Benefits of Baking in a Wood Fired Oven
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 bread exceptional oven spring for increased loaf volume, plus extraordinary crumb and crust development and caramelization. Better yet, they bake much faster. Chemistry plays a large role in any baking, and you’ll find that wood fired bread has a significantly longer shelf life than commercial bread, perhaps, strangely enough, because they use no additives or enhancers. Wood fired bread also freezes very well.
Differences in Oven and Firing Styles
Pizza ovens differ somewhat in shape and configuration from a dedicated wood fired bread oven, 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. Forno Bravo ovens strike a balance in their dome-to-floor-height ratios; they are tall enough to bake bread well, and low enough to maintain the temperatures required for Neapolitan pizza.
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 loaves are baked with a door in place to seal in the heat and steam. 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.
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 to bake wood fired bread in your oven, is that it will just keep improving.
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 large changes to the finished bread. Later, when your confidence has increased, you’ll have the background to experiment.
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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 caramelization. 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.