Category Archives: Baking

It is time for Christmas orders!

UPDATE: Christmas Stollen is sold out! But we still have cookies!

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There is snow on the ground, a Christmas tree in our home, and Christmas stollen in the oven! I have wanted to do holiday baking in my wood-fired oven since we built it, and this year I have finally managed to settle on six unique cookie recipes in addition to the stollen, all using organic sifted stoneground flours (except for the cinnamon stars, which are flourless!), house-candied fruit and herbs, and oven-toasted nuts. The stollen occupies the territory between a bread and a cake, and is made with both a sourdough and a biga preferment for flavor and structure. It is flavored with candied orange and lemon peel, almonds, and raisins. We think both the stollen and cookies are extra-special, and we want to share them with you, so we are taking pre-orders for delivery Saturday Dec 16, 2017 to the Charlottesville Market and the RVCC market. I will make cookies again next week, but this is the only week I will be making stollen, so get it while it lasts!  Speaking of next week, we will be taking another round of orders for delivery on Saturday Dec 22, 2017, so keep an eye on this page!

IMPORTANT: If you have already placed an order at market there is no need to contact us again unless you have not received a confirmation email.

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Christmas stollen, fresh from the oven

SPECIAL HOLIDAY MENUall orders will be packaged in a clear bag with ribbon–ready for gift-giving! Cookies are sold by the pound (see photo below for an example of 1/4 lb bag).

  • THIS WEEK ONLY: Christmas Stollen (sold in 1 lb increments at $9/lb–a whole stollen is 4 lb, or $36)–SOLD OUT
  • Orange-anise biscotti, with toasted almonds ($20/lb)
  • Cinnamon-almond stars, painted with a meringue glaze ($25/lb) *gluten- and dairy-free*
  • Chocolate-rye drops, with smoked salt ($20/lb) *wheat-free*
  • Gingerbread snowflakes with bourbon glaze ($20/lb)
  • Kamut shortbread with candied rosemary ($20/lb) *wheat-free*
  • Kamut-hazelnut thumbprints with candied cranberry ($20/lb) *wheat-free*
  • Mix of all cookies except biscotti ($20/lb)

Your orders will be available for pickup at the RVCC Christkindl Markt, or the Charlottesville City Market on December 16, 2017.

NEXT WEEK, watch this site for another set of orders for delivery December 22, 2017!

To place your order, please email us at littlehatcreek(*at*)gmail.com with “ORDER” in the subject line, and indicate:

  • Where you want to pick up your order
  • Which products you would like (including the quantity)

We will write back to confirm your order with your total. All orders will be COD, so please plan on bringing cash or check to market when you pick up. Please note that the order deadline is Tuesday December 12. Don’t hesitate to email us with any questions you may have!

Happy holidays from our family to yours!

Heather, Ben, Sam & Hazel

2017_xmas-tree-farm (9 of 17)

 

 

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Bakery/shed 1: There’s a hole in the ground

We kicked off the new year with a little ground-breaking here at Little Hat Creek Farm! After months of planning our new bakery and packing shed, the yellow machines showed up to dig. We could not have anticipated how exciting it would be to see the realization of our dream!

Last week JD Pippin carved out the site. There were rocks–from the 1969 Hurricane Camille landslide–but not nearly as many as we had feared. JD came back with a backhoe, dug the footer, and then the concrete truck showed up. Early next week, the foundation should appear, laid by one of our neighbors here in the Hollow.

Stay tuned for more updates!

Day 6: We’re hiring for the 2016 season!

Our business is growing fast, so we have created a new position for 2016! We are hiring a second intern to work closely with Heather in the bakery.

Apply now for 2016 by sending a resume and cover letter to littlehatcreek@gmail.com.

General description: Little Hat Creek Farm is a small diversified vegetable farm and wood-fired bakery. 2016 will be our third season of selling at three farmer’s markets and through a 25 member CSA. We use ecological farming practices on one acre of annual vegetables and a small fruit orchard. Our bakery specializes in naturally-leavened breads made by hand with local flours. We also produce pastry using the fruits of our farm. This winter, we are expanding our business by building a self-contained bakery building to house the oven, which will allow us to take on additional sales outlets for our baked goods. We are hiring an intern to help us grow and develop these outlets. This is a training position.

Skills desired: You are a good fit for this internship if you love making and sharing good food and if our farm+bakery business model excites you. You get as much pleasure out of mastering a technique as you do in creating new recipes using ingredients from our farm. You also want to have a hand in producing those ingredients. You are creative and a self-starter who can also perform routine production tasks. You are consistently attentive to cleanliness and organisation. You are able to work quickly and efficiently while attending to detail, and you are able to problem-solve on the fly. You are punctual, able to safely lift fifty pounds, and able to meet deadlines.

