The Wood-Fired Blog

Sourdough Starter. Started.

I bought a “Northern Italian” sourdough starter and started it. In the past I have created my own starter using fresh, organic fruit, but I decided to play it safe.

sourdough starter

It should become active/alive in about 2-3 days (it’s supposed to be cool here, which will slow development down), then it needs another 3-4 days of dividing and feeding to develop to where it can make bread.

I’m looking forward to seeing the batter start to bubble and for the nice sourdough smell to develop. This is exciting.

Hiding the Healthy Stuff

There has been a lot written recently by Mark Bittman, Michael Pollan and others about how important it is that our society reclaim some control over what we eat from the big multinationals by cooking at home more. Which makes a lot of sense. The theory is that big business has taught us that cooking is drudgery, better left to the nation’s fast food companies, but that in reality cooking is easy, can (should) be fun, and that once you are in control of your own ingredients, you will make healthy food. I really believe this.

banana bread

So here is my contribution with a quick bread recipe that is both really easy and healthier than the original. Banana bread.

The basic recipe is really easy (lots of round numbers of cups and teaspoons).

Dry Ingredients

2 cups AP flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon

Wet Ingredients

4 ripe bananas
2 eggs
1 tsp real vanilla
1/2 cup melted butter
1 Tbs milk

Here is the healthy stuff.

1. Replace 1 cup of AP flour with White Whole Wheat Flour
2. Add 1/2 cup of flax (or oat) bran
3. Replace the 1/2 cup of melted butter with 1/4 cup of olive oil and 1/2 cup of applesauce
4. Cut the sugar to 3/4 cup
5. Increase the milk to 2 Tbs.

You will love this bread, and your family won’t have any idea that you are hiding lots of good stuff in it. This is by no measure a health food, but it’s a nice way to eat what you like, knowing that it’s a lot better than the store-bought equivalent.

One trick. Use one measuring teaspoon and one measuring cup for all of the dry ingredients (estimate the fractions of a cup; which minimizes clean up) and use the measuring spoon to mix the dry ingredients before adding the web ingredients directly into the mixing bowl (it’s fast and easier and it works). You can make this bread and completely clean up the kitchen in about 5 minutes — faster than you can pre-heat your oven to 350F.

Here is the photo journal version.


1 cup AP flour, 1 cup white whole wheat flour, 3/4 cup of sugar, and 1/2 cup flax or oat ban

dry ingredients

1 tsp of baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon (one measuring spoon).

dry ingredients

The dry ingredients.

dry ingredients mixed

Mix the dry ingredients with the measuring spoon.

wet ingredients

1/4 cup olive oil, 1/2 cup apple sauce, 1 tsp vanilla, two eggs, four bananas, and two Tbs. milk.

wet ingredients

Throw the wet ingredient on top.


Mix on low for 5 minutes.


Lightly oil and flour the loaf pan.

ready to go

Ready for the oven.


Bake at 350F for about 60 minutes; until an internal temperature of 195F+.




A Pretty Good Baguette

I think the biggest lesson learned with this bread is to be patient and actually use a timer to make sure I give the shaped loaves a final proof of a full 90 minutes — that and planning far enough ahead so that I can give the bread the time it needs and still be ready for dinner.

Pretty good baguette

The dough was not fermented overnight (bad on me). It was Central Milling Tipo 00 flour (pizza flour makes a nice, light baguette) and 66% hydration. Baked on a Forno Bravo pizza stone at 440F with a baking pan of hot water for steam for about 15 minutes.

The family really liked it, which means my bread capital stock goes up one tick. :-)



Michael Pollan is one of my favorite food writers. His book Omnivor’s Dilemma was my first window into industrial food production, and he played a big role in the food documentaries Food, Inc., and Fresh. It’s a pretty sobering view. If you are looking to hear a funny interview, you can find Mr. Pollan appearance on NPR’s Wait, wait… don’t tell me. This is unrelated, but Peter Sagal, the host of Wait, wait… don’t tell me, is also a runner and I have shared a couple of fun emails with him.

