The Wood-Fired Blog

Casa Grande High School — OLE

Before we moved to the Monterey Peninsula (via Florence), we lived in Sonoma county in the beautiful California wine country. So when we heard about the Casa Grande High School OLE Project (Outdoor Learning Environment) in Petalum, CA, we were really interested. To quote the source:

The OLÉ Project is an exciting new venture that will provide students at Casa Grande High School with an expansive new area to learn about science, literature, history, math, and a variety of other subjects. The Outdoor Learning Environment (OLE) will feature a kitchen with a pizza oven to be used by students, a vegetable garden and fruit orchard, and seating for classes and special events.

You can visualize how a pizza oven can serve as a real catalyst for community activities and student learning. So we decided to donate an assembled Toscana pizza oven to the project. We have done all of the paperwork, and the oven will be shipped and set up shortly. This is really exciting, and we want to wish everyone involved Good Luck!

Happy Holiday Season

Happy Holidays from everyone at FB. Living on the left coast near the ocean has its pluses and minuses. As I look out over a warm day and blue sky (and think about going for a run at lunch), I can’t help but think about our relatives in the UK and our daughter in Boston — who are seeing real winter this year. On the other hand, we’ve been here in Monterey country for five years and I still can’t quite get over the lack of real seasons. Our local area is covered with Monterey Pines (of course), Live Oak and Cypress trees, and very few (almost no) deciduous trees, so it’s always green. Never red or orange, and never bare. In the days after our monster Pacific storms blow through you can barely tell which season it is by just looking out the window. So I guess it’s hard to complain about the weather when it’s so nice.

We often talk about how the best weather is in Florence. That part of Italy gets four real seasons — freezing in the winter and very hot summers; and just as you are getting tired of the heat or cold, you can feel the season starting to change. You never get bored, and there is some rainfall throughout the year.

I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday shopping season as well. We are getting lots of phone calls and Internet orders for pizza ovens, oven accessories at Forno Bravo, and I think we’re doing a good job of keeping up. If you don’t get connected straight through to a sales agent, please bear with us. If you are looking to have one of our smaller, pre-assembled ovens shipped in time for Christmas, but sure to let our sales people know, and we can work with you to see if it’s still possible. Don’t forget that you will need to cure your oven before doing any cooking, so roasting your Christmas turkey might not be possible at this point. But pizza for New Year’s Eve sounds pretty darn good.

Again, happy holidays to you and yours. It’s a wonderful time of year. Enjoy.

Pizza Oven as Bun Warmer

Over the years we have (rightfully) been poking fun at one of our competitors in the commercial pizza oven market who are located in the great Northwest. They sell a good number of ovens, but on closer examination you see that most of their ovens go to chain restaurants and hotels who don’t really know how to use a real pizza oven. They use them to re-heat pre-made pizzas and “oven roast” chicken. My favorite was an Embassy Suites hotel in Northern California who use their oven to keep bakery goods warm for breakfast. Pizza oven as bun warmer.

You also see their ovens in zoos, theme parks and airports. I’m sure it’s a great business, but as an organization, Forno Bravo wants to work with people who are committed to their craft and really care about their food. We want to work with the best restaurant in town, not the one owned by a conglomerate.

Which brings me to Saturday. Walking around Cambridge, we were in need of coffee, and the really good local coffee bar isn’t open on weekends, so we found a Cosi, a coffee/bakery chain in the Northeast that uses these ovens. Hey, I needed a cup of coffee.

And all at once I was reminded why I don’t like this oven. It was sitting there all done up and looking nice, but basically acting like a bun warmer. It is a gas oven set to 475F with an itty-bitty little flame in the back, that is baking focaccia, heating up sandwiches and making some really awful pizza. haha. I thought I would share a couple of photos. At least the enclosure looks nice. All dressed up, but….

 

It does exactly what it’s designed to do

We came across a nice posting on the FB Forum on a customer’s experience with the Premio2G that I think is worth sharing.

“With the oven cured we had a party this weekend and made 24 medium sized pizzas.  Some lessons learned. It does take from 60 to 90 minutes to gently bring the heat up to 900F.  We started cooking when the floor was 700F and that seemed to be good for us.  At some point the floor was close to 800F and it took very close pie management to keep things from burning.  We had one person on dough, one person on toppings, and one person at the oven.  We managed to do 24 pies in about an hour.  Less is more with the toppings.   Buffalo mozzarella is just amazing.  Olives add a nice touch.  Items like bell peppers just didn’t seem to cook in the 90 seconds to 2 minutes required to cook a pizza.  I’m going to guess more heavily loaded pies would work better at a lower temp, but I’m sure there’s a technique I have got yet.  The Forno Bravo oven is well designed.  It does exactly what it’s designed to do.  It really does work as advertized.  So few things in this world do that.  We had small bits of hardwood at the ready to toss in the fire during the process.  At piece or two every 15 minutes seemed to work best for us.”

 

Wood-Fired Pizza and Camping

Wood-fired pizza might not be quite as familiar around the campsite as smores, but maybe we are going to change that. We received a couple of fun photos from a Forno Bravo community member today, and looking a little more closely, you can see that this appears to be a public campground. What a great idea.

This is a Pompeii oven build, and I can visualize more publicly accessible wood-fired ovens going up across the country — in parks, community centers, churches, campgrounds, community farms, etc. It’s  like a barn raising, except in the end you get to eat some great pizza.

One last thought. In Italy there is an extensive network of Agriturismo’s, which are typically farms that rent out spare rooms to vacationers. The system has been very successful, in that is has almost single handedly kept a large number of small, family-owned farms in business (some people even give the system credit for saving the Tuscan countryside), and it gives us travelers an up-close and personal view into Italian country life. We have stayed in quite a few Agriturismo’s over the years, and many of them have wood-fired pizza ovens where they cook for you, and some even let you use the oven on your own.

