Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Paine de casa - in cuptor cu lemn

"Homemade Bread in a wood-fired oven"

What could be better than homemade bread fresh from the oven? Perhaps homemade bread fresh from a wood oven! This is a simple recipe for ‘paine de casa’ that I found somewhere on the net and noted down. I forgot to save the original Romanian link so apologies to the original poster/blogger. It’s a pretty standard bread recipe though and produces a nice light inside and a crunchy crust. A lot of villagers produce larger softer loaves than these (based on what I’ve tried at people’s houses where they’ve baked their own bread) and also sometimes mix the flour with potato – something I’ll try at a future date. These turned out pretty well for my first effort at cooking bread in a wood-fired oven so I was quite chuffed.


3 bags of strong white bread flour (3kg)
Three packets of yeast (I used to ‘fresh’ squares rather than the dried stuff)
3 tbs of sugar
about 180ml of sunflower or vegetable oil
3 tsp of salt
Warm water (I needed about 1.5 litres in total)


1. First of all I got a fire going in the oven. I made a stack of small dry wood with some screwed up paper at the bottom and got a good blaze going at the front of the oven. The door should be left open as well as the vent to the chimney to allow plenty of oxygen to get to the fire and for the smoke to escape.

Fire started in the bread oven.
2. Once I had a good fire going, I start on the yeast. I mixed the 3 cubes of yeast into a beer glass with the sugar and a glass of warm water (not too hot or it’ll kill the yeast – about 25-27C at most). This glass I left till the yeast had clearly activated and come to life. If it doesn’t froth up, the yeast is knackered.
Yeast frothing up nicely.
3. In a large (20 litre) bowl, I mixed the flour, oil and salt. I then poured in the frothy yeast and started mixing, adding warm water as and when need, mixing it all together with a large wooden spoon at first, and then once I had enough water, with my hand.
4. Meanwhile, keep an eye on the fire all the time, keep it blazing, gradually added larger pieces of wood. As the fire grows, push it back towards the centre of the oven and put the new wood in front. Keep building it until you have a nice blaze.
5. Give the flour mixture a good kneading with your hands, at least 5 minutes, more if you can bear it. I made the mixture a lot sloppier than I had done with bread I’ve made in a conventional gas oven. The wood-fired oven will be a lot hotter and I had read that a moister mixture was advantageous. I eventually kneaded to a consistency that was elastic in the hands (you could stretch it out without it breaking) but was still quite sticky to the touch.
6. Cover the bowl with some teacloths and leave in a warm place until it has approximately doubled in size.
7. Keep stoking the fire, adding more and more wood. By this point the fire had been going for about 45 minutes and I was starting to add logs about 25cm long.
Fire out, only hot embers remain, spread oven the oven base.
8. Once the dough had risen to twice its original size, around 45-60 in my case, I knocked it back to get the air out and left it for about another 20 minutes to rest.
9. Around this time you really want to pile the wood it to get it up to the next level of heat. It’s good to build up the heat gradually like this rather than starting a massive fire right from the start in order to heat up the bricks slowly to prevent damage. This is especially important if the oven hasn’t been used for a while or the weather is cold. At this point I was putting in larger logs, about 40-50cm in length, and really getting a flame roaring to the roof of the oven. At first, the bricks on the roof of the oven will go black from the soot of the smoke, at a certain point, they’ll start to turn white – this is what you are looking for. Once the roof of the oven is white hot, stop adding wood and let the remaining logs burn down to embers.
Don't waste the hot embers you rake out!
10. After resting the dough I divided it into six equal portions (plus one half portion). I only had three bread tins, so I put three of the portions in tins, and the rest I left in the bowl formed roughly into rounds (trickier with the sticky dough). Leave them to rise some more, again about double, which took about 30-40 minutes.
11. Once the fire has burnt down and there are no more flames, only red/white hot embers, rake the embers around the floor of the oven to evenly heat it and leave them there for about 10-15 minutes. At this point, with no more smoke being produced, you can close the vent to the chimney to help retain the heat, and also keep the door of the oven closed, for the same reason. This helps to even out the heat of the walls and floor.
embers raked to the sides and a white-hot roof.
12. After about 15 minutes, you can rake the embers out of the oven, or move them to the edges, depending on how quickly or slowly you want to cool the oven down. If you intend to do more cooking in the oven than one batch, rake the embers to the sides. I raked some out into a pan and the rest I raked to the sides, but mostly because I didn’t have anything handy to rake them into! The pan with the hot embers needn’t go to waste: it makes an excellent BBQ for an impromptu ‘baker’s breakfast’ (or lunch, depending on the time of day). After clearing a space in the centre of the oven, give it a quite wipe with a damp mop (don’t use one with a plastic handle...) to clean away the ashes from the baking area. Close the door and leave for another 10-15 minutes for the base of the oven to cool a little so you don’t burn the bottom before the bread is done.
Bread in just placed in the oven on the hot base.
13. By now the bread in the tins (or in the bowl) should have puffed up again and be ready to be put in the oven. The tins are easy to put in – just place them near the entrance and push them in with a metal stick. It’s handy to have a long metal rod with a hook in the end for dragging the tins back again or turning them around. The more traditional round loaves need to be thrown in with the help of a wooden peel; flour the end of it, drop the dough on and with a quick sharp movement, push the peel into the oven and either whip it out from under the dough or tip the dough over the side. It’s handy to have two people for that part. Close the oven door and wait.
Bread starting to look done, just a few more minutes.
14. Cooking time depends on the temperature of the oven so check on the bread from time to time. Mine took about an hour in total, but it could be a lot less if the oven is very hot. I occasionally turned the loaves around or moved them from place to place to either a hotter or colder area (judged by how quickly things were cooking in those areas). When they look done (or sound done based on a hollow sound when tapping the crust of the loaf) take them out and cool them on a metal grill or, if you don’t have one, on a couple of strips of wood.
The finished product, cooling off a little.
15. And that’s it. You probably want to resist the temptation of cut one open straight away – give them 30 minutes to cool and finish cooking first, otherwise you might make the centre soggy. Store the extra loaves in a cotton bag or wrapped in a teacloth to maximize their lifespan. If kept in the fridge or in a plastic bag, they tend to sweat and go mouldy more quickly.

16. Pofta buna!

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