The Wood-Fired Blog

Innovation, Garages and Pizza Ovens

Mention the words garage and innovation, and many people will quickly conjure up visions of Hewlett, Packard, Wozniak and Jobs. The Silicon Valley success that started in a garage is the stuff of legend—and it’s a well-earned legend. Start-up companies that built their first products in their garage, long before the even had enough money for company offices, have gone on to create some of the world’s most wonderful, and popular products. Today, the HP garage is a designated California historic landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The HP Garage

In our own small way, Forno Bravo is part of this heritage. I built the first Primavera prototypes in my garage (I really built them and I really used my garage) at a time when Forno Bravo was exclusively an importer and we were not set up for manufacturing. It was an exciting time, and I was distinctly aware that my plan might succeed and it might fail. Either way, it was thrilling to go out on a limb and try something new. Happily, it all worked out.

But that got me thinking. At the time, I hadn’t really connected the dots, but my grandfather was also a garage entrepreneur. He was born in North Dakota in 1904 to a large farming family, and in 1922 became the only member of his family to attend college—earning an engineering degree from North Dakota State. While working for the FCC in Sunnyvale, CA in 1950s as a communications engineer, he did his homework and found two spots on the FM radio spectrum that were licensable as radio stations.

To quote Wikipedia:

A broadcast license (U.S.) or broadcast licence (elsewhere) is a specific type of spectrum license that grants the licensee the privilege to use a portion of the radio frequency spectrum in a given geographical area for broadcasting purposes. The licenses are generally straddled with additional restrictions that vary from band to band.[1] In some cases, the FCC does not assign licenses to any exclusive user, but allows qualified users to obtain a license [1] The Radio Act of 1927 established the regulatory premise that persists to this day: the spectrum belongs to the public and that licensees have no property rights to continue using it.[2] Although the spectrum is licensed to bidders, the purchase does not represent ownership or rights, only privileges to using that part of the spectrum.

He received a license for the stronger of the two locations and he built the radio transmitter in his garage. Without any external funding, he launched the radio station in the early 1960s, and by the time I was a small child, he had sold it. He never worked again, retiring in his late 50s. As a child, my main memories of my grandfather were that he liked fishing, Cadillacs, Ham Radio, and the Coleco Adam personal computer. I wonder what would have happened if he had come of age during the Internet era.

Speaking of Silicon Valley, there is one last interesting twist to the story. My grandfather leased a pad from a farmer, who, the story goes, offered to sell him the land. As a childhood memory, I can still picture the transmitter sitting in a huge field of tomatoes. Forget the radio station, five acres in the middle of Silicon Valley is probably worth a fortune today.

So, here’s to garage entrepreneurs in the family.

Less-Fuss Paella Arrives in Time for Summer

From the New York Times.

Less-Fuss Paella Arrives in Time for Summer

PAELLA, the classic rice dish from Spain, is considered picnic food — a one-dish meal prepared over a fire at an outdoor party like our hamburger cookout. It is also cooked indoors, but always in a flat steel paellera or in an earthenware cazuela. The main rules are to cook the rice uncovered and, unlike risotto, not to stir once the simmering has begun.

You can make great Paella in a Forno Bravo pizza oven!

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Handling Wet Dough and the Couche

In my previous posting, I made to notes on mixing and kneading high hydration dough (80% in this case), so I wanted to make a couple of notes on working with web dough—and point out a mistake that I made (something I know but need occasional reminding).

First, don’t over-flour your work surface, or the dough, when handling wet dough. You can add a little bit of extra virgin olive oil to your work surface to the dough from sticking, and you can put water on your hands. If you use a lot of flour you can alter your dough, by working a lot of flour into the dough later in the process (which ins’t good), and your proofed loaves can have a lot of excess flour on them, which can burn in the oven, and give your bread an almost sandy, or gritty texture on the outside.

Second, you will need a couch. From our friends at Wikipedia (wait a minutes. are we our own friends at Wikipeidia? I have contributed a number of photos there—including some up-close photos of water buffalo for mozzarella):

Alternatively, a couche or proofing cloth can be used to proof dough on or under. Couche are generally made of linen or other coarse material which the dough will not stick to and are left unwashed so as to let yeast and flour collect in them, aiding the proofing process.

