Monday, May 18, 2015

Temperature and Time: baking bread in a wood-fired oven

There are many variables when it comes to producing good bread.  Modern baking practices have reduced those variables considerably.  Ovens with temperature dials and proofing boxes with controlled thermostats are among the most significant reducers of variables.  Set temperatures for proofing, and especially for baking minimize differing results in the final loaves.  

One of the joys of baking in a wood-fired oven is not having a dial to control the oven temperature.  Once we remove the coals from the oven we are working with a "falling oven": the temperature is steadily declining until it reaches ambient temperature.  All of our batches are baked at different temperatures.  The first batch of the day bakes at 525 degrees and the last batch bakes somewhere close to 425 degrees.  The length of time each batch stays in the oven varies due to the temperature difference.  We are not able to set the dial to 450 degrees, set the timer for 30 minutes and walk away.  This is what makes baking bread in a wood-fired oven so enjoyable.  Every batch is different and the only way to know that the bread is finished baking is by checking the loaves.  

French Whole Wheat just loaded in the oven

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Our Brick Oven

The brick oven was one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever completed.  Having never laid a brick before in my life, I read up on basic masonry techniques.  I also received info from others who had previously built brick ovens.  Our oven is a hybrid pizza/bread oven.  Wood-fired pizza ovens tend to be round with less thermal mass (thinner walls and floor).  The main goal of a pizza oven is to heat up quickly and maintain 700 F temps with a live fire while cooking.  Wood-fired brick ovens intended for bread use were revived for bakery used in North America due, in large part from what I understand, to the work of Alan Scott and his bread oven design.  His ovens were rectangular with a vaulted ceiling with a lot of thermal mass (thick walls). 

We wanted an oven that would heat up quickly and be easy to use for pizza parties, but we also wanted it to hold its heat for as long as possible.  Long heat retention enables us to bake bread, and other dishes, once the fire from the pizza bake is extinquished and the coals removed.  I ended up building a rectangular oven with a vaulted celing that has 4.5” thick walls and 4” to 6” of insulation (think boiler insulation) all the way around the cooking chamber.  This allows the oven to reach 900 F in about two hours.  If we keep a fire in the oven for four hours the bricks saturate with heat and the oven retains its heat without a fire for three to four days.  On average this heat-up process uses 14 to 17 pieces of dried split wood.

All the material for the oven, except for the concrete, rebar, and some of the insulation, were reclaimed.  Craigslist, Habitat Restore, and friends with stuff lying around were the source of all the major materials.  It was exciting to build a nice looking outdoor oven and workspace that kept materials out of the landfill.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

How to become our companion...

Bread Share:
We are offering a 24 week bread share that coincides with the regular season of Fair Share Farm’s CSA  Our farmers (and friends), Tom and Rebecca, have been providing healthy, sustainable food for over a decade to members of their CSA and at local Farmer’s Markets.  They produce some of best fruits and vegetables we’ve ever eaten.  Rebecca and Tom have offered to let us distribute our bread share with the weekly distributuion of their farm shares.  If you are already a member of Fair Share Farm think about adding a bread share and picking up a loaf or two of bread with your weekly farm share.

How it works:
Sign up for a bread share.  Pay for your share in no more than 4 installments by July 31, 2015.  Each week on Wednesday or Saturday at one of the Fair Share Farm pick-up locations there will be a tote of packaged bread and one (or more) of the packages will have your name on it.  Take your bread along with your veggies and enjoy.

Options and pricing for the 2015 Bread Share:

Pain Ordinaire* Share 
(*French for “ordinary bread” which is anything but ordinary)
1 loaf of bread per week for 24 weeks: $100
There will be a rotation of six different breads throughout the season. 
The breads in this share:

Pain au Levain (Bread leavened with wild yeast is an example of a simple bread that tastes great because of the way it is handled and baked)

Pain de Campagne (French Country bread is leavened with wild yeast and incorporates whole wheat flour and rye flour into the final dough)

French (a long pre-ferment adds to the complexities of flavor in this simple loaf of bread leavened with commercial yeast)

French Whole Wheat (same as the French but the majority of the flour is whole wheat which adds a nutty-earthy flavor as well as some health benefits)

Golden Semolina (a golden-yellow bread great for breakfast made with semolina and bread flour and leavened with commercial yeast)

7-Grain Bread (a healthy combination of 7 whole grains, whole wheat flour, and bread flour leavened with both wild and commercial yeast)

Pain Extraordinaire* Share 
(*French for “extraordinary bread”: great bread with seeds, nuts, vegetables, and fruit to make it even better)
1 loaf of bread per week for 24 weeks: $125
There will be a rotation of six different breads throughout the season. 
The breads in this share:

Rosemary (an aromatic wonderfully tasting loaf of bread leavened with wild yeast)

Kalamata Olive (leavened with wild yeast the strong flavor of olives and sourdough combine to make a great tasting bread)

Carmelized Onion and Poppy Seed (locally grown onions slowly carmelized are incorporated into the dough which is topped with poppy seeds to create a great flavored sourdough bread)

