March 10, 2010 - 8:08am
Alan Scott ovens
Does anyone have experience baking with an Alan Scott wood fired oven? Starting this Fall I'll be baking using one and my experience so far is limited to baking in commercial gas ovens.
Any personal experience or book suggestions would be appreciated. I'm less interested in construction details, and more in the process of using one and what major differences to expect from my experience with gas (I'm baking with a small 4-deck Italian oven presently).
I have no real insight on Alan Scott ovens, other than saying I use one- built from his plans. There is a community WFO near where I live in Toronto, and I'm able to arrange the use of the ovens once a week, when there is residual heat. From my limited experience I can only share some of the obstacles that I have encountered. First, and lastly, the more times you load the oven the better the results will be (obvious, I know). For a number of reasons I have found it to be different: loading the oven can be tedious (small mouth to the oven), figuring how best to load the oven (what loaves go in first) and the timing/temp, how to adjust proofing and scoring (especially if unsure when the oven is at opt. temp.), and how to get the desired crust (through steaming/temp). The variables are similar to a home oven, but i find it's a matter of adjusting them. I find the results at home to better because I have found how to best control those variables in my oven, but love the experience of the WFO (and the results are getting better). Anyways, good luck with WFO, I am sure it will fun, as- "Baking bread in a brick oven awakens your past. It takes you back to who you are." -Poilane
P.S. No book suggestions other than The Bread Builders - Scott and Wing. Sorry I'm able to go more in depth of the process, but people with knowledge on the subject should be able to help.
Seth! That's all useful information you provided.
I have a small one, and use it every weekend. Look at my earlier posts in this folder -- lots of examples of Scott-style baking, and a link to my Flickr page where you can check out some pics.
As for books, "Cooking with Fire" and "Wood Fired Cooking", both available on Amazon. Also, Scott's own book "The Bread Builders" has a lot of info on bread baking.
Thanks - I'll check out your posts!
I've been using an Alan Scott type oven for over a year now and the thing that I have the most trouble with is timing: will the oven and the loaves be ready at the same time. In my experience, there can be one to two hours difference in my oven coming to baking temp, from kindling through fire burn-out to letting the oven cool a bit. To make it even more interesting, I use exclusively sourdough, so that gives me a variable on the other side. But is is an experience thing, and I am getting better. With regards to steaming, when my oven is full (eight to ten loaves), there is no need for additional steam. When there are only a few loaves, I add hot water to the small cast iron fry pan filled with rocks I keep in the oven. Be very leery of spraying too much water in a hot brick oven; I've heard of too many instances of brick deterioration from excessive water.
I wish you well,
Greg- Thanks for sharing your experiences. I suspect we'll be baking mainly pain de campagne and a variety of rye and wheat breads, and getting the timing down will be an interesting challenge. Your observation about potential effects of excessive spraying I'll take seriously.
Here's the secret to timing: consistency.
The heat output and heat profile (how fast the heat is released) of wood varies enormously depending on the species, the size of the stick, and the moisture content. I bake naturally-leavened breads almost exclusively, so timing is always a major consideration. I discovered early on that the best way to crack that nut is to develop a process that is repeatable. That's easy when you're using a gas or electric oven, but takes a bit more effort when your fuel is as variable as wood.
The easiest way to achieve consistency is to maintain strict control over the wood you burn. My favorite wood source is getting logs from local tree services. I cut, split and dry them myself, so the stick size and moisture content is consistent. I also end up with a whole wood pile of sticks from one, or maybe two, trees. I coke enough wood for the next fire at the end of each bake.
Sure, I toss in some scraps from the workshop just to use 'em up, and act as kindling, but the heat source for the bake is primarily a load of wood of a predetermined quantity of a single species of wood (maple is my favorite), dried and coked, of relatively consistent size. This allows me to time the firing to within 10 or 15 minutes every time, if necessary. (When I'm baking less time-sensitive goodies, I typically use other wood - maybe not as dry, bigger, etc. -- saving the "good stuff" for bread baking.)