I have been using tea towels (at least that’s what my English wife calls them). You can find linen tea towels that are inexpensive and work pretty well—though they aren’t perfect. A professionale couche is wider, longer, stiffer and has a looser weave pattern, so the bread is less likely to stick. Maybe I need to go shopping. I know you can get one from the wonderful people at King Arthur Flour.

Mixing High Hydration Dough

I made 80% hydration baguette’s, and was reminded just how much longer (and a little faster) you need mix the dough to build the strands of gluten and develop the bread’s structure. That statement marks roughly the end of my technical knowledge on the science of web dough—thought I want to do some more research in order to understand why this is true.

From this sequence of photos, you can see the dough go from being not much more than batter, to nice thin strands of gluten developing, to the entire mixtures pulling from the sides of the mixing bowl to shape a true dough ball with a wonderful, silky texture.

Here is the recipe:

1 kg of Trader Joe’s white all purpose flour
10 grams of yeast
20 grams of salt
800 grams of ice water

Mixing took 13-15 minutes, including 3-4 minutes in the middle with my KitchenAid stand mixer running at a high speed (4 or 5). I bulk fermented the dough for a couple of hours before pushing out all of the air bubbles and shaping baguettes.

I ended up making some nice baguettes in my Presto pizza oven.

One last note. The Forno Bravo “perfect pizza dough” by weight recipe that we use in all of our eBooks does not call for you to proof your yeast in any way—we don’t add sugar to get it started, we don’t add warm water, and we don’t mix it on the side. Modern yeast is simply good enough to work without any of these extra steps.

“Ah, but does it always work?” you might be asking be asking yourself. If fact, we get a reasonable number of questions by phone and email, asking us if that really works. The answer is a resounding yes!

Think of it this way. In this recipe, I added the yeast directly to the flour (with no sugar or honey, and no separate proofing), and then I proceeded to dump ice water on top of it. Ice water, which is pretty much the opposite of proofing the yeast in warm water. And it worked great.

So my advice is to skip the yeast proofing step, and invest that time is very accurate weighing of your ingredients. You will come out ahead on time, and your bread and pizza dough will be much better!


Slightly Over-Proofed Whole Wheat Olive Boule

My on-going bread experiments are continuing (and are a lot of fun). One thing I am enjoying about my most recent round of dedicated baking is that the family is really enjoying my whole wheat bread—rather than just tolerating it because it’s healthy. To some  degree I think that I because we have all been eating a great deal more whole wheat bread over the past few years and everyone has come to like it, and (hopefully) I am getting better at bread baking.

I tried a couple of variations on the basic whole whole wheat yeast bread that I have been using. Here is the recipes:

1 kg white whole wheat flour
10 grams yeast
20 grams of salt
4 tablespoons (I need to start converting that to grams) olive oil
40 gram of grated parmesan
110 grams of chopped Kalamata olives
71 grams (71% hydration) water

That means that I added an additional 60 grams of water for a more highly hydrated dough, along with the cheese and more olives. Overall, the bread came out pretty well, with a couple of comments. The more hydrated dough was faster to rise, so that I got my timing off.  The shaped loaves were peaking and starting to show signs of stress while I was waiting for my oven to cool. One going up and the other going dow. By the time my oven had cools to bread baking temperature, the loaves were pretty fragile, and they started to collapse a little bit when I slashed them with the razor blade. Again, they worked out nicely, but you can see the imperfection. Live and learn.

Finally, 110 grams of chopped olives was better than the handful that I used a few batches ago, but still not enough, and I could hardly tell that I had added the Parmesan. I have more to learn about cheese and bread.

Crooks and Pizza Ovens

From ABC News 5 in Cleveland.

CLEVELAND – From a topless pool in Vegas to his pizza oven in Independence, the government released evidence it used to convict former political powerhouse Jimmy Dimora of corruption charges…

Well, you can guess the rest. It sounds like Jimmy Dimora was a bad buy with a pizza oven. Interestingly enough, he is also very large, weighing in at 360 lbs when he was sentenced, and he is now on a low-cal diet in prison. No more pizza for Jimmy, though I have to say that if he was making Pizza Napoletana, he wouldn’t weigh so much.

