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kebwi 04-08-2010 01:10 PM

Why necessary to clean all coals out for bread?
I understand why I should mop the bare floor for hearth breads, just to minimize the ash on the bottom of the bread, but why clean all the coals thoroughly out instead of shoving them to the side and letting the oven "relax" for a few hours before cooking?

More to the point, is the purpose of totally cleaning out the oven one of flavor or temperature management?

heliman 04-08-2010 03:02 PM

Re: Why necessary to clean all coals out for bread?
Good question - I'm also keen to hear the rationale behind the coal removal process. I did this when I baked bread the last time and it was a disaster as I was unable to control the heat. In future I will scatter a few coals around the inside of the oven (remove most first).

Mitchamus 04-08-2010 03:37 PM

Re: Why necessary to clean all coals out for bread?
It prevents 'hot spots' in the oven

you should let the oven equalise for an hour before baking. this allow the heat to evenly distribute around the oven.

if you leave the coals in, the bread near the coals will burn, while the bread further away will not be cooked.

opening & closing the oven all the time (to move or remove burning bread) is not good for the baking process!

heliman 04-08-2010 05:27 PM

Re: Why necessary to clean all coals out for bread?
Thanks for clarifying Mitch - I was probably over simplifying the process in my mind!

Just a question though - with a small amount of coal left in the oven - would the heat not stabilise to a uniform state? I am talking really small amounts of coal evenly distributed around the outside of the oven - just enough to sustain the heat.

With the door in place and a small space to allow a bit of air in - would this not be the optimum arrangement to sustain a long bake?

Mitchamus 04-08-2010 05:34 PM

Re: Why necessary to clean all coals out for bread?
It's the radiated heat from the coals that's the problem.
Though I guess you could shield the loaves with a wall of foil or something....

but if we're talking about bread - the heat loss over a 40 minute period isn't going to be enough to warrant keeping a heat source in there...IMO...

Also - on keeping the door ajar - most people when they bake bread will use a water sprayer to 'spritz' the oven - the humidity/steam helps with the oven spring of your bread. they'll do this and then get the door on as quick as possible to lock the steam in.

Having the door cracked open to help your coals burn would effectively cycle the air in the over and suck all the steam out.

If you're talking about roasting (meat etc) - well that's a different story...

heliman 04-08-2010 06:29 PM

Re: Why necessary to clean all coals out for bread?
Thanks for the update Mitch ... all makes sense now!

I will definitely be removing the coals from now on, in light of this information.


texassourdough 04-08-2010 07:18 PM

Re: Why necessary to clean all coals out for bread?
There is so much wrong with having coals in the oven with the bread (assuming you are striving to make great bread) that it is hard to address.

IF you have LIVE coals in the oven you have temperature control problems, your oven is at the wrong temp (very likely both too hot and too cold depending on location), you don't have enough humidiity in the oven to give a good crust, and you are drying out the skin on the bread with the fresh air.

If you have DEAD coals in the oven the ashes insulate the oven from the hearth and reduce heat transfer from the refractory back to the oven.

Bread should be baked in a CLOSED oven. This is important because you need humidity to gelatinize the starch in the crust to get a good crust. You won't have any signifcant humidity in an open or fired oven.

The oven also needs to be at an appropriate temperature. For relatively wet artisinal breads you will want the oven at about 550 to 575, maybe 600 depending on the batch size, your habits, and your oven.

It is IMPORTANT that the oven be heat loaded. If you have made pizzas your oven MIGHT be loaded - but it might not. Depends on how hot you run your oven. You need to drive heat into the oven - keep the fire big and hot for another 45 minute to several hours depending on your oven design to load it properly. The temp on your hearth will probably be in the 800 to 900 range and the dome well over 1000. Most then remove the coals and let the oven sit for an hour or so to let the heat equalize and for the heat to continue soaking into the refractory.

After about an hour (again depending on your oven and how hard you stoked it) the temperature of the hearth should be in the 600 range. The dome will be slightly warmer but not hundreds of degrees. At that point you clean the oven well and mop it with a damp (not wet) ash cloth/mop. This will probably drop the hearth temp by about 25 degrees. Loading the oven with bread will drop the temp in the oven dramatically as will spraying it with water to raise the humidity. (The temp may well get below 300 degrees.) You are relying on the heat you drove into the refractory to be released back to the oven to bake the bread. After about 50 minutes the bread should be done (assuming one to two pound loaves in a 15 pound bake (and the oven should generally not be opened in the first half of the bake - preferably not to the end though you will likely need to as you learn your oven.)

When you take the bread out the temp of the hearth will still be depressed. If you close the oven back up for 15 minutes or so the temp should have dropped no more than 50 degrees or so (i.e. if you started at 575 it should be about 525 or so). If so you can probably do a second batch. if it is below 500 you probably can't reasonably do a second batch. Either you don't have enough oven mass or you didn't pack enough heat into the mass you have or you have lousy insulation or are wet. If the temp is way lower, you probably tried to bake bread in an inadequately heated oven.

All that said, can you bake bread with live coals or a fire? Sure. But it will be mediocre compared to what your oven is capable of producing.

Mitchamus 04-08-2010 07:20 PM

Re: Why necessary to clean all coals out for bread?
great post jay - thanks!

splatgirl 04-09-2010 09:50 PM

Re: Why necessary to clean all coals out for bread?
I dunno. I just pulled a couple of pretty freakin fabulous looking loaves from an oven that still had coals in it. What can I say...10pm, dark, lazy and in my jammies...I am SO not shoveling out no hot crap despite Jay's 100% convincing (and awesome, as usual) testimony. I wanna get my couple of pounds of bread for the week baked and get back to lounging. It's still going to be better than anything I pull out of my indoor oven.

My standard MO is to put the door on to kill the fire when I'm done with pizza, so after 3+ hours of suffocating I was down to glowing embers around the edges of the dome plus my still-clean hearth and 500-ish, perfect for what ended up being an odds and ends "dump batch" of white/wholewheat/rye sourdough of questionable but lower than usual hydration (my current method seems to lean heavily towards "dump stuff in until it feels and looks right"). Came out awesome. Prolly not Jay awesome, but pretty good for a lazy butt poseur breadbaker :)

Dino_Pizza 04-09-2010 10:31 PM

Re: Why necessary to clean all coals out for bread?
Boy, I sure learn a lot on this forum. Thanks for the info Jay.

Maybe there's something going on with my method of frantically sliding my loaves in the oven and putting my ugly (but tight :o) door on but I only had to do that once to get ash all over my loaves to get me to clean out my oven now every time. Also, when I sprayed my oven with the garden sprayer to create moisture, the sudden steam made the ash fly too.

I completely understand Splatgirls MO and have no doubt I'll occasionally be doing the same thing :D, I can't explain well enough how nice it was to spend the 2 minutes to clean out the oven, then have a huge, clean canvas to bake in, anywhere in the oven I chose to throw the loaves. If I felt like slamming my oven door on, I didn't have to worry about the pressure moving the ash.

I say, leave in the ash and coals for nestling your artichokes into, but try to remove it for baking.

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