Wood-fired loaves are significantly better than those made in home kitchen ovens or in gas-fired bakery ovens for the same reasons that your pizzas are so much better. The retained, radiant heat of a wood-fired oven will give your breads exceptional oven spring for increased loaf volume, plus extraordinary crumb and crust development and carmelization. Better yet, they bake much faster. Chemistry plays a large role in any baking, and you’ll find that wood-fired breads have a significantly longer shelf life than commercial breads, perhaps, strangely enough, because they use no additives or enhancers. Wood-fired breads also freeze very well.
Pizza ovens differ somewhat in shape and configuration from dedicated wood-fired bread ovens, but that does not mean you won’t be able to bake the most exceptional bread you have ever had outside Europe, or from a master artisan bread baker.
Bear in mind that pizzas are baked with a fire burning off to the side of the hearth. For bread baking, by contrast, the oven is heated, the ash and coals are raked out, the hearth is brushed and cleaned, and then the breads are baked with a door in place to seal in the heat. It is the retained heat that does the work, and it’s a perfect way to take advantage of the heat you’ve already amassed from your pizza making.
For multiple loaf baking, you can increase the mass (the heat retaining ability) of your pizza oven by adding a layer of tiles or fire bricks on top of your cooking floor before you light your fire.
Bread baking, like pizza making, takes practice. The sections that follow will help you through the steps toward superior bread, but they can’t take the place of hands-on experience. The most exciting part of learning how is that your breads will keep on getting better and better.
When you’re just starting, it is probably best to follow the recipes here as closely as you can. Even small departures in technique or ingredients, or substitutions, can make very larges changes to the finished breads. Later, when your confidence has increased, you’ll have the background to experiment.
The next page discusses Bread Ingredients
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Shown here is a Pain à l’ancienne baguette. High heat wood firing has resulted in a loaf with tremendous volume and nearly perfect carmelization. The loaf was docked, or slashed, with kitchen shears. On a 550ºF hearth, this bread took twelve minutes to reach an internal temperature of 205ºF.