Friday, December 28, 2012

Bread Sells Houses

Michael Jubinsky, owner of Stone Turtle Baking and Cooking School in Lyman, Maine needed to sell his house in Rhode Island.

His broker called to say his house would be shown to a couple at the end of a day in which they would have seen ten other houses.  'Ugh!' thought Michael (or some other appropriate comment).

Michael, being a precise and expert baker, put together the ingredients for cinnamon rolls, placed them in the oven and timed them to be done the moment the prospective buyers walked in the door.

And they did...

They were greeted by the smell of 'home sweet home' (and incidentally, not only full liscence to consume the cinnamon rolls fresh out of the oven but also to take the leftovers away with them).

The broker called minutes after the visit (a bit miffed) to say that he already had the people ready to sign for another place (presumably more expensive if he was miffed), but they signed for Michael's.

He and his wife Sandy were able to move to Maine and start what has become a premier baking school.

Thus was proven that a loaf of fresh bread (or cinnamon rolls) can move that house that you've had on the market for months.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Forward to the Past

Brick oven design has evolved in a few significant ways.

  • Modern wood-fired ovens on the market today, although claiming to be brick ovens, are by and large, cast refractory.
  • Designs for many current ovens don't leave enough access to the interior --the area below the flue is narrow.
  • All brick ovens built today can take advantage of space-age refractory insulating materials to retain heat for long periods of time.

My current brick oven design is tending more toward the original proportions of the ovens I saw in Pompeii--- wide opening at the face, generous throat, and smaller but proportionally precise mouth.

The Ventura, California project is a good example. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Ventura Brick Oven

Some good sunny days have let this outdoor brick oven project progress well. 

A load of almond wood has been delivered, unique to California and seeming exotic to this New Englander.

For aesthetic reasons, the herringbone floor pattern centered the small triangle of brick in the center of the mouth.  All bricks were set from there out.  The outside diameter of the oven was scribed on the floor and the perimeter bricks cut on a saw. 

 Floor bricks on 'foamglas' and woodbox below
From the initial slab and base, layout of the floor bricks, construction of the dome (flashback to that in the next post) to the steel reenforced exterior walls (to be faced with stone) encompassed 10 days.

This project is planned to have a stone roof. 

But before that, the oven will be 'cured' and then pre-heated to drive the water of construction from the masonry.

A little rest now for the holidays.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

California True Brick Oven

This project in Ventura, California is set alongside a patio on a small hillside property.  Space constraints and aesthetic considerations prompted a cantelivered block to support the oven base slab.  Also a monolith pour of the top and arched face will allow me to mortar finish stone to a solid structure while giving the whole a strength capable of withstanding tremors.

The layout and construction of monolithic forms often takes longer than mixing the actual concrete to fill them but the reenforced result is worth it.

Supports on the interior and cement board that remains part of the structure made form work a bit simpler.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Test Firing

Every brick oven I build includes a curing fire, a test firing, and an inservice, which has a remarkable similarity to a pizza party.

This Youtube was produced by Great Falls Construction the GC's who oversaw the project.  Thanks to Todd for doing this and to Jeff Barker, the man on the job.

This other Youtube was made by a customer, showing the lighting of the oven and the making of a barbecue chicken pizza.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Positive and Negative Space

Perceiving an object requires that we distinguish it from its surroundings. The joke about a blank piece of paper being ‘a polar bear in a snowstorm’, applies to our perception.
Painters and sculptors refer to positive and negative space. Positive space is the object we are able to perceive. Negative space is the background that allows us to see that object. In landscapes, the tree is the positive and the sky is the negative.
Applying this to landscape design, we may choose to remove masses of confused greenery in order to accentuate a specimen tree. We may also take advantage of a mass of greenery by planting or building a contrasting form in front of it. We might ‘cut’ a hole in the greenery to form a dark shadow. Each of these changes creates the negative space needed to bring the desired focus to the design.
Buildings and rooms need the same balance of positive and negative space.  Distinguishing one object from another is a matter of prioritizing and choosing which will be the object of attention and which will be the background upon which the object is set.
Because brick ovens often become the focal point of a space, I am careful to balance its presence against the other features of the environment.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Building the Perfect Brick Oven

That would be the one you're working on or dreaming about.

Sometimes working with other people makes a project shine.
The oven in St. Charles, MO which I  just finished on Saturday, Dec. 1 was made better by the assistance I got from the owners and from two masons who took time out from other tasks to help me.  Though the 5' by 4' oven was a big build, involving hundreds of bricks and over a thousand cuts, the result is illustrated here and in my mind, so worth the attention to detail.

We three masons noted that where a is space limited from front to back (not side to side as in this case) the mouth could be built into the elongated section of the dome.

Next spring (actually beginning in February under shelter) I will be building a 54" interior dome oven for an orchard/bakery.
From the first conceptual idea, this is a collaboration, and I look forward to working with contractors I already know and some I've just met.

