Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Woodfired oven for the 21st Century!

I know, time passes, and the old blog gets left by the wayside. Okay, I take that on the chin - though in my defence, I have been busy. Very busy.

And yes, it's right on subject. A woodfired oven for the 21st century! I kid you not...I know, woodfired ovens lend themselves to rustic, old world charm and all that. I've worked in woodfired bakeries, and my experience was all about authenticity, not efficiency..

But that's about to change. Dramatically.

The thing is, woodfired ovens were overlooked in the industrial revolution. Once gas and electricity became 'online', t
he idea of wood fire became obsolete quite quickly. I guess nobody wanted them anymore. They were hard work, and difficult to get consistency of product. No wonder they went the way of the dinosoar..

In the back blocks of regional Australia, though, a number of the old Scotch ovens were retained - and some of those bakeries can still be found, often by accident. I stumbled upon my last one some years ago in Nabiac, NSW. I'm not sure if it's still there now, but the bakery at that time made the same classic country breads and meat pies you could find at any country town in Western or Northern NSW.
There are also places where aspiring Artisan bakers have spotted the potential of the old wood fired bakery, and despite the commercial imperatives necessary like population, have dived in and embraced the rustic life of the village baker.

Many of these 'tree change bakeries' have gone on to become successful businesses. Some, sadly, have a decent go at the twelve and fourteen hour days necessary to properly run a woodfired bakery, but eventually arrive at the decision to move on. The financial rewards are just too hard to achieve when the town has moved away.

But a unifying feature is the work. Firing up a woodfired oven takes energy and time. You need to fill it in order to get the oven to work properly too, so you need to make sure that you have a fair chance of finding paid homes for all that bread.

This challenge, to sell all the bread, turns a lot of dreams to dust.

I've been chatting to a mob from Bathurst NSW. These guys, Aromatic Embers, design, make and sell what I consider to be a workable woodfired baker's oven, though their product range didn't extend to the capacity and quality that a commercial bakery would require. They had built ovens for a baker before, but with mixed results.

Here's their web address:

From years of working with ovens of all shapes and sizes, I could see that there were ways to improve upon their existing design, good though it is. After many long discussions with Craig, who drafts the designs, we came up with a design which was not only capable of putting through about a hundred loaves per hour, it was also able to be brought to baking temperature using minimal wood. With a whole lot of tweaking, Craig thinks he'll be able to get the oven to hold an optimum temperature for baking for a long while.

Thus, a super efficient woodfired oven for the 21st century! Not only that, but we think we'll be able to generate huge volumes of hot water while the oven is operating, lending it to other efficient uses like providing hot water for the whole bakery, or driving an electricity turbine. Seriously!

So, my business partners and I are about to stump up thousands of dollars to commission one of these things being built. It appears as though the baking bug is biting us all hard...

Stay tuned. There is a whole lot to talk about in upcoming posts!
If you want to read my article about building this very special oven
, follow the link!
Building Bertha

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