Firedome: A new and easier fuel configuration, indirect - still a work in progress

Warning:  Long post (with water balloons)

What seemed correct with the Firedome to date was a symmetrically placed ring of fire about the cooking surface.  It's served me (and friends) well for over a year now, but a few lingering flaws forced me to persist in its development.

1. briquettes are good, but lots of byproducts and I could not boast "wood fired" to a more discerning crowd. I wanted to switch to wood. Something easier and cheaper to use and recharge on the fly without a mid-burn disassembly.
2. A wood fire would be hard to maintain in a circular configuration.
3. Any good pizza oven I've observed has the fuel source "indirect," not directly below the food, but in a pile offset.
4. I have a continuous stream of wood on my property.  Oaks give it up every time it's windy (remember Ike?).
5. One pile of fuel is trivial to start; a ring is often a pain.
All modifications must still result in uniform cooking top and bottom of the dough.

Today the wood fuel vision begins to come into focus; I think we might be hitting the oven that was intended in the first place.

A chilly morning seemed the perfect time for a fire and it's always a good time for lightly smoke-infused flatbread.  Made some dough, fired up a chimney of briquettes (briquettes are a killer starter for any fire by the way).  After  a few clumsy reorganizations, I placed the fuel on one side of the lower grate of the Firedome, placed the cooking surface on the upper grate and positioned the clay cooking surface on the opposite side of the grill.  On top of the briquettes, I placed several pieces of oak, they started immediately, a kick ass fire in minutes.  I capped the dome, lifted the door, positioning the opening so the blazing fire was on the right and the cooking surface to the left.

Here's how the morning progressed in a few frames and a few movies:

The circle of fire is ok, but laborious to maintain. Also!.. note the decorative chimnea stand I scored in someone's trash. Elegant? I think so.

This was shot after I moved everything to either side.  In this way, I could add to the fire by pitching wood right through the door as I need.  The flames would swoop around and I'd be cooking "in the tube" of the firewave.  It also tolerates water balloons tossed in when you need that extra bit of humidity.

Final product.  To be eaten with tonight's roasted red pepper hummus.
I'm waiting for a replacement thermocouple or this post would've been oozing with temp data.  However, a pita cooked in about 90 seconds.  I'm guessing the oven was about 750°F while the flames were up, maybe a bit higher.    There will definitely be more to come on this.

Final notes for those following along with your own pet Firedome:
1. one chimney full on one side of the lower grate
2. add small, ca. 8" logs of wood, on the briquettes
3. place upper grate in place with one side of the grate open in a way you can toss wood in
4. place Firedome on top of roaring fire with the hatch open, wait a few minutes and cook away
5. getting some wood this size might require a chainsaw
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Cheddar biscuits

Hurried in from Boston the other night to get dinner on.  Only had a time for a rotobird, steamed green beans and, to add something special, cheddar cheese biscuits.  These little nuggets almost made me puddle up with joy.

Biscuits are one of those amazing foods with a deceptively simple preparation.  Flour, fat, leavening, salt, liquid.  Combine solids, add fat to solids, add liquid to solid mixture, don't over work and done.

By varying the fat, liquid, amount of liquid, etc., biscuits from any two kitchens are never the same.  Lately, I've started going after a layered look and they're coming out pretty sweet.  Despite repetitively folding the dough, about 25 - 26 times, thereby creating a potentially overworked and brutally tough dough, the thin layers served to make the biscuit tender.  Here's the prep.  Frankie even took the one leftover biscuit for lunch the next day, that's how good they were.

Cheddar Biscuits, makes about 6
Butter (70 g) was cut into a mixture of unbleached white flour (250 g), baking powder (2 t), salt (1 t) and sugar (2 t) until crumbly.  Milk (180 g) and a handful of shredded cheddar cheese, ca. 1/3 C were added and the mixture folded with a spatula until it came together in a shaggy blob.  This blob was dumped onto the counter.  Using a dusting of flour, I squished the blob into a squat disk.  Then, the disc was squashed into a 6-8" diameter circle, folded in half, squished out, folded in half, squished out, folded in half, etc.  The shapes, after a few iterations of this get weird, but just go with it.  Once folded about 5-6 times, the biscuits were cut using a sharp, round biscuit cutter and placed on a thin sheet of aluminum and allowed to rest about 10 minutes.  They were tossed in a preheated 450°F oven for 15-20 minutes, allowed to cool a bit and eaten with enthusiasm.
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The primal pleasure of cast iron on the grill

Last night, our pork roast drippings went to good use.  I roasted, on the grill, a mix of fingerlings and brussel sprouts to accompany our pot roast.  I don't think I've ever cooked on cast iron on the grill.  It was almost a bit too hot, should've moved it a bit indirect, but the veggies were pretty nice.  Next time I'll stagger the potatoes and sprouts (spuds first).


