The Wood-Fired Blog

Free Stuff

Facebook went public yesterday, and there a couple of things that stood out for me. With a market capitalization of $104B, larger than both, and McDonalds, and 900 million users (a significant percentage of the population of the planet with access to a computer) the company has clearly been an incredible success. As an aside, from an investor’s perspective, the Facebook IPO demonstrates how important it is in today’s system to be an early institutional investor and an insider, and how little upside remains for the real investor (you and me) by the time the shares hit the public market. Facebook hit the retail market at $42 (the price paid by someone who placed a buy order with their retail broker), and closed the day at $38 (only with buying support from Facebook’s investment banks). For the typical Facebook user who bought the stock, Friday was a losing day.

Still, with a $104B market cap, Facebook makes a big statement on the value of free.

Which brings me to the theme of this posting. Free stuff. My view is that there are two different ways of making money by giving something away for free.

1. You can use free as a way of inspiring your customers to buy stuff from you.

2. You can give away services in order to show customers ads and to collect data on their activity that you sell the advertisers.

In the first model, your users and your customers. You treat your users with respect, and you have a clean business relationship. Your customers give you money in exchange for an item or a service that they value, and the company makes a profit by selling that item or services at a higher price than it costs to produce. This is the model that Forno Bravo and Apple follows. We make stuff (pizza ovens and outdoor fireplaces) and we sell it—hopefully at a profit. We give lots of valuable stuff away for free, but we only do that in an effort to make our customers happier so that they will buy more stuff.

The second model is more complicated. The main difference is that the company’s users are, in fact, not its customers. It’s customers, the people who generate its revenue, are its advertisers. This business model describes both Facebook and Google. This dynamic can create a great deal of conflict between the company and it users, where what is good for the user, for example privacy rights and content ownership rights, is bad for the company. And visa versa.

Today Facebook makes a profit of roughly $5 per user per year, virtually all through advertising. In order for the company to grow its revenue and profit in the coming years to meet Wall Street expectations and deliver on its huge stock valuation, they will need to grow that figure to $20 per user per year. Now that Facebook is public, it is going to be interesting to watch.

All of which brings me back to Forno Bravo and free. Is there a free lunch? At Forno Bravo, we believe that the answer is a big yes! :-)

We offer a wide range of free services, including the Pompeii Oven eBook (who else would teach it customers how to not buy its products?), the Forno Bravo Forum, the wood-fired cooking eBook series, the Community Cookbook and more. And we will be announcing more free services and new free eCookbooks in the future—all with no strings attached. These services cost a good deal of money to create and maintain, but from a business perspective, these are good investments.

The important point is that Forno Bravo does not accept advertising and we will never sell or share your information with a third party. Never! We think that it should be easy, relaxing and fun to be a part of the Forno Bravo community.

This has been our strategy from day one, and it has been working really well; both for Forno Bravo and, we think, for our customers and our community. So we aren’t going to make any changes. Even though Facebook is now worth $104B.

I’m off to bake some bread and take lots of notes for our forthcoming wood-fired bread eBook.

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.


Innovating the Outdoor Fireplace: Part 2

Today I want to add more information to my previous posting on Innovating the Outdoor Fireplace by adding a parallel between the outdoor pizza oven and the outdoor fireplace.

If you were to flash back four years, before Forno Bravo introduced the Primavera series (and later the Andiamo series) ovens, you would see a pizza oven market dynamic similar to today’s outdoor fireplace market. Not only had Forno Bravo not introduced the Primavera ovens, we had also not yet introduced the Casa2G, Giardino and Premio2G modular pizza oven kits that revolutionized the oven industry. Basically the pizza oven market was characterized by moderate quality, very expensive oven kits imported from Europe—that all required custom installation.

This is a true story—we had a neighbor in Healdsburg, CA (where we lived at the time) who spent $20,000 on a custom installation for a 31” “rustic” pizza oven kit from an Italian oven importer. The family was at the leading edge of the trend, and there just weren’t any good choices at the time.

