The Wood-Fired Blog

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.