The Wood-Fired Blog

Winter 2014 Snow Pizza Oven Competition Photos

Hey all,

Here is the page with the first great photos of pizza ovens, snow and fire. Thanks for everyone’s submissions so far — we have some wonderful photos. But, I would not that we don’t have one of a person standing in the freezing cold making a great Pizza Napoletana. Click on the link below.

Winter 2014 Pizza Oven Photo Competition

This from me, sitting here in the low 70s and worrying about our drought.

Keep the photos coming!

grand_rapids_mi

Snow, Snow, Snow. And Fire

We are getting some wonderful photos of snow, pizza ovens, and even some fire. And we have reports from the even hard core wood-fired chefs who have not used their ovens this winter for the first time ever. Ouch.

Keep the photos coming, and I will start posting them as they come in on www.fornobravo.com tomorrow!

Hang in there pizza oven lovers. Spring must be out there somewhere.

Larabee_Photos_20409

Sully-20140215-00013

 

 

Back to Bread; Folding

My bread baking skills are slowly improving, which is a good thing for all — for me and the family. I have learned a handful of new skills over the past few months, including temperature control, long (24 to 48 hour) fermentation, builds and folding.

On folding, I started baking when you were supposed to punch down the dough after the bulk fermentation. The idea was to push out some of the air holes and re-distribute the available food for the dough’s bacteria and yeast. But I always wondered why my higher hydration dough always sagged sideways and didn’t have the structure to rise properly. I would always tell myself that I need more gluten development, and that maybe I needed better flour.

Which brings me to folding. Folding re-distributes the nutrition in your dough, and releases the bigger air pockets, but it also gives your dough structure. It elongated and lines up the dough’s gluten strands to build strength. For the sourdough whole wheat rye that I have been making, I fold the dough 3-4 times at various points in the process. After mixing, every hour or so during bulk fermentation, etc.

There seem to be a number of different techniques, but I fold by bringing the top edge of the dough down to the bottom (while stretching it) and seal the seam. Then I turn it 90 degrees and stretch, fold, seal again. For a about six folds. It gets a little tighter each time.

After trying a lot of different techniques (letter fold, etc.) and a lot of experimenting, I read that your bread should have a consistent orientation during folding, where the same side basically faces up the entire time. Which, looking back, explains why I had a lot of inconsistent results with my random folding. Once I started to consistently fold, rotate, fold, and kept the same side of the dough pointing upward the entire process — from the count, to the proofing bowl, through shaping and into the oven — my loaves spring upward much better, and my wetter dough breads don’t just spill sideways.

Of course I have a lot more to learn.

Winter 2014 Photo Contest

We are ready to kick off the Winter 2014 Photo Contest. The basic rule is that anyone (who has a pizza oven) can play. Send us your photo at photos@fornobravo.com (any of our customer service email addresses will work), and we will post them as they come in at a special location on Forno Bravo Photos. Your photo does not need to be a new oven, but we would like a new photo if you have submitted a photo to us previously.

We will let everyone know each time we post new photos. Then, after a few weeks, we will vote internally for the semi-finalists, and post the six “best” photos on the Forno Bravo Forum, where you can vote for your favorite in an Internet poll. The photo with the most votes will win a Forno Bravo Got Wood? T-shirt, and the pride of winning this prestigious competition!

We have done a few photo competitions over the years, and they have been a lot of fun, and we have all get to enjoy some great pictures and be inspired for future outdoor kitchen and oven design project.

Here are a couple of links to some previous versions:

Winter 2012/13

Australian Summer 2011/12

Winter 2011/12

Let’s get started — we’re looking forward to hearing from you.

 

Back From a Break From Blogging

It’s been a while since I last blogged, and I have a ton of good stuff queued up to share with you. You might know that 2013 marked our 10th year at Forno Bravo, and we ended the year with a bang. 2013 was our biggest sales year ever, and it marked our 10th consecutive year of year-over-year growth. I’m really proud of that, and for all the people we have helped fall in love with the world of wood-fired cooking.

We have now been in our new factory for a little over a year, and we are getting more efficient all the time, and I am also happy to say that our quality and craftsmanship has never been better. I am a huge believer in continual improvement, and after 10 years of building the world’s best pizza oven, we are always getting better.

Looking forward, we have lots of fun things in the works that we will be sharing with you over the coming weeks and months, including new products, recipes and cloud-based services that we think will help you get more than ever out of your oven — or maybe become a happy owner of a wood-fired for for the first time. Stay tuned.

Out of the gate, we just posted a new series of great Pizza Oven Photos, something I really enjoy. We have some stunning ovens, and some nice snow shots. And some beautiful international ovens.

Speaking of snow, if you are getting hammered this winter, you have my condolences. Our daughter goes to college in Boston, and she has seen it all. Of course Forno Bravo is located in sunny Northern California, where (apparently) it never rains (and we are in a state of emergency). So to help everyone get through the final tough days of winter, we are going to have a Photo Contest. Details to come shortly, but I can say that we will be partial to snow photos in support of our friends in the central and eastern USA. (Sorry Australia).

