From the Wood-Fired Oven by Richard Miscovich

From the Wood-Fired Oven, Richard Miscovich (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2013)

If you ever end up within shouting distance of Richard Miscovich, don’t do as I did – don’t pass up a chance to learn from him.

How did this disaster happen? While attending the 2013 Kneading Conference West (now renamed The Grain Gathering) in Mount Vernon WA, I had to choose which sessions I would put on my “must be there” list and which ones I would check out if I had time. Silly me, I thought that because I don’t have a wood-fired oven – and am not likely to ever have one – the information presented would have no value for me.

Now that I have a copy of From the Wood-Fired Oven in my hands, I’ve discovered exactly how wrong I was. Yes, I heard people talking about the fellow who could cook, bake, and eat all week long on a single firing of his wood-fired oven. But it never occurred to me – foolish woman! – Richard’s advice would be useful to someone baking in a home oven.

For the “indoor” baker, there is excellent information on the standards and conventions for bread formulas and, especially, starting and maintenance of a liquid sourdough starter.

My starter, which has become like another household pet, is now nearing a year old and I would have fared much better in my bread baking education had I had this book in hand several years ago. That said; I’m catching up fast!

“Part Two – Bread Baking: The Process” covers all the details including a “method-based approach” which is structured without being limiting. Once you understand the chemistry between the flour, water, salt, and leavening, you can modify the formulas to make your bread yours!

With the excellent advice and helpful photos, as well as conversion of the baking process to home ovens, even a beginning bread baker will turn out lovely artisan loaves.

I am three years into my 5-year plan to become a creditable home bread baker, and this book has given my learning a real boost. The first advice I received from a professional baker was always weigh, never measure. The second – to create proper “ears” on my loaves, slash at a 45-degree angle. The advice in From the Wood-Fired Oven on bread formulas – especially the section titled: “What You Can Change and What You Might Wish You Hadn’t” – has given me even more insights into bread baking, and I’ve taken another big leap ahead.

Whether you have a wood-fired oven out back (or are planning to build one) or you bake in a conventional home oven, invest in your own copy and read it cover to cover. Even if you’ve got years of baking experience, you will find some great ideas.

And, after all, who can possibly have too many bread books? Happy baking!

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