We need more of this!

Innovating the Pizza Oven; Part II

In yesterday’s posting about the Ovens from Napoli, I found myself writing and thinking about the companies that make pizza ovens, and their underlying organizational and design philosophies. And whether they are innovative or traditional; pushing the state-of-the-art or still making their grandfather’s pizza oven.

One of the first things that struck me was how virtually every other pizza oven company is deeply rooted in the past, and how much Forno Bravo stands out as an innovator. Looking at US marketplace, with one exception, you really only see two types of company: importers and very small companies who do not do their own manufacturing. Which is pretty cool. This gives Forno Bravo the ability to create new products and open new markets where no one else can. This is fun. :-)

Today, the majority of Forno Bravo’s competitors in both the US residential and commercial pizza oven markets are importers of ovens made by small, family-owned companies located in Italy (and one in France). Even most of the ones who say their ovens are “made-in-the-USA” still buy the actual oven, dome, floor and vent from an European manufacturer. This most important characteristic of this dynamic is that the importer can only ever be as good and as innovative as the company they buy from. Typically, the Italian manufacturers are small, multi-generational companies where the current management took over operations from their parents, and their products are virtually unchanged over the past 20 years.

From a business perspective, this is a reflection of the Italian economy’s reliance on mom-and-pop businesses as source of it’s weakness in today’s connected global economy. Greece suffers from a similar problem — I wrote about the Greek pizza oven market in the past, where I found three different brick oven manufacturers within one mile of each of other in a small town on Crete.

A traditionalist might argue that it’s a good thing that the pizza oven has been virtually unchanged for the past 20 years (or perhaps 2,000 years, all the way back to Roman times), and that we should not mess with a good thing. While this logic has some nice appeal, it ignores the technical advances of the past 20 years. And while the technology of pizza ovens may not have not evolved as fast as, say, smart phones or computers, it has definitely progressed. Today we have access to cost-effective refractories and insulators that are more efficient and cheaper than the alternatives of 20, or even 5 or 10 years go. Technology is an irresistible force, where today’s $15,000 economy car is faster and safer than the $70,000 luxury car from the 1970′s.

At the same time, technology advances also enable design innovation. We aren’t just making the same products using new materials. New materials can also enable new ovens that can be used to make traditional Pizza Napoletana in new places and new circumstances.

Innovation in equally difficult for our very small US-based competitors. These companies do not have their own manufacturing facilities and they only have a few products. I will be blogging next about ventilation and the advantages of different venting methods that underscores the limitation of the designs of these smaller, less sophisticated companies.

But for now, we are happy to have the capacity and skill to develop fun and interesting new products that make pizza ovens better — and available to a growing audience. We really like the new Strada60 oven that is light enough to be moved around for parties and tailgating; and we hope that you like it as well.

And stay tuned for our newest small backyard pizza oven. In time for Christmas.

 

Making a Pretty Good Baguette with Pizza Dough

Everybody has leftover pizza dough. Two nights ago, we had company and made flatbreads to go with steak and salads, and we ended up with two 275 gram dough balls. They weren’t anything special; just regular 65% hydration dough using Trader Joe’s general purpose flour (embarrassing, but we ran out of both Caputo and Central Milling 00), and the dough balls sat out most of the evening and developed a thick skin. Just about everything you would expect. I threw the dough into an airtight container and popped it in the refrigerator.

But this morning, I was determined to make a pretty baguette with the dough — just to see if it could be done. So I folded it six times and put it back in the container to warm up. After a few hours, I folded it again.

By early evening, the dough was warming up and expanding, so I cut it in half, started shaping my baguettes. Because it was only 65% hydration, it was easier to work with than a more highly hydrated baguette dough; it felt like there was a lot of wiggle room working with the dough and it wasn’t too sticky. I tried hard to create a nice, tight outer edge on the dough as I shaped the baguettes and worked out the air holes.

Finally, let the loaves proof in a linen cloche, score them and popped them in my pizza oven — you can still see where I spilled olive oil from my flatbreads from last night. Overall, I am pretty happy. The loaves has some nice oven spring, though one of them burst out the side, not through the slashes (I seem to be having that problem recently), and a nice, warm brown color. The baguettes crackled as they cooled, and yes, I decided to not swab the cooking floor gain, though I did a through job of brushing the floor, so there only a little bit of ash on the loaves.

All in all, this was a useful experience. I got to work with 65% dough in an almost no-harm, no-foul environment, and my baguette shaping turned out OK.

One last note on white flour and baguettes in general. Like a lot of people, I am trying to constantly work my way into ever more complex carbs — which explains all of the whole wheat, whole grain bread that I bake. We’re started eating a lot of quinoa, brown rice and I’m even starting to eat Trader Joe’s brown rice paste; it’s not bad.

I have started looking at baguettes (and focaccia) as something to enjoy and appreciate as a treat. Everything in moderation means that you get to eat everything.

Kitchen Sink Bread

It was one of those moments where you have lots of odds and ends of things lying around — so I made them into bread. It’s quite a list, but it came out nicely. Here goes:

300 grams whole wheat flour
600 grams white whole wheat flour
100 grams AP flour
30 grams honey
30 grams olive oil
30 grams molasses
10 grams yeast
20 grams salt
50 grams flax seeds
50 grams pine nuts
100 grams oat bran
80 grams durum semolina flour
750 grams water

It’s nutty and crunchy, and the AP flour and the honey/oil/molasses give it a nice lift. It’s a whole grain bread, but it isn’t heavy. Overnight fermentation and mid-day baking in a small yet-to-be-named pizza oven. It’s fun working out the idiosyncrasies of a new oven.