We Have Bread — Sort Of

As my dad used to say, “Call Walter Cronkite!” Almost a year later, it looks like my earth oven might finally be dry.

I fired it up last weekend and lo and behold, it actually got hot. So hot, in fact, that I burned the bottoms of the loaves because I haven’t exactly got the temperature-gauging thing down yet. But after that layer of carbonized crust was lopped off, the bread was actually quite good. Maybe I can do this.

CommentsLeave a comment

  1. says

    Wonderful! “Burnt bread is better than no bread,” I always say. So glad your earth oven is firing up and producing toasted lovelies. Always wanted one of those… ahh maybe someday. Please keep us posted on future firings!

  2. says

    Congratulations Susan… And welcome to the world of WFO hearth baking. Getting to know your oven and it’s firing/baking times and temperatures will take a few attempts (but is very fun yet interesting). There are many ways of gauging oven temperature the old fashioned way like how long you can hold your arm in the oven and the everpopular “strewn flour on the hearth” method. An IR thermometer is the easiest way of course and will make the process much quicker.
    Best wishes again and looking forward to future WFO creations from you.

  3. says

    Holy oven woman!! I’m so incredibly jealous! I’m sure it won’t take you long to get the temperature gauging down pat, and you’ll be turning out gorgeous hearth breads in no time.

  4. says

    Wow! You not only make your own bread, you make your oven! That is very cool. Can’t wait to see more breads produced by your wood oven.

  5. says

    Wow, it took a year to dry???? I was wondering what happen to this oven for a long time, since you never mentioned it in your post. Voila!!!!! Can I bring over my dough to bake at your earth oven one day???? I don’t mind if it the bottom burn a bit. My husband really want oven like this, because he wants me to make Iraqi bread that he used to have when he live in Jerusalem. Hmmm, quite tempting really, but waiting for a year to dry? that is a long wait!
    Bread look gorgeous, even with the black bottom!

  6. says

    Oh wow. I have always day dreamed about owning and using a real earthen oven to make bread. (Not knowing how to make bread was just a minor detail.) This is incredible!

  7. Linda says

    Congratulations!!! It’s been a long time coming – I am sure it will be fun to learn to work with the new oven’s ‘personality’

  8. says

    I know you are thrilled to be baking in your oven! It does take a little experimenting to learn the oven, but it won’t be long until you are as adept outside as you are inside. We keep a thermometer (plain old oven thermometer) inside the oven to know exactly what the temp is before baking. The shorter time for pizza is easier than bread, but you still want to know your temp. Enjoy!

  9. says

    Wow, what a great adventure. So cool to have your own breadoven in the backyard. I’m sure some experimenting will let you bake perfect bottom too real quick! Congrats on the inauguration of your oven.

  10. says

    That oven is gorgeous. Even if it never stops burning bread I bet it looks great in the yard.

    You know what I’m thinking… pizza, pizza, pizza!!

    Please keep us updated on the bread situation. How exciting!

  11. says

    Pain croustillante! I remember in Bethesdabakin in Wales we used a bodger oven, almost all the bread got torched initially, so we went to baking pizza, a five second operation then as the oven cooled in went baguettes, followed by batards and a final miche or two!
    You will get it, takes time to know your oven, can’t wait to see more loaves coming out!


  12. 247 says

    suggestion for the burnt bottom syndrome. first up cook pizzas which will go down really well, then finish off with baking bread, after the oven has cooled off a bit. i have even experimented with lemon tarts which too need a cooler oven. god luck

  13. says

    Congratulations to the inauguration of your oven.
    On the second picture there still seems to be a wee bit of open space on the right , so how about building a tandoor next? ;)

  14. says

    My aunt saw instructions for making an outdoor earthen oven and we both drooled at the prospect, both of building one and baking bread in one.

    But we haven’t gone any further because I thought it might be a bad idea to do in a four-season climate. Do you get any blizzards there in northern Cal.? ;p

  15. Katrina says

    I’m rather new to your blog, but when I saw this I had to comment… I’ve spent a LOT of time working with outdoor wood-fired ovens.

