Archive for January, 2008

Next baking episode

January 5, 2008

Its been cold and wet. Today was the second day of warming, predicted to reach 38F. I decided to bake again. Starting about 1PM I lit a fire, mostly pine firewood in pieces 2″ diameter. It was burning hot and clean by 1:30 and I kept poking in a few more bits to keep it going well. At 3:15 the bottom of the 2×6 floor was not warm and the top of the shell was still cool. There was a lot of water to dry out of the clay, despite the tarp covering.

We were going ice skating, so I loaded in several pieces of pine and put the baking door in place, with its two 1″ breathing holes. Even before we left there was a dark creosote smelling smoke. When we returned at 4:20 the fire was burned down to coals; it seemed fairly warm, but not hot. I tossed in 5 pieces of kindling and went off to prepare the bread (Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book, the herbed potato bread) which had been in its first rise since 3:00.

By 4:45 the kindling was burned down. I noticed a thin whiff that seemed more like smoke than steam under the floor of the oven! Kiko warns that ovens on sawhorses fail by burning thru. The floor boards were warm, not hot and the outside of the shell was warm under the insulation blanket. I had remembered to put two bricks into the oven when I lit the fire and now I pushed all the coals to the chimney opening and put the bricks in front of the coals to protect the food from the radiant heat of the coals. I did not pull out the coals.

By 5:00 I had tossed in 4 baking spuds, 1 Butternut squash (halved and cleaned then re-assembled) and a pie plate with an acorn squash cut in 1″ wedges (Great recipe that I found on, the squash is cooked with oil, salt and pepper, then dressed with a lime/oil/garlic/herb vinaigrette.) I was letting the bread rise again and put two baguette loaves into the oven about 5:25. My hope was that I had allowed enough time for the oven to soak.

An oven thermometer just inside the door read 300F when the bread went in. I pulled the spuds and acorn squash at 5:50, one spud was not done. All had black burn marks. The bread seemed soft on the end near the door but there were toasty smells. I decided to turn the loaves end for end.

At 6:20 I pulled the bread, which was black on the bottom but seemed properly baked otherwise. The temp read 250F.

Conclusions. I managed to get the firebrick very hot but the baking door leaks too much air. This caused the bread to burn while the temp did not seem hot. Spuds and Butternut squash black spots confirm this hot floor. Baking in this oven in these conditions, I need to provide a container for the food to buffer the heat from the floor. The dish with the acorn squash was hot enough to boil the vinaigrette when I poured it on and it had some hard-to-clean stains from the baking process — but the food was unburned.

I also need to seal the baking door better to prevent the drafts that were making the temp read low. This probably also means plugging the chimney more than the damper does. And after that many hours of firing, I need to allow more soaking time.

The long range conclusion is that the oven needs a real foundation and better insulation. Kiko promised in an email to me that his 3rd edition of the book has instructions for a well insulated (top and bottom) oven. I need a roof as well (if not totally indoors).

Role for Novices in helping Experts

January 2, 2008

Innovative Minds Don’t Think Alike – New York Times

Published: December 30, 2007

IT’S a pickle of a paradox: As our knowledge and expertise increase, our creativity and ability to innovate tend to taper off. Why? Because the walls of the proverbial box in which we think are thickening along with our experience.

Points at an interesting idea, I’ve yet to get the Made to Stick book and look more deeply, but the role of the ‘transient “zero-gravity thinker”’ (an outsider) in causing experts to slow down, explain and in the process examine their knowledge and assumptions, is interesting. We have been talking about communities and how the novice moves from the edge to the center of a community as expertise is gained. That view is hierarchical, the goal is expert status and novices are not viewed as a resource to expertise. This review gives a different perspective, novices play a role that is helpful to experts, breaking them out of the myopia of their expertise. This makes the expert-novice relation within a community dialogic and mutually dependent.

It connects to ideas of ecosystem, where monocultures are less stable and productive than diverse native systems.