There is something about baking bread in a wood-fired oven that just seems right.
It could be the history of it all, the time and care that it takes to build and tend a fire all day, or perhaps it’s just the delicious flavor of wood-fired loaves. Whatever it is, we think there is no better way to bake bread and it cannot be duplicated by commercial bakeries.
When fresh dough hits the 600° stone, it heats up so quickly that all the steam cannot escape fast enough. This cooks the bread from the inside and creates air pockets that give the loaf an unmatched oven spring.
The finished product is a super moist loaf with a crispy, chewy crust.
This is how bread should be.
Now, we’ve been baking sourdough bread in our apartment oven for about 2 years now, but we obviously don’t have the space for a wood-fired oven in our RV. We barely have space for a medium size gas oven.
So, when we had the opportunity to spend a day working with a seasoned baker in a 150-year-old wood-fired bakehouse, we didn’t hesitate to drive out there.
McBurney Manor is tucked away in the mountains of central Pennsylvania, a scenic
We spent the day with Nancy Yoder, the proprietor and head baker at McBurney Manor, as she fulfilled an order for a local retail shop and baked offerings for customers who stop by the bakehouse weekly for their bread.
While the fire was heating up the oven and our dough was rising in the cellar, we enjoyed some freshly baked bread and jam and Nancy answered a few questions about making artisanal bread:
MJ: What types of bread do you bake here and how did you choose them?
NY: Currently, we bake a small variety of old world
What is artisan bread?
For me, it’s a craft wherein the history and origin are an important part of the baking process. There is a simplicity to the recipes, using good quality ingredients and taking your time throughout the process.
Also, the shaping and scoring of the bread is more artistic that just tossing it into a pan. You can tell that it’s hand-made.
Do you notice a difference in using a wood fired oven over a standard oven?
There is a definite spring to the dough, and the steam creates an overall crustier bread because the heat is able to surround the bread. We are also able to bake a lot more loaves at once.
How is sourdough made?
Sourdough is made by mixing equal parts of flour and water to create a starter. This starter is left out at room temperature while being “fed” small amounts of flour and water until it starts to sour.
Once the starter is ready, you can use it to create a levain. Simply add a larger amount of flour and water the night before you bake. The next day mix your dough, I like to mix the water and salt first and then add flour and the levain to the dough.
Let the dough sit and fold it every so often until it gets to a nice elasticity. Then form it into whatever shape you want and bake.
Why does the sourdough starter have to be fermented for 12-16 hours?
Any less time and it doesn’t have time to ferment enough, any longer it becomes more sour and starts to get watery.
Can a sourdough starter be frozen?
I’ve never frozen it, but it can be refrigerated. Just remember to feed it about once a week. A finished loaf can be frozen and saved for later. Thaw it out at room temperature first, wrap it in foil and bake for 10 mins at 350° and it will be as good as new.
Do you find any difference between using a spelt flour and the King Arthur whole wheat flour?
The spelt flour forms a gluten within itself and rises, giving it a better oven spring. This tends to make the spelt flour bread fluffier than just whole wheat flour. I also like the flavor that spelt flour adds to the finished loaf.
What percentage of spelt do you use?
For today’s sourdough, I used 50%, but sometimes it’s as much as 80%. With my other breads I use about 10%, but don’t use spelt in my white or rye breads.
For a rye sourdough, how much rye do you use?
Similar to the spelt, I use about 50% rye flour in my loaves.
Aside from bread, what other fun things can you make with sourdough?
I haven’t tried making other things, but you could try making pancakes, pretzels, crackers or popovers.
About Nancy & McBurney Manor
Nancy Yoder, owner and innkeeper of McBurney Manor, has been baking old world breads for three years now in the wood-fired brick oven of a rebuilt 1842 bakehouse that sits adjacent to the manor.
Nancy and her husband, Jay, purchased the property in May of 2008 with designs on restoring it and turning it into a bed and breakfast.
Nancy held open houses for the first three years after opening her B&B for local artists to display and sell their wares.
One local by the name of Kevin Cook would sell his artisan breads at these open houses. Kevin inspired Nancy and Jay to refurbish the old bakehouse and rebuild the wood-fired oven, which had fallen to rubble over the years. When they got it working again, Nancy rented the space to Kevin so he could bake his breads. He also shared his knowledge and taught her to bake as well.
After Kevin left, the oven sat dormant for a couple of years until a young woman moved in with the Yoders for a year and began baking breads using spelt. Once again inspired to bake, Nancy eventually began selling her old world breads to the local area. Nancy’s bread also has a starring role in the full country breakfast she serves to guests every morning at McBurney Manor.