I have been making bread for a few years, I love the sensual feel of spongy dough, hanging off my hand working it’s way toward edibility with my help and the intervention of a hot oven.
The construction of dough via the cultivation of yeast is a topic in itself. Combinations of ingredients coming together to be transformed into something that will support peanut butter and honey or cheese, salami and pickles. The final process of converting those raw ingredients, albeit some chemical changes, depending on one’s process, into a firm and solid product that, not infrequently, elicits praise and acknowledgment.
From the idea to the physical takes some work. I grew up with an oven in the house. Almost everywhere I’ve lived there has been one attached to a stove, sometimes a separate entity mounted on the wall or a table top model. And my therapeutic spiritual practise has been supported by the punching, kneading and smacking down smartly of various incarnations and combinations of ingredients in dough form, manifesting eventually into generally delicious bread.
Since embarking on a nomadic life in the African countries I have found it necessary to create the reality myself, and with help, building ovens to satisfy my desire to make, bake and eat decent bread.
I will not attempt to define or describe what constitutes “decent bread” but I will say there is not much if any of it available here.
Through the inspiration of my partner Elke, we have been exploring the possibilities of decreasing incidence of smoke inhalation, deforestation and increasing fuel efficiency by showing local folks how to build earth stoves . Ovens just seem to be the next step! In Mnenia Tanzania at the Amarula Campsite I made my first African Pizza.
Elke has built a few ovens and with a little of my help and the community women’s groups in each location we’ve constructed them using the local clay earth, sand and empty glass bottles. Creating a stable base is primary, we used native stone dry stacked and covered with cob. Once it dries a base of sand is laid level and the bottles placed so as to create the most insulation possible under the floor.
Covered with sand then cob and tile, bricks or furnace refractory stone (if you can get it!) to make a smooth floor in the oven. After we pile wet sand on into a large mound, cover with paper then more cob.
Later we put another layer over of insulating cob, a mix of 50% sawdust that creates a good barrier for holding in the heat.
Once the cob is dry we cut out the door shape remove the sand and make a chimney directly above the doorway. It actually gets two doorways, one to shut the heat in for baking and an outer metal door for when we fire the chamber.
I like to make the dough the night before, punch it down a few times and then while the fire burns prepare any other things I’m cooking.
It takes about 4 hours of hot fire to get good stored heat. Some folks build a fire the day before to create a residual bank of heat within, then another on the day of baking.
When it seems ready, the wood reduced to charcoal, I scrape out the remaining coals and as much ash as possible then wipe the floor with a very wet cloth. Gloves are good and long handles on the tools. The heat is intense.
The first pizza was done in 10 minutes and burnt around the edges!
We baked 8 that night back to back with a small loaf laid directly on the floor, in between, near the end and a birthday cake once the heat was diminished somewhat.
Once everyone had had enough we rolled out the remaining dough, spread the pizza sauce on then rolled and cut to make pizza rolls for breakfast. I took them out before going to bed. In the morning put them back in covered to warm.
I had brought a bundt pan from Germany for cakes. It worked well for cinnamon rolls, 8 in a circle, they rose up nicely. During the previous week in town we checked out a number of second hand stores, lots of blenders dishes and pots but almost no baking dishes. We did manage to find a small cookie sheet. Now I’m looking for bread pans. I’ve seen them near the main market made of aluminum.. not my favourite. So now every time we go out to Ndanifor Permaculture Ecovillage I’ll be baking, cinnamon rolls, mixed grain bread and the occasional cake… Come for tea!