OK. I have to make a confession. I've been telling my friends, neighbors, coworkers, even strangers about how cool my oven is (even though it's not done). I extol the virtues of wood fired cooking, retained heat, etc.
The truth is, I'm not very good at using it. Actually, nothing has really turned out well yet. (except the pizza, that rocks!)
I've overcooked ribs, undercooked chicken, and destroyed beautiful loaves of bread, all at the expense of my family, who eats it and showers me with lies.
Here is my ciabatta from today. This is using a poolish starter, bread I've made dozens of times in the oven on a stone. Multiple problems. Just one of those days. The oven was taking forever to get up to a good temp. I have plenty of firewood, but it's still not properly cured. As a result, the bread over-proofed. I baked at about 450 degrees, not as hot as suggested. Steamed the heck out of the oven. 12 minutes with the door sealed. This is my result...
Aside from a burnt crust, the top had a gummy charred covering. I think perhaps the oven wasn't hot enough for a steam "burst", and some spray may have settled down on the loaves.
I share these moments to remind newbies that there is a learning curve to this. The forum is filled with amazing photos of food that we would be lucky to have grace any of our tables. I'll eventually get there, I hope my family can stomach the journey!:o
Re: I suck
Usually I try and give people words of encouragement and tell them its not all that bad. But this my friend... looks pretty bad ;)
I agree with you in regard to learning how to cook with these things, it is tough. I've been tempted to glue an oven range knob on the damn thing just to give me the illusion that I have some control.
Re: I suck
Yet another reason why I have not ventured into baking (one miserable attempt for me)
Getting my pizza dough right every time is still a chore.......breads just scare the hell out of me.
Don't be a pansy like me (still go to a local bakery when I want good bread), keep at it you will get better. Its good to take notes for future bakes, so that you don't accidentally revisit your past mistakes. Thats what I did with my pizza dough for a few weeks. I "thought" I was doing each batch the same...after going back and reading I always found something (seemed minor at the time) that I had done slightly differently. Eliminate those minor changes and I have great dough.
On the bright side, maybe use the blackened ciabatta for a blackened grouper or redfish sandwhich.....or maybe the local ball players need a rub of charcoal under their eyes.
Re: I suck
Hey, don't worry!
I had my fair share of failures with the oven - still do come to think of it... remember that burnt bread? Just keep at it and I'm sure we'll all be drooling over your food photos in no time.
One word of practical advice: Keep it small to begin with. Two drum sticks instead of the whole chicken, reheating leftovers (and I'm speaking from personal experience here), or make something with baking powder instead of yeast.... it'll all help you get a feel for the oven but won't hurt so much if it goes wrong.
Re: I suck
While I have been reasonably successful with WFO bread and never charred like yours, I think learning to make great bread in a WFO has some steep learning curve and timing the proof to the oven temp is one of the real challenges.
How did you measure the temp of the oven for the bread? How large are the loaves? Was there more? I find it takes about 15 pounds of dough for me to load my oven adequately to get a great crust. Anything less is inferior. And...all that wet dough really depresses the oven temp (one experiment said to about 350) which then rises gradually back to the baking temperature range and finishes at about 435-450. (I start at about 475 based on a IR gun thermometer). It really looks to me like the oven was way too hot - either the temperature was wrong OR the load of dough was too small (so the temp didn't drop down much so the oven was too hot).
In my experience the safest oven dishes are pot roasts of beef, pork, chicken (okay it's coq au vin but...) because they are wet and can cook all day at 250-350 (slight exaggeration) and have a lid to keep them from burning. Things cooked "naked" are much more vulnerable to problems - you can't just walk away and forget them or they will tend to dry out and/or burn (if the oven is over 275 or so). I think it is a lot easier to cook in the oven at 350 than at higher temps. Use of a thermometer to check the internal temp of the meat is a good idea.
Hang in there!
Re: I suck
Things will pick up when your wood is dried out better, too. It's really hard to get your oven ready at the right time to bake when the wood is not ready to go. How long are you firing the oven and to what temperature before you try to bake? Spread your coals? How long do you let it equalize? (takes longer than you'd think) I've burned the bottoms of loaves more times than I care to admit... but you can cut that part off. I know you want to serve perfect food that doesn't need bits cut off, but hell, I burn stuff in the regular oven sometimes!
I'm getting to where if I'm only doing one recipe's worth of bread, I do it in the kitchen oven. Not because of the crust, like Jay, but because I'm lazy. And sometimes, like yesterday, I didn't check the timing properly and ended up with seven loaves of bread of different types all proofing at different rates and needing to go in the oven at different times! So, I ran the kitchen oven all evening. I still have two loaves retarding in the fridge, as an experiment. They'll go in the regular oven this afternoon.
My first non-pizza food was beer-can chicken. It was great. You do have to keep looking at it and rotating it, though. I do a lot of beans and pot roasts. Um, one tip is if you burn the food a little on the bottom of the pot, you can salvage it if you don't stir all the burned muck up and just dump it into a serving dish. Don't ask how I know this...
Re: I suck
Good comments, Elizabeth! And I won't ask how you learned not to stir - obviously it was from watching SOMEONE ELSE make that mistake and you want to protect them from embarassment! Must have been your mother-in-law! :)
You are great!
Re: I suck
This weekend I pitched a batch of pizza dough. I had not examined the flour closely and it had some bugs. But heck it's flour, water, salt and yeast! All pretty cheap! The biggest investment is time, but you need to travel that road anyway.
Don't feed your family bad food! Let it go!
Re: I suck
Only three loaves in the oven. What do you do with 15 lbs of bread?
My temp stated 450 by IR . This was floor and dome. Walls a little less. Maybe they were in too long?
For what ever it's worth, we just tore the loaves in half and ripped out the inside. That bread was awesome!
Thanks for the encouragement/advice. I'lll keep you posted.
Re: I suck
We will assume your IR thermometer is correct (which is, of course, not certain, but... is probably within reason).
Your bread looks like it went in a 500 or 550 oven. I can't burn bread that bad in a 460 interior oven with a big stone (also checked as being 450-460 with IR) baked for 45 minutes. And you did it in 12!!!! Crazy!
Spraying the oven also cools it down so....more crazy....
Ahhhh.... Did you have the door open while it was cooling down to 450 or was it sealed? If it was open, the surface may have been at 450 and the interior at 500+ which could be how it got hot enough to burn the bread. The other trick is that it was 3 fairly small loaves so they couldn't cool the oven much. If the door was closed and the oven at equilibrium I don't understand how it could have been....
Wait...you said it was overproofed. Bread will often burn a little where the bubbles are right against the surface (a standard ciabatta issue). Also...it tends to burn where it is dry - did the bread form a skin while you waited for the oven to get to the right temp?
RE: 15 pounds. That is exactly why I don't usually use my WFO to make bread. It is too much work and I am absolutely fixated on how I want my bread to look and I can't get that look in a partially loaded oven. So I pretty much do a ton or none. I am sneaky though. When I do bread in the WFO I always make ciabatta as one of the breasds so I will have REALLY WET DOUGH to help humidify the oven!
Look forward to your reply regarding the door....it is the only thing I can think of that really makes sense! (As an aside, when making bread I burn for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours and sweep the oven, close it up and let it heat soak to about 460. Mop it, load it, spray it with water, and bake for about 20 minutes. Then open and rearrange the bread. Close and finish baking, about 25 more minutes for 1 1/2 # boules.)
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