Let’s take a moment to discuss one of the most highly revered topics in the history of mankind – the cookie. These gems have transcended culture, religion, species. They’re a staple of any diet where mental health is important. Who doesn’t enjoy cookies?
Mom and I decided to bake cookies for Singles Awareness Day – okay, she wanted to make Valentine’s Day cookies. I made SAD cookies. Since it was snowing when I woke up, and it’s only 35*F right now, we thought baking them in the woodstove would be way more fun than using the regular gas oven. Our stove is a Kitchen Queen 480. There’s a learning curve to baking in a woodstove, if you’ve never done it before. In the end, though, it’s much more rewarding than baking in a gas or electric oven.
|There's still broken limbs in almost every tree out there from the ice storm a few weeks back.|
In my Kitchen Queen, there is a firebox on the left side, the oven on the right side, the stove top, and above that, two warming ovens. Our house is VERY well insulated. I’m talking, it’s 35* right now, and we’ve got the windows open. If you want to heat your woodstove up enough to bake in, it will most likely warm your house up a bit.
To get the temperature high enough, I prefer to use smaller pieces of wood (either split logs or just smaller branches cut up). I find 2-3” diameter to be a good size. I don’t use specific hardwoods or anything fancy to burn – I use wood picked up on our 160 acre property or along the roads where the county cuts trees by power lines. I know there are some woods preferable to others for burning because they will burn longer or hotter, but I’m not that fancy. Anywho – more small branches will give you control where a big log will not. Save the logs to burn overnight when you don’t want to add logs every few hours. While you’re baking, you can open her up, toss some branches in and heat up the oven. Since you’re using smaller wood, you’ll need to add to the fire more often – but you’re standing there cooking anyway, it’s not like you’re not around.
Regular ovens don’t take long to heat – my gas oven will take about ten minutes to preheat to 350*. But – you guessed it – the woodstove is a different animal. Your best bet is to start preheating at least an hour before you’re ready to start baking. This will allow everything to get hot enough, and you won’t have to fight fluctuating temperatures.
On my stove, there is a temperature gauge on the oven door. I just went out and checked with an infrared thermometer to see the temperature variation within the oven. The gauge on the door said 290*F, the back wall was 285*, the wall by the firebox was 420*, the wall opposite the firebox was 320*, and the cookie sheet on the oven rack was 340*. Take-home lesson here – don’t go by what that temperature gauge says on your oven door. On my oven it’s roughly 40* warmer where the food’s actually cooking.
Once you get the hang of adding wood to the fire at even intervals, it’s much easier to keep a steady temperature, and half the battle’s won. Next up, you HAVE GOT TO remember to bake for the recommended time on your recipe. Every time you open up the door, you’re dropping your oven temperature. It’s not like a gas or electric oven – there’s no internal sensor to regulate the heat and get it back to where you had it before. So, unless you’ve got a really profound reason, don’t leave the door open.
My biggest problem with baking in the woodstove is the fact that this Kitchen Queen oven is sealed quite well. If you’re baking bread and open the door, don’t stick your face by the oven. Steam billows out like you wouldn’t believe. That’s great for bread, but if I wanted a sauna, I’d go to a spa or something. The second big issue with the oven sealing like that is that you can’t smell food the same way you do in your regular oven. Let me explain.
In the regular oven, when I’m baking bread and get a good whiff of fresh, yeasty bread, it means that the bread’s almost done. It’s on the last ten minute stretch or so, and it’s time to go check on it. In the woodstove, when I get a whiff of bread – I’d better be hauling butt back there ASAP, because that bread is probably just about perfectly done.
Cookies are not so forgiving as bread. When you smell them in the regular oven, it’s probably time to take them out. When you smell them in the woodstove…well…let’s just say some of my sugar cookies are indistinguishable from my peanut butter cookies today.
This is not the be-all, end-all, definitive guide to woodstove baking. It’s just what I’ve learned in the past three months, starting with baking M&M cookies before Christmas. In the intervening time, I’ve baked a few pies, a few batches of cookies, a dozen pumpkins and a whole lotta bread in that oven. I have a very long way to go before I master the mysteries of baking in a woodstove, but at least my dad and brother will eat all the overdone cookies in the meantime!
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