Sunday, July 31, 2011

Brick Oven Portability and Starting

The portability of a brick oven depends on its weight. My first portable oven was sized to allow an average forklift to place it on my former work trailer. The lift capacity was 1500 lbs and the 36" oven with a light steel frame and stucco sides came in an ounce overweight. This was easily overcome by my hopping on the back of the forklift.

Starting the fire under the throat (or chimney) lets the air get to the fuel easily and as the fire gains strength it is pushed farther back. The interim between the start of the fire and the baking of high-temp products provides an environment for roasting and broiling.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

It Makes a Village

Each time I demonstrate my brick oven at an event or with friends, the term "Community Oven" comes up.
We seem to recognize that making and baking bread together is one of the activities that defines us as a civilization. At a recent Heritage Wheat Conference the correlation between farming wheat and stable civilization was made apparent.
Whereas 2nd and 3rd World countries almost take the community oven for granted, we as a first World country (here in the US) are reluctant to invest our hope that a community oven will be anything more than another onerous obligation ("It's baking night---sigh--and I'd rather be feet up in front of the flatscreen").

All doubts as to the power of baking as the unifying factor in a group gathering are dispelled when we bring our rising dough to a common oven.  Sure, you can have your own private residential oven but typically, the memories of that oven will be joined to the times when you've had a group of friends over to bake together.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Brick Oven Building without forms

Although constructing a brick oven dome without forms is reputed to be the 'holy grail' of masonry, I found it relatively straight-forward.
The mortar mix needs to be sticky enough and the bricks need to be moist by not wet.
Refractory mortar (brand name Heatstop) with a small amount of Portland Cement added fits this bill.
Sponge moistening the bricks as you go provides the bonding moisture without letting the brick slip. I was able to bond nearly vertical bricks by pressing and holding for 15 seconds. 
The advantage of building without forms lies in the ability to clean the interior masonry of the dome and/or fill any voids between bricks as-you-go.
A form supported dome leaves you with hardened mortar and the need to almost climb inside the oven later (not for the claustrophobic) to fill voids.
A formless dome however requires that the dome bricks fit tightly before the mortar is applied and this is aided by accurate cuts of both the wedge angle of the bricks in each 'chain' and what I call the 'skew' or end-view angle.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Heritage Wheat Baking

On July 14 and 15th Elisheva Kaufman held a grain conference in Massachusetts.  Having met before, she wanted to include a brick oven building and firing workshop in the program and asked me to bring my portable oven.

Each time I see the sheaves of ancient wheat which she and the other presenters are avidly propagating and promoting, the promise of loaves of bread such as my ancestors tasted comes into the present.

If you go to you can access the roster of speakers and much more of the activities that occured last week.

Special varieties of wheat are becoming more available to the artisan baker and bread enthusiasts alike.
Don Lewis of Wild Hive Farm in New York whom I met and baked with, mills dozens of varieties of grain.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Portable Brick Oven Style

I've just finished a 48" interior diameter portable brick oven for a caterer. As with outdoor brick ovens and indoor brick ovens, style is what a custom brick oven can offer. Materials and structural choices for a portable brick oven have to take into account the road-worthiness of both the trailer, the oven, and of course, the vehicle that will pull the oven.

Still, I hesitate to sacrifice the potential beauty that the attending public looks for when they walk up to a brick oven for a fresh-baked pizza or bread.

Here are the photos:

This oven has an Irish limestone shelf and keystone and a synthetic slate roof with a copper cap.
It weighs approximately 4500 lbs and has both high-temp fiber insulation around the dome and 60 cubic feet of loose vermiculite filling the enclosure.
When I fired it to 750 F, the interior was still over 200 F three days later.

The  trailer and oven rode well pulled by a 3/4 ton pickup truck with electric brake controller.