Baking bread in a wood-fired oven is considered the holy grail of bread baking, taking the craft to its origins. The current trend calls for the use of ancient flour so why not go all the way?
We will discuss the pros and cons of these types of ovens but In order to know if a woodburning oven is right for you here are a few things you should first consider
- It takes a lot of effort to prep a wood-burning oven for a bake
- Timing – having the dough proofed at the right time so the oven has reached its correct baking temperature
- you need to have enough space, not only for the oven itself but a work area and storage for the wood.
- The cost
- Be ready to fail at first. It does take some practice and experience
- If you live in places where the weather gets cold you will need to prep it for winter otherwise these ovens can crack
The assumption is that bread baked in a wood-fired oven is the “real thing”: the smoky taste, the crispy crust, the color, and texture provide for a superior culinary experience.
If you have a backyard and you are an avid bread baker, I guess at some point you contemplated with the idea of building or buying a wood-burning stove to upgrade your bread baking experience. But is this a wise idea?
In this post, I will sum up the pros and cons of using a wood-fired oven so you can get to know all aspects of baking bread in the old methods and reach the right conclusion for you.
More room to make multiple loaves
Our time is precious and bread baking is a craft that takes away quite a bit of it, so if we have already gone into the trouble of the bread baking process, being able to make more loaves of bread at a given time is a wonderful bonus.
In an average home oven, you can usually bake about two loaves of bread at a time. In contrast, the wood-fired stove is usually larger and has a larger baking surface that can yield ( depending on the size of your wood-burning oven ) multiple loaves at the same time and also you can have multiple baking sessions/rounds per firing of the oven. This is because these types of oven retain heat for a long time.
Better Taste, Flavor, and Texture
When baking bread in a wood-fired oven, the flavor of the final product that you get is different, from that of a bread baked in an electric oven. you get a more smokey, chared and deeper flavor.
It is like eating a hot dog on a gas grill or eating a sausage that you prepared yourself in a smoker. Much deeper and more complex flavors. It takes your loaf from good to gourmet.
If you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend you find the nearest pizzeria with one of these ovens or a neighbor and try bread or pizza made with it. This will help you understand the quality that comes when baking and cooking in one of these.
A wood fire oven will give your bread a smoky aroma that can not be obtainable in a home oven. This aroma does not only impact the taste of the bread, but it also creates a whole atmosphere.
Lastly about flavor, keep in mind that different woods give off different flavors. These flavors come from the oils in the wood and the smoke they give off when burning.
In Addition, your pizza dough will char where the dough bubbles ( due to gasses close to the skin of the dough ). This charing gives another complexity of flavor to your pizza or bread. This charing is also referred to as Caramelization.
Honestly, baking in a wood-burning oven is quite the experience. not only for yourself but for the people around you. It is not every day you get to eat bread made in a wood-burning oven. It is quite unique and very fulfilling.
In Scandinavia, they would call it a Hygge, a concept that means well being, intimacy, and enjoyment of slow processes like reading a book on the window-sill while wrapped in a warm blanket.
People usually associate a wood-fire oven with bread-baking and of course pizza, but the truth is that at the end of the day, a wood-fired oven is simply an oven and you can cook almost anything in it.
The high temperature- 800 Fahrenheit or 425 celsius this oven can reach does wonder for the food you cook. If you love your steaks there is no better way to cook them than in one of these babies.
Because these ovens retain heat for a long time and are perfect for stews and other dishes that require a slow cooking process.
The benefits I talked about earlier apply not only when it comes to bread. The tastes, smoking flavor and texture elevate any dish that is cooked in it and takes it to a whole new level.
Another advantage of the wood-fired oven is flatbreads of all kinds like naan, focaccias.
The high temperature of this oven gives off the blast of high heat that flatbreads need and it bakes them in a much shorter time.
The rise in awareness and concern of the environment increasing in recent years has helped to raise the appeal of the wood-burning stove for anyone who pledges to be more connected to nature, the planet and its needs.
This oven is energy efficient: it is not powered by electricity or gas. The energy is generated by the combustion itself. If the use of wood feels as if going against the cause it’s important to know that if you fire the oven early in the morning you can cook and bake in it for about ten hours. this is all without using any additional energy ( wood ). These ovens simply retain heat very well.
