Howdy, Howdy New Oven

Eight weeks after I paid the dosh to Tom Chandley, a loaded pallet fell to earth on the road beside the gate.

Either the pallet wasn’t made for the gate or the gate wasn’t made for the pallet. Quite apart from which I’m no longer fit for lifting heavy and awkward weights. It started to rain. What me worry?

The cavalry came over the hill in the form of Kev whose shift at the quarry ended a convenient 20 minutes after the delivery and who was in a fierce hurry to get to Tesco for the Friday afternoon scrum. I bet he wasn’t around for more than five minutes before the oven was in place on the work surface in the kitchen. The neighbour’s recycling box trolley was more than useful.

The Pico is a mini deck-oven made by Tom Chandley in Manchester. For lots of years they’ve been making full size deck-ovens for the bakery trade but have obviously spotted the gap in the market caused by the huge growth in small scale bakers. For a long time the only oven designed for this market has been the Belgian-made Rofco but world-wide demand has led to waiting lists of over 12 months.

Just a little ironic that Mom should leave me enough money to buy a “proper” bread oven at the same time as I retire from baking for sale.

It’s a really well designed tool. Two sizes and my instinct would always be to buy the bigger but we’re trying to reclaim our kitchen after 14 years and I have to convince myself I’m only baking for me and Sue and three large loaves at a time is more than adequate. So it’s a Compacta Pico. You can buy a fancy stand and you can buy more than one oven and stack them. But this fits perfectly on a standard kitchen work surface and under existing shelving. I measured it 17 times and still lay awake at night convinced it wouldn’t fit.

Saturday and Sunday I just looked at it, taking it in. I did go as far as to warm the dinner plates in it.

There are very few controls on the oven: the On/Off Switch bottom right; bottom heat control above that; top heat top right. Inside the door is a hole for manually adding water for steam; the knob on the left is to vent the steam. So the elements to play with are: bottom heat, top heat, steam or no steam, length of steaming, length of bake. Easy peasy if you are used to working with deck ovens. Which I’m not.

Monday – big day. The first bake I thought had to be Mick’s Classic Sourdough, the first loaf I devised I was happy with. (940g dough weight, 50% each Strong Bread & Wholemeal, 62.5% hydration –

So, start off with the temperatures suggested by Chandley, 230C top, 190 bottom. Slide in the dough, pour the water in for steam, make sure the vent is closed. Sit down and watch the thing like a television, like I never baked a loaf before. After 20 minutes vent the steam. Give the loaf 50 minutes as I would in a convection oven.

Immediate reaction? Slight confusion. It produces a pretty perfect loaf but leaves me a bit dissatisfied.

Tuesday. Classic for breakfast. Decide it needs harder baking. Also thought I should have started with a straight white loaf to get my bearings.

So, Pain de Campagne (940g dough, 100% Strong Bread Flour, 59% hydration –

At another Pico user’s suggestion I preheated the oven to 250C top and 200C bottom and reduced the top heat to 230C when the dough went in. Otherwise, same as the Classic.

Another perfect loaf, feeling a bit better but still sceptical

Wednesday. Campagne for breakfast – a little bland? Ran a bread course for a guy who set up a small chain of pizza restaurants up here a few years back. Met him at a food festival later and he proudly gave me a loaf of white sourdough baked at his new bakery. Looked perfect but was bland to the extent I wondered if it really was sourdough. That’s what came to mind.

Thursday the scariest day. Pizza. My fears are more technical than anything. I’ve been baking good pizzas for years but with doughs pressed out and baked in pizza tins. I was not feeling over-confident about moving 80% hydration bases at all never mind with toppings on. And then, is it going to come off the peel?

So I (cheated)(was sensible) and did a trial run.

First off: not only was the dough 80% hydration, it had been maturing in the fridge since Sunday and was not in a mood to cooperate. 100% strong bread flour, 80% hydration – By this time the gluten is beginning to deteriorate and likely to tear when handled.

Anyway, got the trial run to work and felt a bit more confident.

Went for the limit, 340C top and bottom. Improvised a topping. Uncooked tomato sauce, a layer of grilled orange beef tomato slices, another of mange tout, peas and sweetcorn mixed with just enough butter and creme fraiche to scare off the vegans, slices of mozzarella.

Loaded the first base on the peel, slid it in and repeated.

10 minutes hard.

Far from perfect, lots to learn, but finally I’m starting to see the potential.

Next loaf, real heat, shorter steam …

Something to keep you occupied in your old age.

Oven Cost £750.00 + baking tray £15.00 + delivery £160.00 = £925.00 + VAT £185.00 = £1110.00

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