OverviewBuilding a bread oven was until a few years ago a job for the professionals. But now you can buy a kind of kit which allows you to build your own bred oven without professional masonry know-how. You should know that the kits only provide the main part of oven, the hearth, where you light the fire and cook. All the other parts, need to be designed and made yourself, and it takes a lot more work and time than the hearth.
Here, in a few pages, is how I built and use mine the "Bernard Belpois" model, from my father's name who do almost everything in this saga, from a model 99 kit of the Panyol company.
- Some advice on heating
- Cooking with open fire
- Cooking with closed fire
- Make some bread!
- Slash your bread
- Have a good pizza-party
- Recipes around the bread oven
The principle of the Bread ovenUnlike a conventional gas or electric kitchen oven with a constant source of heat, in a wood-fired bread oven we start by lighting a fire in it, leaving the door open, until the right temperature is reached. During this period, the whole mass of the oven (made with firebricks or equivalent) stores up heat. Then we remove the fire and embers, put bread dough in, and close the door. The accumulated heat is givien off by the oven fabric, and bakes the dough into bread.
This method, called "closed fire", is used for bread, cakes, brioches, croissants etc.
Lighting, heating and cooking
|Start by lighting a small fire in the centre of the oven.|
|When this small fire is going well, add bigger pieces of split wood Split wood burns much easily than whole branches or logs.|
Do not use pieces that are too big, because they burn slowly, and flames are better for heating than embers.
|To begin with, the inside of the roof oven turns black, that's normal due to soot.|
|Continue adding wood for about 2 and a half hours. After this time, the oven pyrolyses: the soot disappears and it becomes perfectly clean again (magic!).|
|The volume of wood is a bit difficult to gauge. To give you an idea, here is the pile before starting...|
|...and at the end.|
|From here on, it's open fire cooking: pizzas for example, still keeping a small fire going at the back or sides of the oven.|
|Once all pizzas are cooked, spread the embers over the whole oven surface and leave for about one hour, to get an even temperature.|
|Then remove all embers and ashes, and clean the sole using a broom or a mop.|
Leave the temperature to drop slowly to about 250°C or 482°F with the door closed (from 30 to 60 minutes or more).
Now it's ready for baking bread.
|Then cakes, tarts, pies, etc...|
|If you plan to make meringues, wait until the oven is at about 100°C or 212°F before starting, so you will be sure to get nice white ones.|
|Still at low temperature, you can dry fruit or other items.|
|Ideally of course, you should optimize your heating by cooking a range of things at the right time. Here is a brief example of timings:|
|And finally, the amateur baker know that if he (or she) puts his wood in the oven overnight to dry, the next fire will be much better.|
Recipes around the bread ovenSee list here.
Some books and links
- Fayol company website, who sell great bread ovens "Le Panyol"
- Barbier company website, world specialist in wooden bread oven utensils: www.societe-barbier.com (in French)
- "Faites votre pain au levain naturel" by Henri Granier (Do your own natural leaven bread in French).
- "Le livre du boulanger" (Baker's book in French) by Jean-Yves Guignard and Pierre Lesjean.
- "L'amour du pain" (The love of bread in French) by Philippe André and Marc Paygnard.
- "60 secrets de boulangerie et pâtisserie" (60 secrets of baking and pastry in French) by Thomas Marie and Christian Odet.
Marcel Pagnol"I will make you bread like you have never seen before. I will knead each batch half an hour longer, and I will mix rosemary in the faggots for heating the oven. And while it bakes, I will not sleep as usual, but I will open the door every five minutes and not take my eyes off it. I will make you a bread so good that it will no longer serve as an accompaniment to other things, but will be food for gourmets... You will no longer say `I have eaten cheese on a slice of bread', but `I've enjoyed a slice of bread under some cheese'. And each day, on top of my usual batch, I will knead 5 kilos for the poor... And in each loaf that I make, there will be great friendship and abundant thanks".
I love the dialogues by French author and director Marcel Pagnol in general, and especially this one, from the film "The Baker's Wife".