Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Too Hot for Fire!

It's bee quite a while since I posted on here.  That doesn't mean that I haven't been cooking with fire, I have but just haven't either deemed it worthy enough to post about or it was simply a repeat of previous successes.  I mean, how often can I post pictures of bread coming out of the oven?

When we designed the outdoor kitchen we decided to include a back wall of open work bricks.  The idea being to allow heat to escape.  During the summer we experience temperatures up around the 40C mark on a regular basis and on these days cooking in the house becomes problematic (i.e. it raises the temperature in the house to unbearable levels) and it should in theory be more comfortable to cook outside. Here you can see the open work bricks let the beetles in too!

This has only been partially successful.  The bread oven is simply too hot in summer.  Open work bricks or not I am now not baking bread at all.  This is a bit sad because I do prefer my own home baked bread but I find that not only is it too hot, working in front of a raging hot oven is not something I can cope with at the moment, but also it is sooo hot I have very little inclination to do much beyond some very basic cooking.

Fortunately the BBQ really comes into its own now.  Simple grilled meats and veggies from the garden accompanied by a salad make for the best of summer lunches.  Here the sweet corn are steaming inside their own natural covering (the outer leaves) only seconds from being harvested in the garden.  Pork chops sprinkled with a little salt and paprika will be teemed up with a warm lentil and pea salad (sage, oregano and spiced vinegar give it a summery lift).

The spiced vinegar is left over from making pickled cucumbers and will be fine used in salads.  The little pot is full of butter, a little smoked salt and some cumin, this will be mashed together and then smeared on our warm corn on the cob.  What could be simpler?

No not a Molotov cocktail that's the vinegar bottle that doesn't have a cork!


Sunday, 17 April 2016

Pizza Pants!

Such a disappointing day.  Sigh.

Flushed with success from my bread making session the other day I planned a pizza lunch.  The oven is, after all, a pizza oven and I haven't yet made pizza in it.  I didn't invite anyone because the potential for failure was high.

I used a recipe from YouTube... (URL HERE)   Along with accompanying video... What could go wrong?

Let me tell you.

1. The fire was ready long before we were hungry.  I then spent an hour letting it die down a bit then coaxing it back to life.

2.  The dough did not look like the dough from the video. I don't think I kneaded it enough.

3.  I made enough dough for 2 x 12 inch pizzas.  My peel is not big enough for a 12 inch pizza it's also not round.  So I made the pizzas smaller.  This meant the dough was far too thick in the centre and combined with juice from the tomatoes just went soggy.

4.  I used bought tomato Frito as the base. It's not actually tomato paste, I haven't actually seen tomato paste in the shops here, I think I will have to make my own in future. Anyway tomato Frito is too thin. Lesson learned.

Although Man ate his pizza, Woman threw hers in the bin!  Beyond disappointing!

Thursday, 14 April 2016

It's Been A While

...Since I lit the oven.  I have made bread in the meantime but I mostly cooked it indoors in the electric oven.  Yes, quicker, easier, less worry... but then I pulled my socks up and said get a grip girl.

Today I made two baguettes and two plain white loaves.  In the bread oven.

There is always that little moment of anxiousness about the fire but this time I was a lot more relaxed about it.

I set it going, then added a few more logs, then simply left it alone to its own devices.
Two hours and the fire burned down and the dome was white and I closed the door to put the fire out. I removed most of the embers but didn't want to lose too much heat from the oven so left a very very few at the back and sides.

Bread went in.  Door shut.  Timer set.  Meanwhile I started a lentil stew on the parrafin burner outside.  Now I don't know if anyone has one of these?

But if so I would love the proper working instructions.  It smoked dreadfully.  And if I turned it down it cooked too slowly.  Then it started spluttering and whooshing flames quite high.  So I put it out and used the little camping gas cooker instead.

You can see here how very black it has made the outside of my pot.  Not happy with that.  Anyway, it just goes to show that you don't need fancy equipment to cook alfresco.  The camping gas cooker was great for a one pot meal.  After the bread came out of the oven I put a tray of flapjacks in and also the lentil stew pot.

