Wood-fired Oven: Part 2 - The Construction

The oven arrived long before we were ready to install it and it taunted us for months from the front lawn. By mid-July the courtyard between the two buildings was finally finished. Our carpenter built the cinder block and concrete base and my husband and our mason got to work preparing the base for the installation of the Panyol oven core.

First, recycled bricks from our former fireplace were cemented in place around the perimeter of the base to contain the first layer of insulation

A 3-inch vermiculite and concrete slab was poured over the base and then 3 inches of sand were poured on top of that. The terre blanche hearth tiles were carefully placed over the sand.

The next step was tricky: the wedge-shaped stones (voussoirs) had to fit snugly and evenly around the keystone (the round stone at the top of the oven).

All of the gaps between the voussoirs were filled with refractory cement and then the whole oven was covered with the same cement.

The chimney throat was put in place.

Our mason cut a beautiful piece of local sandstone for the lintel.

The outer walls were built up with more of the recycled brick and an insulating layer of mineral wool was placed against the inside of brick walls. Heavy-duty aluminum foil was wrapped around the core to keep sand from falling through any cracks that may form between the voussoirs in the oven core (inevitable due to the constant small earthquakes that we experience in this area). 1100 pounds of a sand/vermiculite mixture was poured over the oven core for insulation.

A standard wood stove chimney was attached to the chimney throat and some leftover roofing from the house was added. A concrete ledge was bolted to the front and the oven was ready to fire. Stay tuned for Part 3: Firing the Oven.

Wood-fired Oven: Part 1 - The Decision

When we decided to renovate our house a couple of years ago we had no idea how much of an impact a wood-fired oven would have on our cooking lives. The decision over which oven to buy wasn’t easy, though. As a big fan of Daniel Wing and Alan Scott’s book, The Bread Builders, my first thought was to build an Alan Scott model. We even ordered a set of plans from his website. But after searching extensively on the Internet for first hand accounts of using these ovens we made a discovery that gave us pause; Alan Scott ovens are wood gobblers. While we wanted to be able to cook bread and pizza in a wood-fired oven, we weren’t willing to deforest British Columbia to do it. We did research on Mugnaini, Earthstone, and Forno Bravo ovens but became intrigued with a company called Le Panyol from France. We had read good things about the fuel efficiency of their ovens and the natural non-toxic refractory clay (terre blanche) used in their construction. We continued to search but couldn't find enough information online to clinch the decision.

That’s where the Stone Turtle Baking School in Lyman, Maine came in. The centerpiece of this school - run by former King Arthur Flour spokesperson Michael Jubinsky and his wife Sandy - was a Panyol Model 120, dubbed “The Stone Turtle”. The Jubinskys offered a two-day intensive wood-fired oven management course, over 19 hours in total, for the reasonable price of $300. We signed up for a course in October and made plans to spend a week in Maine.

The course was everything we could have hoped for and more. Michael’s knowledge of bread making and wood-fired ovens was as deep as it was broad and his enthusiasm for the subject was infectious.

The oven was pretty impressive, too. It heated up to 1000 degrees (Farenheit) in about an hour and a half on 7 or 8 pieces of wood and was still close to 350 degrees the following morning. Everything that emerged from it that weekend was sublime.

We learned to stage the cooking process, starting with wood-fired vegetables and meat which cooked almost instantly while the oven was heating.

The coals were then banked on one side of the oven and flatbreads and pizza were cooked with a live fire.

To bake the bread, the coals were raked out of the oven and the deck was swabbed with a damp mop.

When the temperature had dropped to about 550 degrees the French batards went in and after they were done Sandy’s Swedish Rye Limpa loaves (which required a lower temperature due to the sugar in the dough) were loaded.

A whole boned leg of lamb, a roasting chicken, and a pan of vegetables went in after the bread was finished. Sandy even made a huge pan of granola for the next day’s breakfast in the dying heat of the oven. The course completely sold us on the Panyol. We returned home with our newfound oven skills and immediately ordered a Panyol 99 from Maine Wood Heat. Stay tuned for Part 2 - The Construction

Happy New Year!