It seems like the first few steps in this bakery adventure are about getting acquainted with the oven, which we've lovingly named Ben after the previous baker. Every wood fired oven heats differently. These are more than just nuances, these are personality traits, hence naming her.
If we make the fire too hot, the heat leaves through the chimney and isn't absorbed into the stones, not hot enough and it takes too long to heat up. I thought it would be simple enough; burn wood in oven, heat to temperature, take out coals and bake bread. Not so. Our oven is outside, so depending on the weather, we need to add or subtract wood. When the oven has not been used for a few days, it takes more wood. The variables seem infinite. And yet, its just a matter of getting to know her.
Once the coals are out, the heat in the oven needs half an hour to even out before we can bake, then the oven floor needs to be swept before loading the loaves. Timing is essential in the equation, the dough is a living organism and has a short window for optimal baking. Once the dough is loaded we seal the door by wedging a knife into the locking mechanism to make sure none of the steam escapes ensuring a nice golden crispy loaf. And finally, since the back of the oven is warmer than the front, rotation is the next step to ensure a consistent product. In olden times (and still in some parts of the world) a distinction was made between Fornarii, who baked the bread, and Pistores, who worked with the dough. Just as the Pistore develops a relationship with the dough through the journey of kneading, shaping, rising and baking, the Fornarii develops a relationship with the oven, through what, i'm not yet sure.
To some it might seem impractical that the oven is outside, to others is seems romantic. I guess it's both. It is beautiful that it connects us with the elements. It is easy to forget about the world when you are in the comfort of a warm bakery. The oven outside keeps things real for us. The air is crisp at this time of year and the smell of the smoke and the forest is grounding. Yes, it is a bit of a hassle to get the loaves outside, but we love it.