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.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Brick Oven Floors

 I have frequently stressed the need for a well-insulated floor for brick ovens.  Without sufficient insulation, the heat you put into the oven floor will migrate into the slab below and be wasted (aside from messing up the bottom crust of you baked goods).

The product Foamglas is my go-to choice as it is solid, waterproof, and easily cut.  Other, clay-based products will turn to mush if wet, a major downside in outdoor situations.

As shown, a metal ruler with appropriately spaced holes makes a compass for laying out the floor and scribing dome diameters.

I lay the floors in herringbone pattern for two reasons:
It looks great, but as importantly,
so that the pizza peel has no lateral minute seams to catch on.

 After scribing the exterior, the bricks are cut to the arc and replaced.

No mortar is used in any of these steps.

For restaurant or bakery ovens, a subfloor is laid straight.
Second floor goes on top, herringbone pattern

Double floor ready for dome build