In other news, I am still baking bread, almost daily, and my sourdough culture is alive and well. I’ve learned a great deal, that I want to share. Think of it as the confessions of a mediocre brad baker. Complete with photos taken from my phone.

And I am still running. Boston2BigSur is coming up in a couple of months (it will be my fifth), and I’m signed up for my second Ironman this summer, with a pretty unrealistic goal of qualifying for Kona in 2-3 years.

So there are lots of good things to look forward to, which for many of you, I know includes spring, and lots of wood-fired cooking!

Stay warm.

Baking Bread in Someone Else’s Oven

I’ve been baking bread in other people’s ovens for years. It’s a lot fun. You get to experiment with flour and yeast from other countries, use different ovens, and bake entirely by feel. Forget the digital scale and baking stone, most rental apartments and houses don’t even have measuring cups. And besides, hand-mixing dough is a lot of fun. It’s therapeutic. A couple of years ago, I even grew a sourdough culture using plums straight from the tree. Looking back, that dough was too stiff and I didn’t give my bread enough time to rise, but I guess that’s a sign that my baking has improved over the years.

whole wheat flour

 

One of the interesting aspects of this experiment was that the flours and yeasts in the supermarket (Plodine) were entirely in Croatian. Often you see packaging with lots of different languages, where you can work out what is what. But in this case, I had to get by completely with pictures. So I went for the flour with the picture of a whole wheat boule on the front. haha. Luckily, whole wheat flour and instant yeast is what I got.

Of course with the help of a handy Internet translator, I now know that pšenični brašno are the Croatian words for whole wheat flour. Good guess.

My first trial was only OK. I was fitting it in between going out for the day and breakfast, so I basically mixed the dough, let it proof overnight in the refrigerator and baked it straight from the refrigerator (results shown above). It was OK, but not great, but I didn’t have the time to let the dough warm up and actually do the final proof — and besides, I always like hand-made whole wheat bread better than supermarket white bread, even if it isn’t perfect. Of course the basic white Croatian baguette was a lot better than our local Safeway bread (a lot better). haha.

The second time through I had a little more time, and was able to fold the dough twice and give the final loaf a decent rise before baking it. My dough was sticky, but I was able to work with it using wet hands. Here’s the fun part; take a look at the photo below. The slightly rounder bread at the top of the photo is the supermarket whole wheat baguette and the slightly flatter bread is my loaf. My crust was a little more crunchy and a little denser, and the crumb between the two was very similar. What a chuckle. I clearly ended up using the same flour that they did.breadI’m not sure where we’re going next, but I’m looking forward to trying out new flour and maybe someone else’s wood-fired oven.

 

Wood-Fired Croatia (or more accurately, Istria)

We just returned from a very nice trip to Croatia. I have wanted to explore the Dalmatian coast for years, and the timing was right this summer. Our older daughter spent the summer working on campus in Boston (a very cool research project on pre-fab building using 3D modeling software and CNC laser equipment) and she had two weeks off before the start of school. And we put it to good use. Fly to London (see family), fly to Venice, boat to Istria (in Croatia), drive to Dubrovnik (bottom of Croatia), drive to Zagreb (the capital), fly to London (see more family) and fly home. It sounds hectic, but it was really very nice.

Istria pizza oven

I thought I would have share a couple of the cooking and food highlights — particularly the ovens. I have written before that the pizza in Venice isn’t very special. I don’t know if it’s an urban legend or actually true, but the story I’ve heard is that Venice had real problems with fires in medieval times, which is why they moved all of the glass manufacturing furnaces out to the island of Murano and banned wood-fired pizza ovens. Even if it isn’t true, it’s a good story. Either way, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a wood-fired pizza oven in Venice, or had a particularly good pizza (but I had some really good fish).

Then we took the ferry to Istria.

Istria pizza oven

Istria was different; it’s been called Croatia’s Tuscany for good reason. The region was part of Italy until the second world war, and it still looks and feels Italian. The road signs are all written in both Serbo-Croatian and Italian, most restaurants serve antipasti, primi, secondi e dolce, and Italian is spoken widely. Olive trees, vineyards, olive oil, pasta, truffles, hilltop towns, and pizza ovens. We came, we saw, we ate.

I asked a number of restaurant owners where they got their oven, and most said that they bought an Italian-made kit locally, and installed it themselves. I even recognized a few of the ovens by brand. The pizza oven tools also came from Italy.

Istria pizza oven

Istria pizza oven

Istria pizza

 

IstriaIstria is highlighted in red.

We knew it was coming, but you could feel the difference after we drove across the peninsula and turned south, down the coast. The Italian road signs, the pizza ovens and pasta served at every restaurant was gone. Along with our ability to easily communicate. The family can speak Italian, French and Spanish, and none of it did us any good. haha.

The good news was that we had entered the land of the wood-fired grill. Which was equally great. But more on that next.