How long is your woodstove’s burn time?

Hot embers in Ironheart woodstove after 17 hours burn time

Long winter nights mean that keeping the fire going in your woodstove is essential; being able to stir up still hot embers in the morning means it’s easy to relight or rekindle a fire for a new day’s burn.

How about a burn time of 17 hours or longer? We haven’t been in the habit of timing our woodstove, though I have written before about just how efficient our Esse Ironheart woodstove is and how very little wood we need to burn to keep our ICF house warm during the winter (photo below). The other day, at around minus 15 Celsius (that’s 5 Fahrenheit), my husband noticed at 5.30pm that our firebox was full of red hot embers some 17.5 hours after last adding a log at 10pm the night before. Being able to forget about tending the fire for that long is a common occurrence around here, but we just hadn’t taken note fully before. It is worth saying here that we have the wood burning insert for the Ironheart and that we had a lot of ash banked up at the time of feeding the fire that last time.

Four logs of wood in front of Ironheart woodstove

There are a number of factors that will affect burn time, including the kind of wood burned, how well stacked the wood is within the firebox, air flow/control, and so on – all of which my husband works to optimize regularly – but what we think we’ve been able to demonstrate here is just how incredibly efficient the Esse Ironheart woodstove is, particularly when combined with ICF (insulated concrete forms) house construction. Getting a long burn time is one thing, but having a house envelope that can hold that heat in is naturally going to extend that time. I’ve had a lot of great conversations with other Ironheart owners here over the past few years, some of whom are having to feed their Ironhearts much more than we do, largely because they have a house that requires more continual heat input.

There are great pleasures in tending to and feeding a fire in a woodstove, as my husband will attest. Is burn time important for you? (I bet it is if you chop and haul your own wood.) What woodstove routines do you relish?

Quick GF Christmas Cake

Quick gluten-free Christmas cakeIn spite of having all manner of brownies, cookies and bars available for Christmas, I knew that my husband wouldn’t be happy without some form of fruitcake. ‘Christmas cake’ to my ten-year old means a multi-layer cake (he believes vanilla, lemon and gingerbread are good choices) exuberantly decorated with coloured frosting and sprinkles. For our purposes, the quick gluten-free Christmas cake here is the more traditional fruitcake with – in this case – a gingerbread cake type ‘base’ and the addition of a variety of dried fruit pre-soaked in brandy and orange zest. I only decided to get started on this yesterday afternoon, so I had to find an inspiration recipe that would be fast. No month-long bathing in brandy here…

dried fruit soaking in brandyI took my inspiration from this Gluten Free Ginger Christmas Fruit Cake recipe from Apple & Spice and got started last evening by tossing the following into a bowl with the aforementioned brandy, orange zest and some hot water: golden raisins, dark raisins, dates, dried cherries, lemon peel, and candied ginger.

This afternoon, when I had to decide what cake-base to use, I returned to my own gingerbread cake recipe that I’ve tested in both our Ironheart woodstove and our conventional oven. Today I was baking in the woodstove, but this recipe would work fine in either. The resulting cake is a hybrid between my gingerbread cake and the ginger Christmas cake from Apple & Spice, definitely more cake-y than a traditional fruitcake, but still full of plump fruit.

Quick GF Christmas cake

Quick Gluten-Free Christmas Cake
1 1/2 cups dried fruit (I used golden and dark raisins, dried cherries, dates, lemon peel, candied ginger, but you could also use currants, dried apricots, etc.)
75 ml brandy
Juice from one orange
Zest from one orange
25 ml lemon juice
Splash hot water (use your own judgement; the idea is to provide enough liquid for the fruit to swell nicely)

2 1/4 cups GF-flour blend OR
1 cup sorghum flour (brown rice flour would also work)
1 cup almond flour/meal
1/4 cup coconut flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
2 tsp ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp dried cloves or allspice
1/2 tsp salt
7/8 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup slivered almonds
2 eggs
1/2 cup butter, melted
3 tbs molasses
1/4 cup water (or milk)

