Sunday, December 11, 2011

Lodge Dutch Ovens

Yesterday I decided to try out my new Lodge Dutch oven, indoors, in my conventional gas range.
Well, I was really impressed with my no-knead loaf. Not only did it look and taste great, but the Lodge was very easy to use. I was able to drop the dough onto the cover and then cover it with the base, rather than the other was around. To me, it's much easier to bake this way rather than plopping the dough over the high sides of the base. I hope the photos tell the story.

Another great thing about Lodge is that it's an American company that actually manufactures the cast iron that it sells. Yes, right here in the United States. Lodge is a very old company that knows how to survive, but it really needs our support.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Another Dry Stack Brick Oven

You know, it's remarkable that these ovens are so easy to build, and it's also remarkable that you don't see more of them.
If you don't have money, but you do have a pile of old, red bricks, then you're well on your way. You can do the roof supports with angle iron,  as illustrated, or as I have shown before, you might choose to make a simple brick arch.
These ovens will bake just as well as any other masonry oven, but I highly recommend that you insulate the oven, construct it at a decent baking height, and restrict the size of the oven opening. You don't want all that wonderful heat to escape.
I realize that long ago folks didn't insulate their ovens, and they certainly baked bread in them. However, with insulation, your oven will come up to temperature faster, bake better, and you'll far less fuel. That means less air pollution and less denuding of our precious forests.
Thanks to Stuart Wier for the PDF

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Gluten Intolerance

 A friend recently sent me this article that calls into question the causes of gluten intolerance. The writer stridently maintains that gluten intolerance is caused by the way bread is prepared. I think the article is definitely worth reading. Also called into question is what really constitutes a healthful loaf of bread.

Brown Bread or White Bread
Bread is good for us. It nourishes our bodies as well as our souls. But when we look at nutrition and bread more closely, we discover there is a problem of digestive assimilation associated with bread made with l00% whole wheat flour.
Bran is highly laxative and a useful component in a high-fiber diet, but do all of us actually need more fiber? Just how much is more? And how regular do we really need to be?
Harold McGee, author of On Food And Cooking, tells us that during World War II the government of Dublin, Ireland, put the population on wholegrain bread to improve health. Almost half the children developed rickets because phytic acid in the wheat bran makes calcium unavailable to the body. Wartime rations contained few dairy products, so the action of phytic acid proved catastrophic to the children.
H. E. Jacobs in Six Thousand Years of Bread quotes Antoine Auguste Parmentier (1736-1812), a French army apothecary:
"My own experience of many years and above all the things I have seen in wartime have convinced me that in the plan of this world the husks and woody parts of plants were not intended to form part of our food. And especially these materials, insofar as they occur in grains, were not meant to be included in your bread. The bran, a woody parenchyma, the husk of the grain, is not nutritious precisely because it contains no meal. The art of the miller should consist in removing this husk from the grain--but without pulverizing it so that it can no longer be sifted out. Close grinding is therefore harmful."
So where do we go from here?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Parchment Paper

I've never used it, but I can see that there are certain advantages to using it in a conventional oven. If you're making no-knead bread as I do, often it's difficult transferring the somewhat amorphous loaf to your very hot Dutch oven. By using parchment paper, the process is simplified in that you simply lift the risen loaf by holding the edges of the parchment paper and drop it, paper and all into the Dutch oven. The paper will not burn. The video shows the whole process.
Note how the hot Dutch oven cover is dropped on the floor. Actually it's hard to miss, and maybe we should all take safety precautions by wearing steel-toed boots.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

King Arthur

I use almost exclusively King Arthur flour and have had great results with it. The company is cooperatively owned, and I give it my support.
Jeffrey Hamelman of King Arthur, a certified master baker introduces a five part video that illustrates lots of interesting baking techniques.

Although it's difficult to navigate between the videos, they are definitely worth watching, particularly the video on shaping and slashing baguettes.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Gluten Free Cornbread

For a long time now I've been resisting the gluten free craze. It seems like everyday someone is discovering a new syndrome, and there is always someone to capitalize on it. Anyway, I've been asked for a gluten free cornbread recipe, and I believe I've come up with something that doesn't compromise the qualities I look for in traditional cornbread. After doing some experimenting and searching the web, here it is.
1 cup brown rice flour
3/4 cup stone-ground cornmeal 
3 Tablespoons of honey
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon canola oil
2 beaten eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 cup canola oil

If you're baking outdoors in your wood-fired oven, then it's okay to maintain the fire while the bread is baking. Push the fire to the back or side.
If you're baking in a conventional oven indoors, then preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Mix the dry ingredients (flour, cornmeal,  baking powder, and salt) together in a bowl and set aside.
Spread 1 tablespoon of canola oil  in a 10 inch cast-iron skillet.
In another bowl, combine the eggs, milk, honey and 1/4 cup of canola oil, stir into the dry ingredients and then pour into the skillet. 
Bake for about 18 minutes or until a wooden toothpick comes out clean. Serve warm.

