November 29, 2013

Kneading, baking, and fire the trickster

"It is in our human spirit to build ovens, behold fire, bake bread, cook food, and provide for ourselves."
-Richard Miscovich

This past summer, my sweetheart and I fulfilled our long-time dream of attending the famous Kneading Conference in Skowhegan, Maine. The previous year, we had heard rave reviews from friends who went and described it as THE ultimate place of convergence for bakers, grain-growers, wood-fired oven connoisseurs, and generally-speaking, lovers of dough. I mean, at what other conference do you get to stuff your face with baked goods fresh out of the oven in just about every workshop you take part in? Pizza, sourdough bread, scones, bagels, baguettes, cookies, acorn-flour pancakes, you name it, it was there, being baked to a level of expertise that the average person rarely witnesses. Needless to say, the conference was one of the highlights of my summer. I tried to capture the spirit of the gathering in this short video. 

At the conference, I spent a lot of my time learning how to build an earth-oven from filmmaker and oven-building guru Stu Silverstein. (My boyfriend was pretty excited to meet the man who directed his all-time most favorite film!) After the conference, I came home and promptly purchased the materials necessary to build my own earth-oven, though the actual building of it will be a project for the new year (and one which you will certainly hear about in a more detailed post!) 

The conference's keynote speaker was Richard Miscovich and since the conference, I have been devouring his book, From The Wood-Fired Oven, which was put out earlier this year by my all-time favourite publisher Chelsea Green

As a friend who was leafing through the book exclaimed, "this book is hard core!" Indeed, this is the ultimate must-have book for anyone interested in wood-fired ovens. The first few chapters begin by explaining in meticulous detail how a wood-fired oven works. It then proceeds to show the huge spectrum of foods one can prepare in these ovens. Most of us are familiar with wood-fired pizzas and breads, but Richard also explains how to use an oven's full range of temperatures, from its peak heat to its slow cool-down. He explains how to make outstanding breads and pizzas, but also foods that use the lower ranges of the oven as it cools, such as braised vegetables, baked beans, beef jerky, dried herbs and infused oils. It is a thrifty economical take on how to use every last morsel of heat generated when we fire up our wood-fired oven. I think it's safe to say that it is the most in-depth book ever written about cooking in a wood-fired oven.

We recently fired up our outdoor brick oven to make some pizzas. Notice our two trusty "guardians of the fire"!

After the pizzas were out of the oven, I had my first attempt at a recipe from Richard's book: his French spice bread (Pain d'Épice), made entirely with rye flour, which, as you may remember from this post and this one, I am quite fond of, especially since my sweetheart grows rye. There was one major hitch though. In true glutton style, I went straight for the recipes in the book, neglecting to properly read Richard's detailed section on "Temperature Monitoring". A rather important oversight when it comes to the powerful world of fire. Oops. 

Well. I don't often show my cooking failures on this blog (though there are many of them), but this one was simply too good not to share. Here it is again, in broad daylight.

As you can see, I managed to carve out the inside of the cake, which was actually pretty moist and delicious. But yes, before I fire up our masonry oven again, I will be well-equipped with an adequate thermometer, most likely an infrared 'point and shoot' and will have reviewed in detail Richard's instructions on monitoring temperature. Stay tuned for a successful version of this recipe! My wood-firing adventures have only just begun. 

1 comment:

  1. I don't think that worked out very well, even though I kind of like the steel blue color of the outer crust...