The Wood-Fired Blog

Coals and Oven Temperature Control

When you are baking bread, you always need to manage oven temperature relative to the rest of the world — such as how quickly your bread is proofing and when you are going to be ready to load your bread. And unlike your conventional oven, you don’t have controls to  lower or raise your oven temperature.

The rate that your oven heats up and holds heat is based on a number of different factors, including your oven size and the size and duration of your fire. Still, one thing is certain. Your oven will start a slow and gentle decline in temperature as your fire burns down.

One way of controlling and extending your oven’s baking capacity is to work with your coals. If you want to start your bread baking as quickly as possible, you should shovel out your coals as your fire is burning down. But if you want to extend your potential baking period, spread your coals and and close your door. The heat of the coals will keep your oven hot for a long period of time — giving you the flexibility of baking hours later than you had originally planned.

Balancing Oven Dome and Floor Temperature

Every pizza oven is a little bit unique in how it absorbs and stores heat and how it cooks. That means that you always have to do a little bit of experimenting with a new oven (or a friends oven, or an oven at your vacation rental house) to work out how to be fire your oven and make it just right for the type of cooking that you are going to be doing — baking, roasting, grilling, pizza, etc.

I’ve been working with my prototype Presto oven (though we are going to be changing the name when we introduce the product) and I am really getting to know it. One of the issues I am working on with my new oven is balancing dome and floor heat. Unlike a larger oven, where the challenge can, at times, be keeping the cooking floor hot, in a smaller oven, because the fire itself spreads over a larger part of the cooking floor, I am finding that the floor is hotter than the dome.

To address this situation, I have started raking the coals toward the outside of the floor after the fire burns down. I keep the heat in the oven, without overheating the center of the cooking floor — where it can burn the bottom of my bread.

If you have trouble with your dishes cooking faster on the bottom than the top, you can try this technique.

Pizza Pilgrims in the UK Guardian

If you missed my previous posting, Pizza Pilgrims in London have installed a Forno Bravo pizza oven on a Piaggio Ape, a three wheel mini truck with a top speed of 32 mph. As you might guess, they are getting a lot of good press — I think not only because they’ve done something very original and very cool, but also, from everything I’ve read, because they are really good at what they do.

Photograph: Pal Hansen for the Observer

This nice article in the UK Guardian Life and Style section talks about their commitment to real Pizza Napoletana and great ingredients, and they even give a few recipes.

Whole Wheat Boule with Pine Nuts

That’s right. Pine nuts.

This came out really nicely — its as something of a surprise. This is a standard 1kg formula using 80% whole wheat flour, 20% white whole wheat flour, 75% hydration and 100 grams of raw pine nuts. We really enjoyed it.

The oblong loaf on the left was proofed in a loaf pan shaped baneton.

A couple of notes on the finished loaves. I fired my small pizza oven with two pieces of wood (that’s it), bringing the oven up to temperature in about 45 minutes and then let it cool for another 45 minutes — and there was easily enough heat in the oven to bake these loafs and at least one (or more) batches afterwards. The oven is great.

Of course my bread is never perfect. These loaves were over proofed in their banetons, while I waited for the oven to cool. They started falling in after I released them from the forms, before I scored them.

The loaf on the left was loaded on the side of the oven where I sprayed water into the oven for steam. The crust of that loaf is not as nice, with less oven spring and the flour was washed off the loaf’s exterior. I am starting to wonder if you even need extra water for steam in this small oven — beyond the water in the dough that is turned into steam during backing. Interesting.

Happy baking everybody. Here is what pine nuts look like when you slice the loaf for toast.

Pizza Oven Size and Throughput

How many pizzas can you put in a wood-fired oven at a time? How many pizzas can you make per hour?

This is useful information whether you operate a restaurant or throw parties for friends and family. In general, throughput is based on concurrent places in the oven and the number of pizzas you can bake in each place per hour. I think it is fair to say that there is a theoretical throughput, as well as a practical throughput rate. For a mainstream 56″ commercial oven, you get the following:

The oven can hold ten 11″ pizzas at a time, with each position capable of baking up to 30 pizzas per hour, assuming a two minute bake time — yielding a theoretical throughput of 300 pizzas per hour. With a four hour dinner service running from 5PM to 9PM, that is a theoretical 1,200 pizza. Of course your mileage might vary. Here is the layout for a 56″ commercial pizza oven:

From a practical practical perspective, assuming that each position capable of producing 10 pizzas per hour, or one every six minutes, you can calculate a throughput of 100 pizzas per hour.

It is also worth noting that these are throughput limitations that are imposed by the size and speed of the oven; not limitations determined by the size and speed of your pizza making team.



Cuisinart Update

It might be as simple as learning to work with a new appliance — or perhaps the Cuisinsart mixer does not have a comparable mixing action and bowl design with the KitchenAid. But I seem to be having trouble getting my entire batch of dough to mix into a nice ball, where the mixer leaves unmixed flour at the bottom of the bowl. There is also a lot of dry flour build up on the side of the bowl, none of which is good. As a lazy baker (someone who tries to be really efficient so that I can focus on the aspects of my hobby that are really fun and have the biggest impact), I don’t want to spend a lot of time messing with my mixer after I have weighed my ingredient.

In an attempt to stop this from happening today, I “mixed” the dry ingredients and the water using the kneading attachment in my hand. After weighing the dry ingredient, I added and weighed the water and then gave it a good mix before attaching the kneading arm and turning on the mixer for 10 minutes. After the cycle was complete, I took a look under the dough and there was still dry, unmixed flour. Blah. I mixed it in my hand and turned the mixer back on for another five minutes, and it all eventually was done. Then, six folds and back into the bowl for bulk fermentation.

