Posted on 2 Comments

A Primal Connection: Wood-Fired Sourdough

For the poet and mystic in us, building an oven, gathering the wood, tending the fire and baking in this way connects us experientially with one of our oldest civilized rituals. “Remembering” our past … helps us to momentarily touch base with our deeper selves and awaken briefly to our place in the broader web of the biosphere that supports and sustains all life.

— Alan Scott, 1936-2009, oven builder, baking traditionalist

The virtues of Mildrith are no secret to readers of these pages. She’s the wood-fired oven behind the Happy Monk Baking Company. But many — bakers and customers alike — are a little skeptical about my preference for wood fire rather than a conventional electric oven to bake my bread.

Baker’s hours are long and hard enough! Rising in the dead of night to bake can’t be avoided. So why add extra hours and expense, ordering firewood, stacking it, chopping it, setting the fire and tending it to get the oven to baking temperature. Wouldn’t it be easier to just switch on a deck oven and twist the dial to 450ºF?

Of course it would.

Indulgence

It’s true I’m indulging myself, baking with Mildrith. I enjoy handling the wood and firing the oven. I love all the steps. I love keeping a close eye on the temperature, raking out the coals, sweeping the hearth floor, then closing the oven for a while to let the surface temperatures equalize.

Loading the bread is panic! Fitting 10 or 11 loaves without losing too much heat means working fast and efficiently. There can be no distractions as you flour the peel, dump the dough from the proofing basket, score it, open the door, shoot the peel inside, slide the dough in place, mark a spot for the next load of dough, shut the door. Repeat. Then, when it’s all loaded, sealing off the oven with a heat plug draped with a wet towel to inject a little steam inside the baking chamber.

Waves of Radiant Wood-Fired Heat

And there is the supreme pleasure of opening the oven 20 minutes later to see those loaves fully puffed up and browned, the waves of heat carrying the delicious aroma of baked bread. No heating elements, no convection fans humming away, just a bold radiant heat that you’ve patiently built up over several hours.

Those loaves may need a few more minutes to finish. They may need to be moved around to prevent scorching or to find more caramelization of the crust. So you leave them for a few more minutes while you line up the dough baskets for the next oven load.

Mildrith can do three to four loads on one firing. As a wood-fired oven, she’s turning out to be pretty efficient.

“Wood-fired” is The Happy Monk aesthetic. To me, there is a continuous line between wild-yeasted sourdough and baking in a clay oven, heated by a roaring fire. It is a primal connection. It is the way bread was made for centuries. It is the staff of life, made of grain harvested from the fields, milled into flour, mixed with water and leaven and baked with fire. Bread is central in all cultures and has been made the same way, everywhere. Flour, water, leaven, salt and fire. It is part of the human experience.

The Ancient Connection

Delicious, wild-yeasted bread can indeed come from an electric oven. It may look different. It will probably taste the same as a wood-fired loaf. But eating a wood-fired loaf is a different experience … unquantifiable, important. I’ve spoken with many bakers who use electric ovens. Many of them harbour a desire to build a clay or masonry oven at home to make their own bread. They know that fire may not make better bread, but they understand the ancient connection, and that makes all the difference to me.

Fry’s Bakery, Wildfire Bakery, and Fol Epi ‒ all in Victoria ‒ use wood-fired ovens, and as a bread enthusiast, I have become spoiled with the choices. These companies were part of my inspiration for starting the Happy Monk Baking Company here on Pender Island.

There is nothing quite like watching these massive ovens firing up, heat blazing across the bakery. Or seeing dozens of beautiful loaves being pulled from the oven on long peels, baked with radiant heat. These are masonry ovens that will stay hot for days and weeks. These are loaves that are connected to the distant past, the Indian tandoor, the brick ovens of Pompei, the clay bread ovens of the Quebec settlers.

I am still learning the ways of Mildrith, how she holds her heat, how she likes to be tended. I am hungry for knowledge about using my oven to make bread in that ancient connection. And I couldn’t be more pleased to be heading in that direction.

First look at the last load of bread. The pan has an old towel and water to provide steam, while the bread rises.

Happy Monk Tidings - September 28, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: The Approachable Loaf; Blog: This Island of Apples; South Pender Growers and Makers Market [ See LinkTree in Profile ]
.
.
.
#apples #applebread #applelove #approachable #approachableloaf #breadlabcollective #breadlab

Happy Monk Tidings - September 28, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: The Approachable Loaf; Blog: This Island of Apples; South Pender Growers and Makers Market [ See LinkTree in Profile ]
.
.
.
#apples #applebread #applelove #approachable #approachableloaf #breadlabcollective #breadlab
...

21 0
Happy Monk Tidings - September 21, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Harvest Bread; BLOG: Greetings from St. Francis and Mildrith; The Wood-Fired Oven's Back in Business [ See LinkTree in Profile]

Happy Monk Tidings - September 21, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Harvest Bread; BLOG: Greetings from St. Francis and Mildrith; The Wood-Fired Oven's Back in Business [ See LinkTree in Profile] ...