Michael Pollan Cooked

Mr. Pollan is back in the press this week with his latest book — Cooked. A Natural History of Transformation. I have not read the book yet, but I have read a number of reviews, interviews and related articles, and one of the themes is that bread fermented with sourdough cultures is easier to digest, and does not result in the insulin spike that many people experience when they eat white flour supermarket bread. I have blogged about this in past, but supermarket bread really isn’t “bread” in the traditional sense, where yeast or a sourdough culture works on the wheat flour. Rather it is cheap white flour that is whipped up with a series of chemicals and dough conditioners that mimic the leavening process.

I read a very similar analysis of sourdough bread in a Triathlete magazine flying back from Boston. That article was written from the perspective of the athlete looking to get the most nutrition our of their food — and sourdough bread was highly recommended.

This makes me think that someone out there is trying to tell me something.

I have been baking for years, and there have been long stretches where I have happily maintained a sourdough culture and used very little cultured commercial yeast. I think it’s time to bring back my sourdough. This is really exciting. Not only do I like sourdough bread, there is even some pretty compelling evidence that it is good for me — both from a health and an athletic performance perspective. You can’t beat that.

I’ll take lots of pictures and let you know how it goes.

Bread Storage

We bake and eat a lot of (good, healthy) bread. But there are only three of us when our older daughter is away at college, so we don’t make it through the 2lb loaves that I typically bake in a day or two — so bread storage really matters. Do it wrong, and you end up throwing away of lot of stale bread that could be avoided.

Here is a nice whole wheat, oat, honey loaf and a banana bread. We aren’t going to eat all if this tomorrow. haha.


As a complete aside, I can see why there are so many traditional recipes that call for stale bread. Back when everyone baked and there wasn’t a supermarket, everyone had lots of stale bread, and they had to figure out something to do with it.

Luckily, the solution is really easy. Amazon carries a nice acrylic bread storage container that works really well. It expands to match the size of your bread, it’s clear so that you can see what you have, it doesn’t take a lot of counter space, and best of all — it really works. We have two and they are in constant use. They cost $13 each, and we have easily save more than $26 by not throwing out stale bread.


Sorry. But I have one more aside. There is a great TED talk on food waste in the developed world. We throw away about half of the food that we produce, and the presenter has some good ideas on what we can be doing about it.

So, bake, eat and enjoy!

Baguettes Follow Pizza

This is becoming a good habit. Baguettes follow pizza, and this time it was particularly fun because I got to see how the Central Milling flour works in bread. You know what happens  — you make 9 pizza balls, and you only make six pizzas. So you roll your extra dough into a ball, and refrigerator it overnight, and then bring it out in the morning to take off the chill.

My dough started to come back to life by early afternoon, and I shaped my baguettes, let then proof for about 90 minutes and then slashed and baked them in time for dinner. Despite my best attempt at properly scoring them, they still exploded! One of these days I am going to get it right.


Much like the pizzas, the Central Milling flour gave my bread a nice crunch in the crust, and a dense, flavorful crumb. The loaves were not as light and airy as a traditional French baguette, but the overall effect was very good.


Steel Cut Oats and the Wholewheat Brick

I have talked about this before — but there is a certain amount of pressure on you if you bake a lot of bread for your family. The family relies on you, and kids vote with the feet (or mouths in this case), and if your bread isn’t good, they won’t eat it; and your wife tries to be nice at eat the mistakes, but at some point you wear out your welcome. Plus, while virtually all homemade bread is better than virtually all store bread, you can create a situation where everyone’s taste are turned against store bread — so that your mistakes stand out even more.

Yesterday I made an old mistake and I should just know better by now. I added steel cut oats to my final dough, after an overnight pre-ferment, without soaking the oats. I know that you can get away with this when you use old fashioned oats, but the steel cut oats just suck all of the water out of your final dough, and no matter how long you give your final loaf to rise before you put it in the old — it’s still going to be as dense as a brick. And that’s exactly what happened.


I know that you are supposed to soak steel cut oats (and other whole grains) for 24 hours before you add them to you bread. But the oats were just sitting there calling out to me. I added the final flour, some molasses, honey and olive oil, oat bran, flax seeds and sunflower seeds, and then the steel cut oats. I might have been able to improve my bread by adding water and continuing to knead the final dough, but momentum got the best of me.

Live and learn. But I need to focus on the learn part.

Here is my very dense whole wheat, multi-seed loaf. We’re eating it, but I have used up some of my well-earned baking capital with the family.