As with everything else in baking! Thanks for passing this along - you're providing me with exactly the type of info I need to bring my learning curve a little lower. I suspect we can find suppliers of wood for wood stoves that would fit the bill in terms of size, age and type of hardwood.
I built an AS design 4'x3' oven almost ten years ago now. I've baked in it commercially for almost as long. For the past six years, I've been holding two-day wood fired bread baking workshops at my facility to the north and east of Toronto. People have come here from all over North America, New Zealand, England and Holland to attend and learn the techniques involved. After repeated requests to do so, I put together an e-book that covers what we do here. It's not a recipe book as such, it's a book of wood-fired baking methods centered around seven very different breads. All of the concerns you have are covered in depth. You might want to check out my website, www.marygbread (Carswell House Books page), to find out more.
Can you resend me the link - the one in your message isn't working. I'd love to check out your website and ebook!
add .com to the end of the website. www.marygbread.com. My wife and I are heading up to go through Jim's class the weekend of April 17th. We are really looking forward to it!
Yes, that would help, wouldn't it. Thanks Roo!
Whoops, try this: www.marygbread.com . That should work.
Hello, never used a forum so excuse me if I don't know all the protocol.
I am seriously planning to build a brick oven and am leaning toward an AS. I went to the Asheville Artisan Bread Festival and attended a wood fired oven workshop - had been read books and online but that workshop pretty much sinched the deal - talked to a Greek mason tonight and got the first estimate. This guy has built more than 50 brick oven - most of them are round - he says woodfired ovens are extremely popular in Greece.
I have a couple of questions. First, I would think I should purchase the Alan Scott plans - obviousely. The question I have is should I get Plan package #01 or #02. There must be a difference in the thermal mass between the two sets of plans - website description is pretty brief. I would appreciate any feedback on this question and also thoughts on the size - I don't know if 36 by 48 would be too big for my needs but I keep seeing comments from folks talking about wishing they had a bigger oven.
I built an AS oven -- you can get a link to pics etc. by checking out my earlier posts in this folder.
I got the plans (#1) because mine is attached to my house which meant I needed to pass inspection and follow codes, etc. Having the published plans made my inspector happy and avoided my having to get my own plans stamped by an engineer. I used the smaller plan set and made my oven a bit smaller than I would have liked -- about 24" deep by 36" wide inside -- due to space limitations. But in my experience, 36" X 48" (the biggest of the three included in the plan set) is more than you would likely need for family use.
On one hand, I sometimes wish I had more room. But on the other hand, I've never had to forego anything for lack of room, and I appreciate that my oven takes less wood (and time) to heat to baking temps than a bigger one would. And since my uses are modest, I'm happy to be on the small end of the scale. If you want a more robust heat curve, you can always add more mass to even a small oven by increasing the thickness of the walls.
Every WFO is a compromise. You need to figure out what your typical use is and design for that. If you only plan to bake 20 pizzas once every year, it would be a mistake to design the oven for that use, since the firing requirements of that large an oven would discourage you from using it on a regular basis for the rest of the time. Design you oven so you can get the most frequent use out of it. Which, for home use, generally means a bit smaller than what you might presently imagine.
FWIW, I wouldn't rely on the AS plans alone. I'd suggest you get his "Bread Builders" book as well. The book gives almost enough information so you don't even really need the plans, and provides information not included in the plans. (If I recall, I only got one piece of info from the plans that wasn't in the book -- something about the recommended ratio of one of the mortar mixes or something.) Also, a few of us in this forum have suggested a couple of minor changes to the design that you might want to consider. Again, a search through the older posts in this folder would be time well spent for you if you do this project.
If you do decide to do this, feel free to post your questions and ideas here. We're delighted to help out fellow WFO-ers whenever and however we can. Oh, and if you're even modestly capable with your hands and some simple tools, don't be afraid to tackle this as a DIY project.
