When I was learning to bake in France, it was all too easy to take for granted the equipment we used daily. There were four large deck ovens. Each had three tiers with a “tapis” (a rolling carpet contraption). Here we placed our breads and in particular baguettes to load them in the oven. It was all to easy, at first, to load them incorrectly and end up with bread exactly where you did not want it not be.
Our tutors, at first, switched on the ovens for us to preheat at least 1.5 hours before we need to use them. When had more skills under our belt, we were supposed to set the timer to turn them on at the right time. After forgetting to do so once, you tried very, very hard not to do it again.
The beauty of these ovens is the solid stone ‘floor’. This keeps the heat constant and even. If we wanted steam it was the matter of pressing a button and counting a few seconds. Of course all baking would be like this, wouldn’t it? Crusts perfectly formed and bread baked beautifully
It’s quite a shock when you start baking for yourself. Justifying a bread oven when you’re not sure how your business will go, is hard. But you soon get very fed up with a domestic oven even using a baking stone as the temperatures are never high enough nor are they consistent and don’t mention flabby crusts. What next?
Unless you are incredibly lucky, your premises will not have three-phase power. This is what most deck ovens require to function. Three phase power can be prohibitively expensive to install. Again another reason to be hesitant before an expensive purchase.
I visited a few micro bakers and discovered many had a Rofco oven. If you go for the largest model it is the size of the average washing machine, although a little taller. You have three shelves on which to bake, each with a stone enabling you to bake up to 12 loaves at a time depending on size. There’s no need for three-phase power.
Brook Foods are the distributor for this oven. I set off to Somerset to find out more about the Rofco in a workshop lead by Adam Pagor of Season Etc. He runs 3 Rofcos in tandem. This turned out to be a great opportunity to see how the oven work but more importantly to get tips and ask questions. We also had the opportunity to take our own bread to be baked in the oven. I was convinced and decided to purchase.
Some time later with our trusty small trailer in tow we set off to get the Rofco. The “stones” were gently placed in the back of the car – boy were they heavy and the rest in the trailer. With a bit of muscle power it was easy to get the oven installed.
Baking with the Rofco
Whatever oven you have used before, you have to get used to baking in the Rofco and finding what works for you. Here I share tips from myself and fellow bakers: Adam Pagor of Season Etc, Nigel Brown of the Green Bakery; Nick from the One Mile Bakery, Cardiff; Sarah Raisbeck; Patrick of Indigo Bakes; Maja Herman; Philippe le Toquin of the Long Slow Bakery, Dan Sumpton; Cynthia Kinihan of Pawling Bread Company
We are all very fond of our Rofcos, but they do have a few quirks!
Stopping bottom shelf hot spots
There are three ‘stones’ which are actually pure chamotte or refactory brick. The bottom stone sits directly on the element which leads to hot spots and uneven heating .
This is a design quirk that is easy to fix. Hopefully Rofco will address this in newer models. We’ve remedied this in various ways:
Patrick has raised the bottom stone by about 1 cm; Maria has placed some metal rods just higher than the elements, Dan has used metal nuts and Adam Pagor suggested using coins. We have placed some metal brackets on their side that are just higher than the elements as you can see in the photo below*.
The power rating on the Rofco B40 is 16 amp. The instructions say that you should hard wire the oven into a dedicated 16 amp supply. Most domestic plugs in the UK are fused at 13 amp. We have hard wired in our Rofco as you would a domestic oven through a 13 amp fuse. This has run satisfactorily to date*.
Steam Pods or Garden Sprayer
You can purchase steam pods that sit on the shelves or use a garden sprayer. Most of us use a garden sprayer. Patrick uses pods on the door side and prefers this to using a sprayer. Nigel did purchase some as was pleased with the results, but found they take up a lot of space. He is now achieving good results with a garden sprayer. Maja’s tip is to be careful not to spray the light as it breaks easily! (Spares can be found at B&Q)
You can purchase stands from Brook Foods. Nigel has purchased a bespoke made stand that raises the oven up to make it easier to fill and provides additional storage underneath.
Trays and peels
The metal trays supplied with the oven are prone to rusting. Oil them regularly.
Several of us have plywood boards that have been cut to the width of the oven and slightly deeper. Place bakeoglide (silicon sheets) on the trays and the bread on top, it is then easy to get the bread it to the oven in one action. You can then place the plywood easily under the silicon to get the bread back out. Nigel swears by a metal peel as does Nick. Others have had custom made trays made, for example for foccacia
We all pre-heat for at least 1.5 hours.
Baking multiple batches of bread is easy in the Rofco as it retains heat so well. No need to wait between batches. I always plan to use the oven for other items before and after baking the bread. It also cooks roasts to perfection!
The All Important Baking Guide
Whereas there is much agreement on the above points, how we bake is somewhat different. A good oven thermometer is a must. I discovered that the temperature in my oven is about 20 degrees hotter than the dial indicates. Whilst the dial suggests you can bake at 300 degrees, the higher the temperature the more variable the results. Two vents are located on the front of the oven, these can be opened to release steam. You should also check the temperature of each shelf and adjust accordingly. Thanks to Philippe for highlighting this. It’s important if you want your breads all to be the same colour!
I asked the bakers to share how they bake a large loaf typically 750 to 900gr unbaked weight.
Where temperature 2 and 3 are shown, this is what the temperature is turned down to after heating or a period of baking. Opening vents improves the crust. The table shows when the vents are opened out of total baking time.
|Pre heat temp °C||Baking Time||Temp 2 °C||Time||Temp 3 °C||Time||Vents open after||Steam|
|Baker 1||240||16||210||20||20 minutes||Pods used|
|Baker 2||280||0||190||25||250||5-10 minutes||25 minutes||Before, on loading, after 3 minutes|
|Baker 3||230||30-35||After loading|
|Baker 4||230||24-30||After loading|
|Baker 5||280||0||220||40||250||30 minutes||On loading|
|Baker 6||250||0||230||37||15 minutes||Pods used|
|Baker 7||230||35||25 minutes||Before, on loading|
|Baker 8||240||16||210||20||20 minutes||On loading|
Find out more
I run bespoke courses for those who would like to try the Rofco before they buy. The course can be tailored to your requirements.
Read my series of articles “Bake Better Bread”
*I would always advise asking a fully qualified electrician to wire your oven in. I am passing on tips used by bakers but cannot guarantee that they are suitable for you.