Duties: You will be responsible for routine bakery tasks like mixing, shaping, and baking bread and pastries, dishwashing, oven and firewood management, ingredient restocking, and general cleanup. Beyond this, your experience will be shaped by your interests and our needs. We currently fire the oven and bake bread three days a week, but this may increase as we take on new accounts. On some days, additional duties may include farm activities, including greenhouse work, harvesting, mulching and weeding; post-harvest processing like pickling, jamming and drying; deliveries; marketing and developing new sales outlets; and/or recipe development.

Duration and Hours: April 2016-October 2016 with the possibility of continuing into the winter. Working hours will not exceed 50 hours per week and may include late night or early morning shifts in preparation for our Wednesday and Saturday farmers’ markets. You will have 1.5 days off each week.

Meals: You will have access to our farm produce, including eggs and bread. Should you live on the farm, you will have access to a shared kitchen and the possibility of also sharing meals with us and another worker.

Compensation: Stipend TBD. Indoor housing with a shared bathroom and kitchen is available as part of your compensation. You will have access to the food the farm produces, and receive training in marketable skills.

You will learn how to:
-operate a large wood-fired oven
-make pastries and naturally-leavened bread on a commercial scale
-adjust recipes to account for weather and ingredient variation
-develop new recipes
-handle food safely
-grow, harvest and process fruits and vegetables
-market farm products
-successfully grow a small local food business

You will also have access to the logic behind everything we do. We make a point of sharing the details of our farming, baking, and business practices, so we encourage you to ask about all aspects of starting and running a business like ours. And because there are many ways of doing things, we also take you on visits to 2-3 other farms and bakeries over the course of the season.

We will consider proposals that give you creative space while meeting our needs.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Let’s fire ‘er up!

In the two-odd months since we last checked in with an oven update, we have been learning how to use our beautiful new oven.  It is most definitely a learning-by-doing kind of process; there is no manual for this sort of thing.  I had some previous experience with other so-called “black” ovens in Toronto and a clay oven we built last year, but this one is bigger, and way, way more massive.

At its basic level, a black oven couldn’t be simpler to operate.  There is a single chamber that holds both the fire and whatever you wish to bake.  You build a fire first and heat up the masonry walls, floor and ceiling of your chamber, like charging a battery. Then you remove the coals and put in your bread; it is the heat stored in the masonry “battery” that bakes the bread not the fire itself. In other words: fire heats masonry, masonry bakes bread.

In practice, building a hot fire is challenging.  It takes a lot of labor to cut and haul firewood, so the more heat you can coax out of a given amount of wood, the better.  The first thing our oven taught us was that we needed to use top quality firewood; seasoned, split, and stacked oak or locust stored in a shed.  As it happens we had a handy abandoned goat shed not too far from the oven.

Apart from wood, the other ingredient fire needs is oxygen, and this is a function of air supply, or draft, how air moves through and around the physical structure of the fire, and the outlet, or flue. I find it helpful to imagine the air flowing through the oven like water in a brook–you want a well-contained and directed swift and smooth flow with no dams, stagnant pools or disruptive cross-flows.  All parts of the fire should have access to air, so I try to think about the bottom and back and sides of the fire–all the parts that I can’t see.

This oven draws its air supply through the ash drop, which is a gap in the masonry in the front of the oven that opens into a cavity below the oven where ash is stored.  There is an access door on the side of the oven that I crack to allow fresh air to be drawn in by the fire.  I have discovered that removing the door completely is counter-productive, especially on windy days, when the wind blows up into the oven and scrambles the flow of air. The flue (chimney) is opened with a simple handle.  It has two positions–open and closed, so there’s not much nuance there.

Where I have the most control is how I build the fire itself.  In the morning, I load the oven with a single layer of wood, trying to loosely cover the whole hearth.  I close up the oven to let this wood heat up for an hour or two, and so that any residual moisture from the night steams off.  I then put two brush bundles on top of the wood and stuff some paper underneath them.  One match lights both pieces of paper, which lights the brush bundles, which lights the wood.  In a minute or two, there is a hot fire burning across the front of the oven.

I close the blast doors, which protect the fire from wind while still allowing smoke to escape up the chimney, and which will eventually keep most of the heat of the fire out of the bakery, and wait.  It is so tempting to mess with the fire, but (a) you’re doing more work, and (b) the doors are open and you’re poking at it so your fire isn’t establishing a smooth draft. In an hour or two, I come back and find that the fire has burned itself part-way back into the oven, and it is burning cooler–you can tell by the smoke. I want it to burn hot and clean, and to continue moving back, so I push the fire back to the middle of the oven to consolidate the heat.  I move the fire back one more time to get it in the back of the oven.  I still don’t put any more wood on because I know that there is fresh wood behind the fire.  At this point, after the fire has been burning for 3-4 hours, I see the temperature of the firebrick start to budge.