PS: You might want to consider starting a new thread for your questions so they don't get lost in this old thread.
Thanks for your reply - I have read the posts that referred to a SS ash pan and chimney shelf - are there others?
I have been pursuing baking via culinary school and working - Great Harvest, La Farm Bakery (Lionel Vatinet) and Zingerman's Bakehouse in Ann Arbor (just a couple of weeks while on vacation). My original hope was to build an oven, learn to use it and then bake a modest amount of bread to sell. I have checked on my zoning and unless the oven is inside my house I can not use it to bake bread commercially as a home baker. That news was disappointing but I still plan to build it - I may give some loaves away anyway :-).
I would like to do this project myself but my wife is a bit reluctent - she is very supportive usually but I believe she has her doubts as to (1) how long it would take me and (2) what the final result may look like. I am legally blind and even I know there are some tasks which may be better left to a professional based on my visual limitations - also I am sure I will be baking in the oven this summer if I go the mason route.
Based on my forum reading you seem to be a very knowledable WFO guy and DIY too - is this just a hobby with you or is it your career? Also, what is the policy for starting a new thread (i.e. when do you do it). I obviousely figured that thoughts concerning AS ovens went here - newbie error. Again, thanks for your reply.
There are a few other suggested modifications by another poster -- I recall he recommended hi-performance insulation and a cast refractory lintel. That said, the oven as designed by Scott will work fine.
There's no "Policy" on starting new threads. Just click on the "Post New Forum Topic" button in the header, make sure you're in the right folder, and post away!
This stuff is not my career -- doesn't pay enough! ;-)
It's not that hard to build your own. My wife (aka My Lovely Assistant) is the the type who can't sit around and watch somebody else do something -- SHE wants to do it. She did much of the work on our WFO with only some supervision from me. This is not a particularly advanced masonry project -- it ain't holding a house up! It may take you a bit longer, but if you have an itch to DIY, don't be scared off. Read up, maybe find somebody who has some experience who can give you pointers and maybe a "lesson" and have at it.
Just a word of caution -- if you go the mason route, be aware that many masons will try to talk you into changing the plan based on their knowledge and experience with fireplaces. DON'T DO IT! A WFO is NOT a fireplace. Have him follow the plans.
Here's some Flickr pics of the building process we went through if you didn't pick up the link from one of my earlier posts.
You'll note that our WFO isn't really inside our house -- just part of the back porch. If you can do something similar, ie, attached, you may be able to satisfy your local code.
Thanks for the reply and encouragement. Your photos are really nice and your oven too. One thing I have really appreciated after looking at a lot of WFO online is the creativity of the builder that DIY - some are truly works of art. I am sure you get a lot more satisfaction when you can tell someone who is totally enjoying your bread that you, and in your case your wife, built the entire oven yourselves - what an achievement.
Well, I am going to get off this OLD thread and when I speak again it will be to reply on a currently ongoing thread OR one that I start. This is a great way to share information with like minded - at least on the topic of bread - people who are as enthusiastic as you are.
I'm the other poster referred to by ClimbHi. You can check out my AS oven at www.marygbread.com.
One weak spot in the design is the use of angle iron to span the top of the oven mouth. Iron and brick expand and contract at different rates, which can and probably will lead to cracking over time. I'd suggest instead building a simple form of the same size and casting a lintel out of the high strength refractory: Kastite. Basically, you'll be making a super strong giant firebrick. Let it cure for at least a week before removing the form.
Using four inches of high heat insulation board like SuperIsol (one brand name among many; very dense can bear weight) or K-Fac 19 (one brand name among many, less good at bearing weight) will be much more efficient than any Portland/vermiculite/perlite mix. Three inches of high heat ceramic blanket like Durablanket (one brand name among many) is more efficient than six inches of loose vermiculite and is soft enough to conform to the curve of the dome. Once done, make a cage of galvanized chicken wire over the blanket and trowel on three to six inches of the castable refractory insulator Matrilite 18. Believe me, this really, really works.