The bread looks a little dark but it was actually really well cooked... a lovely crispy crust and perfectly cooked inside.  The oven was definitely hot enough to do more but I didn't have anything else prepared.

All in all well Woman is well chuffed and Man is full!

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

English Muffins

It's been a while.  I bet you thought I had given up.  Well no, but my last efforts left me feeling a little despondent with the wohle amount of work vs the end result thingy. Hence I haven't made anything in it for a while.

But I haven't given up on fire totally.  The wood burning stove in the house has been on most nights as the weather still hasn't  really warmed up enough to stop lighting it.  So we have had several things cooked in it for our evening snack.

Here I am cooking English muffins which are normally done on a griddle pan.  I kept the door open and gave them about seven minutes on each side, it worked.

We ate them with goats cheese and balsamic vinegar and some with lemon curd.  They were best while still warm.

Plans are afoot for a pizza session.  I want to invite friends but I feel I should practice first... or just wing it.... what's the worst that can happen?

Woman feeling cavalier.  Man just plain hungry.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Right Lets Get it all Co-ordinated!

Today was a bread baking day and I was determined to get the oven and the sourdough ready at the same time....

It started well.  The sourdough was doing its thing since yesterday morning and I decided to spice things up a bit by adding some seeds and sultanas to the dough - no recipe... hey lets just live dangerously!

I soaked the seeds first because I read recently that it makes them more digestible and I have issues with digestion.  But then they were very wet.  I can't add them to the dough that wet.  So I had to try and dry them off with tea towels.  It was kind of successful.

I added them to the dough after the first two rises and then put them into the baskets to prove.

I made a bog standard plain loaf at the same time - yeah I felt bad about abandoning the bakers in the village, I mean they give me the yeast for free these days because I buy the flour from them... and we chat... and I meant to bring up the subject of the sourdough to kind of ease them into the idea that I might not be coming for yeast any more... oh and of course eventually I might not be coming for flour either....

Anyway, I had hoped to do some sewing today but realistically bread baking is a whole day affair when you use the oven.  The fire took really well and the oven heated really quickly... just as well since the bread dough had been ready for a while.

So nice to have a warm day when I can leave the bread to prove outside

OK.  So I should have taken the embers out, but the last time I did that, the oven cooled really quickly.  But the ambient temperature was about 19C today and I think that made a difference... the oven was too hot for the bread.  I left it as long as I dared to cool but then just had to put the bread in.
Don't know why I look at it... it lies!

Yup.  It was too hot.

The white loaf is recoverable... not sure about the sourdough.  Haven't cut it yet.  Actually I am totally cheesed off!  I don't seem to be learning much at all when it comes to the oven.  Every time I use it, its different and what I know doesn't seem to apply... so it's like the first time every time.  Sigh.

Woman says Never Give Up, Never Surrender.  Man says... it might be ok if we cut the crust off.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Sour Dough - The Ultimate Slow Food

Now I am not sure that this post belongs here or over on Food from the Finca (my general cooking and recipe blog) but since I began the sour dough journey here I think I will keep it here.  Suffice to say that this particular post does not include lighting the wood fired oven.  Shock Horror!  Yes I know but suddenly the bread became centre stage and I didn't want to risk spoiling it by trying to do too many complicated things at once.

I used to make sourdough bread on a regular weekly basis but it has been years since I did that.  And refreshing my memory by re-reading my books has highlighted that although I did make sourdough bread I didn't actually give it the time and attention that I should have.  Well my excuse on that one is that I don't really like my bread too sour and I was also a very busy girl with a family and a business to run as well as trying to do the 'Good Life' in a semi detached in Oxfordshire with two allotments about a mile from the house.  Yep... that's busy.

Now I have some time (well... retired so although I am busy I choose what I want to do) I thought I would really do it properly.  Bread that takes it's time is generally tastier than a 'quick' loaf.  Bread made with natural leavens and no yeast requires time to develop both taste and enough natural yeast in the dough to make it rise.

