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Tinkering with the oven

Mildrith, the oven, has been confounding, these past few weeks. She gives me enough heat for a single load of bread, but once that’s done, there’s nothing left. No heat left over for the next load! I need to build a second fire to get it up to temperature for the next bake, and that can take up to two hours until I can lay in another load of bread to bake.

Moreover, the loaves aren’t as dark as I’d like. I can’t get the deep chestnut colour I’m aiming for, the charred edges that provide a pleasing burst of flavour and crunch.

Don’t get me wrong. The oven is still making lovely bread and I love using her!

With all this in mind, I turned last week to one of the forums on the Bread Bakers Guild of America, of which I am a member. I laid out my tale of woe, heavy with detail and theories about what was happening. Perhaps there was not enough thermal mass built into the walls. The hearth floor may not have enough insulation. The oven dome may be too high.

Within a couple of hours, bakers from across the U.S. and a few close to home chimed in with questions, theories and suggestions. A couple respondents were eminent bakers, one was the well-known author, Richard Miscovich, whose book, From the Wood-Fired Oven, I had studied closely prior to building Mildrith.

Bakers to the rescue!

There was much discussion about the merits and problems of earth/clay wood-fired ovens vs. masonry ovens. The need for lots of insulation, particularly in the hearth floor. Other bakers raised problems with their own ovens and questioned their designs.

One suggestion directed at me was surprising: fire the oven for 48 to 72 hours prior to baking! This would super-saturate the thermal walls with heat and allow the temperature to quickly return to baking heat after a load of bread is taken out of the oven.

Wow! 72 hours?

Several people agreed. One baker who lives on Vancouver Island, about 50km away as the crow flies, knew we’ve been having very cold weather recently, creating difficult conditions for building heat in the oven walls.

More fire, thermal density, insulation

Another suggestion was to build more thermal density on the hearth floor. He recommended I place second layer of firebricks right on top of the existing hearth floor.

Wow again!

Miscovich was encouraging: “Like with all relationships, it sometimes takes awhile to figure out the best way to make an oven work. I bet your baking continues to improve as time passes.”

What a helpful group! I joined a few months back to see what I could get out of it. So far, it’s been a gold mine of information and cameraderie.

There were other suggestions to help Mildrith, but I will focus on one idea at a time and be patient and kind with her.

As always, stay tuned!

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