Monday, December 12, 2011

Baking Bread in a Wood Cookstove

After baking in my wood cookstove for a number of years, I have learned that it is relatively easy once you understand a few simple truths.

First, your temperature gauge (if you have one) is a vague guide at best.  Unlike gas and electric heat, wood heat is very penetrating.  The temperatures you are used to baking and cooking at are drastically reduced when using a wood cookstove.  If you normally bake your bread at 425° in your electric or gas oven, you would slide your bread into your wood cookstove at roughly 325°.

Frustratingly, when I began baking in my cookstove, I filled the woodbox with small pieces of dry wood, cranked the drafts open and waited until my temperature gauge read 425°.  Red in the face and dripping with perspiration, I carefully put my risen bread into the oven, set the timer for 10 minutes (I knew enough to know that I would have to turn the bread half-way through the baking time) and started cleaning up the kitchen.  Approximately 8 minutes later, smoke started rolling out of my oven and the acidic smell of burnt dough filled the house.  When I opened the oven, completely blackened loaves of bread met my eyes.  Turning the ruined loaves out of the pans, I was surprised to see perfectly white bottom crusts.  They had not even begun to brown.  A quick tap to the bottom echoed with a heavy thick thud, indicating a raw center.  My bread was ruined.  I had no idea were I had gone wrong.  I had been baking bread for years.  The dough was right.  The temperature was right.  All I had to show for my efforts were burned/raw lumps of unappetizing goo.

I persevered and soon discovered my problem.  It was, of course, the temperature.  Once I dropped the temperature by 100°, my bread began cooking much more evenly.  The next challenge was getting the bread to cook evenly on both sides and keeping the top from burning while making sure the bottom cooked through.

As I baked, I learned to rotate my bread about every 10 minutes (depending on the temperature of my oven).  I would put a loaf of bread in the oven, let it cook for about 10 minutes and then rotate it completely, turning the other side to face the firebox.  As that side browned, I would rotate the bread so that one of the ends was facing the firebox, and then the other.  If the top of the bread began to darken too much, I would cover it with tin foil.  It is amazing how much a tiny piece of foil can protect a loaf from burning to a crisp!

The top  pan of rolls is covered with foil to keep them from burning.
Wood cookstove ovens are hotter in the top of the oven than they are in the bottom of the oven.  If you bake your bread on a rack (even in the middle of the oven), your loaf can look perfect, however, when you turn the loaf out of the pan, it will be completely white on the bottom (and underdone).  It is important to bake your bread on the oven floor (I don't even use a rack) for at least half of your baking time.  I generally like to begin my baking time with the loaves on the oven floor and finish baking them on a rack so that they brown nicely.  When baking more than one rack of bread, I rotate on the shelf and also from the shelf to the oven floor.

Sometimes, depending on the wood I am using, the stove gets too hot, threatening to burn whatever I happen to be baking.  When the temperature rises too high, the first thing I do is add wood (I know, seems backwards) and shut down the vents (drafts).  This slows the rate of combustion, cooling the stove.  If the temperature is still too hot, I manually adjust it - I prop the oven door open with something non-combustible.  This allows the heat to escape quickly without affecting the baked goods.

Propping the oven door open to allow the oven to cool quickly.

The oven only needs to be open a couple of inches to cool effectively.
When the stove is too hot, I have to be very studious about turning and rotating the baked goods.  Often I have to cover the tops of the loaves with tin foil so that they can continue to bake without burning.

Although the rolls look darker than they really are, they do darken
when they are near the woodbox.  These are actually our favorite rolls!
Generally, because we heat our shouse with our cookstove, we don't have a problem with the oven not being hot enough to bake in, however, we do keep small wood cut for just that purpose.  If the oven is not quite warm enough, I open the drafts, pile it full with small, dry wood and cock the lid (to allow more air into the firebox).  Within minutes, the oven heats quite sufficiently to bake just about anything.

