Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Long Dome option

In some locations there is not sufficient space for a fully round dome.  In these cases it is possible to elongate or stretch the dome shape without losing its structural benefits.

Six years ago, an oven I built in St. Charles, MO.
Due to the other cooking elements desired in the same space, we designed a long dome 4' wide and 5' deep.
I built the 'core' and the on-site masons finished the exterior, which included a charcuterie (left).
There are some ways a long dome
can provide more versatile cooking options.

The dome for the Georgia project has its mouth on the long side providing two half-domes at either end.  If the cook wants, he or she can cook fast and hot at one end and at more moderate temperatures at the other.   The pre-cut bricks show where full bricks are used to stretch the width of the dome.  Cut bricks on the side are simple doubles of the set ones that will be used for the opposite half-dome.  This oven is 32" deep and 48" wide.

Starting the St. Charles oven.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

250K visits to Brick Oven blog

What does this mean?

For one, it means that blogs are visible.
For another, there's no way of knowing how many of those visits are bots.
For the last, I know people have appreciated the information.

Going forward, I will create a post when something new either in the way brick ovens are used or a new insight I have in the construction of these ovens.  Or, in a scrape, I find a tenuously related subject to write about.

I still advocate for dome shaped ovens made from real brick.  Truly, if I found a better material or way of building an oven, I would take it.

Extensive information on building and using wood-fired brick ovens can be found on this blog.

Or you can contact me.

somebody say 'CHOCOLATE?'

I was recently in Rockland,  Maine, famously known for both lobster and the gateway to Penobscot Bay.

On a quiet side street, a sign hangs inviting anyone to enter the Bixby (chocolate) Bar Co.

It's a factory AND tasting room with an audio-visual guide to the making of chocolate (as we know it).

The space, once a fish processing plant, then ice factory, is now clean and light, with spacious seating for anyone wanting to sit down and try their bean-to-bar organic chocolate products.

Of course I did.

All but the first photo are taken from the AV show.
Apparently chocolate doesn't come from the candy counter at the store!

It starts out as a really amazing fruit and goes through fermentation, drying, and milling before the sugary thing we eat is formed.

Bixby even sources their sugar from organic growers in Brazil and they have developed professional relationships with small farms in the equatorial belt of the world, where all chocolate is grown.

The Bixby chocolate tastes kilometers better than any other I've tried.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Cob Ovens: Stu Silverstein at the Kneading Conference

I've known Stu Silverstein for thirty years.  In the past twenty or so, he's built and promoted cob ovens,  a construction of bake ovens that uses clay, sawdust, sand and other low cost materials that make wood-fired baking accessible to anyone with 500 bucks.  The 2018 Kneading Conference was held in Hinkley Maine at the Kennebec Valley Community College, Harold Alford Campus has one installed.
As I arrived early and love firing ovens, I started the oven off so that dinner pizzas would be served.
The next day, Stu lead a  group of participants in building small cob ovens, some of which were taken away as the participants left.
Wood-fired ovens need not be expensive.  Cob ovens are an accessible alternative to one, like I build, which are both more costly and last a lifetime.  Still in some cultures, the cob oven is maintained over the lifetime of the family OR rebuilt as needed.
They admittedly don't hold the temperature as well as true brick ovens, which keep baking temperatures for four days.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Kindred Works

I was recently in Shelburne, Nova Scotia.  There on the waterfront, in a building that two hundred years ago was a cooper's shop AND was rebuilt in the 90's for the set of "The Scarlet Letter", I met Raymond Rhuland, a real barrel-maker.

logs become staves

Aside from the infinitely specialized equipment for shaping and forming barrels, Raymond was infinitely approachable, a laid-back artisan, who in the latter part of his life, enjoys talking about barrels as well as the northeast penchant for just 'visiting'.

During the few days I spent in Shelburne, he showed me the process from which a log is transformed into a barrel.  I've sometimes looked at barrels.  I acknowledged that they are made of staves (shaped and bent pieces of wood).  But I hadn't known of the kindred process in which the making of a barrel is akin to the making of the brick ovens I build.

Firstly, the  raw materials don't at first suggest either a round hollow container in either of our cases.
Secondly, precision is required to bring the raw materials to the point where we can assemble them into the round, hollow containers.
Thirdly, the assembly of the pieces requires both specialized tools AND experience.
AND lastly, there are very few of us doing this by hand.

Most of the barrels used in making wine or whiskey are manufactured in large factories by the thousands otherwise whiskey would be either expensive and rare OR it would be made in our backyards...hmmm?

Pipe Barrel from 1700's
In Nova Scotia, in the past, barrels were used for packing dried cod.  Raymond said in the past, his yearly production was over a thousand barrels and he had employees.  Now, it's just he and his partner Donna, and the barrels are mostly for ornament (barstools, buckets, etc).

I asked Raymond about what he'd like to do when he stops making barrels.
"I want to make pizza in a brick oven!"

There you go...

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Masons who Bake in Brick Ovens

First Oven
Twelve years ago, when I built my first brick oven, I wanted to bake bread.  Now, after having built nearly 40 ovens for others (it has eclipsed my former landscape design and stonework business), I understand more about baking, brick ovens, AND why masons who have never used a brick oven may fail at building a successfully functioning one.
making Focaccia with Chris Dill
in the TBO 54 I built at Brewster Academy

A prospective customer recently sent me photos of brick ovens taken off the internet to show me the style he was looking for.  Two out of three of them were built wrong.  By wrong, I mean, they had mouths too big to be able to retain heat, flues at the back or top where the heat would rip through the oven cooling it, or no insulation under the floor or over the dome.  This just scratches the surface of what I've seen pass as a brick oven.

I have hoped to remedy the mistakes other masons might make by posting extensive information on this blog about the correct ways of designing or constructing ovens.  Still, a mason who builds fireplaces well and doesn't know anything about brick ovens will build your oven as if it were a fireplace.  It will act like a fireplace: throw heat out, cool off quickly, and make cooking a pre-colonial task.

My wife pointed out that the reason I understand (and continue to gain new insights into building) brick ovens is because I USE THEM.

Without the hundreds of bakes I've done, I would have little clue as to the successful physics of the device.

'Nuff said'

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Elmore Mountain Bread

I met Blair Marvin of Elmore Mountain Bread in Johnson VT at the recent Kneading Conference in Hinkley Maine.
She is a powerhouse of knowledge and energy.  She led her workshop participants through the making and baking of dozens of loaves of artisan bread over the course of two days.

This was a light work load for her as she and her husband bake 700 loaves twice a week at their bakery in Vermont.

Here are some photos:

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