Many projects require the effort of a number of people.  The final spirit of teamwork becomes part of the resulting building.

Over the course of time, refining the design for the brick ovens I build has led me closer to the real brick ovens of Pompeii, Italy.

A generous, wide space in front of the mouth for handling the baked goods also works for residential and modern baking ovens.  As I've mentioned before, the ability to see and manage the interior of the oven by having a wider face than the mouth is not new; the oldest ovens were built that way.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

To What Purpose?

We can imagine the visual equivalent of music when patterns repeat and shapes reappear.  In nature and in cultivation, our eye is drawn to repeating patterns, the layers of hills as they recede into the distance, a row of corn, an orchard. 

Each of these patterns initiates a response in us, very much like music, that often equates with an emotion or a state of consciousness. For instance, the repeating forms of hills in the distance relaxes me and also gives me a sense of the infinite.

Forms found in spider webs make me smile, wonder, perhaps even feel whimsical. Applying this recognition to landscape design lets me use familiar patterns to create gardens that feel original but have a solid base in our visual experience.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Woodbox arches

Most brick ovens have a space beneath the oven floor that accommodates wood storage.
When I designed an oven for a colonial era house in New Hampshire, I incorporated genuine antique brick in the woodbox.
Since I was pouring a slab for the oven and I wanted the entire woodbox to be made of brick, I set antique bricks on the arch form, and filled the space above with concrete, reenforced with rebar. This effectively mortared the brick in the roof of the wood box with little effort.

In another oven, I used the same form to support the stones forming the arched face.

Note that arch forms need to be raised on shims that can be removed after pouring, allowing the form to drop and slide out.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Really BIG Wood-fired Brick Ovens

In Lauren Collins' "Bread Winner" article in the New Yorker December 3, 2012, she gives us a well-developed portrait of French bread making by the Poilane family of Paris.

It's worth reading.

The description of the 'manufactory' designed and built by Lionel Poilane, will delight proponents of wood-fired artisan bread.  Imagine "Twelve airy bakehouses-- each equipped with two ovens, and named after an important figure in the history of bread-- radiate like spokes from the core."

Whew! As a brick oven builder and baker, I am vicariously intoxicated by the image of "a sea of wood engulfed the room's perimeter, lapping the ceiling, which was twenty feet high."

As I said, read the article.  It may well be a model for the kind of bread production that can occur when quality, care, and an avid consuming community (Paris!) get it.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Painting and Sculpting a Garden

Viewing a landscape as a painter or sculptor would gives us the ability to avoid confusion. Think of it this way. Any landscape painter looks at the subject (a big, big world) and must choose which of what he or she sees will get into the painting. It can fairly be said that a landscape painter doesn’t paint every tree leaf or blade of grass in view. The portion of the landscape captured must also be a deliberate choice.
Landscape design begins with choices. Out of all the elements in the existing plot of land prior to design, some must be kept and some removed. Very rare is the blank canvas of landscapes. Even rectangular flat plots of land are set in a neighborhood. In landscape design, the backdrop counts. We cannot ignore a distant mountain or a neighboring colossal oak.  Or the buildings.

What is your existing canvass? What will you add, paint over, or enhance?
A similar need to choose elements arises when designing indoor spaces or added an element (such as a brick oven) to an existing building, room, or outdoor space.

my house and pond  (self-designed and built)
In this case, the brick oven's dominance as a social magnet and large piece of masonry can be considered against the surroundings.  Unlike a table or chair, brick ovens aren't 'moveable'.  
I often propose a number of location and design solutions, recognizing that for each place and each person, the 'right' place may be slightly different, especially based on the intended purpose for the oven.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Spiking the Wood-fired Oven

I've posted a few times on the 2 meter brick oven in Audrix, France, which I have visited a few times and which is fired every Tuesday morning for a noon market.

The baker arrives with two large tubs of rising bread dough and within 3 hours has the oven fired to temperature and 60 or so loaves baked to perfection.  This in an oven that has no apparent insulation.

The method used there is called (in English) 'spiking'.  It is when just the surface of the interior brick is brought to baking temperature and the baker moves only one batch of bread through the oven before the heat has migrated farther into the brick dome and floor.

By observation and practice, 'spiking' involves having very dry start-up wood followed by small dry high-btu material (in the Audrix oven, walnut shells are used).
A north American adaptation of this would use cabinetmakers scraps of hardwood (off-cuts and ends from cherry, oak, maple no larger in diameter than 1")

The second technique I observed is a very fast introduction of the loaves.  The Audrix baker, Jose, was able to cut, form, and load 60 loaves in about 15 minutes.  With the oven door shut and the oven FULL of moist bread loaves, the dough produced large quantities of steam without additional introduction of misted water for the steam that makes a fine crust.

Spiking is useful on a small scale or residential oven when you have only a few items to bake.
The key is dry material and fast release of BTU's.