Baking powder biscuits
German pancakes
Southern raised biscuits
Chocolate Chip cookies
Pies and rolls all baking at once!
I have to admit that the wood cookstove is one of our most vital survival resources.  With it we can heat our home, heat our water and cook our meals.  We can warm towels, can food and dry clothes.  It is the very heart of our little shouse.  If you can only afford one survival tool, a wood cookstove should be at the very top of your list.

With a little practice and creative cooking skills, you too can make your wood cookstove work for a living.

Sweet Roll Dough
1/2 C water
2 T Yeast
1 1/2 C milk
1/2 C sugar
2 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1/2 C butter
7 1/2 C flour

Combine water, milk, sugar, salt and butter in medium pot.  Heat until butter is melted.   Pour into a mixer or bowl.  When the temperature reaches about 110° beat in eggs and yeast.  Allow to sponge for about 1/2 hour (or until the yeast becomes active).  Add about 5 cups flour, stir or beat.  Continue to add flour until the mixture becomes a dough consistency.  Knead.  Turn into a greased bowl.  Let rise until double.  Punch down.  Let rise until almost double.  Form into rolls (or make into cinnamon rolls).  Allow to rise a third time.  Heat oven to 375° (or 275° if baking in a wood cookstove) and bake for 20 minutes or until done.

These rolls are perfect for sweet rolls or dinner rolls.


  1. I'm glad you've posted about your cookstove experiences, Enola... if things go the way they are supposed to, we will be closing on a house the end of this month - and it has a wood cookstove in the kitchen... I've never cooked on one before, so this will be another adventure for me in the kitchen, LOL...

    Xa Lynn

  2. Enola,

    Your making me depressed. When the Zombie apocalypse hits. You and your family will be eating well.

    I will be eating MRE's and Texas Feral Hogs. I gotta feeling Im gonna get sick of pork.

    I wish someone would make a freeze dried thirty year Pizza. A few years back someone did develop "Powdered Beer", just add water. I can have that with my thirty year Pizza.

  3. Thank you...I am going to stoke up my woodstove soon and bake the bread in it. I haven't tried in this stove yet. Your post is my encouragement.

  4. Thank you for posting this! I have wondered about the particulars, usually people say "you have to experiment". I have to admit, I'm nt looking forward to this part of doing without electricity...I do fine on top of the stove, but baking on/in wood was worrying me.

  5. You know, those two thumbs holding those biscuits coulda been my mom's mom. Wow, could that woman bake great biscuits. Outta 8 girls, only one can do as well.
    What is in German Pancakes? They looked yummy!

  6. Thank you for a very helpful post. It was very timely as well, as I have made a few meals in and on my cookstove, but have not yet tried bread. I was expecting a bit of a learning curve, but you sure helped get me past some of it! Maybe I'll take the plunge this week on my next batch of bread...

  7. It certainly looks good-I've never eaten anything from a wood cookstove-closest I've gotten is a camp stove set on top a wood heating stove(or ramen made on top a wood heating stove). Most of my relatives are from rural areas, but cook with propane(here, it's sometimes called "bottle gas") or, in one instance, a 100+ year old kerosene stove.
    Like Captain Crunch daid, you'll at least have good meals when the zombies start shuffling along.

  8. Oh it all looks delicious! Who would want a texturized vegetable protein (TVP- code word soy) meal when they could eat your cooking? I keep saying people will develop food fatigue and anorexia if they are only planning on instant meals.

    Lehman's has your Amish stove on sale 20% off if I remember shipping to a freight center near you. Anybody need a stove? Now is the time! (And no I don't work for Lehman's...but I did buy the Baker's Oven from them, which is a tiny little stove not big enough for a turkey, but will bake bread and make your house a hot 84 degrees! It's a sweet thing if you're short on space for a wood stove.)

  9. Recognized your stove soon as I saw the picture. It could have been mine, LOL.

    I have noticed that how long since the last cleaning has an impact on how it bakes. When the ash builds up it does provide a bit of insulation and a freshly cleaned stove tends to bake hot as you describe.

    I also purchased an oven thermometer for mine. After many uses I have concluded the manufacturer's thermometer built into the oven door is pretty close on my stove.

