Saturday, April 12, 2008

"Correct" Baking Height

If you don't mind working on your hands and knees, nothing could be simpler to build. Bases often take longer to build than the oven proper. This oven does not have a base.

There is no actual correct baking height, but when building a wood-fired oven, make certain that the baking height is comfortable for you and the other people who will be using the oven.
Somewhere in the area of 36" to 48" is about right. We are talking about a measurement from where your feet rest on the ground to the floor of your oven. The floor is where you'll be baking your breads and pizzas. If you don't build the floor high enough, you'll always be bending over to see what's happening inside. If you build it too high, then short people or kids will have trouble reaching up to it.
Look at the photos. The low oven in Guatemala was built before the building was put in, and the area you stood on was raised so high that you had to bake while in a kneeling or sitting position. Not a good arrangement. The oven was even low for the kids.
The other oven has a baking floor at a good baking height.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Sourdough Instructions


To expand a live culture, spoon the contents into a medium size, glass bowl with a plastic top. I use a 1 quart Pyrex container, and this is the container that is home to my active culture. If your bowl is metal, it should be only stainless steel. Other types of metal could adversely affect your culture. Add 1 cup of warm water (70-80 degrees F). Now stir in about 1 cup of wheat flour (unbleached white, or a combination of whole wheat and white). Don't use pastry flour. The consistency should be that of fairly thick pancake batter. Use slightly more or less flour to achieve the desired consistency.
Cover the bowl with a plate, plastic lid or plastic wrap and place in a warm spot where the temperature is between 70-80 degrees F. This temperature range is important for growth. If the temperature is too low, the starter may not activate. A temperature that's too high may invite the growth of undesirable bacteria.
After about 8 hours you should see some bubbles. Stir in 1/4 cup of flour. The flour is food for your growing culture. The next day, stir in another 1/4 cup of flour.
Your sourdough starter should be ready any time between 48-72 hours, but it might even take as long as 4 days although 2-4 days is about average. Continue to feed the culture each day, with 1/4 cup of flour, maintaining a temperature of 70-80 degrees F. until it becomes active. If a liquid forms on the top, simply stir it in. You'll know your starter is ready when it is bubbly, frothy, expansive, and smells sweetly of the earth.
When ready, store your starter in a covered container in the refrigerator. Your starter will continue to grow so do not reef down the cover, particularly if your container is glass. Use some of the starter within 1 week to bake bread. Replace what you've taken from your starter culture with an equal amount of flour and water. The texture should be of a thick pancake batter consistency. Return your starter to the refrigerator.
Even if you're not baking once a week, you still must feed your starter at least once a week. (I have found two feedings per week superior to one). Do this by taking 1/2 cup of starter and give it to a friend or relegate it to the compost heap. Into your starter container, stir in about 1 cup of flour and an equal amount of water. It will be up to full strength in a day or two.
Given proper care, your starter could be passed on to succeeding generations.

Earth Ovens In Egypt
I just came across this blog that has a wonderful photo of an earth oven in Egypt. The fire box is below and to the side of the oven proper. This is an interesting arrangement, but it might be more complicated than necessary for making flatbreads. Check out this blog:

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Sourdough Starter and Yeast

Following up on the last post, I have a friend who always adds conventional yeast to her starter to give it a boost. Well, this certainly works, but I've always thought conventional yeast was some sort of alien substance that belonged in conventional bread, not sourdough bread. But of course, that's just my opinion. Just go with what works for you.
However, if your starter looks like the starter in the photos, it won't require a boost from conventional yeast. Keep your starter healthy, and you'll be making great bread.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Right Way

There is no right or wrong way to bake bread. There are folks who preheat their ovens before baking, and there are folks who bake starting off in a cold oven. You can knock the dough down, once, twice or not at all.
You'll just have to carve your own path, but try to strike out into new territories and accept the challenges. And remember what Emerson said: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."
In the oven photo, note the nice space for wood storage, the handy clamp-on light, and of course the shelf for beer.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Stove Top

Soups and flatbreads cook on stove top.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Home or Oven?

This photo of an Omaha earth lodge certainly suggests the architecture of an earth oven.

First Pizza

Lukie makes her first pizza.