Preliminaries – preheat conventional oven to 350 F or get woodstove to equivalent temperature (on our Ironheart, that’s near the bottom of the ‘Very Hot’ range)
Step 1 – assemble and soak the dried fruit in a bowl with the brandy, zest, juice and water; allow to soak for a minimum of an hour, but the longer the better (I managed about 12 hours)
Step 2 – mix dry ingredients in a large bowl
Step 3 – melt butter, mix with molasses and water or milk
Step 4 – combine wet and dry mixtures and add in fruit and almonds for a final stir
Step 5 – pour into greased cake tin (I prefer a bundt pan)
Step 6 – bake for approx. 1 hour (again, this was done in our woodstove, so in a conventional oven I’d definitely check it after about 40 minutes)

This is definitely a recipe that can be tinkered with, with a reduction in flour to make it less cake-like or the addition of more fruit and spices to intensify the flavours. My husband has given this his approval and he’s a life-long fruitcake fan.

To serve, some custard or lemon sauce would be a great addition. Enjoy!

Ironheart Gingerbread Cake – the GF version

Table set for tea time

Two winters ago I cracked baking a denser cake in the woodstove; a bundt pan works wonders and removes the issue of an unbaked centre in an otherwise perfect cake. I shared my gingerbread cake recipe in March 2012, and now I have a gluten free version that I think is even better. Gingerbread is a favourite of PetKid‘s, so he was persuaded to help out with this one.

Boy mixing together cake ingredients

I was inspired equally by my own earlier effort and by a gluten free gingerbread recipe found on Gluten Free on a Shoestring. As that recipe does not specify a GF flour blend to use, I used my trusted Sorghum/Almond Flour/Coconut Flour blend (which has made an appearance here in a muffin recipe).

Pouring cake batter into a pan

I checked the cake 30 minutes into baking and it was doing well, but still quivery. I crossed my fingers and waited another 15 minutes. At first glance, it looked a little too dark on top, and I worried that I’d waited a touch too long. But I need not have fretted.

Cake cooling on a table

Once the cake was out to cool, we headed into the garden to clear a bed and plant hardneck garlic, nearly 140 cloves in all. This is a big step up from last year, when we planted about 60, all courtesy of a friend who generously gave us a starter batch from her own harvest. Those 60 cloves turned into 60 heads. I allowed myself to cook with some of that harvest over the past three months, knowing that I’d have to reserve a good portion for replanting. If I can get a few more into the ground on another warmish sunny day like today (which may not happen), I will, but otherwise I’m happy with how much further this will hopefully put us next year. I’d like to be in the position to give away some of our harvest the following year, in order to repay that original kindness.

Bowl full of hardneck garlic cloves

After a good stretch out in the garden, we were ready for tea. When I turned the cake out onto a plate, it looked as good as I might have hoped, but the proof is always in that first bite. First I topped it with the same coconut butterscotch frosting mentioned in the original Ironheart Gingerbread Cake recipe, which has a rather nice affinity with gingerbread. And then we sat down to tea.

Gluten free gingerbread cake

Ironheart Gingerbread Cake, inspired by Gluten Free on a Shoestring

2 1/4 cups GF flour blend OR:
1 cup sorghum flour
1 cup almond flour
1/4 cup coconut flour

1 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tbs molasses
4 tbs pure maple syrup
4 tbs honey
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup greek yogurt

Step 1 – Get Ironheart oven to the lower end of the ‘Very Hot’ range on the dial (for conventional bakers, this is about 350 degrees fahrenheit)

Step 2 – Combine dry ingredients in a bowl

Step 3 – Melt butter and combine with other wet ingredients, including the eggs

Step 4 – Combine wet and dry ingredients

Step 5 – Pour into a prepared baking pan (a bundt pan is preferable)

Step 6 – Bake for approximately 45 minutes or until top springs back gently when touched

The resulting cake was delightfully moist – perfection, really – and, dare I say, even better than my first gingerbread recipe for the woodstove. There are just a couple of slices left for lunches this week, and so I’ll have to make it again rather soon.

Once we’ve allowed a decent break until our next little treat, I really must share my older son’s recipe for gluten free cinnamon buns. I see that my husband’s execution of a traditional cinnamon bun recipe has been pinned quite a few times over on Pinterest, and I think that the GF version that my son has already wowed his colleagues at the library with deserves a write-up here.

The parting shot today goes to Reggie, who somehow managed to score a giant carrot during our garden clear-down. Apparently, this was the best thing ever for this black lab.

Black lab with a carrot!