Black bean soup

The more I read about cooking legumes, the more I worry. America's test kitchen recently started recommending a salt water soak prior to cooking, Rancho Gordo's cookbook is on the other side saying cook beans with NO spices, gently, presoaked or not. The are tons of other, even less authoritative, sources if information for legume preparation.

I was recently given a most unique and generous gift of fresh dry black beans, just harvested this year by Josie. Instead of saving my most valuable stash for the next depression or the apocalypse, I frivolously tossed the salt-free water soaked beans in with a ham hock and let them barely perk for a few hours. I removed the tender pork from the hock and added some spices to this brew: slivered garlic, salt, fresh ground cumin, pepper and a freshly-ground, just dried sweet pepper from the generous and creative Kate.

The order of beans cooking and spicing was different than I'd usually do, but I usually use canned beans. This prep enabled a gentle cooking/hydration of the beans before the seasoning. The result? I don't think I've ever had such a smooth texture in a bean. The post cooking seasoning was perfectly adequate. Even Frankie had a good sized portion.

Josie and Kate are the ones you want to prepare you for that stay in the bunker 75 feet below the surface of the earth in your shelter. Oh, and allow plenty of time to schedule Lori for desserts to guarantee that said apocalypse is a party.


A refreshed baguette post (our daily bread)

----short link for this http://bit.ly/daily_bread

I like to repeat posts because:

  • my techniques change
  • ingredients change: flour, yeast (the way it's manufactured), etc.  
  • I lost some old posts 
  • few read archives of a blog
  • I'm prepping for a 4-5 kg run for Frankie's teachers
  • the only people who can possibly stand this tedious site are new readers and they may not be bored with it

So I thought I'd do another (demi) baguette post with a multi-photo layout.

Our daily bread is derived from a recipe by which all ingredients are evaluated:  water 200g, salt 5g, veg oil 6g, instant active dry yeast 1 pkt, flour 300g and I spin it on a bread machine dough cycle.  My current machine cost me $6 at the thrift store (they are always in stock).  I can program the dough cycle to be ready up to 13h in advance.

This type of prep removes lots of variables, e.g., it's a closed chamber, thus most environmental variables are controlled, my kneading, etc.  Bakers will slam me for using instant active yeast, but I love it.  It varies from conventional dry yeast because it has ppm levels of a dough conditioner or two; these give a good volume and a peppy rise.  Doughs made with this yeast can also be refrigerated for days, warmed and baked with no problems.  I love the performance of this yeast; all brands are comparable in my experience and I never use it in bulk.

Here it is, 5 demi baguettes made this morning served with preserves, good butter and some fruit.  This post also happens to emphasize formation of the baguette for proofing using Reinhart's (Artisan Breads Every Day) method of successive formation of a bâtard.

500 g of dough was scaled to 100 g blobs, rounded and allowed to rest 10 min, start preheating the oven to 450F (convection if available)

a rounded dough blob is squashed down and squashed thusly, this begins formation of the bâtard

fold bottom to middle

fold top down

roll to place seam on bottom

repeat until the bâtard evolves into a baguette

baguettes rolled out and allowed to proof 10-12 minutes uncovered

the proofed baguettes placed on my perforated stainless sheet and then docked (slashed with a knife), toss in bottom 1/3 oven with a couple ounces of water tossed on floor to create steam blast

after about 15 minutes in oven

let cool, slice, add butter and jam


An interesting collection of lean and enriched breads

I have Reinhart's Baker's Apprentice and don't really like it much.  I love to bake, but the preps are a bit involved for me.  I think the processes therein are more targeted to a bakery than a home - larger scale, more production oriented.

I grabbed his Artisan Breads Every Day from the library and can't put it down.  It's got a bunch of starter-derived (levain, starter, etc) breads and, yeast-loaded, enriched, soft breads.  It's rare to see a baking book with the word artisan in the title that has processes for enriched loaves.  I've always had a fondness for enriched loaves, they have a bad rep; been beaten down by anyone who lives by the baking metaphor longer rise is better - no exceptions.  

Given my busy schedule lately, my only problem with the book is where to begin.  There's a great seedy wheat loaf that has a great flour blend to keep it light, a soft sandwich white bread, and, of course, a traditional baguette.  Among the next posts will be several executions of Reinhart's breads from this volume.