In the bigger picture, I am wondering if there is a connection between corruption and pizza ovens. I remember back a number of years, when during the trial for one of the guys who cheated on Wall Street (either Enron or Worldcom) the press pointed out that the crook had not one, but two, pizza ovens at his palatial home. Pizza ovens. The ultimate luxury for those hard, stolen dollars.

10/30/60 Whole Wheat Loaves, and Some Great Bruschetta

In a way, this was a little bit like leftovers. You know how you always end up with odds and ends of flour in various bags in your cupboard. Today I mixed together three different flours to come with a nice blend of 10% whole wheat, 30% while whole wheat and 60% general purpose (not bread) flour to make a new 1kg (2.2 lb) batch of bread. Because I changed the blend of flours, I decided to stay consistent with the recipe and techniques from my previous batch of 100% white whole wheat flour.

The formula was 100 grams of whole wheat, 300 grams of white whole wheat, 600 grams of general purpose flour, along with 10 grams of yeast, 20 grams of salt, 4 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of honey.

A quick note on the honey. I am trying to find the right amount of honey to counter-balance the heavy and dry characteristics of some whole wheat loaves, without making my bread sweet in any way. My question is how much should I so that I feel the freshness and moistness, but don’t actually taste the honey. So far, 2 tablespoons in a 1kg batch seems to be working—though in this case I only had 40% whole wheat flour, so I probably could have used less.

I mixed the dough for 10 minutes in a KitchenAid mixer on level two; did a one hour bulk fermentation; punched down the dough and properly folded it and let it rise again. I then cut and shaped the two loaves and set them aside to proof in a baneton and linen lined wicker bowl. The addition of the light, white flour get the dough a definite spring. Where the whole wheat version of this recipe had barely begun to expand after 90 minutes, this recipe was bursting with life.

Also, while I am a big fan of 100% whole wheat bread, the 60% addition of white flour helped create a loaf that could be used the same way you would use a baguette, ciabatta or pugliese. Yes, this bread could be used for bruschetta!

The second experiment I wanted to try with the Presto oven was a different strategy for firing and fueling the oven. I think I am going to be baking a lot of bread this summer in my little oven, and I am thinking of ways of making the firing process easier. So today, I chopped 2-3 pieces of standard sized firewood into smaller 2-3” pieces (lots of them). Then I built a top-down fire, and then fully loaded the oven to the top with wood. My theory was that the top-down fire (larger pieces of wood on the bottom, building up to kindling at the top) would catch fire and start to fall in—to where the extra wood stacked on top would catch fire to where all of the wood in oven would combust.

To put my technique to the test, I lit the fire and only hung around long enough to be sure that it really had, in fact, caught fire. Once I was convinced that the fire was burning, I went for a run. And when I came back, all of the wood had burned and there was only a layer of burning wood coals on the cook floor. I have to say that this isn’t a perfect way of firing your oven, but in this case it was just good enough. I had stored enough heat in the oven to bake my bread. I shoveled out the coals and ashes, swabbed the deck and loaded my bread.

The loaves proofed nicely and were much larger than a pure whole wheat loaf, but there was no risk that they were ready to fall back onto themselves. All was well. I sprayed the oven a couple of times and watched the bread spring forward. The final result was a nice, light boule, with a little more character than plain “white bread”. But we ate it like white bread, making toast for boiled eggs and my favorite—bruschetta, with olive oil and porcini mushroom flavored salt.

I used an indoor cast iron grill, though it would have been even better with a grill pan in the wood oven itself. As an aside, bruschetta does not taste anything like toast from a toaster. The smokey char of a grill mixes with the olive oil and salt to make something wonderful. Not toast. :-)


TJ’s Wood-Fired Pizza in SoCal

“Guide: Where to find daily food trucks lots” in the Orange County Register leads me to a Forno Bravo oven on a wood-fired catering trailer.


Where: OC Great Park Farmers Market, IrvineTime: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.Trucks: Crepes Bonaparte, Calbi, Barcelona on the Go, TJ’s Woodfire Pizza, Chomp Chomp, Rolling Sushi + 1-2 rotating trucks

Check out TJ’s Woodfire Pizza. That’s our oven!

Their Margherita Pizza was voted in the top “50 Best Dishes in Orange County” through Orange Coast Magazine! These guys makes a great pizza.