Baking Bread in an Old Wood-Burning Cookstove

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Learning to use an old cookstove is a skill that is worth the time for every cook.

It can be a ticklish thing, this baking bread on a wood-burning range the first time. I have had many a failure and many successes. We eat the failures as well as the successes.

This is a basic whole wheat bread recipe I’d like to share with you:

2 1/2 cups milk, scalded
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
One pkg. active dried yeast, softened in 1/2 cup lukewarm water
3 tablespoons cooking oil
6 to 8 cups whole wheat flour 

Blend milk, honey, salt and nutritional yeast. When this cools to lukewarm, add softened yeast, oil and three cups of the flour. Beat until bubbles rise to the surface. Add enough of the remaining flour to make a soft dough that comes away clean from the sides of bowl. Turn dough onto floured surface and let rest 10 minutes, then knead until smooth and elastic. Place in oiled bowl, turning dough over several times to coat with oil. Cover. Let rise again.

Divide dough into 3 equal portions. Shape into balls and let stand for five minutes, then mold into loaves. Place in oiled bread pans. Let rise until nearly doubled in bulk, about an hour. Bake about an hour in moderately hot wood-burning oven.

Tips for Cooking in a Wood-Burning Stove

I always start my fire when I place loaves in bread pans for last rising, which takes about 30 or 40 minutes. This gives the fire time to get “moderately” hot.

My oven has a temperature gauge which says simply SLOW–MODERATE–HOT. No numbers for degrees, just those three words. When that needle registers HOT, let me tell you, it is exactly that. I would judge it to be about a thousand degrees in the oven.

So you’ll want to “baby” your fire on bread-baking day. Sometimes, in spite of all I can do, the fire will nearly reach the HOT mark before I can slow ‘er down. Then I call upon that modern invention, aluminum foil, and make a nice little cap over all three loaves. After that, the old fire can get as hot as it likes while the bread cooks to perfection inside. If I am out of foil, I put a large tray or several lids on top of the loaves after they have crusted over. This is not too desirable, but will do in a pinch. Even then, sometimes, I have to leave the oven door ajar.

This doesn’t happen too often, but it does happen occasionally. (I like to think of these times as some more of that character-building stuff.)

If you place a pan of water on the floor of the oven under the loaves, it seems to give them volume and keeps the temperature easier to control. The bread is delicious and well worth the effort.

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