17 0
Introducing this bread, Raven Ring Bread (a take on Hapanleipä, a Finnish bread) a recipe borrowed from @ravenbreads. The stand is made by my neighbour, Ken, a gifted woodworker. See you at the South Pender Growers and Makers Market, if it don’t rain too hard!

Introducing this bread, Raven Ring Bread (a take on Hapanleipä, a Finnish bread) a recipe borrowed from @ravenbreads. The stand is made by my neighbour, Ken, a gifted woodworker. See you at the South Pender Growers and Makers Market, if it don’t rain too hard! ...

66 5
Happy Monk Tidings - September 2, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice : Volkornbrot (German Rye); Blog: The Golden Loaf of Gorsefield Rye; NOTE: We're closing two weeks for Mildrith Maintenance [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - September 2, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice : Volkornbrot (German Rye); Blog: The Golden Loaf of Gorsefield Rye; NOTE: We're closing two weeks for Mildrith Maintenance [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

21 0
Happy Monk Tidings - August 24, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice this week: Spelt and Honey Sourdough; Blog: The Great Kind Mystery; SPECIAL NOTE: Mildrith needs an upgrade [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - August 24, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice this week: Spelt and Honey Sourdough; Blog: The Great Kind Mystery; SPECIAL NOTE: Mildrith needs an upgrade [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

40 0
Happy Monk Tidings - August 10, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Double-Fermented Oat Bread; BLOG: Resuscitating Mildrith; Reminder: No Bread Next Week! [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - August 10, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Double-Fermented Oat Bread; BLOG: Resuscitating Mildrith; Reminder: No Bread Next Week! [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

34 0
It was a dirty day, Wednesday. The sky hadn't been washed, the ocean was soiled, and the air was muggy and smelled oily. Then, moments before the rain started, the sun shone through and a glorious slash of colour opened up. And a rainbow! No unicorns, sadly.

It was a dirty day, Wednesday. The sky hadn't been washed, the ocean was soiled, and the air was muggy and smelled oily. Then, moments before the rain started, the sun shone through and a glorious slash of colour opened up. And a rainbow! No unicorns, sadly. ...

55 4
Happy Monk Tidings - August 3, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Anadama Bread; BLOG: Dog Days of Summer; Special Note: No Bread August 19 [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - August 3, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Anadama Bread; BLOG: Dog Days of Summer; Special Note: No Bread August 19 [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

35 1
Dog days. The beginning of summer mellowness. Baked in languor. But sometimes it's hard to let go. Shouldn't I be baking something? [See LinkTree in Profile ]
.
.
.
.
.
.
#penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery
#happymonkbakingcompany #dogdays #dogdaysofsummer #southerngulfislands
#southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #southerngulfislandsbc

Dog days. The beginning of summer mellowness. Baked in languor. But sometimes it's hard to let go. Shouldn't I be baking something? [See LinkTree in Profile ]
.
.
.
.
.
.
#penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery
#happymonkbakingcompany #dogdays #dogdaysofsummer #southerngulfislands
#southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #southerngulfislandsbc
...

37 0
Happy Monk Tidings - July 27, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Whole Grain White Wheat; Blog: Call Me Ishmael; Video: How the U.S. Ruined Bread; Announcements [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - July 27, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Whole Grain White Wheat; Blog: Call Me Ishmael; Video: How the U.S. Ruined Bread; Announcements [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

26 0
Happy Monk Tidings - July 20, 2022 🍞 - BAKER'S CHOICE: Rye and Currants; BLOG: Blessed; EXTRA: World's Oldest Sourdough? [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - July 20, 2022 🍞 - BAKER'S CHOICE: Rye and Currants; BLOG: Blessed; EXTRA: World's Oldest Sourdough? [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

26 1
Happy Monk Tidings - July 13, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Bird Seed Bread; Blog: Down to the Crossroads, Medicine Beach; Baking your own bread guides - [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - July 13, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Bird Seed Bread; Blog: Down to the Crossroads, Medicine Beach; Baking your own bread guides - [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

31 0
This is James Morton, my father, who would have been 100 years old today if we hadn't lost him 36 years ago. I've surpassed him in living age and spent more years without him than with him, yet he still whispers in my ear and is a great listener when I talk to him. Taken at 14th Ave. and Burgess St., Burnaby, 'round about 1955. Handsome devil, ain't he?

This is James Morton, my father, who would have been 100 years old today if we hadn't lost him 36 years ago. I've surpassed him in living age and spent more years without him than with him, yet he still whispers in my ear and is a great listener when I talk to him. Taken at 14th Ave. and Burgess St., Burnaby, 'round about 1955. Handsome devil, ain't he? ...