Cooking with the Esse Ironheart: Almond-Crusted Chicken

The other evening marked our first official evening of heating and cooking with the Ironheart this season. A dip into chilly temperatures outside has translated into a gradual cooling down of our ICF house to 19.5 degrees Celsius, which is still rather comfortable. But, seeing the opportunity to get the beloved Ironheart going, my husband made the case that it could be even cooler by morning if we didn’t put a fire on. So, I agreed, naturally.

Reggie could not have been happier about this turn of events.

Black lab in front of Ironheart woodstove

Faced with cooking something for supper after a long day in the city, I cast around for a simple treatment for chicken that I could just throw into the Ironheart’s oven once it hit cooking temperature. Enter Almond-Crusted Chicken Wings from Food & Wine, which I modified only slightly by switching to chicken breasts (what I had on hand) cut into large pieces. After a summer and fall overstuffed with more ‘classic’ Mediterranean flavours (which I love, no complaints here), I’ve been craving different flavours, but I also found myself with limited ingredients with which to achieve that shift. The spice paste in this recipe seemed like a nice, if gentle shift into slightly spicier territory.

Most if not all of the ingredients for the spice paste are likely to be found in your store cupboard, including olive oil, sherry, garlic, cumin, cayenne pepper, paprika, salt, pepper. The garlic in my cupboard was grown in our garden this past winter and spring, which I’m really thrilled about. Looking forward to planting next year’s crop in just a couple of weeks.

Ingredients for easy almond encrusted chicken

Spice paste ingredients in bowl

Spice paste for chicken pieces in a bowl

Once the paste was ready, it was time to tip the chicken pieces into the bowl, coat them thoroughly, and then add the chopped almonds. Fortunately, I tend to have a variety of nuts on hand in the freezer.

Combining chicken pieces and almonds with spice paste

And mixing it altogether in the original bowl for making the spice paste made clean up extremely simple. The prepared chicken pieces went into the woodstove for about 25 minutes and were enjoyed with rice and the ‘superfast lemon aioli’ suggested with the original recipe. Nary a vegetable in sight. This was a late night meal just for the teenager, my husband and myself, after another in a string of very heavy work days. Enjoyed in front of an episode of season five of ‘Breaking Bad’ on DVD (do NOT tell us how it ends!).

Next time, a bit more care with the companion dishes would be great, but for a quick meal, it was very tasty. The treatment is a good one for a quick-cooking meal in the Ironheart, which would normally allow enough time to follow it with baking something on its heels.

Almond encrusted chicken from Food & Wine

Almond-Crusted Chicken from Food & Wine


1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 1/2 pounds chicken wings
3/4 cup very coarsely chopped natural almonds
1/4 cup mayonnaise
Zest and juice from 1 lemon


Preheat the oven to 425°. In a large bowl, combine the 1/3 cup of olive oil with the paprika, cumin, cayenne and garlic. Stir in the vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Add the wings and almonds and toss. Spread the wings and almonds on a large baking sheet in a single layer and roast for about 25 minutes, until cooked through.
Meanwhile, in a mini food processor, combine the mayonnaise with the lemon zest and juice. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil and process until smooth; season the aioli with salt and pepper.
Turn on the broiler and broil the chicken wings, turning once until they are lightly crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the wings and almonds to a platter and serve with the lemon aioli.

Firing up the Ironheart

Yes, it’s that time of the year. We’re completely overrun by outside jobs to tend to before winter, only more so than usual. The list is long, thanks to our greenhouse ‘collapse’ and a minor invasion of wild parsnip, as well as a serious lack of time for being outside.

In the meantime, we need to look after seasonal jobs that can’t be ignored, like getting our firewood into nicely stacked piles in and around the house for easy access. This year PetKid took the lead with chucking logs down our homemade log chute, while older son helped when he could with stacking.

Young boy tossing firewood

Wall stacked with firewood

Technically an inside job, my husband and youngest also gave our woodstove a thorough clean the other evening, and assessed our Ironheart to see what parts might need replacing this year (gaskets being the obvious choice).

Father and son cleaning out a woodstove

Esse Ironheart with its cooking surface removed

Annual Ironheart maintenance

Thankfully, our Ironheart burns so cleanly that when my husband swept the chimney recently, he wondered why he had bothered. At least it’s another job done.