3 Seeds:1 Bread (flax, charnushka, and sesame seeds mixed into the dough and embedded in the crust to create a nice looking loaf with great flavor: leavened with both wild and commercial yeast)

Fennel and Golden Raisin (fennel seed and golden raisins are added to the Golden Sesame recipe to create a great loaf of bread with a very distinctive flavor: leavened with commercial yeast)

Jalapeno Garlic (bread with a kick leavened with wild yeast and infused with locally grown peppers and garlic)

Why paper bags?
Hearth breads are intended to have crusty crusts.  It adds to the preservation and taste of the bread.  Paper bags do not trap moisture and allow the crust to  maintain its texture.  Our breads are best eaten within the week.  If you are going to keep the bread to eat later we suggest freezing your loaf in plastic and defrosting it on the counter when you are ready to eat.

Our commitment to you:
We commit to use only organic flour that has been milled sustainably in all our breads.  For those who become members of the bread share we commit to delivering bread into your hands within 24 hours of coming out of the oven.  We commit to working hard to provide you with bread that tastes good, looks good, and is good for you.

About our bread...

Our bread is simple–the way bread is supposed to be. 

Our bread is made from organic, sustainably produced wheat.  Wheat is the main ingredient in bread and it is important for us to use organic sustainably produced flour in our attempt to provide the best possible loaf of bread.  Heartland Mills in western Kansas is the source of our flour.  Their sustainable practices and high quality organic flours make them a perfect fit.  Most of our breads are a combination of 2 or 3 different flours which, when combined with purified water, sea salt, and yeast, create a quality loaf.

Our bread is made slowly.  Pre-fermentation, long bulk proofing, and patiently waiting for the shaped loaf to be ready for the oven adds to the art of making our bread and to the great taste of each loaf.  From beginning to oven our breads are in process for 24 to 36 hours. This way of making bread allows the bread to develop some great flavors that are not present in quick rise breads.  The breads are leavened with one of two wild yeast cultures or with commercial yeast.  Each of these leavening options develop different flavors in the final loaf.

Our bread is hand-made.  Mixing ingredients, stretching and folding, and shaping are all done with our hands.  Bread making for us is a hands-on process, from beginning to end.  Since we are using our hands we keep our batches small and are able to pay close attention to detail every step of the way.  Gentle handling of the dough with long fermentation times allow for gluten development and open chewy crumb (irregular holes throughout the loaf).  Every loaf that comes out of our oven looks a little different; a sign that our work is more akin to art than industry.  We want our breads to be an extension of our hands in friendship.

Our bread is baked in a wood-fired oven.  We fire the oven about 18 hours before we are going to begin baking bread.  It is nice to enjoy pizza from the live fire, and then put the fire out and let the oven do its thing.  Over the next 18 hours the internal temperature of the oven will equalize and drop from 900˚ F to 570˚ F.  At this temperature it is ready for bread.  Twelve loaves at a time we load the oven and watch the shaped dough become loaves of bread.  The steam from the water in the dough along with the addition of more steam into the baking chamber helps create the sought after carmelized crust of artisan bread.  Eighty-four loaves later the internal temperature drops below optimal hearth bread baking temps and we move on to pan breads or casseroles and stews.  All this from a rather small amount of wood: that’s sustatinable.

Our bread is large enough to share.  Our loaves range in weight from 1lb. 3oz. to 1lb. 8oz.  and are either shaped in a batard (long oval loaf) or a boule (8” round loaf).  

Friday, February 13, 2015

About the bakers...

We run a small home bakery in Lawson, MO, and we care about what you eat.  We have five young children and try to provide healthly sustainable food for our household and for the many friends who gather around our table.  We are Christians who emphasize the interconnectedness of food and faith, body and spirit, and often live by the maxim, “You are what you eat.”  For us, as with most people and cultures across time and space, breaking bread toghether is a fitting act of love and friendship.  So it made sense in the fall of 2014 after the completion of our wood-fired oven that we would begin baking bread to share with our friends.  With the encouragement of our friends we decided to commit to providing healthy bread made with sustainable ingredients and baking practices on a regular basis.  This commitment led to the establishment of Companionship Breads.

About our name...

Companion is the derivative of two Latin words. The prefix “com-“ (with) and the root word “panis” (bread) are combined to create a word that, with the suffix “-ion”, can litterally be translated “being together with bread”.  When the english suffix “-ship” is added to the word companion it signifies even more explicity the character of the relationship.  Therefore, the word companionship signifies the virtue/character developed when we share bread with others.  Companionship is deeply rooted in the way we share bread.

Enough of the English lesson!  Really it is all about the character and virtue nutured through sharing bread (and a meal in general).  When two people, or communities of people, share bread they are bound together through this simple humanizing act.  Sharing bread is an act of peace, reconciliation, and the willingness to recognize the humanity of our neighbors.  No wonder some of our closest companions are the people we share food with regularly.  We hope that we can do our small part in bringing people together to share bread and through this nurture the virtue of companionship in us all.