks. with the sand, firebrick and tools i'm in this about $120 bucks. and, of course, about 2 grand in labor - but hey, that doesn't count, right?


this took about 3 months from the initial conception to this point, with about 5 good days of work. most of the time was spent collecting the materials.


send me good vibes that this thing doesn't collapse or explode or otherwise crush my now fragile hope.


the girl and the concrete:

the core:

half finished:

the finished base:

creatively focused image of the insulation layer, wine bottles and a mud/perlite mixture:

the mud subfloor. a layer of sand goes over this, and then the firebrick hearth:


my dad and the firebrick hearth:


the first thermal layer and the brick arch:


and a final close-up of my rather rough first layer:


if the thing survives the removal of the sand, i'll post more pictures. wish me luck!

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