New Fire Within Workshops

Our good friends at The Fire Within (Bolder, CO) will be holding a new workshop targeted at everyone who is thinking of getting into wood-fired catering. They’ve been doing this for years, and they make great trailer ovens (in lots of different shapes and sizes for different types of catering), they exclusively use Forno Bravo ovens (yay), and their workshops provide a great deal of practical, hands-on information that you can use.

Here’s a blurb.

Getting Started With Your Own Wood-Fired Oven Catering Business

Are you ready to become a catering pizzaiolo?  This workshop is designed to take you through all of the stages of starting your own wood-fired pizza oven catering business.  Learn first-hand from professionals in the field and practice using the very same equipment you’ll need to run your own thriving business, including our Forno Bravo mobile wood-fired oven! Our next workshop is coming up February 23rd and 24th. Space is limited–register today!  Come celebrate our fifth year of hands-on workshops with us!

Our up and coming workshop is:
February 23rd and 24th 2013

Don’t you really like their graphic?


Cooking in a Foreign Oven

For years I have been taking advantage of travel to experiment with different flours and ovens, so it was fun this Xmas season working with British grains and a European-style convection oven in the house that we rented for a week. Of course it is easy to make fun of any country’s supermarket bread, and British bread is no different. Supermarket bread is really awful.

So I bought a bag of Whole Meal flour and a bag of Strong White Bread flour and set off to work. The whole meal flour was less finely milled than US whole wheat flour and the aroma  was more rustic—you could smell the grain and the plant. It wasn’t really good or bad, just different.

British flour

I had some fun mixing the dough by feel (the house didn’t have anything to measure or weigh the water or flour), and felt pretty good about it. But when it came time to shape my loaf, I realized that I didn’t have any type of loaf pan. So I shaped a boule on a baking sheet and let it proof in the counter. The result was interesting. Rather than proofing upward—as the loaf would in either a loaf pan or in a baneton, it basically oozed outward. Still, I persevered. After a 90 minute proofing, I bake the loaf.

One problem was because I had proofed the loaf on the baking sheet, my bread really stuck to the pan, and I had to work hard to scrape it off. That, and the loaf was really flat; more like is biscotti than a boule. Still, I did it, and the bread was really good—I ate it for days, and successfully avoided the supermarket bread.

Next time I do this I will know what to do. Rather than proofing my bread on the counter, or a flat pan, I will use a towel and any form of bowl (mixing bowl, salad bowl, etc.) as a makeshift baneton, and set my loaf on the baking sheet (or pizza oven) right before baking. I probably should have know to do this last trip, but I have jetlag as an excuse. haha.

The oven itself was a lot of fun. I don’t know a lot about the manufacturer—Falcon. The oven itself has a five burner convection top (pretty traditional for a European oven) with a big ring in the middle for large pans and boiling water, a separate broiler, a small oven and a large oven. The convection fans were very strong and the baking environment was incredibly steamy. It would steam up your glasses every time you opened the oven door.

British oven

My bread had a great crust without my having to do anything to add steam to the oven. I would really like something like this at home. While it wasn’t a Greek Pizza Oven (of course it wasn’t as warm or sunny either), it was a really good experience.

Wall and Floor Temperature in a Conventional Oven

I had an interesting encounter with the conventional electric oven in our kitchen yesterday (not one of the more interesting pizza ovens on my patio). We were doing some Sunday baking that included a loaf of banana bread, two trays of mince pies and a sheet of focaccia. Yum.

Anyway, at one point the two trays with the mince pies were assembled and ready, but the banana bread was already in the oven — so I moved the banana bread to the bottom of the oven and set both trays of pies on the racks. The oven was on convection bake at 350F deg. What’s interesting is after a couple of minutes you could smell scorching, and I quickly removed a tray of pies, and put the bread back on the rack. As the first round of pies were done, I swapped the other tray in, and everything worked out nicely.

But why did the bottom of my bread burn so quickly?

I got my infrared thermometer, and confirmed that the floor (and walls for that matter) were about 350F deg. This seems to be a case where the heat in the oven floor is conducting through the metal loaf pan faster (much faster) than the air (is the air also 350F deg?).

Time to do some research into this. It would be interesting to understand the physics of this. One last point, this does seem to confirm the recommendation that you put your pizza stone on the bottom of your oven, rather than on a rack — for more efficient heat conduction.

Here are my scorch marks. Other than, this is a really nice loaf of bread.