57 10
Happy Monk Tidings - July 6, 2022 🍞 - BAKER'S CHOICE: Cinnamon-Raisin Bread; BLOG: Filling the Belly: Words vs. Loaves [ See LinkTree in profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - July 6, 2022 🍞 - BAKER'S CHOICE: Cinnamon-Raisin Bread; BLOG: Filling the Belly: Words vs. Loaves [ See LinkTree in profile ] ...

42 1
How many times have I seen these loaves tumble out of the oven! If I’m not in a rush, I like to pile them up and just stand near them a moment, feeling their heat, hearing them crackle, their glorious warm aroma! Seems like a miracle, been working hard since the dark hours of morning, heard the first birdsong, seen freighters moving silently through Boundary Pass, a gentle breeze coming up from the ocean. I know I’ll pay for all this later in the day with fatigue and there’ll be several days catching up with sleep. Is it worth it all? Three years into Happy Monk Baking, I still say yes. Happy sleeping, everyone!
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bakery #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #breadmaking🍞 #sourdough #sourdoughbread #rusticbread, #breadhead, #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #penderisland

How many times have I seen these loaves tumble out of the oven! If I’m not in a rush, I like to pile them up and just stand near them a moment, feeling their heat, hearing them crackle, their glorious warm aroma! Seems like a miracle, been working hard since the dark hours of morning, heard the first birdsong, seen freighters moving silently through Boundary Pass, a gentle breeze coming up from the ocean. I know I’ll pay for all this later in the day with fatigue and there’ll be several days catching up with sleep. Is it worth it all? Three years into Happy Monk Baking, I still say yes. Happy sleeping, everyone!
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bakery #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #breadmaking🍞 #sourdough #sourdoughbread #rusticbread, #breadhead, #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #penderisland
...

55 5
Happy Monk Tidings - June 29, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Rustic Peasant Bread; Blog: A Pinch of Salt, A Pinch of Life [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - June 29, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Rustic Peasant Bread; Blog: A Pinch of Salt, A Pinch of Life [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

23 0
Happy Monk Tidings - June 22, 2022 🍞 - Bakers Choice: Sprouted Rye and Seed Bread; BLOG: Henry Miller and the Staff of Life — [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - June 22, 2022 🍞 - Bakers Choice: Sprouted Rye and Seed Bread; BLOG: Henry Miller and the Staff of Life — [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

27 1
Happy Monk Tidings - June 15, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Cranberry-Pecan Sourdough Bread; Blog: Breakfast on Bloomsday https://mailchi.mp/4c924688ed54/happy_monk_tidings_june15

Happy Monk Tidings - June 15, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Cranberry-Pecan Sourdough Bread; Blog: Breakfast on Bloomsday https://mailchi.mp/4c924688ed54/happy_monk_tidings_june15 ...

17 0
Fun at 4 in the morning … first load of bread in the oven, first light, first birdsong, making the treacherous walk back inside with a tower of bannetons. In the rain.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
#bakerslife #bakersofinstagram #baking #baker #woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #bread #sourdoughbread #sourdough #bbga #realbread #naturallyleavened #artisanbread #artisanbreadbaker #rusticbread #breadhead #breadlove #breadhour #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries

Fun at 4 in the morning … first load of bread in the oven, first light, first birdsong, making the treacherous walk back inside with a tower of bannetons. In the rain.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
#bakerslife #bakersofinstagram #baking #baker #woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #bread #sourdoughbread #sourdough #bbga #realbread #naturallyleavened #artisanbread #artisanbreadbaker #rusticbread #breadhead #breadlove #breadhour #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries
...

73 4
Happy Monk Tidings - June 1, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Fig and Fennel Sourdough; Happy Monk Blog: The Golden City [ LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - June 1, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Fig and Fennel Sourdough; Happy Monk Blog: The Golden City [ LinkTree in Profile ] ...

23 2
Post to The Happy Monk Baking Company
Happy Monk Tidings - May 25, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice this week: Sprouted Kamut Bread; Blog: A Paean to Rye Bread: Deeply Felt and Honest [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Post to The Happy Monk Baking Company
Happy Monk Tidings - May 25, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice this week: Sprouted Kamut Bread; Blog: A Paean to Rye Bread: Deeply Felt and Honest [ See LinkTree in Profile ]
...

20 1

2 thoughts on “A Primal Connection: Wood-Fired Sourdough

  1. I can soooo relate to the primal energies and connection with fire and ‘old’ ways …. it is truly fulfilling, real and the energy of all that coming through in the finished product. Simple …. yet truly amazing ……

    Thank you so much for taking the time to do this.

    1. You are so welcome, Les, and thank you for the feedback. There is nothing more mesmerizing than watching the flames in a roaring fire, feeling the heat coming off it. Harnessing that heat by using it to cook food is an amazing thing. I don’t think anyone forgets this. It’s written in the genes.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.