I am learning about fire. I am not quite so scared of lighting the fire now... I've done it a few times to date. Adding more wood while its raging is a bit scary still but I am coping. The trick with the fire is that you need it to burn hot. How hot it burns varies with the type and condition of the wood you use.
I had kiln dried this batch of wood in the cooling oven the last time I used it. So in theory it should be really dry - its already at least a couple of years old so is well seasoned. Mediterranean oak.
I also discovered eco friendly fire lighters. They are made from compressed cardboard and they work really well. I got a lot of smoke at first. And then a bit of flame Hoorah!
The flame was encouraged by use of a hairdryer. It sort of worked. And then when I added more wood it reverted to smoke again. mmmmmm.
You see I figured that I need to have all the bits of wood put on the fire very early on so that they all catch alight around about the same time and it makes a BIG hot fire. If you let some of it catch and then you keep adding more wood in small amounts it seems to retard the flames and you revert back to the smoke stage.
Well... to cut a long story short... I got the fire to go really well. It was big and hot. The flames shooting up the chimney and very little smoke.
And the dome turned white after only about an hour or so which is really quite quick. I was very happy. I had already made the bread dough before lighting the fire. You see if your bread dough is fighting to get out of the bowl like this....
You just knock it back with a light kneading and put it back in the bowl to rise again. This gives you roughly another hour before it needs to be baked.
Taking longer over the dough improves the flavour so you could in theory keep doing this all day long with no ill effects to your finished bread. I expect there is a limit... but I haven't found it yet.
The embers are really hot and the oven is so hot I can't put my hand in it... this is more like it! I love it when the dome turns back to white... it looks so clean.
Too hot for bread of course but I decide to clean it out properly and wash the floor of the oven with a cloth in water.
This will cool the oven to the temperature that I need for bread. At least that's the plan. I put the glowing embers into the bbq tray and later (they stayed warm for several hours) used them to cook a couple of steaks for lunch.
A short wait. Not long. Maybe fifteen minutes and the bread and rolls were ready to put in... but.... the oven now was really cool. Grrrrrr. It had started to rain and the ambient temperature was quite cool but it shouldn't have made that much of a difference... should it? I could feel the heat through the oven on the outside but inside I was able to put my hand in really comfortably for ages. Sigh. At some point I shall get a laser thermometer but in a perverse way I am enjoying the excitement of not knowing and just trying to use my experience to guess. It gives bread making an extra dimension (anxiety over wasting ingredients and time is acute!)
OK so rolls that normally take fifteen minutes took half an hour and even then were a bit pale looking. The loaves of bread took an hour. Still very pale but cooked. So... not perfect. Next time I shall not clean out the oven until the bread is ready to go in straight away and I will try and do it very very quickly.
Taking advantage of the heat still in the oven I made a stew - just chopped veggies and some pork pieces, a little bit of seasoning and then topped up with stock and popped it into the oven. It will do for tomorrows dinner. Which was a blessing since I am still under the weather and the less I have to cook the better.
The rolls were delicious for lunch with the steak and some green beans and bacon on the side. A good learning day I think.