Saturday, August 3, 2019

A Bake with Daniel des Rosier

A couple of weeks ago at the Kneading Conference of the Maine Grain Alliance in Skowhegan, Maine, I managed my portable brick oven for Daniel des Rosier of Boulangerie des Rosier in Quebec (

Daniel and his workshop participants started working earlier than anyone (5am) and continued through the three days culminating in a bake.

Because Daniel does not use a brick oven at his bakery, he depended on me to provide both the oven temperature and atmosphere and an oven that could accommodate multiple bakes on one firing.

Without an undue amount of self-congratulation, I nailed it.  I don't generally due the baking in my family; I'm the fire maker.  Twelve years of experience firing brick ovens has honed my sense of the fire/temperature equation.  Add to this, my advocacy of building ovens with sufficient mass AND excess insulation and I make ovens that will satisfy a demanding (but fun) baker like Daniel.

I was up at 4:30 on bake day having banked the fire the night before.  Daniel had the 520F oven for his four-batch bake of 70 loaves.  Throughout the day, I adjusted the oven for others, sometimes bumping the oven up to 700F for Kerry Altieri's focaccia and back to the 400-500F for more of Daniels breads.  We finished with pastries at about 380F.  A pleasure all around.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Catching the Flue

The placement and the design of the brick oven flue is critical to the function of the oven.

I have heard and seen many mistakes made in this area, mostly due to the assumption that a brick oven is some kind of fireplace.  It isn't.

The goal of the brick oven is to contain the heat from the fire in an isolated chamber.  If air passes through the chamber on the way out of the oven i will be difficult, if not impossible to get the oven to temperature.

Some historic ovens in some cultures don't have flues.  The smoke simply pours out of the chamber and drifts off.  This is okay if the oven is located where abundant smoke doesn't effect the baker.

But nearly all European style ovens, the design that was brought to north America, have flues.
The white oven above is a traditional old Greek oven, no flue and low to the ground.  The oven at the top of the post is one I designed and built for a customer who was born in Greece and wanted it to feel like ones she remembered.  It incorporates a flue so that the baker isn't cloaked in smoke.

Technically, the flue is the hole at the top of the arch between the mouth (the dome entrance) and the face.  The mouth arch allows you to shut the oven entirely with a door.  The dimensions of the flue are in proportion to the oven and the chimney  For instance, if the chimney is to be an 8" by 13" flue tile, the opening needs to match.  If it is a stainless steel insulated pipe, then the area needs to match.

Indoor ovens, as I design them, have dampers (and not incidentally channels that bring air from outside of the space).
Indoor ovens need to have a good draft as excess smoke is not welcome indoors.  Both the diameter of the flue and the height of the chimney contribute to good draft.

Often, you can feel the natural draft even before you light the first fire or you can light a candle and watch the flame being pulled upward.

The actual techniques for constructing the flue opening vary depending on the size of the oven and the materials.  Refer to past posts for details on arches, mouths, faces, cutting bricks etc.

Good draft means no soot on the face

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Brick Oven Building Workshop at 2019 Kneading Conference

In case you will be there:
2019 Kneading Conference Workshop Spotlights
Brick Oven Building Workshop 
Led by David Neufeld of True Brick Ovens

This workshop will  cover the technical aspects of building brick ovens with fire brick. Throughout history, the dome has been the traditional and most durable shape for brick ovens.  Starting with the readily available rectangular fire b rick, attendees will be shown how to shape bricks to form a perfect dome.  Construction of the oven mouth and face arches as well as flues will be demonstrated.  Detailed hand-outs covering the insulation and mortar materials will be available to assist anyone going on to construct an oven on their own.

David has built over 40 residential, bakery, and restaurant ovens since founding True Brick Ovens in 2008.  His work as a stone mason extends back nearly fifty years.  Learn more about David's work:

Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Ubiquitous Brick Oven

One of many ovens at Fort Clinch, FL
Kitchen in Telfair Academy house in Savannah, GA
Prior to the twentieth century, brick ovens were everywhere.   In Italy, they are as common as barbecue grills are in the U.S.  In the rest of Europe, you can find one in every town, whether it is in use or not.

