Bread is the staff of life and while you can bake bread in just about any oven, there is nothing like baking bread in a wood oven to give you great flavor and an incredible crust.
The Basics of Bread Baking
In order to make a loaf of bread, you need four ingredients: flour, water, yeast, and salt. From this base, you can make any kind of bread you want (for unleavened bread, you would not use a leavening agent like yeast). There are a few basic steps to bread baking. Plan to follow these steps:
- Scaling the ingredients - Measuring the ingredients is called scaling because bakers use scales to get a more accurate measurement. Professional recipes are usually given in weight and, more often than not, in metric.
- Mixing the ingredients - The ingredients must be mixed according to the method being used, either straight dough, sponge, or starter method.
- Fermentation - Allowing the leavener to ferment and the dough rise.
- Punching - Literally hitting the dough, not too hard, to let out the gasses that have formed.
- Scaling - This is when the baker scales out the bread, dividing it into loaves.
- Rounding - Shaping of the loaf.
- Benching - Letting the dough sit on the work surface rising for a little bit.
- Makeup & panning - braiding, shaping, or placing the dough into the pan in which it will cook.
- Proofing - Letting the bread rise one last time, usually done in a steam environment.
- Baking - The actual baking part.
- Cooling - Letting the bread cool properly before you eat it, or…
- Storing - Storing the bread properly to prevent mold or staling.
Baking Your Bread
Once you have your bread ready to cook, it is time to get it in an oven and start baking. If you have one handy, you will find that baking bread in a wood oven will give you some of the best bread you have ever experienced. Despite its name, a wood oven will usually be made of stone or brick. Any material can be used to make the oven as long as it can withstand high temperatures and hold on to heat, something called a "good heat sink."
The heat occurs by burning wood in the oven itself, hence the name. It is best to use very dry wood. At first you will notice a lot of smoke--this is natural and will usually happen when there is too much fuel (wood) in the oven. The walls will turn black with the smoke and this is expected as well. As the wood turns to embers, the intense heat will burn the smoke off the walls of the oven and the walls will turn white hot with the heat. Ideally the oven should get hot enough to ignite the gases that collect in the oven. Once the oven has reached its temperature, it is time to remove the embers from the oven. After the embers are removed, the floor of the oven is mopped to remove the ashes. Traditionally, the embers are placed into a bucket and the bakers will roast sausages for their lunch over the embers.
The signature crust, a deep and flavorful crust, is one of the primary reasons for baking bread in a wood oven and it comes from the steam that is released from the dough as it cooks. When you seal the oven door, the steam will get trapped in the oven, giving you a fantastic crust.
Baking Bread in a Wood Oven
Wood ovens are called "falling ovens" because the temperature starts very high and then falls as the bread cooks. If you were lucky enough to have access to one of these ovens, the breads you could make would be dazzling. And, if you are so inclined, they make great pizzas as well. Whatever kind of bread you are making, you will find that there is no substitute for baking bread in a wood oven.