But in order for the industry to move beyond the early adopters, people who were willing to spend $20,000 on what turned out to be just a small pizza oven, we needed offer better and different alternatives. We believed that there was a market for a small, but “true” masonry pizza oven. The design needed to be true to the requirements (really bake 90 second Pizza Napoletana with a wood fire), while meeting some basic rules—could be set up by hand, without requiring any special tools or equipment; required zero building skills, etc. And we were right. We built the prototypes, and I tested the first ovens at my house. And it worked!

We put the Primavera in the Forno Bravo Store and we started getting our first orders within days. It was a great experience. Years later the Primavera oven continues to be a best-seller.

I believe that this dynamic can play itself out again in the outdoor fireplace market. There are many parallels. The design and weight issues are very similar—the product needs to be something that a homeowner with zero building experience can set up without any special equipment, tools, skill or knowledge. Even more importantly, the experience needs to be authentic. Where a small pizza oven needs to actually make great pizza, a small, but authentic, outdoor fireplace needs to look and feel like a real masonry fireplace.

There are other parallels that I could about, such as the philosophical similarities between the “design approach” of the Calore2G and the Casa2G, and the ability of Forno Bravo to create wonderful exterior finishes, such as hand-glazed stucco, in a factory environment—where the cost is significantly lower than the same finish done on a construction site. But you get my point.

This is getting exciting.

Whole wheat bread with olives in the Presto Pizza Oven

Still having a great time with my Presto oven. As an update, I can confirm that I will be working with a second prototype of the Presto within a few days as the final OK before releasing it to production and making it available for sale. To quote Apple on the latest iOS 5.1.1 software update, we are working on “minor improvements and bug fixes”. haha. More seriously, we are working out the final kinks and I am getting very excited about the Presto as a product. Any my next one is going to be red!

Meanwhile, in my first gen Presto, I am continuing to bake bread and continuing to learn more and more about getting the most from a small oven. Today I made a 1kg (2.2lb) batch of whole wheat olive bread. The dough called for 1kg of white whole wheat flour, 10 grams of yeast, 20 grams of salt, 650 gram of water (65% hydration), 4 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of honey and handful of chopped green Spanish olives. Kalamata olives might have been nicer, but I didn’t have any. The olive oil and honey were a wonderful addition, bring a nice moistness to the dough and balancing the dry, nuttiness of the whole wheat flour. I also should have used more olives. Next time.

I bulk fermented the dough for about an hour, shaped my loaves and let them rise in the bantons for another 90 minutes. They were nicely proofed.

As before, I brought the oven up to temperature with about three pieces of firewood chopped into 2-3” wide pieces. The small oven really seems to like smaller pieces of wood, in part because I think there is generally less air circulation than in a larger oven. Also, as the oven only needs three pieces of wood to be nicely fired, the small pieces burn better relative to the overall size of the fire.

I took a little more time brushing and then swabbing the oven floor and letting the oven temperature moderate and regulate—though really not enough. The oven was still hotter than I would have liked, but as usual, dinner was waiting. If you have been reading for a while, you will know that I strongly recommend against cleaning your oven floor with a damp towel for pizza baking (it takes valuable heat out of the floor and the grit is good for you), but I think swabbing the oven floor with damp rag is a good thing for bread baking. Cooling the floor can be a good thing, the water puts steam and moisture in your oven, and grit just isn’t as fun in bread.

One other thing. I have a piece of pizza dough left over from a few nights ago, so I shaped that into a focaccia and put it on a half sheet pan with some olive oil. And did both loaves and the sheet pan fit nicely in the 24” wide Presto oven? Definitely!

Overall, I got a nice oven spring. I sprayed the oven three times after putting the loaves in, and I could tell right away that the spring was better. I’m not sure whether it was because my dough was better (it was), the oven had been fired a little longer, or I sprayed more water. Either way, it worked out really well.

