Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Italian Bread Workshop

I have often had the pleasure of collaborating with Sandy and Michael Jubinsky to demonstrate brick oven baking at events.
The Maestro

It was enlightening to attend their Italian Bread Workshop at their Stone Turtle Baking School in Lyman, Maine.  www.stoneturtlebaking.com

Measuring ingredients
In addition to the precision that Michael brings to the craft of bread baking, he is both entertaining and informative.  My wife attended the workshop while I photographed it and since then we have been enjoying REALLY great bread.

Here are some captioned photos:

Participants were led through every step with the reasons for the technique described.  Unlike much of the off-the-cuff bread some of us have made (not naming anyone:), Michael stresses measuring every ingredient by weight.
Stretching (instead of kneading) the dough

shaping the dough

scoring the loaf

Great Bread

Monday, July 14, 2014

Brick Oven Testimonial #1

Alanna Doughty
Head baker at Pietree Orchard, Sweden, Maine
See posts on Pietree Oven built by True Brick Ovens

Just before opening for our 2013 season, Pietree's new oven was fired, and we pulled out our first, albeit a bit crispy, pizza.  Through the coming months we learned her temperaments, and began a wonderful bond.  For me, walking outside to the wood pile and spending time splitting and hauling wood, looking up every few swings at the windmill, surrounding orchard and far off mountains, this is where my relationship with the oven began.  I would pull off the outer and inner doors and rake the coals from the night before.  Yes, after nearly 18 hours of no fire, the oven was still at 400 degrees, and I could begin my fire for the next day.  This year I hope to use that morning heat to bake bread and fruit galettes, and the overnight heat for baked beans.  After a perimeter burn, I would bank the fire, and bank again to prepare for the days pizzas. Afternoons were spent baking off rosemary focaccia- not quite as hot as the pizza needed, and yet could take the heat from an open flame.  
I learned to when to stir the coals, when to add small pieces and when to set up my door draft. I learned how fire burns, and what wood burned well and how high to get the flame to lick the top of the pizza's cheese.  The very act of learning and sharing with customers became something sacred for me.

My favorite story is from our last week open in December.  I shut down the oven for the last time of 2013 around 3 on Christmas Eve and asked the crew in the farmstand if they thought the oven would still be warm when we returned on the 27th, 3 full days later.  "No way! It is supposed to be in the single digits the next few days!" Tom exclaimed.  But I believed.  Friday I skipped over to the oven, opened the doors and pulled the trigger on the laser thermometer.  200 degrees.  Amazing.  
Everyone who comes to the farmstand is drawn to the magnificence of the oven, the sheer size alone pulls us in.  Folks walk right past the "employees only" sign to ask questions and watch the fire, or run their hands over the stones on the outside before they are gently reminded to go back inside.  I love that David is a local builder, and I love that some of the rocks came from the fields right here at Pietree.  I love knowing that I can make pizza with fire, with the work from my hands and back.  I love knowing that I have to wait- no instant gratification here.  It makes things that much more delicious.  I hope to have a long, loving relationship with this oven.  I know that if I take care of her, she will take care of me, and produce some amazing food.  

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Brick Oven Doctor

Occasionally, I get emails or calls from people who have a sick brick oven.
"My oven won't get up (to temperature)!"
"Something's really wrong here! The oven smokes a lot and I'm suffering from second-hand smoke (whining)."
mouth too big
"I'm the victim of UNintelligent design!"

I diagnose the problems, which usually trace their cause to the first-time builder/mason or to a design found on the internet.

Brickwoodovens' design doesn't work
Brick ovens are different from nearly every other wood-burning device.  The place where the fire goes is meant to be entirely isolated from the flue and it is intended to hold heat for a long time.
Because of these two factors, improper placement or sizing of the flue will result in ovens that won't heat or that smoke OR ovens that quickly cool down.

perfect draft
plenty of insulation
Dozens of posts on this blog explain the dynamics of mouth/dome proportions, creating good draft, and conserving heat.  The operation manual on my website: truebrickovens.com gives a step-by-step on firing a wood-fired brick oven.

Still, and sadly, there are masons and home builders who want to reinvent the oven.  Then I get a call.
Once an oven is built and all the masonry constructed around it, it is difficult and expensive to fix.

In a recent situation, I likened the oven the person had built by a mason to a car which had a body, wheels, and tailpipe but no engine, transmission, or steering wheel; fairly expensive to repair.

Pompeii, Italy
Pietree oven before stone face

I think that the domed ovens found in Pompeii, Italy and used throughout the world for centuries were and are the perfect design for pizza and bread ovens.  With some modern insulating materials, they retain heat in our time without the need for constant firing.

So, call the doctor if you need to, but better still, build it right the first time.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Brick Oven Builders

Oven in Audrix, France
My portable 'Audrix' oven
Recent visits to this blog indicate that either a lot of people are building brick ovens using information found here OR one person is checking the specs often:)
In either case, congratulations and thank you.

If you are visiting my site and building your first oven, I invite you to send photos of the project.  It not only gives me a sense that the info was valuable, but at times, I see improvements you have made.
If you are a professional mason using this info, let me know.
I can't build every oven that people want and the knowledge we share will improve all ovens built.

In posting detailed methods for building brick ovens (with refinements developed by me over the past years) I hope to give owner-builders of brick ovens an experience of success.

In some cases, I have assisted homeowners to build their ovens, giving them expert coaching so that they save time and produce a professional product.

I have also offered combined builds and workshops for brick oven building, bringing my portable oven to the site so that brick oven firing and cooking can happen simultaneously to the build.