My starter or Fred as we call it was ready to use.  I took out about a hundred grams of Fred and added a hundred grams of Organic Rye flour and a hundred grams (yup I weighed the water) of water.  I left this mixture at room temperature for about six hours.  Room temperature at this time of year is on average around 17C going up to 19C in the evening when the fire is on.  After the six hours I added 200 grams of flour and an equal 200 grams of water and mixed it up.

I left it for about another four hours at room temperature to make sure that it was continuing to be active... sure enough just before going to bed it was definitely active.  I wrapped it in clingfilm and put it in the fridge for the night.

First thing in the morning I took out my leavened flour mixture and let it come to room temperature again when I would be able to use it to make bread.  The complicated bit is the next bit.  You need to understand what Bakers Percentages are... because it isn't just simply a case of following a standard recipe.  The leavened starter needs to be between 20 and 40 percent of your mix (with the weight of flour being 100%).  I had Man make me an Excel Spreadsheet to work it out.

The flour (I used half white and half wholemeal) and the leaven and 1% salt is put into a bowl and the water added.  I don't follow any percentage for the water at this stage because every flour is different and some need more and some need less water.  I simply added sufficient water to make a pliable dough.  And then I kneaded.

I had to split the dough into two portions because I can't knead any more than a kg of dough at one time, it's just too much hard work.  I used a simple formula for making kneading easy.  I knead the dough for five minutes and then put it to rest for fifteen minutes.

Then I repeated, kneading for another five minutes followed by fifteen minutes rest... and then once more.  So the dough was actually kneaded in total for fifteen minutes with rests of fifteen minutes every five minutes.

I told you this was Slow Food!  Then the dough is left to rise for about three hours (four would be better).

After three hours rising I knocked the air out of the dough and shaped it and put it into proving baskets.  It was then left for two hours to prove (three would have been better).

After the proving time was up I baked the loaves in the electric oven.  After all that faff I just couldn't work out the timing for lighting the bread oven.

To be honest the bread is so slow that it would have waited for the oven outside but I just chickened out.  It is a tad cold today and really I think I should have lit it yesterday to pre-warm it if I really was serious about using it for bread today... (excuses).  Next time, I'll do it.

Man bought a new gadget which is intended to check the internal temperature of meat (not that he doesn't trust my judgement, we've been married thirty years and I haven't poisoned him yet) without realising that it is perfect for me to use on bread.  The internal temperature of bread when it is cooked is 94C, no doubts... no tapping the bottom of the loaf and wondering if it sounds hollow enough.  Although nearly every bread recipe and bread book tells you the loaf is done when it sounds hollow, the truth is, the loaf is not always done when it sounds hollow - you can still get a gummy bit in the middle even though your loaf gave you a resounding 'dong' when you tapped the bottom.

15 minutes at 220C followed by 45 minutes at 190C and it was done.  I knew this because the first loaf was cooked for half an hour at 220C and wasn't cooked when I tested it.  So it went back in at a lower temperature for another half hour.  The bread was fine, a little crusty due to the long time at the higher temperature but still very yummy. You can see that this is going to be challenging in the bread oven outside.  You can't just turn the temperature down.

The second loaf was done perfectly.  Yay!

And an hour later when we cut it?

Oh My!

Woman really really smug.  Man says the two day wait was worth it, thank you Fred!

PS. Fred has been happily cooling in the fridge for two days now.  He needs feeding today.  Normally I would discard half of the mix and add some fresh flour and water and then put him back to cool his heels for about four days before repeating this exercise.  Or instead of throwing away half the mix, use it to make another bread starter.  Today instead of discarding half of the mix I am going to add it to a pancake batter and make savoury pancakes to be layered with a spicy sausage mixture and then covered in tomato salsa and cheese and put into the oven - lunch sorted.

Monday, 15 February 2016

In search of the Perfect Crust!

Before investing in the bread oven I read a lot of books about clay ovens and related stuff.  I also spent a lot of time on the internet watching youtube videos of people using their ovens.  The arrival and subsequent firing of my own oven was filled with trepidation.  A lot of it was to do with the fact that the builder dropped it and I still wonder if I am yet to reap a nasty surprise because of that, but putting those thoughts aside, I had felt fairly confident that I would suss out how it all worked and start making great artisanal bread very soon.