I like to use buttermilk or soy milk, but any milk will work. You can also substitute melted butter for the canola oil.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


If you're planning to build a wood-fired oven, then you should really learn a lot about firewood.
A couple of years ago I cut down a white birch tree and sawed it into 16" lengths. I didn't bother to split it, thinking that the birch would simply dry in the woodshed, and I was in no rush. Just last week I started to split it, and I discovered that the wood was rotten inside. The lesson for me was that firewood really needs to be split after its cut so it can dry out properly. This is particularly true of white birch because the bark is highly water-resistant, and if the birch is not split, then the moisture stays inside and damages the firewood. Probably because birch bark forms such a protective coat, the Native Americans used it for canoe construction and vessels to hold water. For great information about firewood go to this website.

Old tire sits on chopping block to prevent firewood from flying helter skelter when split.



Sunday, November 6, 2011

Bread Pudding

In all fairness I have to admit, there are times when I have too much bread around the house. My wife is an expert at making bread pudding, and it was time to use up all that bread. With her guidance, we both put this together.

3 medium apples, peeled and sliced
¾ cup of raisins
4 cups (237g) of 1” cubed bread
1 tablespoon butter
2 cups milk
2 beaten eggs
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch nutmeg
1/4-1/2 cup honey

There are many variations of bread pudding, and there is simply not one recipe. A favorite appears to be a sauce made with brandy or bourbon that's poured over the pudding. hmmm 

 Place cubed bread on bottom of Dutch oven (if you need to buy one, then I highly recommend one from Lodge.) Place apples on top of bread. Add butter to milk and scald on stove top, campfire or in wood-fired oven. Add raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg, honey to the scalded milk. Add hot liquid slowly to beaten eggs (you don’t want them to cook).
Pour liquid on top of the apples and bread.
Cover Dutch oven and place inside a low to medium hot wood-fired oven. You can maintain a small fire in the back or to the side. It will take approximately 30 minutes to bake. Of course, nothing is exact here because of all the variables in baking outdoors, and for this reason, it’s my favorite way to bake. I like to watch the progress every five minutes or so because I don’t want to burn the dessert.
Serve it hot or cold, and I like it with ice cream. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sharing Bread

I think that most of you who read this blog really bake more bread than you and your family can possibly eat. If that's true, Then consider sharing it at a homeless shelter.


If you think it's a good idea, here are some sugestions:
Share only your very best loaves.
Avoid crusty loaves because many of the recipients have poor teeth.
Slice the bread before taking it. The workers at the shelter have enough to do.
Place the sliced loaves (after they've thoroughly cooled) in a unsealed plastic bag because you want the bread to breath a little and to stay soft. 
If they like your bread, and I'm sure they will, then you'll probably have trouble keeping up with the demand.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Favorite Photo

Madeleine de Sinety, Four Loaves, 1993, archival pigment print, 10 x 16 inches, Courtesy of the artist.

This has to be one of my all-time favorite photos. Certainly the antithesis of factory bread. I've been trying for years to get a print of this photo from the photographer, and maybe someday I will. In the meantime I simply marvel at the beauty of these rustic French loaves, and who are the people holding them?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Campfire Bread
Bread being pulled from the embers

I was so inspired by these two videos, that I immediately ordered the Dutch oven from Amazon.
What I so like about these videos is their lack of glitzy polish. Eric, the owner of Breadtopia is on a camping trip with his family in the Grand Tetons where he attempts to make campfire bread. Well, he actually does make, but you can tell how unsure he is of himself, and often I feel the same way.

I don't want to say too much about the videos, you know, like giving away the ending and spoiling your experience.

Seeing Eric in this video and others is really like a breath of fresh air. He is so mild mannered that it's downright alarming. I suspect he has a lot of trouble promoting his excellent products on his website, and because of his attitude I have shopped there and will continue to do so. Just for the record, I have no connection to Breadtopia.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Without Fear

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” Steve Jobs

There's a real message here for oven builders and bread bakers. Take big chances. Forget niches. Don't be afraid. Build an unconventional oven and bake what you think won't work.
What's the worst thing that can happen?

 low tech oven base (stump)

yes to earth oven bagels

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Baking in the Wood-Fired Oven

Baking bread in a wood-fired oven presents multiple challenges and often a lot of discouragement. To understand some basic principles about wood-fired bread baking, you can look right to your conventional stove in the kitchen. Bake some loaves in a "cloche," and we'll call this "baking undercover."
Bread baking under a stainless steel cloche
Imagine that your cloche is really a miniature wood-fired oven that only holds one loaf at a time. Part way through the bake, remove the cover of your cloche and note how bland looking your bread appears to be. It's bland looking because the cloche has been containing all that steam escaping from the dough, and the loaf has not had any time to brown.
Leaving the cloche cover off now and finishing the bake, the steam will dissipate, and the bread will brown nicely.
 Bread baking in a Dutch oven
Now translate this to your wood-fired oven. Your baking loaves need steam at the beginning of the bake, but a dry atmosphere for a finish.
Bread baking in a WFO

