My kitchen is full of stuff. I’ve got gadgets that peel vegetables and whirl up soups and smooth sauces and mash potatoes and blend pastry. I’ve got a machine that washes my dishes and toasts my bread and foams my coffee and grills my meat. Suffice it to say that there are few things I “need” when it comes to my kitchen.
But I do have a secret desire: I want/lust after a wood-burning oven for making bread and pizza, slow-cooked casseroles and braises.
Last summer I attended a weekend-long Intensive Wood-Fired Oven workshop in Lyman, Maine, at the Stone Turtle Baking and Cooking School. I figured it this way: I would learn how to use a wood-fired oven before I actually owned one. I guess that’s akin to building a doghouse for an animal you don’t yet own or buying clothes for a vacation you can’t afford, but no one can accuse me of being a pessimist.
No, I still don’t have my own wood-burning oven. But I learned all kinds of great baking tips, and made an amazing, crusty authentic baguette, real Italian ciabatta infused with olive oil and fresh rosemary, and created one of the great pizzas of my life. Hey, if a girl doesn’t keep dreaming about something what good is she anyway?
Stone Turtle Baking belongs to Michael and Sandy Jubinsky. The bakery is located a stone’s throw from their home, down a long driveway in the small town of Lyman, about 2 hours from Boston on a no-traffic day. The bakery is housed in a typical barn-like building, surrounded by stonewalls and flower and herb gardens. When you enter the cooking school/bakery, your eye goes right to “The Oven,” a most gorgeous, wood-fired Le Panyol Stone Oven from France, lined with gorgeous tiles.
It turned out that nearly half the class — who had traveled from Virginia, New York, Boston and Maryland — shared my dilemma. They didn’t own wood-burning ovens; they were just “dreamers” as well. We spent the weekend learning how to burn a proper fire, create heat zones within the oven and cook some of the most amazing food imaginable. (Best of all, all the recipes and many of the techniques translate to a regular home oven. Each recipe presented to us was written for a wood-fired oven, as well as a regular home oven.)
Yes, we baked pizza. Yes, we baked bread. We used the oven to bake breakfast cinnamon rolls, pita bread, oatmeal bread, granola and even a beautifully glazed, apple tart tatin. But we also steamed mussels in the oven with garlic, white wine, diced tomatoes and herbs from the garden. When I tried them at home on my stove top several weeks later, I missed the subtle wood smoke flavor, but not much else. And, for our farewell dinner, we roasted leg of lamb coated in Greek yogurt, fresh mint leaves, lemon and garlic with roasted baby potatoes.
Michael Jubinsky is a skilled baker but, more importantly, a natural teacher. He is calm, focused and organized, and the school runs smoothly. Jubinsky and his wife, Sandi, also have a wonderful sense of humor. The mood in the classroom is light and fun and makes baking baguettes and ciabatta seem less science and more recreational. But, trust me: when you leave, you’ll realize jut how much you have learned. You’ll also realize that, as hard as you try, you just can’t stop wanting one of those wood-burning ovens.
Stone Turtle’s Steamed Mussels
One 2.5 bag mussels
½ cup thinly sliced leeks, whites only
½ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup minced garlic
2 tablespoons flour
1 to 1 ½ cups dry white wine
½ cup clam juice
1 cup chopped tomatoes
2 teaspoons dry oregano or 1 tablespoons fresh, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
Scrub mussels and debeard if necessary.
In a sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter and cook leeks until wilted. Add the garlic and cook about 2 mutes. Stir in flour and cook 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add white wine, clam juice, tomatoes and herbs. Reduce heat and cook 5 minutes.
Place mussels in a Dutch oven or heavy pot. Add the broth, cover and cook 5 minutes. Discard any mussels that don’t open. Transfer to a bowl and pour hot broth on top.
Serves 4 to 6.