Monday, May 11, 2009

Brick Oven Experiments

After an intense and sudden thunderstorm drove us inside on Saturday night, after only two delicious brick-oven pizzas, we decided to fire it up again yesterday to make some bread.

We had mixed results. Being slightly overzealous, we made too big of a fire, so the oven was almost 500 degrees when we finally put our bread in. Too hot. Within twenty minutes, the tops and sides of our three loaves had blackened to a crisp, and when we took them out two hours later, we had to break them apart with a knife. "It's like a geode," Will remarked, and it was: a rock-solid crust protecting a soft, slightly undercooked and strangely textured inside that only vaguely resembled bread.

Undaunted, we decided to try again. The oven had cooled down significantly, but was still hot - 350 degrees. I went inside and whipped up some biscuits. Fifteen minutes later, Will and I were sitting at the picnic table in the golden evening sunlight, eating perhaps the most delicious biscuits I have ever tasted. The texture was truly extraordinary: crisp, golden brown crusts, and the lightest, fluffiest, most airy insides you can image. They broke apart in our hands, and warm out of the brick oven with butter and jam and a pot of peppermint tea - well, it was worth the failure of the bread for such incredibly delicate and delicious biscuits.

Inspired by our success with the biscuits, I decided to try cooking a pot of beans overnight. I threw some white beans, garlic, salt and pepper, and rosemary in a deep cast iron, covered in with water, and put it in the oven. It was about 300 degrees when I went to bed. Will added more water at 9, and again at 1:30 (he was up anyway to check the sheep), and when I went out there this morning at 6 - a perfect pot of beans. The oven thermometer was reading 240. Though the top layer of beans was slightly browned, and the garlic charred, the experiment was a success. With almost no effort on our part, we had thick, delicious, slow-cooked white bean soup for breakfast, and there is plenty left over for lunch.

The oven is still at about 200 degrees, and Will is currently cooking cornbread. Despite a thunderstorm and three loaves of unrecognizable bread, I can't wait to fire up the oven again. I'm looking forward to a summer of delicious brick-oven delights: pizza, bread, biscuits, roasted tomatoes, black beans, chili, maybe even a pie! The possibilities are endless.

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