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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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I was saying just a couple of posts ago about how we love this time of year? Well yesterday (dimanche) had to be just one of the last best days of the summer for a variety of reasons. Not just because the skies were blue and the sun was hot on your face, but also because it was one of those rare occasions when we decided to go out and support a local event.

A lovely setting for a car boot sale!

Usually, we’re flying around the place doing what we do here, or we’re just too tired to bother. This time though, we thought we’d have a wander into Vernoil to help support the village’s inaugural vide grenier. I’m sure you’ve all heard about the French and their passion for these things? A vide grenier simply translates as ’empty loft’. It’s a way of life for many French and it’s a great day to add to any holiday itinerary too. Catch one if you can when you come to France next, you’ll find them great fun. If it’s anything like the one we visited yesterday, then you’ll be able to buy all manner of things from copper pans, to old newspapers, to very old farm implements among the usual baby clothes, cuddly toys and paperback books. There’s usually a few old Johnny Halliday LP’s going spare too…

Our one yesterday also had quite a few old cars on display from the earliest Peugeot’s to late 50’s Citroens and even a cute little Vespa! Niall’s currently looking for his first Moto. Shame it wasn’t for sale!

We bought all manner of things yesterday including an old tin, an ancient (but fully working) enamel inhaler, some books on the WW2, a beautiful (but heavy) copper jam pot, a couple of woven baskets for the fresh eggs and a half a garden bench(!) Don’t worry, I know where I’m going to put it. The lady we bought it from had the same idea – to ‘sink’ it into a wall on one half. All the transactions were extremely good natured, as is the way at these sorts of village gatherings. It was nice too to be greeted by friends with a cheery ‘bonjour’, and to feel like we belong in the community.

There were the usual crowd of people gathered around the bar there and parked right next to it was the fouée stall!

How could I resist a lunch of two of my most favourite things? Ice cold lager and a couple of hot fouée?

This is the rusty old (but perfectly serviceable) portable bread oven they used. I’ve seen a few of these wheeled out for country fairs etc. Although this one looked in need of a bit of TLC! Along with the old bbq parked right next to it, the comité des fetes managed to keep quite a few hundred folks well fed throughout the day. A four a pain was a way of life for many country folks living far from a village with a dedicated bakery. These days, although some remain, far more fall ravage to weeds and the elements. Some are kept as interesting curio’s – a memento of a bygone age. Ours was lost in the 1950’s. I’ve been sorely tempted to begin work on building my own bread oven here at Le Chant d’Oiseau so we can bake fouée for guests here during the summer, and pizza too. But now I’ve seen these portable ones at work, they seem more appealing! Once back home, I actually scoured the Internet looking for just such a beast. There are quite a few of them around, it has to be said. Unfortunately too far away in both distance and cash!

Anyway, here’s what the fouée looked like once out of the oven.

And well tasty they were too!

It seemed that the whole of the village had turned out to have a stall here, and some from quite a way away too. There weren’t that many tourists around, well not English anyway. But, we did bump into one or two friends and acquaintances all looking for a bargain or two as well.

Now, if only there’d been a bread oven for sale….

Until the next time, au revoir.

TBC

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

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