I can see that the bottom of the Cuisinart bowl does not have as deep an indent as the KA bowl. Does that matter?

This needs a great deal more testing until I either figure out how to make it work easily — or decide that the Cuisinart isn’t the mixer for me. More to come.

Today’s batch is Whole Wheat Pine Nut (because I had pine nuts in the cupboard). Sounds good!

Online Baking Classes with Peter Reinhart

New from Peter Reinhart — our favorite baker, cookbook writer and instructor:

This just came in today and I want to let you be the first to know about it. I recently filmed a serious artisan bread making course for an internet educational company called Craftsy. Well, it’s ready to roll (oops, sorry about the pun) and the best news is that those who sign up via the following link can get the whole course for 50% off (it will sell at full value for $39.99 so you can get it via the link for just $19.99). My understanding is that this special launch price will only be good for a limited period, so check it out at for the special price and a more detailed description of the course. We had fun filming it and, if it goes well, I’m hoping we’ll be doing more, perhaps on pizzas — who knows?  Anyway, check it out and feel free to pass the word and link on to others. To get the special price, though, you have to use the full url above.
If any of you do sign up, let me know what you think — this is a whole new educational platform and concept and they have lots of other courses, such as cheese making, baking with chocolate, cake decorating, and crafts of all kinds. It’s very exciting — can’t wait to hear what you think of it.
I am going to sign up and follow along. One thing that Craftsy seems to do well is that it provides a high degree of professional content and organization when compared with the wide range of training videos you find doing reaches on Google or YouTube. As you know, I really enjoy being self-taught, so for me, Internet-based classes are a really good idea.

Steel Cut Oats

According to Wikipedia, steel cut oats are:

Steel-cut oats are whole grain groats (the inner portion of the oat kernel) which have been cut into pieces. They are commonly used in Scotland and Ireland to make porridge, whereas rolled oats are used in England, other English-speaking countries, and Scandinavia. They are sometimes named after the grade of cut, e.g. pinhead oats; steel-cut oats from Ireland are sometimes called Irish oats. Steel-cut oats take longer to cook than instant or rolled oats due to their minimal processing, typically 15–30 minutes (though much less if pre-soaked). The flavor of the cooked oats is described as being nuttier than other types of oats, and they are also chewier.

All of which makes a lot of sense in the context of bread baking. Recently, I have been making a lot of whole wheat oat bread with rolled oats (or old fashioned oats) that I have soak in hot water before adding them to my dough. In this batch, I simply (and pretty lazily) added 100 grams of raw steel cut oats to a 500kg batch of whole wheat dough — no pre-soaking. One boule.

The results were interesting, though not 100% good. While the oats became a little softer and they added a little bit of a crunchy texture to the dough, they were just too hard and even a little bit gritty. You can see the oats (like little pellets) in the crumb of the loaf.

Here is the formula:


300 grams whole wheat
100 grams white whole wheat
100 grams general purpose
100 gram steel cut oats
30 gram olive oil
30 grams honey
25 grams mollasses
375 grams water (75% hydration)

Now I want to work out whether rolled oats are simply a better type of oat for whole wheat bread, or whether I can get a better result by soaking my steel cut oats (either overnight in tap water, or for a short period of time in boiling water). Time for some Internet research. Also, our good friend Peter Reinhart has written an entire book on baking with whole grains.


First Impressions

As I start working with my new 7 qt Cuisinart stand mixer, I thought I would jot down a couple of initial impressions.

Out of the box, the Cuisinart has a lot more exterior plastic than the KitchenAid. The heaviness and the professional, industrial feel are two of the more attractive aspects of the KitchenAid, and they just aren’t there with the Cuisinart. From the moment that I first picked up the box and carried it into the house, I knew that the Cuisinart would feel a lot lighter, a lot less industrial — less substantial. The box just didn’t weight that much, and it was surprising.

To the touch, you just can’t avoid the fact that the housing simply has a lot of plastic. The silver trim and the knobs and buttons are all just plastic, and the metal housing is a lighter weight material. I’m not sure what the metal or the coating are, but it isn’t enamel on steel. Plus, the feel of the switches and knobs is really quite flimsy; not solid.

And then there is one of my favorites. In the spirit of Spinal Tap, this one goes to 12. Not 10, not (sadly) 11. But 12. The speed dial does not rotate firmly, and there are no guidelines when rotating the dial to mark the numbers (that thing nice dials do to let you know that you are hitting the numbers). In fact, the dial isn’t even snug in it groove. It is so loose, that you can pull it out and push it inward — it just wobbles along.

Curious about the weight, I took out our bathroom scale and weighed the two mixers. The KitchenAid weighs 26.2 lbs., while the Cuisinart weighs 18.6 lbs. And you can tell just by tapping and touching the two machines.

All of that said, you don’t mix dough with a heavy metal enclosure or with nice knobs and buttons. You mix dough with a good engine (though I am not totally certain what that exactly means), the proper motion (I’m not really sure what this means either), and a good dough hook (hmmm, I’m not even sure what this means). And the Cuisinart claims a 1,000 watt motor and a deep 7-quart mixing bowl — where the KitchenAid sports a 575 watt motor and a 6-quart bowl. Though I need to note that the KitchenAid also claims to have a 67 point planetary mixing action (and no, I don’t know what that means either).

Obviously I have lots to learn about mixers. Regardless, I wouldn’t be making the blog posting if my KitchenAid mixer hadn’t died.

One last point. The Cuisinart mixer has a timer that works nicely. Making bread today, I simple set the timer to 10 minutes, and the mixer beeped and stopped. That’s nice.

Lots more to come.