All photos/art by Madeline Polss
Award-winning pastry chef Ciril Hitz, a department chairman and instructor at Johnson and Wales University, always carried with him a fond recollection of the aroma of fresh bread baking to perfection in the wood-fired ovens so common in his native Switzerland.
Today, he and his wife, Kylee, live in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, in a 1786 Cape surrounded by fields of hay and wildflowers — but in 2006, with the help of the Maine Wood Heat Company, he found a way to rekindle one small part of his childhood. Now on baking days, the couple’s two children compete with chickens, dogs, cats, and an assortment of baby pheasants for the delectable crumbs that fall fresh from Ciril’s outdoor oven.
The oven came as a kit produced by Le Panyol, France’s oldest operating manufacturer of wood-fired ovens. After checking town building and fire codes, Ciril decided to situate his oven on a level piece of ground next to an outbuilding housing his baking equipment.
To prepare for the installation, a local mason first poured frost-proof concrete footings and a foundation for the base, followed by a steel-reinforced capping slab, all designed to hold the weight of the oven. Then the experts at Maine Wood Heat, the exclusive North American importer of Le Panyol kits, assembled the modular core: essentially, a dome consisting of wedge-shaped voussoirs (arch elements) resting against a central keystone at the top.
The secret to the quality of this project lies in the unique material from which Le Panyol’s ovens are constructed: an all-natural, organic earthenware made from white clay mined at a single quarry just outside Provence. Once sealed with mortar, the oven’s design balances the fire’s radiant, conductive, and convective energies.
Just under $12,000, including the concrete footing and base. Construction was part of a Maine Wood Heat workshop, which kept labor costs down.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY?
“Not a thing!” notes Ciril. “I’d just advise people to educate themselves about outdoor ovens [before starting this project] and to use an experienced mason.”
Maine Wood Heat Co. Inc.
Norridgewock, ME, 207-696-5442; mainewoodheat.com
Tain-l’Hermitage, Drôme, France, lepanyol.com
To learn more about the art of decorative-bread baking, go to: breadhitz.com
More bread ideas? Click here for Yankee‘s bread recipes.