Monday, July 30, 2018

Baking Bread with the Pros

I just returned from Maine Grain Alliance's Kneading Conference avid bakers meet and attend workshops with avid professionals.

I brought one of my portable ovens for use by a group of bakers.  Over the course of the two days, nearly 100 loaves of bread were baked in the oven and I was in the company of an extraordinary group of bakers from all over the country.  The workshop leader, Stefan Senders, owner of Wide Awake Bakery in Trumansburg, NY. led us through a steeplechase of processes with calm guidance and humor.

For anyone slightly familiar with bread baking, this conference is the difference between singing in the shower and the opera.

For anyone slightly familiar with bread baking, this conference is the difference between singing in the shower and the opera.

The range of breads mixed, risen, formed, and baked was staggering.  The conference organizers pulled off a joyful and deeply informative two days despite torrential rains, blustery wind, and steamy heat.

Many thanks.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

2018 Kneading Conference

2000 year-old oven in Pompeii
I'll be at the 2018 Kneading Conference in Hinkley, Maine next week (July 26-27).
It's the premier baking, grain, and wood-fired oven conference in the Northeast.
You can meet me there with attendees from across the country for two full days of learning, sharing, and (duh) baking.  There are lots of workshops covering topics from growing and milling grains, baking artisan breads, brewing beer, and using wood-fired ovens.  I will be presenting an visual talk called:


Bread from my oven last time I presented

Kerry Altiero (who will be there) cooking in my oven
(which will be there)

Get the inside scoop from a brick oven

Monday, June 25, 2018

Ciao Italia

Recent visits to my blog have included many from Italy.  Grazie!

My visits to Italy, where I saw brick ovens in almost every village, contributed to my enthusiasm and knowledge of the construction and design of brick ovens.

The foods I enjoyed in Italy, whether made in brick ovens or other ways, also inspired me to build my ovens so that cooks, bakers, and chefs got the most out of the ovens, both performance and longevity.

For a few days in late July, I will be at a premier brick oven baking event, The Kneading Conference, speaking and demonstrating with my portable brick oven (seen above being used by Kerry Altiero of Cafe Miranda).

I post this with the hope that some of the visitors to my blog might send photos of ovens they know, have seen, or are using.  The talk I'll give at the conference is: The Evolution Of Wood-Fired Ovens.
Your contributions would be appreciated and recognized.

True Brick Ovens

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Brick Oven Improvements

Improvements to the brick ovens I build often are the result of a new or different location challenge.

Wood set for the test firing
This most recent build required that I build the oven core outside before opening the wall between the  oven mouth and the room in which the bakers would work.

The result, which I may carry forward in future projects, was a three arch design.  It also resulted in a keystone design that is new to me (few masonry designs are new to history).

Inspecting the interior PRIOR to lighting

Perfect draft as evidenced by blackened area around flue

Oven dome at full temp.  Wood box stuccoed.  Double doors.
Note air channels at sides of mouth.
Carpenters will finish drywall around oven.

Exterior enclosure

Friday, June 1, 2018

The Art of Brick Ovens

There are plenty of technical aspects to building a brick oven.  I've covered many of them in the over three hundred posts prior to this.
Then there is the ART.

Because each oven I build is intended for a different and unique person or situation, it makes sense to finish the oven in a different and unique way.  Note: this doesn't require weird designs.  The variation on the traditional face arch and keystone as well as the exterior treatment is sufficient.  Sometimes, one element is sufficient to make it personal to the owner.

Thus follows some examples.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Brick Oven Chimneys

Any brick oven with a mouth and a face, which between them creates the flue, needs a chimney.
Vented into existing chimney
The chimney serves to move the smoke away from the face of the oven and the baker.

The height of the chimney determines how far away the flue gases go as well as the draft of the chimney.

For indoor ovens or ovens attached to homes, the 2 in 10 rule applies; the chimney must be 2 feet above the ridge of the house or 10 feet away from the building and roof.  Higher chimneys create better draft.

short chimney
Chimney materials vary.  Outdoor ovens with low chimneys typically have clay flue tiles with stone or brick exteriors.  Indoor chimneys typically have insulated stainless steel chimney for ease and safety.  Occasionally it is possible to vent the oven flue into an existing masonry chimney.

metal chimney and two makeup air ducts
A chimney chase is a wood structure built around the metal chimney to either conceal the metal or create a substrate for a stone or brick veneer.

All chimneys are capped with a metal or stone cap.

Stone veneer over wood frame chase

Metal chimney alone

Vented into existing chimney

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Triple Arch

Admittedly, I enjoy building arches and domes.
In this current project, I've built three separate arches.  This will enable the owners to both close the mouth (which isolates the dome) as well as the face arch (which is in front of the flue).  This does not replace the damper in the insulated metal chimney which will still function to close the chimney when the fire is out.

As will all current ovens there are two air channels on either side of the mouth.  These will be closed by specially cut bricks and the second door as well.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Dome Was Built in a Day

Judging from the number of visits to posts describing details of building brick ovens, I can guess that a fair number (New Englandese for 'a lot') of people are looking to build their own ovens.

In the past, I've spoken or consulted with people who have built their own and the consensus is that it takes a long time, like months, for a owner-builder to finish.

This may be the reason that on many occasions where a project involving both extensive masonry and a brick oven I am asked to build the 'core': the technical part of the oven.  I've worked with expert masons all over the country because it made sense for them to pass on building the central part of the oven to me rather than build a one-off themselves.

In the case of a homeowner building one him or herself, the equation that measures the time and precision it takes for a one-off is weighed against the cost of my building the core.

In addition, I've offered advisories suggesting that a professional mason, although expert at fireplaces, walls, etc., if hired, may not know the engineering and physics of brick ovens, thus leaving the owner with a brick oven that is NOT a brick oven in the functional sense. (Was that a long enough sentence???)

This project in New Hampshire, is a 42" interior diameter oven core that was completed in one long day.  Additional work to bring it to completion is needed, but it demonstrates the efficiency of experience.