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Bread Earth and Fire: Earth Ovens and Artisan Breads Paperback – March 16, 2013
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About the Author
Deciding against law school and a career with the FBI, Stu Silverstein finally got serious about his life, found a VW bus and took a driveabout across the country in search of “real” bread. Not finding any, he returned to Maine and started to bake his own. He also builds earth ovens, writes and makes art. Along with some friends, founded Railroad Square Cinema, one of New England’s best known art cinemas, and later on, he started a brick oven café. Traveling to Guatemala each winter with Masons On A Mission, he builds energy efficient stoves with the Mayas. Stu also leads earth oven workshops back home.
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Stu's book is mostly comprehensive, detailed, and has a sense of comedy that throughout it that could keep the interest of those not even interested in clay ovens. Approximately half of the book is dedicated to actually building your own earthen oven and the other half is dedicated to stories, images of other earthen ovens, history, recipes, and other odds and ends that positively add to the book. There are many images at the end of the book that give the reader additional ideas when building their own earthen oven. My husband and I are currently in the process of finishing up our earthen oven using Stu's book and we have been overall very successful. I thought the easiest way to leave meaningful feedback would be through a list of positive aspects of the book and some things to consider:
~ Clear details on building the foundation, laying the fire brick, building the oven, and insulating
~ Insight given on how to change certain aspects of the project to improve heat retention, cooking speed
~ Details on two builds, a 22.5" oven and a 32" oven
~ Great recipes and stories that accompany the info in the book
~ Bonuses like; how to make a pizza peel, harvesting mushrooms for your pizzas, making your oven door, and a bunch more
~ Many photographs and drawings to clearly show the oven build
Things to consider:
~ Some of the pictures and details written don't quite match up (ex more bricks for the archway in the picture than suggested to be used). But, with thinking through the situation, these problems were easily solved.
~ Expect to spend more than the sum listed in the book unless you are ridiculously thrifty. We did use a number of materials that were locally found (such as from our woods) but even the concrete for the bottom foundation and upper foundation came to about $120. The fireclay (we did not dig it ourselves) was another $65, the sand was $40, the mortar $20 (for both the rock base and brick archway), firebrick $64, redbrick $20, perlite $200, and Portland cement $50. With the bare structure without a cover we spent around $500 which included harvesting rock for the foundation. This puts us at the upper end of the book's estimate. Not saying that it isn't possible to do it much cheaper, but you might spend more time searching out materials than actually building the oven (we did a couple weeks of craigslist hunting but it was going to be more hassle than it was worth).
~ Some of the details on curing the oven are different than what was found on other sources. From what we found, cure the oven slowly over time to prevent severe cracking (some cracking is always going to happen from what we have learned). Stu suggests starting a small fire in the oven the first day after you scoop the sand out. The details in the book are a bit more bare here but from contacting the author directly and looking over other resources we found out that this should be a *small* fire and probably kept around 350 - 400 F for 6 - 8 hours. Then do it again the next day increasing the temp by another 50F, and then again with the same increase in temp for the following two days.
~ Finally, it can be a bit confusing at times going between the two differently sized ovens if you are using information for each to build your oven. We ended up making a hybrid version of the two ovens together, making a larger sized, round based oven. It is still fully navigable, but you might want to really read these sections a number of times and really collate your supply list before starting any construction.
Overall, I highly recommend this book to anyone with the desire to build an earthen oven, having some problem-solving skills and the ability to use basic tools. I wouldn't say it is for beginners, but building the oven is very forgiving and the process is a lot of fun!
The pics below are of our build so far. We still need to insulate it and finish building the cover for the oven (gabled, metal roof). The pics are out of order, but you get the idea. Happy building!
Indeed, in the first section, all the supplies as well as the tools needed for a 31 1/2" diameter clay oven are meticulously listed. Each step to building that oven is described and thoroughly explained, carefully guiding you to creating a sound and beautiful wood-fired oven.
The next section show the actual building of a smaller oven by an older couple, showing all the steps (mentioned in the previous section) in sequence, abundantly illustrated with a well-made photo gallery as well as thoroughly explained. What is cool about this section, is that all the decision-making involved in the construction of this oven - such as where to locate the oven and why - is clearly explained. Historical examples are used throughout to illustrate certain considerations at given building steps and to introduce us to other types of wood-fired oven, such as brick ovens.
Overall, this informative section demonstrates that one does not have to be young or have the help of many peole to build a modest but sufficient pizza and/or bread wood-fired oven.
The next section is an introduction, using historical knowledge, to bread making and provides strong background on the topic, so as to insure that after building your wood-fired oven, you can use it to bake quality bread!
Have fun and bon appetit!
I will be buying this book when I can.