The Wood-Fired Blog

A 51.25 Mile 50 Miler

Sometimes 50 miles just isn’t enough.

Yesterday at the Headlands 50 Ultra I went off the course not once, but twice and ended up running 51.25 miles. Not very smart! I was running with an experienced ultra runner, and we just got talking, and well, there we were. I concentrated at the intersections a lot more on the second lap.

With my detours, I finished the race at 9:35, which was fast enough for 5th overall (I think that is right, they haven’t posted the final results yet) and I got an award for winning the 50-up age group. Wahoo. The last 5 miles were a grind and the last two hills were a killer, but I felt really good up until then. Now, as long as my knee holds up, it’s time to start getting ready for the winter marathons.

This was my first 50 miler and my second trail race, and the experience was just great. At one spot running across a crest with views of the Marin headlands and the bay, I crossed paths with another runner about my age running the other way, and he called out “Isn’t this great! We are so lucky to be here”. I couldn’t agree more. At mile 32, we were at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge, and running through lots of bikers, joggers and walkers out for the day, a young guy called out to me “you are having more fun than any of the runners I’ve seen all day”. I must have had a smile on my face.

Here are a couple of photos from previous years. The weather yesterday was beautiful.


But Wait. There’s More.

If you order now, we will also include this nice loaf of banana bread. haha.

This posting is about the remarkable heat retention that I am getting with my Strada60 oven, and how little wood it takes to fire the oven. It’s surprising even me.

Today I build a typical two-log fire, and baked two baguettes and the loaf of toasting bread that I was plotting out earlier today. But then, we had a bunch of bananas that were going over-ripe, so I made a last minute decision to make banana bread! And the oven easily had enough heat to keep baking. I lit the fire at 3PM, and it was still around 400F at 7:30PM for the second bake. Wahoo!

My experience with brick ovens goes back to the first Bread Builders brick oven I built in my backyard in Healdsburg. Alan Scott even came by and helped me finish it. The oven dome had full-size firebricks on their edge and 4-5″ of calcium aluminate concrete poured around the dome. Doing some napkin math, that means that my oven dome was 9 1/2″ thick; 5-6 times thicker than my Strada oven. To this day I still chuckle about that oven — and all the wood it took to fire it up, and poorly suited it was to backyard baking. It would be barely warm after burning two pieces of wood. A commercial bakery, maybe. But a backyard oven?

Sometime customers (or potential customers) will ask me if our smaller ovens (the Primavera, Andiamo and Strada) have enough thermal mass for serious baking and roasting. And the answer is a hearty YES!

Plan B

Getting your kids to eat well (and helping them come to understand on their why it is so important) is one of the most important things we do as parents. But it isn’t easy.

I’ve been blogging about how to make healthy bread that is good enough so that the family actually eats it. Recently I have been pulling back from my hearty whole grain, seed and nut loaves in an attempt to make my bread popular. By my fear is that whole wheat fatigue is setting in. For example, our second daughter runs high school cross country, and she comes home tired and hungry in the afternoons. But right now, I can’t convince her to eat my whole wheat toast and peanut butter (which is something that I do).

Time for Plan B. Subterfuge. First, I am going to use a loaf pan for a while. A traditional shaped loaf just seems less rustic. Second, I am making a seriously non-challenging formula of 75% white whole wheat flour and 25% AP flour, along with 3% honey and 71% water.

Hopefully, I can make something that does scare away the natives, but is still pretty healthy. If this works, over time I can keep moving the line little by little until everyone likes my serious whole grain loaves.

We’ll see.

Over-Proofed Bread in a Pizza Oven

This is what over-proofed bread looks like when you have loaded it in your pizza oven. In case you were wondering. You might think I would have worked it out by now that if you shape your loaves before you fire your oven, things aren’t going to be ready in sync. Firing my Strada60 takes about two hours to light, fire and cool/regulate, so if your dough is lively and you shape your loaves before you light your firing, the timing just isn’t going to be right.

See the way my loaves are oozing sideways!

I used a garden spray to make steam in the oven, and ended up with an odd, shiny finish on the crust. I’m going to try the recommendation a reader and use water pan later today.

Half Whole Wheat Ciabatta

One of the advantages of baking a lot of bread is that you get to experiment a lot. You know — mess around. Yesterday I made a non-existent bread (non c’e, or non esiste as you would say in Italian), 50% whole wheat, 50% AP Ciabatta. The funny part of this is that a Ciabatta is a light Italian hearth bread made with a very wet dough and baked in a hot steamy oven so that it develops really big holes in the crumb. It is traditionally made with Tipo 00 flour, which is much lighter than American bread flour. It’s a really light and airy bread.