Baking loaves in a tightly sealed wood-fired oven may provide enough steam, but if they don't, then you'll have to use a steamer. 
The steamer

The most important thing to remember is that you're not going to get good at baking in a WFO unless you bake lots of bread.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Earth Oven Workshop

Although we had to work under pop up canopies because of the rain, I felt we had a great workshop. Never underestimate the weight of an earth oven. It took six of us load the oven onto the pickup truck. Now I hope that the truck doesn't become a permanent resting place for the oven.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fast Food Mythology

Unfortunately, many people assume that eating crap at fast food places costs less than eating real food at home. Well, it's simply not true. Check out this provocative article in the New York Times by Mark Bittman.
And now check out this glaring graphic to bring it all into focus.
But in all fairness to those who are involved in relationships where everyone works full time, I can easily understand why it's hard to summon up the energy to prepare meals night after night at home. Certainly, if folks share the meal preparations, then it becomes more manageable.
Just about everywhere, people seem to be working harder, and they're making less money, so something has to change.

An example of "real food"

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Jesse Cottingham's Oven

Check out Jesse's oven project, and note the very sturdy wooden base he constructed for the oven. He's going to need some help this November in constructing a shelter for the oven. If you'd like to assist him in western Maine, send me an e-mail, and I'll put you in touch with him.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Walter Lane's Biscuits

 WALTER LANE’S BISCUITS                                

This is the only recipe in Bread Earth and Fire that calls for baking powder, milk and butter.
Walter Lane was one of the subjects of a documentary film I made with Richard Searls, and this recipe is not unique, but Walter’s baking method was most unusual and resourceful.
Walter Lane was always baking biscuits in a stovepipe contraption that he constructed above the oven in his trapper's shack. The stovepipe compartment, where the biscuits were placed to bake, captured waste heat from his woodstove. There was no way he'd allow heat to escape up the chimney without putting it to good use first. Walter was the ultimate recycler.

The oven shown is quite a pricey affair, but Walt was able to fabricate something similar for just a few dollars.

YIELD: 6-8 biscuits
INGREDIENTS:                                                                                              2 cups all-purpose, unbleached white flour                                 
2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold butter (1 stick)
1 cup (approx.) buttermilk or regular milk

Biscuits require a hot oven. Fire your oven well in advance; because once you blend your ingredients, you can bake immediately. There’s no waiting for anything to mature or rise.
    In a medium-sized bowl, thoroughly blend the flour with the baking powder, baking soda and the salt. Now cut in the cold butter. This means placing small chunks of cold butter on the flour and working it into the flour with a pastry cutter, a fork, or your fingers. After the butter is carefully blended into the dry ingredients, stir in the milk. For biscuits, less stirring is better than more. The texture should be slightly gloppy. Add slightly more or less flour or milk to achieve the proper consistency.
Into a cast iron skillet, drop 1/4 cup scoops of your mixture. Slide the skillet into the oven, keeping the fire to the back or sides. Move the skillet around to get the biscuits to bake evenly. Serve hot with butter and jam, and try not to think about your arteries. You can always leave the butter out of the ingredients. Made with buttermilk, they’ll still be great.

    Still image from the movie Dead River Rough Cut   
      Walter Lane shares his biscuit with a Canada Jay outside his trapper’s shack.
Go here to watch trailers and stills from the movie. 

Here is where you can help. It's been over 35 years since Richard Searls and I made this movie, but now we think it's time for something else.

There can never be a sequel to Dead River Rough Cut, it just can’t be done. However, Richard and I are talking about a new movie, tentatively titled Dead River Pink.
We do know about Ann LaBastille, but unfortunately she died just a couple of months ago.
Certainly there are some “woodswomen” out there living a “rustic” life. They don’t exactly dislike men, but they want to make their own decisions and have discovered that it’s simply less hassle and more rewarding to live alone. This is not to say that they’re adverse to spending time with a guy, but they just don’t want to live with one.
Maybe she’s an artist/writer living in the forest.
Maybe she’s an herbalist, but at night she’s a ...
Maybe she works in a bank, but retreats to her shack in the woods.
Maybe she does every conceivable thing to avoid a “real” job.
Maybe she’s a migrant farm worker who follows the harvests.
Maybe she’s a Native American who has gone back to the “traditional life.”
Regardless, she has to be charismatic, dynamic, outspoken and fearless.
Any suggestions would be most appreciated.
Stu Silverstein