To the handful of loyal readers that I have for posts about our Esse Ironheart, I do apologize – this temperature chart has been longer in coming than expected. My husband actually made it up a good month ago, now, but I just haven’t got around to sharing it.
As noted in the photo, the Ironheart comes with a simple temperature dial for the ovenbox that simply lists Cool, Mod, Hot and Very Hot, which of course is terribly broad. Our early attempts to cook and bake in the Ironheart were mostly successful, but baking – where consistent, specified heat is crucial – was definitely more challenging. The blackened tops of my two banana bread loaves below occurred before we got around to purchasing (for a mere six dollars or so) an oven thermometer.
To get the ranges (in Fahrenheit) on the dial above, my husband built a fire one day and then sat in front of it for a good hour or more. He would open the ovenbox door at intervals to check the temperature and note it down, in direct correspondence with where the needle was pointing on the dial on the exterior of the stove. He did this until he got to 400 degrees, rather than the top end of the Very Hot range on the dial, but it’s fairly easy to shade that in.
The resulting temperatures certainly accord with our experience of cooking and baking with the Ironheart; there were no huge surprises here, but it has given us precise levels to aim for when we’re planning to cook a meal or do a batch of baking in the woodstove. Before I was always guessing about when the ovenbox would be hot enough to bake in; now I know for sure.
Overall, we’re using the Ironheart for food preparation a fair amount, but it’s quite changeable at the moment. I’m not the most routine cook at the best of times (I have a whole post in my head about being a ‘moody cook’), so a good deal of that is down to me. I’m very frequently inspired to cook and bake, but that inspiration and the related energy required comes at different times of day (and sometimes different times of the week, when I’m feeling low in my energy reserves). The related challenge is that we don’t want to keep the house too hot into the evening, towards the end of the day, and that can make cooking supper on the Ironheart harder to do. We’ve done a whole lot of breakfasts, lunches and teatime meals on the Ironheart, but not a lot for suppertime and it’s for this very reason. Our house, being concrete, stays very warm once the Ironheart has had a good run during the day, and bringing the woodstove back up to cooking heat late in the day isn’t appealing. (Incidentally, we find that if we let the Ironheart die down by early evening, with no additional heat whatsoever, our house is still between 17 and 19 degrees Celsius in the morning when we get up, and this is with outside temperatures ranging from just a few degrees above zero to as low as minus 20.)
I really love cooking on top of the Ironheart as well, and find that something I really love doing is taking a stove-top recipe for a stew of some kind, starting it off on top for browning and flavouring, but then sliding it into the oven to let it cook more slowly until it’s ready. It becomes something of a wood-fired slowcooker then, and I find that works well. To get the Ironheart hot enough to boil water, the firebox gets mighty hot, and one day recently my husband called over to me and said “your skirt is smoking!” I had forgotten to pull the safety screen across and my denim skirt was in fact smoking. Phew!
The big take-away from this for us is that it makes sense for us to maximize the cooking and baking that we do in the first half of the day, when we’re happy to have the Ironheart’s heat at its most intense, and I’m certainly going to need to bend my habits more in that direction. Being based at home for our work, we have the luxury of doing this. (Though it will be hard to change the fact that I’m prone to baking late in the evening, as I’m doing right now – a traditional gingerbread cake has just come out of my electric oven.)
I think our baking efforts will also become more refined as we continue to refine our firebuilding technique in the Ironheart. My husband has been gradually mastering the best types of fire to build for long, slow burns and for controlling intensity (a whole other post once I can interview him properly). He has done this with a focus on controlling temperature in our home (and trying to get the heat produced down to our lower level), but it will also benefit his own breadmaking!