By “Preparing for Hearth Baking” I am referring to a set of directions a home baker can follow to mimic as closely as possible the hard-to-describe qualities of bread baked in a wood-fired oven. A heavy duty baking stone, following a lengthy heating in a very hot (450 – 500 degree F) oven provides the “hearth.” Steam is produced using a heated broiler pan, watering can full of hot water, and spray bottle; a rimless baking sheet serves as a baker’s peel, and so on. These tools are not hard and fast necessities; they are the tools I rely on to bake excellent hearth bread. “Someday,” Sam tells me, “we will build a brick oven in our front yard.” Until then, this does the job conveniently.
Do not be daunted by the number of steps; they become second nature after just a few tries. Nearly any bread dough can be shaped free-form and baked as a hearth loaf. Keep in mind that if the recipe calls for honey, you’ll need to reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F since honey burns at a lower temperature.
|Heavy duty baking stone|
Heavy duty baking stone
Coffee mug or watering can of clean water
Baker’s peel or rimless baking sheet
Parchment paper (not wax paper!)
Bread cloth (tightly woven, not fuzzy)
Lame or sharp serrated knife
Bench knife, dough card, or chef’s knife
Spray bottle of clean water
1. Place baking stone in a cold oven on rack positioned in lower third of oven.
2. Place empty broiler pan on oven rack positioned in upper third of oven.
3. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F for 30-40 minutes. Heating the oven longer than the usual pre-heat time indicated by your oven allows the heavy duty baking stone to fully absorb the oven’s heat, so don’t skimp.
4. Shape loaf as desired and let rest, covered with a bread cloth, on parchment paper. (If loaf appears at all sticky, mist with vegetable soil spray to keep it from sticking to its covering.) When loaf is increased in size by 1 1/2 times, use a sharp serrated knife or lame to make slashes in the top as desired to allow for expansion in the oven. Spray the loaf with clean water. (You may also sprinkle it with seeds at this time, if desired.)
5. Have ready a coffee mug or watering can of clean hot tap water.
6. Using a baker’s peel or rimless baking sheet, slide the loaf with its parchment paper, onto the baking stone. Quickly and carefully add 1 cup hot water to the broiler pan and immediately close the oven door to trap steam.
7. Set timer for 20 minutes and then use the baker’s peel to rotate the loaf 180 degrees on the stone for even browning. The parchment paper can be removed at this time, if you wish. Continue baking until loaf is richly browned. Test for doneness with a digital thermometer. Insert thermometer into center of the loaf from the bottom (to avoid tearing a hole in the top crust).
8. Cool the baked loaf on a wire rack at least 1 hour before slicing. With small loaves and rolls, you can reduce the cooling time. Bread is still baking in its interior when it comes out of the oven, so give it some time to firm up in the center before serving it.
|Friends Henry & Sharon have built an amazing wood fired oven in their suburban backyard where they generously host occasional baking parties.|