Temperature is measured in the middle of the oven by six thermocouples embedded at three depths in the firebrick hearth and in the vault, or ceiling.  When there is fire in the oven, the thermocouples closest to the surface are hottest, while the deeper ones–the ones that tell me that the battery is heating up–take longer to clue in to the fact that there is a blazing hot fire in the oven.  This property of being slow to take on heat (and therefore release it) is one of the things people mean when they talk about thermal mass.  We built a massive oven because we wanted it to release heat slowly, so that I could eventually bake all day, but the cost of that is that it heats up just as slowly.

Back to the fire, which we left burning away in the back of the oven.  By the time the base layers of masonry start heating up, I start adding more wood. Rather than shoving the wood back to the fire, I put it up front and walk away.  In a few minutes, I know it will start burning, bringing the fire back up to the front of the oven again. In an hour, I move those coals back and add more wood to the front. Because moving fire around is hot work, I try to get the fire to move itself around the hearth. When I first started firing this oven, I kept the fire in the back of the oven for most of the firing, but in this new oven that resulted in over-baked bread in the back and under-baked in the front; the oven’s way of reminding me that it has a front-to-back dimension that also needs attention if I want even heat, which I definitely do.

This back-to-front-to-back dance is repeated until the base layers surpass 450 deg F, usually 1-2 more rounds. At this point, I spread the coals and remaining wood over the front 2/3 of the hearth to distribute the remaining heat. I have found that by the time it has burned down to ash, the deepest bricks will be between 550 and 600 deg F.  Before I go to bed, I close up the oven, putting in insulated “plug” doors that block the flue and ash drop, so that the oven heat can equilibrate.  As I sleep, the heat flows through the masonry into cool areas so that by the next morning, if I did a good job, all thermocouples register around 575 deg F–the ideal temperature to start baking bread.

Its a strange day in the bakery

Its a strange day in the bakery. On a normal day at this time, a little before 10 AM, I would be baking my third load of bread for our two markets tomorrow, but today I slept a blessed bit longer because my doughs weren’t quite ready when I checked them around 4:30 this morning. My first load is still a good hour away from baking.

I make naturally-leavened breads using a living culture of yeasts and bacteria that was started at the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab by my dear friend Jane Ogilvie.  This “mother” lives in our fridge on a mixture of rye and white flour until two days before I bake, when I bring her out and feed my little friends, expanding the starter to a volume necessary for baking 64 loaves of bread.  The microbes in the starter digest the starches and proteins in the flour, releasing nutrients and producing flavorful acids that condition the dough and create the open, elastic sourdough structure we adore.

On a normal day there is usually a little something different about one of the doughs–it’s a little stiffer, or takes a little longer to ferment, or perhaps the additions don’t incorporate as well. I delight in this variation in my bread. It attests to the living nature of the dough, its responsiveness, like any living thing, to changes in temperature, humidity, and quality of food. As with an infant, my billions of little microbial babies can’t tell me what they need, so I have to guess, judging from the smell, the feel, the appearance, and from what I know I’ve already tried.

But today, there is a large something different about all of the doughs. It’s as if I’m making them for the first time. The honey oat is much stronger, which bodes well for its final shape, but the oats cooked more than usual, making them more difficult to incorporate. The raisin rye is taking much longer to ferment than usual, despite its having the greatest bulk (and thus thermal resistivity) and a rye starter in addition to the usual levain. Even the country white–the most straight-forward and dependable of my doughs–is different today, with a looseness to its structure that I have only ever seen with my miche dough.

 

On a normal day, I tweak my recipes slightly, to try to make them even better, to correct little defects in the crumb, or in the flavor. Two days ago, in preparation for mixing, I made what I thought would be a small tweak, mostly for my convenience. I had liked how my younger-than-usual starter had performed for the Lexington market bake earlier in the week, and I didn’t want to start mixing until the afternoon, so I put my still-young starters in the fridge to hang out until I was ready. When they emerged some six hours later, they were a bit further along, but smelled sweeter, and had a much stronger structure than normal. I confess I have been somewhat lax in controlling the temperature of my starter, mostly because the practical difficulties of baking in a home kitchen in a wood-heated house give me anything but control over temperature. But this change is dramatic, and exciting.  Perhaps the cascading force of this small change is what I am now reckoning with.  I can’t wait to try it again next week!