1. Food You Are Baking Sometimes you have got a choice about what you are going to bake. If you are having trouble achieving a hot oven, but a moderate oven is attainable, make Danish pastry instead of cream puffs, or a cake instead of baked Alaska.
a) Small diameter, lighter weight pieces of wood burn very hot, but don't last long.
b) Pieces with larger diameter and greater weight burn hot, but less so, and they last longer.
In the picture below, you can see the variety of firewood pieces that were in our woodbox last night. We had a combination of cottonwood and elm and something else that my folks brought us that a storm brought down at their house. You can see that we had pieces of various diameter which were whole as well as split.
|Different varieties and sizes of firewood available for baking.|
|A picture from the post about grilling on a cookstove. This|
shows a time when I purposely did not distribute the fire
evenly in the firebox. At the time this photo was snapped,
the front of the oven would have been hotter than the back.
To cool a fire in a cookstove, you decrease the oxygen flow by closing the drafts. To cause the fire to burn hotter, you increase the oxygen flow by opening the drafts. HOWEVER, there is a caveat: opening the drafts too widely will make the fire burn hotter, but will also allow extra, unused fresh air to circulate around the oven and will result in a lower oven temperature. This "point of diminishing returns" can only be learned with experience, and because weather conditions affect draft, it is also mobile.
I've never had the privilege of cooking on a stove that was equipped with a check draft. However, I've read that a similar effect can be accomplished by simply tipping open a few of the cooktop lids above the oven, thus permitting the cool air to circulate around the oven in the same fashion as a check draft is designed to do.
6. Amount of Fly Ash Above the Oven Since most wood cookstove ovens heat from the top down (see the Part 1 of this series), some ovens tend to cook foods thoroughly on the top, but not on the bottom. One way to help make sure that the oven is of more uniform temperature from top to bottom is to leave a layer of fly ash resting on the roof of the oven beneath the cooktop. Fly ash is ash that floats up from the fire and either gets stuck somewhere in the flue path of the stove or travels up the chimney. Except for when I had to move the Qualified range, I never scraped away all of the fly ash from above its oven in the entire time that I used that stove.
7. Use of Baffles in the Oven When I was in college at Iowa State University in Ames, I once visited the kitchen store in downtown Ames which sells AGA cookers. The sales lady there explained to me how one can use the "cold plain shelf" in the AGA ovens to create two different baking temperatures in one oven. Covering an oven rack with a piece of aluminum foil produces the same effect in a wood cookstove oven.
8. Location of the Food in the Oven Foods placed closer to the top of the oven will cook differently than foods placed nearer to the bottom of the oven. This is true in modern ovens too, so this is nothing that would surprise the experienced cook. It is also a variable that the wood cookstove baker has at his disposal.
I'm always stressing to my students that writing is a process of revisions upon revisions, and I'd just like to take this opportunity to say that readers of this post might want to occasionally revisit this location in the future. I have a sneaking feeling that I have inadvertently left something out, but I can't think of anything that is missing at the moment. If I find that something has been omitted here, I will add it in the future. Also, if you are a wood cookstove user, please take advantage of the comments section to tell me about other variables which I have neglected to include here.
Now, I realize that I still haven't actually told you what processes one might use to maintain an even oven temperature. The next two posts on this topic will provide you with that information, I promise.
Jump to the next post about "what other people do" to maintain an oven temperature here.