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Well dear readers, the day finally arrived when I started the fire in the bread oven that would eventually burn hot enough to burn the soot from the vault and gradually turn the whole thing white hot. This is the point at which you know your oven is hot enough to cook.
Pizzas at this temperature take a matter of seconds to turn into molten rock, so you have to keep a fairly good eye on them. Croissants take nano seconds! So, it’s really no use placing them on a tray in the oven, walking back to the house for the camera and back to the oven (30 seconds) expecting them to resemble those on the shelves down at our boulangers. No. You’d find the charred remains of lumps of dough, about to spontaneously combust in extreme temperatures.


So, careful oven management is a pre-requisite of firing up irresponsibly large fires!

The fire was massive. Contained as it was within the vault, it was nontheless a scary, scary fire to witness. Sometimes the flames would belch out of the doorway (singed my eyebrows) or leap up the chimney in a bid for freedom. It was fantastic to watch, and I just kept piling the logs on. Hence the singed eyebrow!

The tell-tale signs were that the heat was such that the bricks of the inner archway were becoming ‘clean’ again. The layers of soot built up by subsequent small to medium curing fires were gradually being eaten by the ravenous flames. When I got close enough to actually see ‘up’ into the vault, there appeared to be patches of ‘clear’ brickwork. No soot. So, taking this as a sign from the god of bread ovens, I just kept whacking the logs on! The heat was intense. At this point, it’s a given that you’ve acheived something in the region of 1000°F. Now, I’m thick at maths, so I got bored with subtracting my shoe size, dividing by my mother’s age and multiplying by a factor of Pi r squared to the ratio of 7.658. So I Googled a temperature converter, and found that my oven was cracking out in the region of 538°C. Proper number!


No surprise then that what should have been tasty, lightly browned croissants were in fact a mass of carbonised dust.
I pushed the embers and the still burning logs to the back and sides of the oven, and sat back to wait for them to stop burning, and start glowing.
The roof of the vault was revealed in the light of the flames. It was marvelous to see. All my hard work of the past couple of weeks was revealed as a lovely brick igloo, glowing white hot with the sparks and the occasional flame rising to lick the roof. Truly an amazing feeling, having created something from scratch that will (hopefully) provide us with food (not to mention warmth) for a while to come. I now know how Gérard, our neighbour feels when he fires up his large family oven. It’s a feeling of power, certainly. Of controlling the elements, and bending it to your will. But it’s also a very soothing and calming thing too. To simply sit and watch the fire dance for me is very soporific, and once or twice I stopped myself from succumbing to the mesmerising effect of the flames and the heat. Long enough to chuck another log on!

There are a couple of very small points of escape for the heat, but at this stage I’m grateful for them as the heat was escaping as steam. Rather it found a way out naturally, without cracking the bricks or the outer layers. Once all the moisture has gone, I’ll fill in around the base with a little fire cement.

We have lots of guests in the next few weeks and we’re hoping to try the pizza recipes out on a few willing guinea pigs, ready for the spring and summer of 2009. We think they’ll go down a treat! Especially if they look like these….


That was my first calzone. Perfect with a beer on a warm afternoon!


And that was my first ‘proper’ pizza! Mmmmmmmmmmmmm!

I’m also going to have a chat with Bruno, our boulanger friend to pick his brains about dough for fouée. That has to be on the cards, as it’s just simply delicious.

Although this wasn’t a particularly hard build, it ranks up there at the top as one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done. If anyone wants the design, quantities and associated costs (for France) then let me know, and I’ll gladly send them on. If anyone wants any help to build one, again, just let me know!

Because I’ve built this oven, and we’ll be cooking regularly with it, I wanted one of those pizza peel things. You know, the flat shovel affair with the long handle (saves on singed eyebrows) to place your pizza in the heart of the oven.

So, off I trots onto e-Bay. I stopped by one of the ‘sponsored links’ pages, a company in the UK specialising in stuff like this to the catering trade. I saw exactly what I needed at just £10! So, I clicked on it to order, but no postage details to France from the UK. I e-mailed, then called the company based in Oldham to enquire as to what the total would be delivered.

Imagine my shock when I got an e-mail back quoting £54 ex. VAT just for posting the peel? So the whole thing would cost me £64 PLUS VAT! I sent them an e-mail back to say I thought that was a tad excessive. I begrudge paying that amount to post something worth only a tenner! The reply? That was the best they could quote after searching around. Sorry.

So, back to eBay and again to one of the shops there, this time based in Germany. No problem, the peel’s on it’s way this morning (just had confirmation). The peel was €13.50, and the postage was €12.50!

