|The Artisan Bread School 2010|
|My new flame: Le Panyol 83|
Fast forward two years, and I ordered my oven in June 2012. It took me four months to find a qualified masonry person who was willing to do a task as small as mine. Since its arrival in October, I'd been scouring the Internet, reading as much as I could about how to use my new toy. Needless to say, it didn't come with instructions. Along with the 2,400 pound crate, it arrived with a manila envelope that included the state requirements proclaiming the materials made were "safe for human use", and a 15-minute video of how to start a fire in the oven. Instructions on how to actually use the wood-fire oven must have gotten lost in the mail!
|Overnight Dough with 70% Hydration|
There are not that many wood-fire oven books on the market. Some of the ones that are out there have have well written oven-management instructions, but the recipes included just do not sound appetizing. The books written by chefs have recipes that sounds more appealing; while I have not tried every recipe in the book, I have cooked many meals and eaten great meals in restaurants to know if the recipe reads flavorful!
With much experimentation and night time reading, I roasted, baked, sautéed, and braised meals for three months. Since June 2012, I've added five wood-fire oven books to my culinary library collection. I've baked pizza, roasted meats (whole chicken, pork chops, sausages) roasted vegetables (fennel, parsnips, red potatoes), and baked artisan breads (sourdoughs). Somehow, I end up overcooking either the vegetables or the meat. I found myself cooking the last batch of bread using a flashlight. Rather than waste time and money in overcooking meals and wondering if I'm using heat optimally, I decided to enroll in a wood-fire oven class.
I've known about The Stone Turtle Baking and Cooking School for several years now, and decided to pay them a visit!
NOTE: The rest of the blog talks about my experience at a wood-fire oven course. This blog post goes out to those who are interested in having a wood fire oven in their back yard, are in the process of building one, or enthusiast owners like myself who are in a similar predicament as I am, wondering if what you're doing is the best practice!
|Hall and Shelly learning the basics|
Class experiences varied from folks who already own an oven (built or purchased), who wanted to learn oven management, are in the process of buying one to have a wood-fire oven business, or wanting to expand their cooking and baking abilities with the wood-fire oven. Ultimately, everyone wanted to learn oven-management techniques
|Anesthetist, Principal, Store Owner, Bakers, Doc|
Building a Fire
Step by step, Michael walked us through the steps of starting a fire. From stacking wood properly to managing a burning stack of wood until it died to ruby red embers, he explained the importance of the techniques that work for him.
|"The Sandy Technique"|
|Separate the colors, who knew?!|
|Piping Hot Pita Breads|
One advantage of taking lessons from a master baker like Michael is that he gave us knowledge that took him six years to learn, (i.e., what types of skillet pans work best, which oven gloves keeps your hands the safest.) I really appreciated his openness in sharing with us his words of wisdom!
Enjoyed a bounty of breakfast treats from the oven: yogurt with granola and fresh fruit, cinnamon rolls, and piping hot coffee!
Our Turn to Play:
Today, it was our turn to start the fire! It was teamwork. David assembled the wood around the edge of the oven, like a jigsaw puzzle. Each wood overlapped one another, ensuring that there was enough of a gap for air flow. Hall and I started the wood lattice in front of the oven opening, starting with large pieces of wood to medium-to-small pieces of wood, and added kindling which was lit and pushed between the large pieces of wood. After about 5 minutes, once the lattice woodwork caught on fire, Teagan pushed the entire pile of wood towards the far back. The building of fire is no big secret. It is quite similar to starting a fire in your fire place. Although after today, everyone will develop their own technique.
|Preheating the skillets|
|Foolishness with Poolish|
Ultimately, the class was meant for us to learn and understand oven management. In doing so, we got to cook wonderful breads, pizza, and vegetables along the way in order to use the oven in various temperatures. During the higher temperatures (700-800 degrees), the vegetables were roasted (asparagus and red potatoes) and we cooked pizza. In the 600-700 range, chicken and mussels were sautéed. In the 400-500 degree range, we baked 22 French batards. Taking advantage of the cooking temperatures, a citrus herbed and Greek herb infused lamb roast was prepared, and for dessert, a beautifully caramelized apple tartine.
|Simple Pleasures in Life|
The class was a success for everyone! We all came away with more knowledge about the oven, great recipes, and tools. For me, I have learned to be more patient with my oven and with myself! I need to spread out my cooking and baking over several days and not try to do it all in one day!
|Ready to Peel|
Thanks to his artistic and talented wife, Sandy and their illustrious helping staff of four, Michael was able to spend time answering our questions, offering bread-baking, pastry-making, and hearth-cooking advice throughout both days without missing a beat. And if he did miss a beat or two, Sandy was close by to lovingly remind him.
Books I Recommend:
Wood Fired Oven Cookbook (Holly and Davis Jones) The book is thorough. Section on Lighting and Controlling a Fire (with photographs); Menu Ideas and Timing Guides, Both from the UK, Holly is a chef and Davis, a trained baker...classic dishes, and all types of recipes (flavors of Greece, Britain, Morroco,etc..) that are easy to cook-all geared for the WFO. Recipes for Pizzas and Many Toppings, Fish and Seafood, Veggies Meat, Breads, Puddings and Cakes.
Wood-Fired Cooking: Techniques and Recipes for the Grill, Backyard Oven, Fire Place and Campfire (Mary Karlin) A good overview of cooking options for the home cook. She has a section on Wood Fire Basics, Developing a Cooking Plan and a chart of Hardwood and Fruitwoods (flavor profile, heat level, and coaling quality). Mary Karlin is also a chef - having taught at the Culinary Institute of America in Greystone, and other culinary schools.The recipes in the book are amazing. Chapters include Baking Flatbreads and Rustic Artisan Breads, Wood Fire Grilling, Campfire Cooking, Wood Fire Roasting, Claypot and Cast Iron oven cooking, savory tarts and galettes baked on the Hearth, Low and Slow: Braising to barbecue. The recipes are rustic, wholesome, and easy. She chooses to include recipes that takes advantage of the flavors that you'll only get from a WFO.
Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way (Francis Mallman) He is a famous chef in South America - illustrating all the techniques of how food is cooked using fire. From a parrilla -cooking on a grill- similar to a Tuscan grill....to a clay oven, using embers and ashes, using an iron cross, to a cauldron. He explains how to build a fire in your back yard and cook elaborate meals - his recipes are South American-influenced (empanadas, ribeye with chimichurri,etc,) His meals are gourmet and elaborate, compared to the others, but the preparations are worthwhile.