Supply of these materials can be an issue, depending on your location. Have a look at Chicago Fire Brick on the web to find a dealer near you. Alternately, contact the local potters' group; they've been using this stuff for years. By the way, all are silicates, so be sure to wear a mask.
Jim can you clarify the hearth slab construction? Are you only using the 4 inch SuperIsol and then placing the fire bricks on top of that to creat the oven floor? Is their any refratory or other cement cement used for the hearth slab?
That depends on what you're building. An AS oven uses a suspended refractory slab below the hearth bricks as a heat sink. Scott specified a six inch Portland/vermiculite mix below the slab as an insulator. Using four inches of high heat board (the softer and cheaper K-Fac 19 would work just fine) instead would be much more efficient, but only after the slab has cured and is very dry. Scott has a formula for a fireclay and sand mix to bed the hearth bricks on the slab. That works just fine.
Round Italian pizza ovens, such as the Pompeii style, are commonly built with the hearth brick bedded on two to four inches of high heat board. These ovens heat fast but don't retain heat as long as an AS oven.
Fine fireclay can often be gotten from pottery kiln suppliers.
Thanks for the information - by the time I need it I will hopefully understand it all a bit more but in the mean time I will definely keep the information noted.
I looked at your website at Mary G's - a beatiful oven but even nicer bread. You are truly and artisan of artisans at both brick and flour - tour breads are really really nice. It sounds like you have evolved professionally over the years with the necessay experiences to become a great baker and produce bread that is not only beartiful to look at but I am sure wonderful in taste too.
I had a really close friend, Susan, who grew up in Parry Sound abot 200K north of you. I know the summers are pretty but the winters can be extremely cold. Do you do all your baking for yous bakery in your WFO? Do you have a bakery store front or do you sell in some other manner? How big is your bakery - peoppe and number of loaves per week? I am not being so noisy as wanting to get a feel for you operation. My goal is to learn enough to hopefully in 2 to 3 or 4 years open my own bakery. I have been at the task of getting experience for about a year and a half now and love it.
Thanks again for the great info.
Thanks for the kind words. I've been at it quite a while. My area (50 miles north and east of Toronto in farm country) simply does not have the demographics to support a high end wood fired artisan bakery. If I was in downtown Toronto, things would be very different if I had half a mil $ to start up. Anyway, tried retail for a while and got pretty beat up doing it. Now I do large restaurant orders and catering. Generally, my partner, Wendy, and I do all the baking, but I sometimes call in more people for really large orders.
However, I'm so busy giving workshops on weekends and installing WFOs during the week in good weather, that commercial baking has been pushed somewhat to the side. The web is a curious experience: Among others this past weekend, I had Tom (a member here) and Charlynn from near Omaha, Nebraska, at a workshop. Week before that it was Mary and Cookie from Beaumont, Texas. Even had Ros from New Zealand a few years back. Great way to meet the world in rural Ontario.
I've found it's impossible to duplicate the loaf volume, crumb and crust from a wood fired oven in a commercial gas deck, although I do make pan breads and such in an appliance with dials. This area is the banana belt compared to Parry Sound in winter; all the snow ends up in Rochester, NY, south across Lake Ontario. The oven really isn't that affected by cold weather, but I am. February is out, therefore.
Every year, on the Saturday of the last weekend in May (the 29th this year), we hold our annual Bread & Pizza Bash. It's a party, really, $10 per person to cover ingredients. I demo a few pizzas, pitas and such, then turn the ravenous crowd loose on a 750 degree hearth. We sure get some unusual looking pizzas (think the shape of Africa), but everyone has a great time. Anyone on this forum is welcome to attend. Wood fired types from all over the place, even my refractory supplier, show up. It's a BYOB event.
Shoot me an email and let me know how many people are coming, and I'll return with location and accommodation info. Taking a bit of time to explore Toronto afterwards would be worthwhile. Stay out of the cheese shops or leave your credit card home.
