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'.


  1. I am enjoying your journey to "The Perfect Crust"! We have similar issues with flour here. Only 2 local flours and they differ only in their fineness. I imported (i.e. smuggled in) wheat gluten for my bread and it made a huge difference. But I am not the baker that you are, I just bake very standard bread in a regular oven. It is fascinating to follow along with you! Looking forward to the next stage ...

    1. I don't consider myself a great baker Wilma, I make a lot of mistakes, mostly because I have a tendency to play fast and loose with the rules lol but I am retired and I enjoy baking so I am making it my mission to 'get it right', after all, this is what life is about when you get to my age. I am pleased that you are enjoying the blog. Eventually, I hope to put recipes up too - once I have it sussed, if ever I do!