Bread is such a common commodity in our lives that we hardly ever stop to think about the processes involved in making it. I spent the morning of 21 May 2016 with Melleny Botha and Carol Boast while they baked bread for sale in Tarkastad for the second time this month. It took us four hours to make eight of these very special loaves in Mama Mimi’s wood-fired ovens donated to Tarka Development Group by The Hope Factory.
No, it doesn’t normally take four hours to make eight loaves of bread. Each of the ovens can make four loaves of bread every half an hour. None of us have particularly low IQ levels either. We struggled mainly with keeping the temperature high enough for these loaves to reach the optimum temperature at which they become the magnificent creatures they are. It is not a task for the impatient!
Bread and Fire 101
Our first batch was doing well. The temperature of the oven was on 250°C, the dough was perfect, the fire was piping hot. Then we opened the oven to put the dough in, and the temperature kept dropping, until it eventually settled around 150°C. The optimal baking temperature is 180°C. We tried our best during the 30 minutes these loaves baked to get the temperature back up, but to no avail. If you’re one of the wonderful people who accepted loaves from this batch, we are sorry, and thank you! Your next loaves will be much improved!
The second batch was another learning curve. We struggled for ages to get the temperature up to 275°C (in preparation for the expected drop in temperature when we put the dough in), but it just wouldn’t go there. We eventually concluded that it was the grate at the bottom of the fire that was preventing us from reaching our goal, because it was filled with compacted coals, blocking air flow to the wood. Out came the entire fire, we cleaned the grate, put new wood in and voilà! Our fire was doing what it was supposed to do. In future, we will be replacing the grates supplied with the ovens with ones that have larger gaps, so that the coals that are not contributing to the fire can fall through to the debris collection area, instead of blocking the air flow.
Those who received from the second batch are lucky that we are patient bakers who didn’t give up before discovering the secrets of fire. We hope you enjoy your bread, and promise it will only improve over time.
Melleny will be baking bread in these ovens every Friday, with bunny-chow available on demand. To place your order, please contact her on 073 438 9497. Money raised will go toward supporting her family.