Dude, that looks great! I want one.
Bad news: Alan Scott died: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/06/dining/06scott.html
Alan Scott died in February on a trip back to his native OZ. I had the pleasure of meeting him several times, and his self-description as an "aging hippie" was quite accurate. He was a bit stuck in the past and darned proud of it. Even so, he was a pioneer plus guru, and his death has put a large and gaping hole in the wood fired oven landscape, which he did most to describe and populate. His work is carried on by his daughter and son at www.ovencrafters.net.
I see that you're an East Coast guy. Jim Wills at Mary G's teaches classes at his place in Canada and is extremely knowledgeable about Alan Scott ovens and breads. You can find him here on the site somewhere.
I teach wood-fired oven classes in Sonoma County, California. There are many differences, I find, between wood and gas ovens, but the learning process is the most fun there is IMHO.
Best of luck!
There are several questions and comments here that deserve answers/clarification. First off, the idea that the Scott design is "generally" regarded as flawed just ain't so. I've been in this business for over ten years, and I'd like to know who these generals might be. In the last while, WFO building-supplying has become a very competitive arena, with lots of new kids on the block, each one with an agenda and a crying need to be "expert." Some of the claims made about the superiority of one design (barrel vault/Neapolitan) over another, one method over another, one material over another, are simply balderdash. Properly built, both will work just fine. Thing is a round low dome design is more efficient for pizza, while a barrel vault is more efficient for bread. That does not mean you can't bake pizza in a bread oven or bread in a pizza oven. I've used both and built both. The key word is "efficiency," not the design per se.
The idea that steam will cause brick deterioration is another red herring. If that were true, why are there so many truly ancient WFOs in France that have steam injection systems? I've been steaming my oven for a decade, and there's no deterioration whatsoever. It is true that a full oven won't need much steam. Anything less, though, and steam is required to keep the crust moist for the first half of the bake. Otherwise, you will not get maximum volume in your loaves. Try it both ways and compare results. The term "thermal shock" should be retired from the lexicon.
As for the dreaded suspended slab, Alan designed it this way for a "high mass" oven, one capable of repeated bakes over time, one that would not bleed heat into the block oven stand. It works, period. The thicker the mass, the longer the heat up times, but the longer the retained heat is available (days in my case). Want quicker heat up times, use less mass. It's a matter of intent during the build stage, rather than anything wrong with the design. A single firebrick, even stood on edge simply does not provide enough mass for prolonged heat retention, no matter how well insulated. Proper insulation, however, does provide more fuel efficiency.
The real point is that there is a lot of voodoo out there, whether about wild yeast starters or oven designs. There are too many people seeking attention and wanting the well deserved mantle Scott wore. Sure, there are ways to improve on his design: lintel material, insulation types, etc., but these are tweaks, not wholesale replacement. Scott was well aware that WFO design is centuries old. Beware those who will cheerfully tell you they've reinvented the wheel,
When I came to write my WFO book, now available as a paperback on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca, I considered using the logistical rules I've developed for my own oven. However, I came to the conclusion after due consideration that such rules--the ones that work here--might prove to be misleading. Reading through this thread proves the point. There are so many different variables in build decisions (some of them just corner cutting), mass and insulation materials that hard and fast logistics simply will not work, oven to oven. It has been my experience that each and every oven has its own personality, and logistical methods come from general guidelines applied to practical, hands on work with a particular oven.
This approach is exactly what I was getting at earlier. Going in this direction for the hearth and insulation does not give you quite the hearth mass you could achieve otherwise, but it will work just fine. I used the bricks on edge with a six inch suspended slab underdeath them, then a Matrilite 18 insulation layer under it all. The total thickness is just about ten inches, but that was what I was after when I built the oven. What you've done won't capture quite as much heat or retain it for as long, but it sounds like you got what you wanted. Well done.