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:

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.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

French Model Brick Oven

After six years of building 'Pompeii' style  brick ovens (more or less the classic Italian style seen everywhere), I am building a 'French Model' brick oven.  This is not an experiment in AI (artificial intelligence) or any commentary on the fashion world.

On the two occasions I visited the Dordogne region of France,  I stayed within walking distance of Audrix, where every Tuesday, Jose Boulanger fired up the community brick oven.  The design of the oven differs from the Italian oven in that the mouth is a barrel arch and the flue is faced with a lintel rather than a second arch.

My French Model, hereafter referred to as the Audrix Model, is being built in a modified horse trailer.  The dimensions and access doors of the trailer make it a suitable adaptation.  The rear doors, customarily there to keep the livestock in, will fold open to provide side working space for baking.  The double axle wheels are set far back so that the weight of the oven sits directly over the wheels making transport stable (no pun intended).

Naturally, the portable model will not have the full stone exterior. The face will look similar to the original oven in Audrix and the flue will exit between the oven mouth and a lintel above the front shelf.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Brick Ovens, Pizza Ovens, Bakery Ovens

I have a habit of putting on the brakes or detouring on foot when I see a sign that advertises Wood-Fired Brick Oven stuff.

I'm always looking to learn just one more detail to make the brick ovens I build better.  I can find these details by looking at better ovens or worse ovens; they each have something to teach.

I find it remarkable, when I walk into a joint that advertises Brick Oven Pizza, to find an oven that is not made of brick!  They are often the cast refractory concrete shells surrounded by some walls, with perhaps a brick arch on the face.  This would be like someone putting a Ferrari sticker on their VW and calling the Bug a race car.  That said, brick ovens are ovens in which the interior dome or vault is made of true bricks.

Pizza ovens are a special breed.  Cast-refractory shells, especially residential models, are made to heat up quickly, get the pizza done, and then cool off relatively fast.  Their minimal shell thickness doesn't store a great amount of BTU's and often they are not super-insulated.  They can make great pizza.  Cob ovens, the clay, sand, straw mix that comprises a mud dome oven, work for pizza but transmit heat to the exterior rapidly.  They are the perfect solution for someone wanting a pizza oven at very low cost.  They aren't 'permanent'.

Bakery ovens need a lot of mass and, in my opinion, benefit from a lot of insulation.  If I want to produce hundreds of loaves of bread on one firing, I need to have an oven that can maintain my desired temperature for ten hours.
The bakery ovens I've built have 9" of mass in the dome, 5" in the floor, and 8" of high-temp insulation over all.  They lose an average of  100F per 16 hours.  Three days after firing, the oven is still hot enough for baking.
In addition to the mass and outer insulation of the bakery oven, an insulated inner door prevents loss of heat.

As always, we seek to match our oven to our needs, and often, our economics.  Therefore, a cheap cast oven that may last ten years is actually more expensive than a brick oven that can last 100 years or more.
An oven with a lot of mass, saves time and firewood.

In many ways, the bakery oven is the most versatile. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Lava-Fired Brick Oven

Arenal from across the lake
On a recent trip to Costa Rica, I found that brick ovens were popular.  While staying and hiking below Volcano Arenal, a very recently active mountain, I came upon a remarkable oven; heated by lava.
view into oven

When I asked the proprietor how he came to use hot lava for making pizza, he said,
satisfied customers
"En el año 2002, cuando la parte superior de la montaña explotó he tenido la gran idea.  Así que cavaron un agujero en la ladera del volcán, lo suficiente como para que el calor se dispara en el horno. Nunca tuve que cortar la leña o esperar a que el horno a calentar bueno.  Aún los tomates crecen mejor en la tierra caliente."

Roughly translated, he doesn't need to cut firewood anymore or wait to heat up the oven.  Even his tomatoes grow better on the hot slopes.

Warning Kids:  Don't try this at home...