For the past six months I have been working on a sustainable farm on the western edge of St. Thomas. One of my last blog posts before ignoring this website for a while was about a few local farms. As it turns out, one of them is where I ended up spending many of my summer and fall days.
On Our Little Farm we run a CSA program (community supported agriculture) and raise pastured pork, chickens, and ducks. At the farm is a mobile wood-fired oven on a trailer. This oven at one time was parked outside the landowner's garage and each day at the farm I would walk by it dreaming of when we would fire it up. Now that vegetables are done for the year and the animals are taken care of by Mark (he and his family began Our Little Farm), everyone had a little bit of time to spare to see just what this beautiful beast could do. Timed with a pickup date for the pastured pork, Wednesday Dec. 3 was the perfect opportunity to do some baking in the oven.
Mark and Bob (the landowner) sourced dry wood and cleaned the oven out the day before the bake. While they tended to the oven, I prepped sourdough for bread and rolled pastry for tarts. At 9:00 pm they began a fire inside the oven with the goal of bread baking at 9:00 am the following morning. We were all super excited about this event and with the exception of Bob, none of us had ever used a wood-fired oven before so it was a totally new learning experience.
Knowing what we know now, we can tweak the timing of the oven firing a bit so that Bob isn't getting up at 5 am to add more wood to the flames. I received a text at 7 am saying the oven was at a steady 875 F and it felt like Santa had come to town. In hindsight I would have reserved dough so we could've made pizza for breakfast but I honestly didn't think the oven would still be that hot by the time I arrived with bread. Next time for sure!
Mark and Joey (engineer-genius-farmhand) removed the coals from the oven at 9 am since we realized the temperature still needed to drop quite a bit before bread could go in.
Light Rye and Toasted Caraway Sourdough Bread
The first batch of bread went in just after 10:00 am. I loaded 9 loaves with a pan of water to create steam and shut the door. Getting enough steam proved to be my biggest challenge of the day and it was clear with the blowouts on my loaves that they were crusting before releasing all their oven spring. Also, without the moisture the breads would darken quicker than I anticipated. For batch #2 I loaded 10 and got a spray bottle of water to help increase the humidity. Still wasn't enough to reach the ideal loaves I was aiming for. After the first two loads the oven temperature had dropped quite a bit so Mark added the coals back in with another log of wood. Within 30 minutes it was hot again and I decided to try and bake with the flames. Temperature was good and I put the water pan directly in the fire to help achieve more steam. Same thing with the fourth and fifth batches. The types of breads available were: Arva white, Mexican Ole! with cornmeal, chiles, coriander & cumin, Sunflower-flax, light rye with toasted caraway, and sprouted quinoa with toasted fennel seeds.
All in all, it was a great experience and I'm happy with the loaves for this first attempt. I went through a learning curve practicing with the Tartine-method of bread baking in a dutch oven so it's no surprise this is going to take some time to improve my skills, too. I'm already on the hunt for a garden wand to use for steam the next time we bake along with a few pan bread recipes.
Cranberry-Raspberry-Cardamom Spelt Scones
After all the bread was baked I used the residual heat to bake a batch of cranberry-raspberry-cardamom spelt scones. I had made the scone dough in the morning before the oven was ready for bread. Since scones bake around 400 F they would fit right in with the schedule of being ready for 3:00 pm when customers came to pickup the pastured pork.
Another learning experience and this one I am thrilled with: After being so hot for so long, the heat distribution was so incredibly smooth. Combined with the natural convection of airflow this was one of my most euphoric bakes. Because of a lack of (forgotten) parchment paper, I decided to take the risk and overcrowded the pans of scones. (When things are placed close together they will frequently create steam between each item and melt or ooze instead of bake; you need the airflow between the food.) After 10 minutes in the oven things looked ok. I was preparing for the worst - either dark brown tops, dark brown bottoms, or a soggy puddle of dough. Neither happened. After another 5 minutes I rotated the pans as I knew one pan was placed where the fire once was and was slightly hotter than the one beside it. 23 minutes in total and the scones were perfect. In a regular gas or electric still-oven scones usually take 30 minutes.
After the scones were done it was time for maple and maple-bacon buttertarts to go in. Same experience as the scones - just wonderful. Rotated about 12 minutes in; finished at 21 (normally 32-35). Both the bacon and the lard were from the pastured pork raised on the farm.
Sunflower-Flax Sourdough Bread
I loved the day. It was cold, I came home reeking of smoke with an oven-toasted face, and would have loved to have had more customers but all in all it was fantastic. Had a shower, did some laundry, soothed my skin with some aloe, and had a wicked sandwich for lunch.
Can't wait for the next bake!
Eating. Drinking. Sharing.