Community oven in Urval, France (circa 1500)

community oven in Audrix, France

Seldom used oven in small French town
2000 year-old bakery oven in Pompeii, Italy (Vesuvius in background)

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Grey Market in Savannah

Sometimes ya just can't help but meet great people.  And then sometimes, there are amazing coincidences.  Matt, the baker for The Grey Market and The Grey in Savannah, Georgia took our order at the market one recent afternoon.  I had the fried oysters with chow chow on some great baguette-like bread.  Afterward, he asked how it was (I try new foods wherever I go).  I said the oysters and chow chow combo was great and so was the bread.  "I'm the baker" says he.
The Grey Market
"oh, I build brick ovens for bakers" says I.  "I was a baker at Eataly in Boston and LA." he goes on.
"A friend of mine, Don Lewis of Wildhive Farm supplies the flour for Eataly." I follow.
"Don! I learned to bake from Don." Matt says.  
"Get outta town!" I shout (not too loud).   We talk about Don, who is also a great guy.
"I might need a brick oven some day." he says.
As often happens, I don't have a card on me.
Matt writes my company name on his arm.  His co-worker says he does that with important stuff.
This is all to say, that casual conversations, even light compliments can lead anywhere.

If this leads you to Savannah, say hi to Matt for me.  And have a lunch at The Grey Market.  Later that week my wife and I ate at the counter of The Grey (featured on this season's Chef's Table). 
Both places were great.  Flavor, friendly, and beautiful.
The Grey Restaurant (counter)
The Grey (old Greyhound Bus Station)

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Are We Here Yet?

Bridgton Academy humanities outdoor classroom I designed
modelled on a tower remnant with a breach in the
wall through which runs a dry stream
I look to PLACE In both my brick oven building and my landscape design.  Paul Gauguin named one of this most famous paintings: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? 

I add to this: Are We Here?  
My meaning goes to how we design and build.  Shall we acknowledge the present and give respect or perhaps echo the past?  We may do this structurally, narratively, or historically.  At best, we can do this all three ways at once.
So years ago, I was asked to build a large brick oven for Pietree Orchard in Sweden, Maine.  I would also be building the stone building that enclosed the oven.  The owners wanted most of the stone to come from the property and since New England farms and orchards historically cleared many tons of rocks from the fields, this was easy (except for the sheer weight).

The project progressed from the initial building of the oven dome to the structure that would enclose it.  Some work could be done with machines; other work needed smart use of muscle and levers.

The result (judge for yourself) is a building that appears to be old, AND will outlast all the other structures.  It is fired up in early May and does not cool down until after Christmas.

Nearing the top of the back wall.

Warming or bread rising space

The oven, the moment before the first firing.

The attached stone building with chimney

The finished oven in action

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Brick Oven Tools and Tricks

Having the right tools to cook with is a given.  Unless you don't.  You may improvise but the results may be awkward.
Knowing certain tricks of a trade can make the difference between struggling to get results and cruising through the process.

Here are both as applies to brick oven use.

Peels, both wooden and metal are for introducing and removing food

An assortment of stainless steel pans is useful for broiling
 Metal peel used for introducing focaccia to oven
Wood peel for placing pizzas in oven

Curved steel ash dam against coals prevents edge of pizza from burning
Door set  up  on thin bricks is way of controlling burn
In addition to the above, a hollow tube can be used to puff off the ash on the floor (after scraping or brushing the ash) when preparing to cook directly on the oven floor.

Knowing the temperature of the floor, dome and other parts of the oven is most easily accomplished with an infrared thermometer.  Choose one that reads up to 900F as your oven will reach that temperature at times.

Handles of two hoes can be seen at right side of oven.  Peels and pans on right wall.
Conveniently located tools such as hoes for pushing wood and ashes, and the cooking gear may be hung close by.