So Ciabatta meets 50% whole wheat flour is something of an oxymoron. Jumbo shrimp.

But we wanted a light bread for a weekend dinner and I wanted to do something somewhat healthy. So I simply followed the formula for a traditional Ciabatta and swapped out 50% of the AP flour with white whole wheat flour. Then I baked it in a hot (high 500F’s) brick oven with a couple of good shots of steam. It baked a lot faster than the two whole wheat boules I also baked at the same time.

It was fun. Certainly not a work of art, and possibly not even something I will do again (we’ll see), but the flavor was really good and the texture was a mix of light and chewy/nutty. At some level, one of the more interesting aspects of the bread was the simple incongruity of the whole thing.

The story concluded this evening, when we made the second half of the loaf into Bruschetta, along with grilled salmon. Equally unusual, but still good. Of course everything tastes great with our Tuscan extra virgin olive oil — the perfect finishing oil for bruschetta.

The No-Touch Fire

The top-down technique for building a fire in your wood-fired oven works extremely well. I first heard about the top-down fire in the FB Forum, and it’s great. We now have a video on the Forno Bravo YouTube page, and I have blogged about fire building in the past.

Today, I have a little more to add. With a small to mid-size pizza oven, you can load enough wood into your initial top-down fire that you can light it and forget it, and your oven will retain enough heat for serious bread baking or roasting. The No-Touch fire.

Check out the picture below in my small Strata60 oven. By stacking the wood all the way to the top of the oven dome, I was able to easily bake three loaves of bread and still had a lot of heat left for other baking. It took about two pieces of ordinary firewood.

Please forgive the next bad photo. But it reinforces the idea that you don’t have to do anything after you stack and light your fire. All of wood catches fire, so you can just walk away. After all (or at least most) of the wood have fully burned, you close the door on the oven opening, and wait for the temperature to regulate to the bread baking or roasting temperature that you want. This is easier than a Weber!

You Can Only Get So Far Without a Brick Oven

Sometimes you find yourself in a hurry, or in a really busy day, but you still want nice, fresh baked bread. This is particularly true on Fridays. Busy, dinner with the family — those things.

So yesterday I had enough time to mix and shape two baguettes, but not enough time to fire my Strada oven. Or, way it a lack of energy, rather than a lack of time. Hmmm. Either way, I decided to bake my bread in our standard home electric oven. And I tried pretty hard. The baguettes were pretty well developed and shaped; and I pre-heated the oven to 475F, sprayed a water bottle, and lowered the oven to 400F. The entire bake took about 20 minutes for two loaves — 70% hydration and a little less than a pound each.

First, you will notice that out of habit I shaped my loaves to 24″ — longer than my 15″x20″ pizza stone, so they dropped over the edge. OK, this is a little silly, and yes, I am capable of shaping a 20″ baguette, but even my Strada60 (our smallest pizza oven) can handle 24″ baguettes. :-)

Beyond that, and much more important, you can see that it is so much easier to bake a really nice loaf of bread in a brick oven. These loaves are a middle brown, without any caramelization, and despite the fact that I correctly scored my loaves, there was very little oven spring and no grigne (or ear) — that nice lip that developed in a steamed brick oven.

I know that there are lots of different techniques for getting steam in a conventional oven and that many home bakers do a really great job of working around the limitations of their electric kitchen oven, but in a brick oven it is just so easy!

Anyway, the bread still tasted nice and everyone was happy on a Friday evening.

A Forno Bravo Pizza Oven in a 1952 Chevy Pickup Truck

How cool is this.

If you look closely, right above the driver’s side windshield, you can see the chimney pipe and spark arrestor.

In their own words:

Pizza Luca offers on-site catering in the tri-state area, including Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam counties, Fairfield, CT, and Northern NJ. We’re also available for private engagements in New York City.

We follow all the guidelines for creating true, authentic Neapolitan pizza set by the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana (the association of true Neapolitan pizza) to ensure that every pie we make meets strict quality and authenticity requirements, including traditional techniques and equipment, and specialty ingredients.
As part of our commitment to excellence, we use efficient, aromatic hardwoods in our Napoletana-style oven to impart a unique, delicate flavor. Each pizza is made to order by hand, then cooked for 90 seconds in our 900-degree oven to create the perfect raised-edge crust, thin center, and authentic texture and taste other cooking methods can’t replicate.”

We approve!

That, and they get some really nice char on their pizzas. Here are a few pictures from their web site.