Oven Spring is way better
The beauty of using a wood-fired oven for bread baking is the immediate effect the high heat has on the dough. This effect of the high temperature will give the dough the best oven spring you can imagine.
As you probably already know ( I’m assuming you are already an experienced baker weighing the pros and cons of a wood-burning oven ) the oven spring is the initial stage of baking where your dough gets its first blast of heat.
This initial blast of heat is crucial as it speeds up the production of gasses by the yeast in your bread eating away at the sugars and starches in the dough ensuring your bread will reach its full potential in size and giving it the airiness and open crumb you desire.
The woodburning oven can easily reach much higher temperatures than that of your home oven and, it is exactly this feature that helps to produce better bread when it is all said and done.
BEST CRUNCIEST CRUST
A lot has been said about the crunchy crust, not to mention the beautiful browning of bread baked in a wood-fired oven. Really after you taste it it’s hard to go back to a bread baked in a home oven.
As you might already know steam is the secret to a good crust but it is also the way the heat is radiating from the floor and walls of this oven that help form a nice thick crust with a beautiful caramelization.
The most effective way to introduce steam in one of these ovens is by using a couple of pans and throwing in a bunch of ice in them just before loading your bread into the oven.
For more information about how to get the best crust, you can read our in-depth article here.
It takes longer to prep the oven
You win some, you lose some (time-wise). Yes, you save time by baking a bunch of loves simultaneously but at the end of the day it balances itself out by the time it takes for the wood-fired oven to be ready for bake.
It is much slower than a conventional home oven. and I mean much slower.
A regular wood-fired oven takes about 1.5-2 hours of preparation before you can actually bake in them.
You need to build a long-lasting fire to heat the oven up and then sweep away the ashes of the wood to make room on the cooking floor for your loves.
That is because contrary to misconceptions you’re not baking on direct fire/heat but relying on the heat that was stored in the walls and cooking floor of the oven.
As you can see now, these tasks are not for anyone. It takes some work to prep the oven and at the end of the day you know yourself best so think twice if this is for you or not.
Difficult to control the elements
Part of the appeal of baking in a wood-fired oven is the notion of returning to nature and leaving the technological world behind you.
I can relate to that, but consider that “returning to your origins” meaning giving up the comfort modern technology brought us.
It is much more difficult to control a wood fire oven temperature-wise in comparison toa home oven.
In a home oven, you can adjust the desired temperature and your oven has a built-in thermostat that stops heating up or starts heating up according to the setting. This is the biggest challenge in a wood-fired oven.
To control the temperature in a wood-fired oven you must first heat up the oven by burning the wood and then drop the temperature by venting out some of the heat. If you let out too much heat then you will have to reheat it again with some coals leftover or start burning more wood. In order to avoid having to heat up the oven again, I strongly suggest getting an infrared thermometer so you can measure the heat of your oven floor and walls.
Without a thermometer, you will have to rely on experience and intuition and when you are new you have neither, so do yourself a favor and get a good thermometer.
You will also have to take into consideration that when loading the bread into the oven the temperature will drop as well so always have the oven a bit hotter at first.
You need the right space for it
This baby requires space. A back yard is a requirement. A large enough distance from neighbors can be a big plus too as the firing of the oven in the initial stage can produce quite a bit of smoke and if used frequently the neighbors could find it disturbing.
In addition to the footprint of the oven, you will need a place to load your loaves onto your peel or shovel. This will require extra space for a work-bench.
I also recommend having a pit or a metal box to keep coals in just in case you need to reheat the oven.
Lastly, you need a place to store the wood for your oven.
Taking all these things into consideration, you will need quite a large space for this so take it all into account.
I can’t sugar coat it. The D%#?m thing is expensive. If you’re looking for something decent you will have to say goodbye to at least 1000$ and this is the cheapest version. I’m sure that if you do some research you will not go out and get the cheapest one.
Also, take into account that there are other supplies and accessories that go along with this hobby.
one last thing about the price. Expensive is a very relative term. To some 1000$ can sound like a lot of money and to others, it is pocket change so saying it is expensive is not always correct.
I hope that this article has enlightened you about making the right choice for yourself. While the experience, flavor and multiple uses of these ovens are amazing it is not for everyone. Happy baking!