Is it that these companies trying to export to Europe are held to ransom by excessive transport/postal charges? Whatever it is, I wonder how much potential trade is lost per year? Just a thought.

Until the next time, au revoir.

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2008

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Since we spoke last, I’ve been very hard at work with my latest little project – the bread oven. It’s taken shape quite nicely and today we spent a nice hour or so sat in front of it, watching the first of many ‘curing’ fires licking the roof and belching smoke out of the chimney! Sad eh? It reminded us both of the first time my mam got a front loading washing machine, and we all sat there mesmerised by the laundry being spun this way and that. We don’t do that anymore though.

Anyway, these curing fires are small-ish ones which are lit to drive out any moisture within the build. It’s working really well too. There’s evidence on the parpaings (breeze blocks) that water’s been squeezed out of the béton refractaire base that everything else sits on. Only a couple more days and I’ll be ready to light ‘the BIG one’ in there. This one is the one that burns off all the soot that’s vgathered on the roof of the dome. The dome then turns white, as it’s literally white hot – around 500°C! Then it’s ready to cook!

Here’s a few pics of the construction as it developed.

There’s more….

All we have left to do now is sand back, stain & varnish the wooden surround to hide the béton refractaire layer, then paint the parpaings with crepi. There’s a chapeau to be made for the chimney, just in case it rains while the bread-making process is underway!

All in all, I’m very, very pleased with the way it’s turned out! If you’re visiting us anytime, then pizzas and fresh fouée may well be on offer!

Until the next time, au revoir.

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2008

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Well. After all the excitement of seeing those bread ovens in action over the past few weeks – the one at the vide grenier on Sunday, plus the one at the wine fair in Saumur – I had to get cracking on one of my own! I decided in the end not to bother with buying a ready-made one stuck on the back of a trailer, but opted instead to go for building one of our very own here at Le Chant. I told you I was trawling t’Internet looking for inspiration? Well, I found it. I Googled a website which is the first I’ve seen that details not only the plans used, but also the costs involved. So, many thanks to Marsu. Check out his site here. Ok, so the costs were for a four constructed in May/June of 2005, but actually, when I did some comparisons with my DIY bibles (Bricoman, Brico Depot & Leroy Merlin catalogues) the costs are even cheaper these days!

So – onwards and upwards! I already have much of the required materials strewn around the place, so that makes it a little cheaper still!

I’ll keep you all informed as to progress with pictures, don’t worry. I hope to be firing it up for the first time in a few weeks (or sooner) if possible.

Here’s a few pics just to whet your appetite! The first one’s as I was ‘dry building’ the walls to get an idea of scale etc. The old bricks on the front of the pillar are hand-made terre cuit briques from last century, we think. They’re lying around the place here so I cleaned them up to add them in as a feature to match the arch I’ll build for the mouth of the oven.


The second one was taken as I’d finished and checked everything for square and level. It’s bang on!


And this one’s to give an idea of where it’ll stand in relation to the bbq’s.

And the ones below are what the finished project will resemble. It isn’t big, but right for the space I have available for it. It’s situated on the ‘lean-to’ end of our old barn. It’s where we hold our twice-weekly meals on site in the high season. There are 2 stone bbq’s for guests to use there too, which will eventually form part of the feature.

So this area should form a very nice social ‘hub’ to the place when completed in a few weeks. It already proved very popular this summer after we completed the new roof!

Our Hannah’s boyfriend Steve’s spent the evening with us tonight. We fed him for the first time. We’re not exactly sure what he thought of the meal – one of Syb’s ‘concoctions’ that sprang from nowhere, using just whatever was to hand as we’ve been really busy today. He’s a chef you see. Quite a good one too, so Syb was a bit alarmed when Hannah said they’d be stopping for tea after spending the afternoon clothes shopping together in Angers. Panic! Still, it all turned out ok, and the pumpkin potato mushroom pasta chicken thingy went down a treat!

Steve even had seconds, though we think he was just being polite! I also tried to get his expert opinion on my bread oven, being French and all that. I could see he was impressed by the way his eyes glazed over and rolled into the back of his head as I explained how it’d work. To be fair, I can just imagine that he was thinking that I’d be asking him for all his best bread & pizza recipes. Oh, I will. I will…..

Anyway, it’s late here. I’m a tired, but happy ex-pat after reading some new reviews of our place on TA after the upset of the other day. It’s absolutely humbling to think that people think enough of this place to want to tell others that it’s actually quite a nice place to spend a holiday. So, on that note.

Until the next time, au revoir.

TBC

All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2008

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reddit_title='[A Slice of Ex-Pat(é)]’

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