    I used volunteer, and then later was hired to work as a historic interpreter at a site that had a school program where kids (4th graders) would come in and see how people lived “back then”. Their parents were trained to do the various tasks, and the kids helped. One of the stations that they worked at was the bakery, and the oven was basically a larger version of what you have (ours was big enough that you had to crawl completely inside it to patch the bigger cracks when they developed). When we trained the parents on how to gauge when the oven was at a good bread baking temperature, we had them throw a handful of cornmeal onto the floor of the oven. If the cornmeal turned a nice toasty brown in about 10-12 seconds, it was about right. We’d start by throwing cornmeal in as soon as the fire was pulled out and the floor swept with the sponge (really a wet rag on a stick… used like a mop to get up the worst of the ashes/coals). The oven was hot enough at that point that the cornmeal began smoldering and turned black within 3-5 seconds (sometimes it would actually burst into flame as soon as it hit the oven floor). If the cornmeal *didn’t* turn black immediately after the fire is pulled, the oven wasn’t heated long enough. What we were aiming for was burnt cornmeal as soon as the fire was pulled, then as the oven cooled to baking temperature it took longer and longer to toast the meal until we reached the magic “toasted at 10-12 second” mark. Generally, if it took about a half hour for the oven to cool to baking temperature once the fire was removed I knew the heat would last through at least two loads of bread (or one of bread and one of cinnamon rolls or cookies). Once that temperature was reached, the oven was loaded, the wooden door (actually wood with a copper liner on the inside face) closed with a piece of wet burlap as a seal, and the vent was stuffed, also with wet burlap. The wet burlap kept the door from burning up too quickly, functioned to steam the bread during the first stage of baking, and allowed better control of the oven temperatures. We used the oven on average twice a week, and the door would last for 3-4 years before it needed rebuilding if we took care of it. The burlap needed to be replaced more frequently.

    As for ovens in wetter/colder climates, you can build a roof over it. Sink four posts and make the roof high enough that stray sparks from the vent won’t catch the roof on fire. A roof about 8′ on a side and 7-8′ tall should be large enough for a small-medium sized oven. If you’re planning on using the oven in cold/wet conditions, make sure that you start with a really small fire and build it up VERY slowly. We had successful bakes in some pretty significant rainstorms (no snow around here). The biggest danger with baking in the rain was cracking the oven if it was heated too hot too fast. We aimed for building the fire up over 2-4 hours and then keeping it at a nice hot burn for about an hour before letting it burn down and pulling the embers out. Keep a hose/bucket of water handy at all times.

  16. says

    Hey, I didn’t you have an outdoor oven! My husband, at this very moment, is pouring the slab for his/our brick oven. I will have to read up on your posts and catch up! He is doing this totally from scratch and wants me to bake bread in it….I’m a little leary, but will definitely learn from you! He tells me that a neighbor of ours that has a brick oven (and inspired him to build one) has an infrared device that you just point into the oven and it will register the inside temperature. There is also a metal cover that can act as a door to the entry…let’s keep in touch!

  17. says

    You patience has been rewarded and now you can enjoy baking in a real stone oven. Terrific!
    In our wet climate in the Netherlands building a stone brick oven outdoors will stay a dream.
    Well, keep us informed about your adventures.

    How’s the running part? It will be a nice adventage that you can eat more carbohydrates?

  18. Matthew says

    Your oven building posts had inspired me — there’s a foundation hole dug in the front yard, just off the porch; I’ll be building and cobbing for the next few weeks.

    I live in the desert though, so it may dry a bit faster.

  19. says

    There are many ways of gauging oven temperature the old fashioned way like how long you can hold your arm in the oven and the everpopular “strewn flour on the hearth” method.

  20. Doug says

    You might want to purchase an infrared laser thermometer to take temperature readings of the hearth and walls. It might be a valuable investment if you are going to bake breads in your brick oven often.

  21. matthew says

    Congratulations! I’ve also been playing with my oven lately, it’s fascinating experimenting and learning about your own oven. Here is my first bake http://sourdough.com/forum/baking-bread-brick-oven. I had another go last weekend and timed the bread better, but still need to work on the firing to get heat storage up to where I’d like it. I’m sure you’re going through a similar process to me.


  22. Jude says

    Even with a regular oven, I still get sort-of loaves similar to yours. The learning process with getting to knows such an oven must be so much fun, though.

  23. says

    I have to admit I’m a bit jealous. I want such an oven, too! Would you like to spend some holidays in Spain and building one for me? ;-)

  24. says

    Just stumbeled upon your site and love it wish I had done so years ago. I have pictures of my oven on my website.I think a door is important both to hold the heat and let it equalize during the “soak” period. my Italian friends said they would use a chicken feather to guage the heat in the oven. Greg

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