The Right Kind of Flour
I wish I could just tell you what kind of flour to buy to bake bread, but I can’t. Not because I’m in the hip pocket of a flour company, but because I don’t know enough about you. I don’t know:
* where you live -- the local all-purpose flour in New England will make good bread but not good biscuits, while the local all-purpose flour in Alabama will make good biscuits but not good bread.
* what kind of bread you like -- hearth bread, pan bread, white bread, dark bread
* whether you only eat organic foods
* whether you have a grain mill
* whether you will hand-knead your dough
* whether you use natural leavens (sourdoughs)
I would need to know the answers to these questions, and others, before I could recommend a flour. "Wheat" is many varieties of grain, each lot of grain is different even within one variety, and a miller can make many types of flour from one lot of wheat. This chapter will give you enough of a background about wheat to enable you to ask the questions you need to ask to get the flour you need for the baking you want to do. Let’s start at the beginning -- the beginnings of agriculture.
You will be more familiar with masonry materials after you have read the chapter on materials (chapter 8). If you are going to build your own oven, you need to buy a basic book on masonry construction or get one from the library. It would be wasteful to duplicate all of that information here. After educating yourself you must still make several decisions:
1. Do you want a slab and block walls as your foundation (as is presented in this book), or some other arrangement, such as a heavy-duty welded metal stand?
2. Are you in a cold climate, where the foundation should be insulated or placed over a rubble footing to prevent frost heaving?
3. Do you want an ash slot in the hearth? They are convenient for bread ovens but optional for pizza ovens, where the fire is pushed into the back or side, not raked out.
4. What is your comfortable working height? For most people it is a little below elbow level. Remember that this is the height of the finished hearth, not the height of the ash-dump walls or the height of the top of the hearth slab. The traditional height of a European hearth is 90 centimeters -- about 351/2 inches; however, many bakers like a higher hearth. A lower one will not do, unless children will be actively involved with the oven, as at a school.
5. Will you use firebrick or red brick for the walls and dome? If you use firebrick for the walls and dome you need 10 percent fewer bricks than the standard plans call for, because firebrick are larger than red brick.
6. Will you use Portland cement or alumina-based concrete for the hearth slab and cladding of the oven, and how thick will the cladding be? Use alumina and a thicker cladding if you are going to be baking every day, or if you want to bake more than three loads per firing.
7. Do you want thermocouples, and how many? I recommend at least one in the wall or dome, and one in the hearth, but having a series of three of them in line somewhere in the dome is even better.
8. What will the facade of the oven look like?
9. What type of arch do you want at the opening of the chimney recess, and what type of brick, stone, or tile is to be seen on the facade?
10. Do you want a stone slab or bricks for your outer hearth?
11. Will you insulate the bottom of the hearth slab to save heat? This will be worthwhile if you plan to use the oven more than once a week, and it adds little expense or labor.
12. How will you insulate the dome and walls of the oven?
13. If outdoors, what kind of roof and enclosure do you want? If indoors, what kind of outer oven finish do you want? Brick, stucco, stone?
14. Will your flue run straight up, or does it need to snake around somewhere to get out of the building?
As you can see, there are many questions that must be answered -- and this list is by no means complete. Building a masonry oven requires a certain amount of forethought, but remember, the more consideration you devote in the planning stages the more smoothly the construction processes will proceed and the more satisfied you will be with the final outcome.