I have been a bit disappointed with my results so far.  Yes all of my baking efforts have been edible, but it's quite a stretch from edible to the 'amazing' results I was expecting.  Apart from the first firing when I actually burned parts of the loaves I have never achieved that crunchy chewy sweet crust that you would expect from an artisanal loaf.  In fact the loaves appear to be getting more and more bland, each time I use it.

Now it could be that I have been concentrating on getting the fire right - and I am almost there with that one - and so have let the ball drop on the bread front.  With that in mind, and I am sure that it has been in the back of my mind for some time, I have begun a sourdough starter.

I used to make regular sourdough bread in the UK and I brought my starter (which we named Fred and kept in the fridge) with me to Spain but with all the stress of the move and finding and buying the finca I allowed it to die.  That's a shame but not a catastrophe as it's really easy to grow a new one. There are numerous recipes online and in just about every artisanal bread book you can buy so I won't give my recipe here.

At the moment it's a very immature 'Fred' but will be ready for making great sourdough bread in about another week or maybe two.

The other thing I did was to revisit my bread books and my bread oven books.  It all makes so much more sense now that I actually have an oven and have been practicing with it.  And the first big discovery I had was that my oven is not actually a bread oven.

It is a pizza oven and there is a bit of a difference.  I can still bake bread in it but knowing that it is actually designed to make pizza rather than bread will help me understand how to use it better.  And you know, I still haven't made pizza in it!

The dome of a bread oven holds the heat for a very long time which enables you to faff around with the door open for a while and possibly bake several batches of bread in a row.  The pizza oven is designed to be used with the fire still in it, albeit pushed to the back or the side, the dome is then constantly being 'fed' heat from the small fire still burning which cooks the top of your pizza.  It does retain heat but it doesn't keep the fierce heat that bread needs for very long.

So.  How do I go about making bread in it?  Well I have to plan to fill the oven as much as possible in one go, because one batch of bread is likely all I will get, unless I rekindle the fire and start the process all over again for a second batch.  I should not bother with trying to wash the oven floor as I am simply losing heat that is not being replenished.  Yes I could remove the embers but it might be better to let them burn down to ash with the door closed and then simply sweep them to the edges of the oven.  If I am concerned about ash on the base of my free form loaves then I could empty the embers and then blow any remaining ash up the chimney with a quick blast from the bellows - I am inclined not to bother though since I am going to lose more heat by keeping the door open for such a long time.

There are numerous other little things that now make sense, that I wasn't doing before, for example, free form loaves need to be cooked first as the tin loaves can cope with a longer slower bake.  baguettes should be done even before that, when the oven is really too hot for other bread, especially since I cook mine on special baguette trays which keep them off the direct heat of the oven floor.  I need to leave the door closed rather than keep opening it to check on the loaves - be brave Jane!

But most of all I think concentrating on improving my basic dough will go a long way to achieving my goal of the Perfect Crust.  And towards that end I have resorted to buying flour online.  I normally buy my flour from the local bakers along with fresh yeast.  Well, the baker stocks only one kind of flour - white.  The bakers is very traditional and they don't do different types of bread as you would expect from a small bakers in the UK.  If I stop buying the flour (and the yeast since I now have Fred) I no longer have any need to return to the bakers.  But I think I do need to stop buying the flour.

When I say the flour is white, I really mean it.  I am pretty sure that it is bleached and it is definitely bland and probably not especially good for you.  So why did I continue to buy it?  Well you can't get much else around here.  They have a whole wheat flour in the supermarket in a nearby town but it is also quite 'white' compared to what I was used to getting in England.  Almost like everything has been really cleaned and then put back in together.  You can buy special flour for Tempura batter and you can buy flour for cake (self raising) but they rarely have any speciality flours.  I did find a spelt flour in Carrefour but that's a long drive from here.  And since the bread is only going to be as good as the ingredients I decided I needed to up my game.  So.  I found this place .  And they will send me the flour within a couple of days apparently.  The perfect crust is coming.  I can feel it!  Man eats pretty much anything but he likes that Woman has started a new 'Fred'.