The Wood-Fired Blog

The Outdoor Fireplace and Real Estate Values

I’ve written quite a bit over the years about pizza ovens and real estate values. In the early days of the the Forno Bravo Forum, we had a community member who had built (and loved) a Pompeii Oven, who had been transferred at work and need to move and sell his house. This was during the worst moments of the economic downturn and the drop in house values. But he was able to sell his house, and he was convinced that his beautiful oven was one of the big factors as to why he was able to sell it. And with the recently articles in the NY Times and South Carolina’s Post and Courier, it’s good to see the trend continue.

But yesterday’s NT Times article in the Long Island Regional Real Estate section; Creating Outdoor Appeal opened my eyes to the wider opportunity.

Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

Outdoor fireplaces, outdoor kitchens and outdoor living space as a whole can add value to your house and help you sell your house. And the “stay cation” theme is alive and well.

During spring and summer on Long Island, as buyers think about relaxing, entertaining, barbecuing and “staycations,” backyard appeal is as important as curb appeal in selling a home. Standards have been pushed higher than ever these days; a dining table with an umbrella on the patio and a few chairs on the lawn no longer make the grade.


These well-appointed “yards on steroids” are a magnet for spring- and summertime buyers. “People come in and they go right to the backyard,” Ms. Hauser said, citing a listing in Lloyd Neck with multiple levels of patios, and a large pool with a grotto, a swim-up bar and a built-in barbecue. “They are so excited to have this extra living space. It’s the generation that is looking for instant gratification. If two houses are next to each other and one has that extra living space, it adds some sort of inherent value. People like to be outside.”

A Baguette Self-Critique

I have always thought of myself as a glass half full person, so in parsing my latest baguette lessons and trials, I’m going to start with the positive. As background information, I made a standard 70% dough using TJs AP flour.

On the upside:

I started my dough the night before using room temperature water and an initial knead for 10 minutes on KitchenAid at 3. The dough ball was silky and well-formed. I then popped it in the refrigerator covered with a kitchen towel overnight.

The overnight rise was good. The volume increased by more than 50%, but did not exploded, and it did not stay in a hibernating state—as is the case when I start my dough with ice water. My conclusion is that ice water baguettes probably need more than 19 hours (kneading at 10PM and baking at 5PM the next day).

I did six folds and a bulk fermentation and an second six folds. It’s easy to do, and I have mastered the wet deck and wet hands method—so I am not adding any additional flour to the dough. I created the baguette balls and let them proof on the deck, which also worked.

Overall, these are probably my best baguettes yet. They are light, crispy on the crust, the crumb is nice and developed, and they are tall. I’ve been wanting to address my low (puddle) baguette problem, and I might be there.

On the “needs improvement” list, I still have a ways to go:

While my slashing (docking or scoring—I wonder why there are so many terms for basically the same thing) is improving there were some real shortcomings in this batch.

On one baguette, my scoring did not overlap by 1/3 (as described in the Hitz scoring video, and in parts of the bread where there was not enough overlap, there is the “bulge and constraint” phenomenon that Hitz described in his video. You can see it in the photo below. The cuts are over-exploded, while the areas of bread without the overlap are very narrow. Got it. Overlap by 1/3.

On the second baguette, despite the fact that I thought I scored the loaves pretty well, and did the 1/3 overlap, the baguette steam blew out the side of the loaf—leaving the score makes relatively un-expanded. Not good. Watching the video again, I have to remember that speed is important to the scoring technique. I think I need to score fast to get a deeper cut.

While one baguette is pretty consistently formed, the second loaf is just too short and too fat. I need to think about whether this was because I simply didn’t roll that loaf properly at the final step of preparing the loaf, or whether I made another mistake earlier in the process.

And finally, after watching the Hitz video again after loading these baguettes in the oven, I can see that I need to know more air out of my baguette balls before shaping the baguettes. I need to get more skin tension during my final shaping, and that will help.

So in the end, I feel like I made a few more improvements to my technique, and definitely have a few more to go. I some ways, fixing more problems upstream (earlier in the process), makes the mistakes I make later in the process all the more glaring. I can definitely say at this point that I do not know how long it is going to take for me to get all of the bugs out of the system. Or, to be honest, if I can reach the level of skill that I would like will staying 100% self taught. It’s going to be fun finding out.



