Bread Builders

Baking Bread for the Farmers’ Market

As founding members of the Prince George Farmers’ Market, Monika has baked bread since 1994 and we have sold our breads at the Market since then. For many years we have baked bread in a wood fired kitchen oven - four loaves at a time! As this oven was designed for use as a kitchen range it was less than ideal to baking bread on a regular basis and, after a few years of absence from the Market, we started to think baking bread again, and this time it would be with better equipment for sure!

Building the Oven started with “The Bread Builders”

Enter: Alan Scott and Daniel Wing’s book on bread and ovens “The Bread Builders”. Leafing through the book, we knew at that moment that this would be it (without thinking of the consequences, really). As for the consequences, one thing lead to another, starting with moving a 30-foot live tree and a cabin from the spot where the bakery would go. Living in Prince George we cope with 6 months of winter and at times extreme low temperatures, so a building to house the shaping room and the oven was unavoidable.

Trading Building Material for Artwork

With very limited funds to play with, we found ways to build and equip the bakery on a shoestring budget. The building is constructed from salvaged pine, all killed by the pine-beetle that has ravaged British Columbia. Since we didn’t have the equipment to mill the wood ourselves, we traded artwork and development of a corporate identity for the necessary lumber with a local contractor. We purchased second hand equipment and used recycled material as in the case of a fence a friend of ours has taken down; old, weathered knot-free (!) cedar boards which we planed on the back and used the weathered side for inside walls instead of gyp rock.

The bakery building is a framed-in timber frame construction sitting on a smooth finish concrete slab/foundation. We started building the frame in August 2004 with the intent to have the roof on before winter sets in - not counting on a very wet summer and fall which has set the project back a few weeks making it necessary to cover the entire building with tarps while building the oven.

Ovencrafters - A Wealth of useful Information

We have built the oven ourselves from plans purchased from ovencrafters. A word of advice to anyone embarking on the adventure of building an Alan Scott oven: it is more than worthwhile to partake in an oven building workshop and build one of these babies under the guidance of Ovencrafters- there are a number of tricky details which, if not properly executed, can have disastrous consequences. (Go to Alan Scott’s Ovencrafters site for details on workshops and a wealth of other oven related topics.) I don’t regret my trip to California for one of Alan’s workshops where I not only learned about the materials and the intricacies of building an oven but have also met a bunch of interesting, like-minded individuals exchanging ideas ranging from baking bread to marketing.

We managed to finish the building and build the oven before serious freezing set in and on December 8, 2004 a small first fire was built in the oven to start the drying-out process. Our patience at this point was put to the test but we knew that too much haste and heat could result in a cracked dome or base. It’s fascinating to see the oven shell expand and contract of about 8mm (3/8 inch). It worked perfectly (just one single small hairline crack appeared in one corner) and after about two weeks of continually firing the oven with a small fire (which was increased gradually), we had a party going celebrating the completion with fresh and wonderful pizzas.

Over the next few months we finished the inside of the bakery and built the cage around the oven holding the insulation which then was finished with a mantle of white stucco. Although our climate requires an indoor oven, we wanted to have the entire oven exposed in all its glory. To achieve that we built a pony wall behind the chimney with the oven face inside while the bulk of the oven is actually exposed to the outside on the other side of the pony wall while still roofed over. An added benefit to this arrangement is that our dog now has outside access to a heated dog apartment without entering the bakery itself.

Carbon Neutral Operation

Using only dead, pine-beetle killed wood off of our property, as fuel, the oven is carbon neutral. To offset other energy use such as electricity and the operation of our delivery van, we voluntarily purchase carbon offset credits.

A Wonderful Oven

After baking for a few years now, I’m still amazed at how evenly the heat is spread, how well the oven holds the heat (there seems to be no noticeable heat loss from winter use to summer use although the bulk of the oven is exposed), and how well the heat bounces back after each batch of bread.

Of course we use the oven mostly to bake bread but it also works wonderfully for vegetable pots, roasts, stews, chicken, turkeys, pies etc. Once we got the timing down pat we use all heat stages of the oven to bake, cook or dry all sorts of food and we’ve become addicted to pizza parties just before a bread baking cycle when the high heat is perfect (600-650F hearth surface) to throw in a few pizzas!