Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Living with Wal

Call it my personal foible - I like to name pieces of equipment. I find that it humanises them, and reduces frustration with them when they don't work properly. Over time, they develop a personality too - via repeated experience with these inanimate objects, a certain character of operation becomes evident. So a name has to fit if it's going to stick.

Meet Wal, our new oven.

Bertha, while inelegant, was certainly big and powerful. And you didn't argue with her or she would burn you badly. Wal, on the other hand, is a reduction of his brand name, Waldorf. 

Wal was born in July 1981, somewhere in Sydney, I believe. This information is on Wal's nameplate. I like that. He declares where he's from and how old he is right from the getgo. Wal's an upfront kinda guy, that we know.

He's a large caterer's oven, with two baking chambers. No 'fan force' in Wal - and that's perfect for Wal's new role as a baker's oven. Wal is powered by gas, not wood like Bertha was - so he doesn't have the grunt Bertha had either.

I've had to tune him to bake bread by creating stone decks inside his belly, as well as layers of bricks to varying thicknesses above, to the sides, and below. I've had to adjust the distance of the racks from the base too, which is where the heat from the gas flame comes from. Now he retains heat better, and cooks top and bottom evenly. I'm also getting good orange colours on the crust. 

So Wal has adapted to his new, semi retired role very well. He gets used extensively on weekends for our bread run, and through the week for some cakes and catering duties. We've done a bit of work to his gas lines so he burns better. He's pretty snazzy with baking tinned breads and cakes - actually holds more than Bertha did - but his sole baking skills are not in the same league as Bertha by any stretch of the imagination. Wal is slow at baking sole breads, so we end up with a thicker crust. Thus, I call him a crusty old bugger.

Bertha 2 on butcher's paper
Bertha 2 is being planned for out the back here in Denison Street. Bertha 2 will be 2.5 metres wide, by 1.5 metres deep. She will have 2 decks, with a good 25 cm height in each. This means we will have about 6 metres of baking space in Bertha 2. To give you an idea, we currently have about 1.5 metres, so this will be a massive step forward in terms of capacity.

But for now, I have Wal. I fire him up well in advance of any baking I need to do so his stones get good and hot. I make sure I keep plenty of water up to him for steam, and I keep his doors closed for fifteen minutes at a time during every load so that he holds his temperature. I keep an eye on the pilot lights, in case they get snuffed out by a bit of cross draft in the kitchen. If they blow out, we lose temperature without knowing it, so then we lose bread.

We've come to a workable arrangement - Wal can handle about a hundred loaves in a baking session, which takes him about twelve hours to bake. He can set about eight to twelve loaves at a time. Bertha could do the same thing in about six to eight hours - so Wal drags the chain a bit. But hey, he's over thirty years old now. I reckon ovens age at about twice the rate of a human, so Wal's an old fella. Taken in context, Wal does alright.

I'm just wondering how Wal will react to Bertha 2 when she sets up shop just outside his door...

1 comment:

  1. Hi Warwick,
    Very intersting stuff. For some time now I've been thinking of how to design and build a "super efficient" oven that can do bread, pizza and grilling at,well almost the same time. The "Guillard" oven was my prefered choice but you can not do grilling in that chamber without any ambers. I was even thinking of building two ovens next to each other to do different tasks. Your "Bertha" sounds interesting (still reading through though)and is something I would like to see next time I'm in New Castle. Are you selling the plans for it?