David Neufeld
True Brick Ovens

Friday, May 23, 2014

Wood-Fired Brick Oven Baking & Rosemary Focaccia

One year after finishing the oven for Pietree Orchard (http://www.pietreeorchards.com/), I look forward to witnessing a second season of fruit, vegetables, baked goods, and brick oven firing.

The stone building enclosing the oven
This link
http://www.pietreeorchards.com/?p=1733 will take you to the baker's review and excitement in anticipating a season of baking.  It will also give you a recipie for focaccia, the Italian herbed bread famous for flavor.

the very beginning
Living nearby, I was able to stop by the orchard throughout the season and order amazing pizzas as well as walk away with all kinds of farm products.

I'll be heading up there next weekend for a visit with my Pietree friends and the oven.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Brick Oven Collaborators

Each year I bring an oven to the Northern New England Home and Garden Show www.homegardenflowershow.com/.
This year I brought two ovens: my oldest and my newest.  The 'Audrix Oven', featured in previous posts, performed beautifully.  It is a 45" interior diameter oven with a very large open face and workshelf.  I first saw this style in Audrix, France near where friends have a place.

Cafe Miranda's Lobster dish and Fiore's Olive Oils

mushroom flatbread
Jumbo Oyster
This year's show offered some unique collaborations.  The previous post noted Kerry Altiero of Cafe Miranda.  Other chefs involved in using the oven were, Jean Kerr editor of FLAVOR magazine editor@northeastflavor.com  or www.northeastflavor.com, Eric Milligan of  www.nhmushrooms.com
Pat O’Brien of Fiore Olive Oils in Bar Harbor, ME – Rockland, ME – Freeport, ME www.fioreoliveoils.com, and Sourdough Artisan Bread, baked by me but made by Moutainside Bakery in Brownfield, Maine.

Mountainside Sourdough
A surprise addition to the mix were the Himalayan salt cutting and cooking blocks from Salt Cellar, Portsmouth, NH. These slabs of pink salt allowed us to slice the vegetables for roasting and simultaneously salt them.  http://www.salt-cellar.com/.

And while the Audrix Oven was busy on Sunday, I apple-smoked a natural chicken in the original Pompeii style oven.

Thanks to all the collaborators and to the show organizers, Karla Ficker and Lauren Hawkins.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Cafe Miranda and the French Oven

My weekend at the Northern New England Home and Garden Show was a blast.

On Saturday, May 17th,  I was joined by four chefs over the course of the day.
The first, Chef Kerry Altiero, Chef/Owner of Cafe Miranda www.cafemiranda.com in Rockland, ME prepared:
Maine Wedding Special - Wood Roasted Lobster, Chorico & Mussels with saffron, tomato & orange.
Maine Wedding Special Recipe

What these photos don't show is Kerry's humorous and engaging personality.
Thanks to Chef Kerry for inaugurating my new oven with such a sumptuous meal.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Brick Oven: French style

The 'Audrix' model is going on the road today (posts from Meet the Chefs later).

Here are the final photos.  I encase the brick dome with refractory mortar reenforced with stainless steel threads prior to laying the ceramic fiber blanket to a 6-8" depth.

angle iron below frames hood

Oak lintel fireproofed beneath and behind with steel

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Audrix Brick Oven Build

As these photos will show, I've made progress toward a French style oven that I will bring to the Northern New England Home and Garden Show on May 16-17-18 in Fryeburg, Maine.

pre-assembly of arch and first course
rings and arch over herringbone floor

Brick face around arch to be veneered with stone

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Brick Oven Cooking with the Chefs

On the weekend of May 16, 17, and 18 I, and two of my portable ovens, will be demonstrating at the 'Meet the Chefs' Expo. 
Master baker Michael Jubinsky of Stone Turtle Baking School

Five renowned bakers and chefs will be using the qualities of these brick ovens to showcase their receipes.
This link will tell you more:

I started demonstrating at this even almost ten years ago.  Each year, I look forward to the May weather, the chefs and the food.
I also have given talks on landscape design and stonework, an integral part of my work that can be seen at: northstarstoneworks.com.

If you are near Fryeburg, Maine on those dates, stop in and say hi.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Outdoor Kitchens

The idea of an outdoor kitchen must have originated in warm climates.  I recall outdoor cooking spaces in Mexico, southern Spain, and southern Italy.  They certainly show up in other warm climates and that makes sense.
In the north or where inclement weather is the norm for at least half the year, a 'summer' kitchen is more common.
All New England homes pre-20th century had a summer kitchen, a place where the heat of cooking, canning, and other fire-related activities didn't make the already non-air conditioned living area intolerable.   These room were off the kitchen and had ample windows that could be opened for cross draft.

Today, outdoor kitchens have migrated from the mild, chic, clime of California to every corner of the United States.  They present a challenge to cooks.  Rain, bugs, snow, wind, and generally nasty days make using the kitchen a test of rugged determination.

Most homes in the 'not perfect' weather belt already have screened and three season porches that moderate the negative atmospherics.  This is where a brick oven would shine (or glow).

Number one of recommended additions to outdoor kitchens: a roof or pavillion.
Number two: closeable sides, preferably with solid windows or panels so that the season of comfort can be extended on both ends of the year.
Number three: an association with the living space of the home that puts the brick oven within the working and entertaining space.

If an outdoor kitchen, open to the sky is in your stars, by all means, do it.  If it is possible to plan into the project an option for future shelter, all the better.