Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Things I'm Learning from Baking for the Monday Market

I'm starting this post on the evening of July 9th.  I don't know when I'll get a chance to finish it, though, so I wanted to make it clear that when I refer to "today," today was July 9th.

Today was the fourth Monday Market for which we've baked breads, cookies, pies, rolls, or cakes.  All of this baking has been completed in the woodburning cookstoves here at the farm.  On the first Market day, I didn't yet have a rhythm figured out, and we had to fire up the Riverside Bakewell down in the summer kitchen in order to get everything baked on time--or nearly on time.  Since then, we have managed to do all of the baking in the house on the Margin Gem.

When I say "all of the baking," that phrase may not mean much unless I give you a rundown of what we have been hauling to the market.  Here was today's inventory: 19 loaves of potato and whole wheat bread (this doesn't count the four loaves of experimental raisin bread that I deemed not good enough to sell yet), 11 double-crusted fruit pies, five and a half dozen cinnamon rolls, and various other items which were not baked.  Last week's inventory was similar except that we only had six pies, but had two batches of cookies, three more loaves of bread, and two half-size angel food cakes.

Needless to say, I've been learning a lot about operating the Margin Gem cookstove each Sunday afternoon and Monday.  Here is a rundown of my new knowledge.

a) I've learned that the oven thermometer on the Margin Gem, which I had previously thought was woefully inaccurate, actually just continually registers about 30 degrees cooler than the oven really is.  With this knowledge, I have been able to remove the freestanding oven thermometer which I had placed inside the oven, making it easier to maneuver all of the pans.

b) The waterfront on the Margin Gem produces a lot of hot water.  I'm beginning to wonder about what we will do with so much hot water when the cookstove is being fired 24/7 during the winter months.  Perhaps a radiator can be rigged up to provide a little heat to the basement?

c) The Margin Gem and the Vaughn range boiler combine to create a much greater thermal mass than what was afforded by the Qualified Range.  I foresee our house being much warmer this coming winter than ever before.  Not only does the stove hold its fire much longer than the Qualified ever could have, but it also holds heat longer due to its larger size and presence of such large pieces of firebrick in the firebox as well as the presence of the water reservoir.  In addition, the boiler itself radiates a great deal of heat.  In fact, after we return home from the Monday Market, we make it a point to use as much hot water as possible to get the kitchen cooled off.

d) Even though the oven on the Margin Gem does a beautiful job of browning the bottoms of the loaves of bread and rolls (see post entitled "Little Things Mean a Lot"), I still have to finish cinnamon rolls with the sticky caramel topping on the stovetop after they have baked sufficiently.

Sweet rolls with sticky topping finishing their cooking on the
hot stovetop.
The top of a pan of sticky rolls after they've been turned out.
e) Finishing sticky rolls on the top of the stove can be messy.  The beautiful cooktop on our Margin Gem bears witness to what happens when a couple of eight-inch round pans of sticky rolls boil over.

I guess this means that I'll have to do a post about how one goes
about cleaning the cast-iron top of a wood cookstove.

f) If your oven is full, you can "bake" a casserole on the stovetop.  Since the oven is full all day on Monday, the noon dinner for my help and me has to be cooked on top of the stove.  I took the extra oven rack, put it on the top of the stove.  Then I put the liner of an electric roaster upside down on top of it.  Thus, we were able to have a "baked" casserole without using the oven.  In truth, the bottom of the casserole was pretty brown, but it was certainly edible.

The improvised casserole cooker atop the Margin Gem.

I've been shopping around a little bit for a stovetop oven so that we could increase the oven capacity for Monday Market baking, but I haven't bought anything yet.  Has anyone out there used a stovetop oven on the top of a wood cookstove?  If so, please comment and let me know how it has worked for you.

g) I'm a bit embarrassed to admit this last one, but here goes.  It isn't the end of the world to run the air conditioner and the woodburning cookstove at the same time.  Don't worry, the kitchen is closed off from the rest of the house.  We've been using the Riverside Bakewell down in the summer kitchen fairly frequently this summer, but the trek is just too far to make baking on this scale feasible down there.  At least the electric hot water heater gets a rest on summer Mondays!

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