Bread Baking and Oven Temperature

We received an email question today from a member who has bee following my bread quest who was interested in hearing more on bread baking temperature. It’s a really good topic; one that deserves a lot more attention.

One of the habits I have developed over years of wood-fired bread baking is a general (and probably misguided) disregard for oven temperature accuracy. Pizza ovens (and all wood-fired masonry ovens) are very forgiving in terms of the acceptable temperature range. The moistness in the oven chamber gives you a lot of wiggle room. So while I have some general rules ,I have never put a lot of stock into the differences between 425F and 450F in a conventional oven. And I think to become a better baker, that is something I need to develop.

So, going forward, I will start taking better notes on the oven temperature, both at the start of baking and at the finish. That will be helpful.

Here are some general rules that I try to follow:

You can start baking bread in the high 500F’s in a pizza oven. Remember to allow your oven to sufficiently cool before loading your bread; or you will burn the outside while the crumb is still doughy;

You should start baguettes first if you are baking multiple loads from a single firing (they bake more quickly and can take the higher heat);

If your oven temperature is well balanced (top and bottom) and within the general range required for bread baking you can roughly gauge whether your bread is done (or close) by the color of the crust;

Your finished bread should have an internal temperature of about 200F-205F;

If you are baking in a conventional oven, you should pre-heat your oven to 50-75F higher than your baking temperature. For baguettes, you can start baking at 500F, and then lower the temperature to 425F when you load your bread. Try 475F and 400F for a larger, whole wheat boule that requires a longer baking time;

Be sure to let your bread cool before you cut it and start eating it. The crumb needs to cool and finish baking for quite a while after you have removed the loaf from the oven;

Don’t eat warm bread!


Pizza Ovens and Real Estate

We are on a roll. Two Forno Bravo ovens in the real estate section of two different newspapers in one day!

From the Post and Courier in Charlotte, SC. 225 W. Poplar St. — Art deco-inspired Wagener Terrace home coolly adds functionality for disabled child. Be sure to look at the slideshow to see our oven.

In the corner of the yard is the redone garage, painted a festive yellow. It’s now a Tuscan style kitchen complete with the stucco “Forno Bravo” wood-burning pizza oven that reaches temperatures of 1,200 degrees, Argentine grill, countertop with sink and a metal island table.

“I call this my cooking show (table),” Christina Stewart quipped.

A Pizza Oven Can Help Sell Your House

There are a couple of fun things to note on today’s NY Times Real Estate article, The Kitchen’s Day in the Sun.

Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times

If you are a part of the Forno Bravo community, you probably already know this, but a great outdoor kitchen or pizza oven can help you sell your house; even in today’s extended down market. And even if your oven isn’t the feature that makes the sale happen, if you do it right, an inviting outdoor pizza oven can add more to your home value than the cost to install it. And besides, even if both of those factors don’t happen, you should at least break even, and end up with a great new hobby and a wonderful place for entertaining your friends. Or, as the NYT puts it:

The rage for alfresco kitchens first took hold on the East Coast about 10 years ago, when the economy was thriving, said Jonathan Giannettino, an owner of Curto’s Appliances in Yonkers. By 2009 business had dropped off sharply.

Now, with new houses and expensive vacations on hold, he said, “business has picked up” as people demonstrate a new willingness to upgrade their houses in order to enjoy backyard “staycations” during the warmer months, often installing heating lamps and fire pits to extend the season.

And outdoor kitchens, originally a West Coast phenomenon, have evolved far beyond the humble outdoor grill next to a picnic table. Especially when makers of kitchen appliances, like the Viking Range Corporation, “decided to go after this market a decade ago,” Mr. Giannettino said, “they took the idea of outdoor kitchens to a whole other level.”

The other interesting aspect of the article is that the writer feature Forno Bravo as the “for example” company for describing a typical outdoor pizza oven. We’re becoming the default alternative. What’s next? Will Forno Bravo become the generic term of a pizza oven? Haha. “When did you put in your Forno Bravo?”

The oven in the photo, while not from Forno Bravo, has a finish very similar to our Toscana oven. Which is nice.