We ate the focaccia for dinner and I’ve already been snacking on the whole wheat bread. Good thing I run.

More bread to come.

Whole Wheat Boules in a Small Pizza Oven

I am enjoying having a small oven in our side garden for the same reasons as the many people who have who have decided to buy our smaller ovens—the Primavera and Andiamo. They are easy to manage, they fire up really quickly and they are just a blast to use. Don’t let the smaller size deceive you; you can do a lot of serious pizza and bread baking in a smaller oven.

Yesterday my Presto prototype was sitting just outside our side door, calling out to me to bake something, so I decided to make bread. And after my short tangent on white whole wheat flour in my Bread in a Small Oven blog, I decided to make a couple of whole wheat boules. But as I don’t have an active sourdough culture, I didn’t have a lot of time, and I was looking for some immediate gratification, I made what is basically a bread flour yeasted dough recipe, and substituted white whole wheat flour.

I am sure there are purists somewhere turning over in their graves—and I will be the first person to admit that I was breaking a lot of rules and cutting a lot of corners, but hey, it was a lot of fun. And my bread was pretty good.

My dough recipe was 1kg of white whole wheat flour, 10 grams of yeast, 20 grams of salt and 650 grams of room temperature water. I did not proof my yeast (actually I never proof my yeast), and I did not add olive oil or honey. And because I was short on time, I skipped the bulk fermentation (yes, I know). I mixed the dough for 10 minutes on the level 2 setting on my KitchenAid mixer, and then hand kneaded the dough on the counter for a couple of minutes to try to make it more silky.

Then, rather than doing a bulk fermentation, I correctly folded and shaped two boules—making sure that I created a nice, taut skin across the top of the loaf. I sealed the seam and put one boule in a cane baneton, and the second in a linen lined basket. I cover them and let them proof for nearly two hours. You really don’t get the rise with whole wheat flour that you would see with bread flour, and they needed the time.

Continuing with my theme of being efficient, I built a nice top-down fire and got a serious fire burning in my oven. After less than an hour and 2 pieces of firewood split into smaller pieces, I left like the oven has stored enough heat to bake my bread (and time was running out), so I shoveled out all of the burning wood, coals and ash and let the oven cool for just a few minutes before I swabbed the deck with a damp towel.

Interestingly, you would normally allow a well-fired oven to cool down and evenly share its heat, but in this case I need to bake my bread before dinner. So one thing I found was that the floor of the oven was quite a bit hotter on the right side than the left—because the fire had been bigger on that side. And the bread baked differently on the two sides. I am not saying this as something I recommend, but I think it’s fun after all of these years to still be learning new things about how wood ovens behave.

I popped the bread into the oven while the dome temperature was round 600ºF, knowing that the oven would cool pretty quickly and that whole wheat loaves take longer to bake than white bread flour loaves.

And it all came out really well. The oven spring was not what I would have liked, and as usual my grigne was not very good, but overall, I am pretty satisfied. The bread itself worked really well with dinner that evening, and (as usual) for toast and sandwiches over the next day or so. The bread below is one and a half days old. Not bad.

Maybe it’s time to make that emotional commitment to maintaining a sourdough culture again. :-)

More on Pizza Amore in Buffalo

Here is a follow-up article on Pizza Amore (that’s a portable Forno Bravo oven) in They are getting some good press, and, as the article is quick to point out—the line was 10 people deep when the reporters go there. That’s nice.

Though I have to agree with the reporter—the pizza could have stayed in the oven for a couple of more seconds to get a better char (and they didn’t say this, maybe a nice bubbly, brown crust on the mozzarella). Still looking good.

Mussel Pizza

From the NY Times, in the “Recipes for Health” column. To quote the author, “One bite of this and I’m transported to a seaside town in Italy or Provence”. Nice.

If you’ve been reading for a long time, you will have heard that Pizza Frutti di Mare is one my favorites.

This recipe even calls for whole wheat pizza dough. Here’s to taste and health; it can be done.