    And I agree completely about placing loaves of bread on the oven floor. The other thing is choice of bakeware. For years I used glass bread pans and had problems with baking. I finally switched to metal pans and this has changed the whole equation. Surprised me.

    Lastly, I have found removing the lid from stove top (where you add wood) offers a perfect place to put a wok to work. Gets hot since it is right on top of the firebox, the stove holds the wok in place nicely, gets used a lot

    Would not trade my Pioneer Maid for any other stove. Been using it for 25 years now.


  10. googled Lehmans Amish cookstoves and saw the prices and figure if the zombie apocalyse comes again.? i will have to go back to stone masoning fireplaces and put cast iron shelves inserted, only hard part may be shoveling the stone out of the ground and the fact that im living in the stoneless desert southwest and am mostly ill healthed supurb bread pictures...forgot adobe brick kiln owen investments..?

  11. Looks good! Thanks for including the recipe!

  12. my grandma used a wood cookstove and i learned from her how to use it..another thing that can make a difference in cooking on a wood cookstove is land elevation (mountains versus sea level). my mom used a gas stove and when i married i used an electric stove until about ten years ago when we suffered a month of no electric in the wintertime. i bought a propane gas stove and had the fireplace hooked up to propane too. the first thing i learned to cook on grandmas woodstove was a baked tuna casserole. funny the things we remember.

  13. YUM!!! So know I know what that heavenly aroma was yesterday morning, wafting down from Idaho.

    NoCal Gal

  14. Merry Christmas! I am hoping there is a whole section on cookstove cooking in your upcoming cookbook.

  15. Enola- you make a fine pie crust.

  16. Yum Yum! I made your sweet roll recipe for New Years Day and they were lovely! I dont have a woodfired stove (yet), but they came out great all the same. It was my first time with these kind of rolls, so my mum had a can of emergency Pilsbury (yuck) as back up. Needless to say, no one had to 'crack the can' last night! Thank you very much.

  17. Jen;

    I am thrilled for you! There is nothing quite like fresh from the oven homemade rolls. Good job!


  18. I am going to try your sweet bread recipe tonight. I love baking bread, and watched my Grandma and mama all through my childhood. I don't have a wood cookstove yet but, I hope to have my grandma's wood stove brought up to our house soon. It will be a good thing to have available. I am considering teaching my mother-in-law how to bake bread. She is 82 and is in the beginning stages of alzhimers. She is now living with us and has nothing to do. She usually sits and watches tv all day long. She has helped me pin the edging on a baby floor pad and did pretty good. She has never learned any crafty things, so maybe bread will be a good thing. Thanks for your blog. DASH

  19. Do you have other recipes that you would share?
    I'm always interested in someone else's favorites.

  20. thanks for sharing, we to use same stove as you it looks, and I'm just learning how to bake bread in it

  21. I got well introduced to my stove and all her quirks to bake and cook with. (Yes it's a she it must be look at all the multi tasking! Mine is affectionately reffered to as Gramma. ). So nice to see a fellow off the gridder! I have trouble with buns. Before they brown they turn into hard dried out chunks? Do you start yours closer to the top then move to the bottom rack or visa versa? Thanks!

  22. Thank you for your post I learned quite a bit. We have been using our wood/coal cook stove a year now. The range top cooking I have mastered but the oven cookery has been a challenge. I was so glad to learn the heat from a wood fire is hotter and you don't need to cook bread at 425. Also to cook it on the bottom makes sense. I made biscuits and they didn't cook on the inside. I have looked everywhere and not found too much of info I needed to bake correctly. I needed hands on and my grandmother has been gone for 50 years. Now I am going to try a turkey. I was afraid to try it because keeping the temp that high for so long to roast a turkey must be difficult. An knowing the Amish Broast in a pressure cooker I figured that was the reason. Then I thought the baking bags for turkeys would be the answer to my query about turkeys. They cook at 325 in about 2 to 21/2 hrs for a 12-16 lb bird and that is doable.