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“I challenge you, next time you’re driving around, keep an eye out for discarded wood,” says Richard Miscovich, running a bread knife through a fresh loaf of pain de mie. “You’ll be surprised by how much is just laying around.”
A Johnson & Wales Associate Professor specializing in bread baking, Miscovich’s interest in Providence’s discarded wood stems from his passion for wood-fired ovens. More specifically, it comes from his ability to produce exquisite wood-fired foods, ranging from crab cakes and levains to infused oils and rendered animal fats. Even the baked beans he uses to top the pain de mie – “An English breakfast food,” he calls the combination - was prepared using a wood-fired oven.
Now, to help others follow in his footsteps, Miscovich published a book, From the Wood-Fired Oven, calling it a “comprehensive guide” for owning and operating a wood-fire oven, in that it “covers the oven, cooking and baking.” Seeing as how the book features seven appendices, dozens of full-color photos, three thick sections detailing every aspect of a wood-fired oven and countless baking/cooking recipes, one can easily understand why the project took four years to complete. Miscovich poured his wood-fired heart and soul into the book.
But that doesn’t mean an at-home baker would be unable to learn from it, too. While much of the book “talks about how wood-fired ovens work and talks about combustion and heat transfer, I’m primarily a bread baker,” says Miscovich, “so there’s a middle section that’s a bread baking primer, which also applies to people baking at home. The focus is the wood-fired niche, but I wrote [the book] so any home-baking enthusiast could use that solid information.”
Staying true to its wood-fired focus, the book helps to tackle one of the core problems Miscovich currently sees within the wood-fired world: “People are still primarily using them for pizza and bread.” Both of these foods require high temperatures, meaning a live fire must be, as Miscovich puts it, “super cranking hot,” and too often the residual heat produced by that fire is left to waste. To combat this issue, the book’s recipes are organized to follow the descending heat windows. So after a pizza or loaf of bread is done cooking, one only needs to refer to the book to see which dishes are appropriate as the temperature drops.
As for Miscovich’s initial concern for downed wood around Providence, he sees wood-fired ovens as a way to take the sustainable food movement one step further, by allowing for sustainable fuel sources. “The book teaches people how to cure wood, season wood, build fires and burn them in your oven so as to get as much possible energy out of the wood. It’s all about how to maximize each firing, to get the most out of your oven as you possibly can.”
From the Wood-Fired Oven is published through Chelsea Green and will be available for purchase after October 15 on Amazon or at Stock on Hope Street.