Bake your bread the traditional way in a wood fired oven. Xanthe Clay explains how to cheat and achieve an authentic effect
On a knead-to-know basis - Xanthe Clay's bread-making for dummies
Master baker Andrew Whitely tending to his wood fired oven - the best way to bake bread
Wood fired ovens
A wood-fired oven in the home is becoming very trendy, and it’s worthwhile and entirely feasible according to Andrew Whitley.
It can be green too: vents take the residual heat in pipes from the oven, spreading it round the house and thereby providing heating.
The simplest wood-fired ovens are brick built with a beehive shaped interior. A fire is built on the floor and left until the oven is hot enough (Whitley used to judge the temperature by how much the cracks in the plaster on the wall by the oven had widened: now, like most modern ovens, his has an accurate thermometer.)
Once the oven’s hot, the embers are swept to one side and the bread is put in. The oven keeps its heat exceptionally well so as many as three consecutive batches can be baked on a single firing.
After that the oven is still hot enough to roast lamb or bake cakes. Andrew’s oven is a more sophisticated affair, with a contained firebox beneath the oven itself.
A flue lets the flames flare up into the oven itself, licking the walls and ceiling in a Dante’s Inferno display.
When it’s time to bake, it’s simply a matter of closing the flue.
Andrew’s oven was built by Alf Armstrong (www.fornobravo.com; 07989 410528 ) Further reference: "Building a wood fired oven for bread and pizza" by Tom Jaine (£9.99 Prospect Books)
The wood fired oven effect
Wood fired ovens make great bread, partly because they have a constant (albeit very slowly reducing) temperature.
An electric or gas oven, working on a thermostat, will have a temperature which fluctuates up and down by as much as 50F/30C.
To get something of the wood oven effect at home, I’ve adapted a clever technique sent in by two readers independently, Wendy Hutton in Malaysia, and Natasha Lehrer in France.
It gives a great crust and impressive rise: try it.
Make a good wet dough as in the accompanying recipes.
After the first rise, heavily dust a tea towel with cornmeal or polenta. Knead the dough lightly and leave to rise for half an hour to an hour on a tea towel, covering it with a large bowl.
Preheat the oven to 230C/450F/gas mark 8 and put a large, empty Le Creuset-type cast iron pot with a lid into the oven to heat up.
When the dough is ready, take the pot out of the oven and remove the lid. Using the tea towel to lift the dough, tip it into the pot.
Replace the lid and return to the oven for half an hour. Remove the lid and bake for a further fifteen minutes, until well browned.
Tip the loaf out of the pot and cool on a rack.