Bakehouse Diary

Written by Piers Cawley on

Week one – Rust

Almost a year ago now, I hired a tail lift van and hared off down to the Isle of Wight to fetch my lovely ’new’ deck oven.

We manhandled the bits off the van with a pallet truck, put ’em up on blocks in the garage and left them to their own devices while the folk at the market dithered over whether I’d be allowed to install it on market stall (I got the answer just over a month ago, it was “No”, but that’s probably good news).

What I should have been doing in this time was checking out the wiring and, maybe trying to test one or two of the decks.

But now I’ve got a bakehouse site lined up, which means there’s no time like the present…

Baking on the sole

The bread I like best isn’t baked in a tin or on a baking tray. Instead it’s turned out of a proving basket onto a peel and then slid onto the sole of a hot oven. The end result is a lovely crusty loaf, crisp on the bottom and with a lovely variation in the crust where the dough is slashed just before it goes into the oven. Something like this.

When I bake these at home, I put a big lump of stone into the oven before I turn it on and even when the oven’s up to heat I’ll give it a while before putting the dough in to get the stone itself up to heat too. It really does make a difference to the end result.

Traditionally, if you want to bake on the sole of the oven, you get ceramic or stone soles, but I used to bake on the sole of an Aga and I know that a good heavy metal sole will do the job just as well. Which is just as well because the soles in the deck oven are either steel or cast iron.

There’s a catch though.

Metal you want to cook on shouldn’t be that colour.

So, my current project is to get the sole plates out of at least one the decks and see how well they clean up (either with an angle grinder or possibly something more lazily chemical involving vinegar or something). This is proving problematic.

In theory, the sole plates are held in place by a single retaining bar, I just have to unscrew that and bingo, I can get the plates out and get on with cleaning them.

In theory.

This is a two part job. Before I can get at the screws that hold the retaining bar in place, I first have to undo the brass screws that hold the lovely polished stainless steel fascia that forms the front of the oven.

Those brass screws have been in place for a long time. So far I’ve succesfully unscrewed six screws and sheared off the heads of six more. Joy. I see fun with left handed drill bits in my future.

Then there’s the machine screws that hold the retaining bars in place. These are proving to be right little sods. I’ve been dosing them with WD-40 “Fast release penetrant spray” for ages now and they’re still refusing to shift. A friend on Twitter has recommended another product, Plus Gas, which I’ll be trying as soon as I can get hold of some, but otherwise… well, at least I already needed to get a lefthanded drill to cope with the brass screws.



  • Found somewhere to bake
  • Removed a couple of exterior plates
  • Found at least one break in the wiring
  • Built a database schema that does the grunt work of:
    • Costing products
    • Making a bake day production sheet


  • Drill out the broken brass screws
  • Unscrew at least one retaining bar
  • Reassemble the oven
  • Test a deck or two with single phase power
  • Polish the bakehouse database and make it useable from a tablet

Some notes

What’s with the bakery stuff, I thought you were a programmer?

Well, yes, I am a programmer. But I’m also suffering from RSI - which makes programming painful, low level depression and a general sense of what’s the bloody point about programming as a career.1 Making a real product that people really need in the real world is really appealing to me. Really. And doing a job that will force me to take some exercise has its charms too.

Also, if you’re going to have a mid-life crisis, at least get something tasty out of it.

I’m also not planning to leave programming entirely. I’m unhappy with the idea of the professional programmer, but I’m not unhappy about programming as something embedded in another job. Being able to write a program to make your life easier is something we should all be able to do. There’s plenty of tedious arithmetic involved in working out how much of the various doughs, soakers and pre-ferments that are needed for a given day’s bake. Work that I can eliminate with a bit of programming know how.

What is a deck oven?

A deck oven is the weapon of choice for your average artisan baker. It’s a stack of independent boxes of hot. Mine has 5 decks, each of which can hold 2 British standard baking trays, which are 30″×18″.2

If you’re used to domestic oven dimensions, you might be thinking that a stack of 5 ovens will be impossibly tall, but since we’re never going to have to roast a turkey in the deck oven, each deck needs to be no taller than the tallest loaf of bread plus a little headroom, so the oven volume is 30″ deep, 36″ wide and only about 8″ tall. My oven also has pipes for feeding steam into the chamber, which some bakers swear by, but I don’t have any steam generation fitted yet and I’m not sure I’m going to.

  1. Why yes, I will have more to say about this in a later blog post. Thanks for asking. ↩︎

  2. A standards, don’t you love them. So many to choose from.

    So, the standard baking sheet is thirty inches by eighteen. Unless you’re an American, when it’s twenty six inches by eighteen. Or from continental Europe, when it’s (these days at least) sixty centimeters by forty, unless you’re Portugese because the Portugese (apparently) still use the same size as us Brits. I have no idea why. Maybe it’s got something to do with St George.

    The inch sizes don’t really play nicely with modern domestic oven sizes either. I have some US-sized half sheet trays (Lovely solid things, from, highly recommended) that have to be slightly finessed to fit into my Miele oven , they clash with the rails but fit in happily once the bake stone is in place. I’ve just checked, and I think Aga runners take a US half-sheet. It’s a minefield I tell you. ↩︎

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