It’s the height of summer, and despite the restrictions imposed on us all this year, it’s holiday season.
For me, it is a time for working round the clock, producing ever more bread, and always trying to improve both the quality and the range of products. This month, I was pleased to have the chance to visit a local vineyard which has an old wood fired bread oven, and which the owners have restored. The idea was that we bake a few loaves for family and friends.
Local children were fascinated to ‘help’, and to learn from a practical baking demonstration… With the advantage of freshly baked bread to take home.
For anyone who has not used an old wood-fired oven, it’s a great experience. Several hours before a planned bake, prepare a fire and heat the mass of the brick dome. There is no thermostat, no timer, just a living heat that shimmers and reverberates.
The cinders of the fire are removed and the floor of the oven brushed clean. In our case with heavy wet linen, to cool down the floor of the oven. Flour thrown onto the floor should not burn. If it does, so will your bread. The dome shape of the oven is ideal to ensure that the internal temperature is even throughout. Convection keeps the hot air circulating and ensures all the loaves are equally cooked. And it’s quick, very quick. Just ten minutes and our loaves are ready, sitting on an old wooden table while the next batch bake. In the space of an hour, we had 60 loaves, and an equal number of happy locals.
Of course, the oven is still hot, and as in times past, the guests had brought a variety of dutch ovens and roasting dishes, judging by the amazing odours of roasting, they contained a variety of local produce, cooking to timeless family recipes.
It’s easy to see why the local baker, with his wood-fired oven, was once the focal point of village life.