I knew the time would eventually come. The time when I moved from wishing I had a bigger oven, to actively searching for the thing. I was dreaming of easily baking six loaves at a time, certainly meager by a proper bakery’s standards, but formidable in a home kitchen. Once you make the move to handle larger quantities of dough you naturally start to yearn for the right tools to amplify efficiency. I’m not saying it’s impossible to bake large quantities of bread in a home kitchen (I know many bakers who do!), but having the right tools means I can spend valuable focus on other areas of baking: on flavor, fermentation, handling, and shaping. Baking larger quantities of bread in a Rofco oven seemed like the natural progression in my baking evolution.
Rest assured, every recipe here will still be tested and verified in my domestic home oven.
Those bakers who do go down the path of expanding their home baking might suddenly arrive on this point through the subtle, slow takeover of an ever-increasing obsession, as in my case. Some might take it even further and expand into a nano or micro-bakery, some might venture into selling at their local farmer’s market. Whatever the reason behind scaling up, I’ve written this guide as a single spot to outline the tools, times, temperatures, and other tips I’ve found over time when using my Rofco bread oven. Also as an attempt to help others decide if a Rofco is right for them, or if they just purchased one, a place to learn how to start using it, and eventually, to start in developing their own process for baking bread in a Rofco oven.
But first, let’s talk a little about this big rectangular beast.
What is a Rofco?
A Rofco is a Belgium-made brick oven. It comes in various sizes where mine is the largest option, the B40, with three square baking decks. It’s a relatively compact oven with no-nonsense construction, a sealed oven chamber, and it produces minimal external radiant heat (the oven gets hot to the touch, but not so much you can’t place it relatively near a wall or other appliance). The three 1-3/8″ thick chamotte deck stones (refractory bricks) are capable of retaining significant heat after preheating the oven, even after opening the door and loading dough. Because the oven retains heat for hours, it’s great at multiple back-to-back bakes with a short rest period in between to get back up to full temperature.
The Rofco runs off typical 220V AC single-phase power (6-20P cord plug, 6-20R receptacle), similar to what other appliances run on in most US homes. I had an electrician come out to my house to install a new receptacle and breaker in my home breaker box specifically for the oven.
Using the Rofco, I’ve baked large scale batches for festivals, parties, and large gatherings, but I also use it to bake 4-6 loaves most often. The oven is efficient and convenient, it’s a bare-bones workhorse that does exactly what you need when you need it.
I purchased my oven from Pleasant Hill Grain here in the US, who always have exceptional service. They’ve been incredibly responsive when I’ve emailed for questions about the oven and even when I’ve had a small issue with one of the door clasps. Full disclosure: I received a discount from PHG on this oven, but this guide is written without their involvement or any expectation — the tips and opinions here are my own.
Positioning Dough on Decks
This is always a little bit like a game of real-life Tetris: how do we bake the most amount of dough without it touching while still achieving an even bake? Because I don’t bake at high scale very often, I’ve not pushed the boundaries of this, but I do know some bakers who really have this down to a science. Below are the three most common dough arrangements for the baking I do here at home, with the far left ( 2 x 900g batard per deck) being my most common baking scenario.
Note that ovals represent my typical batard shape, circles represent boules, and each deck is sized 18.9″ x 18.9″ in the Rofco B40. The top edge of each square in the diagram is the back of the oven, and the bottom edge is the front of the oven with the door.
Using the included square steel trays, you can pack in quite a number of smaller buns, rolls, and even a large square pizza. I prefer to use these trays when making other goods besides bread, they make transferring many small items to the oven easier and contain spills.
Steaming the Rofco
As I’ve mentioned in my other steaming guides, steaming the oven at the beginning of baking is incredibly important to ensure your bread dough rises to maximum potential. One of the benefits of the Rofco is that the oven chamber is completely sealed, there’s no exhaust fan or place for the steam to escape (until you open the two front vents). However, here is where the oven falls short from other professional bread ovens: there’s no steam injection at the press of a button. However, there are many ways to manually inject sufficient steam into the oven to ensure your bread rises properly.
This is my preferred method at the moment to steam the oven: using a commercial-grade pressure sprayer (see Tools section). First, I set the sprayer to the finest mist possible at the nozzle tip and ensure it’s filled with water. Then, I pump the sprayer to pressurize and load my dough. Starting with the bottom deck I spray in and around for about 10-12 seconds. Then, I move up and do the same for the bottom and top decks. When doing the top deck, be sure to stay away from the glass-enclosed light fixture as the glass will crack if hit with water (mine has cracked long ago). After spraying the top deck, grab the door with the other hand and just before closing completely, spray a second on each deck, then shut the door.
When I want to vent the steam in the oven, I’ll carefully open the door (steam will rush out at you so give it a second to escape before looking in), close it, and then tilt the circular vents in the door to their open position (as seen in the image above).
The optional rectangular steam pods are long steel rectangular boxes that are placed at the left and right sides of each deck and designed to be preheated with the oven. When you want to steam, you pour water (or ice cubes) into the boxes, shut the oven door, and watch as steam fills the oven. These pods work very well with the downside being they take up valuable space at the sides of each deck.
It’s possible to create quite a bit of steam with these pods and I use them periodically to test, but I’ve found I need every available inch on each deck and stick to using the pressure sprayer.
When I want to vent the steam in the oven usually all of the water in the pods has finished evaporating and I’ll simply open the two circular vents in the door.
Baking Process: Start to Finish
I’m always modifying the baking process in the Rofco oven, continually tweaking times, temperatures, and changing small parts of the process here and there. I do find that different doughs require different baking parameters1, but the following is my go-to process for most formulas.
Turn the left knob to control the top heating element and turn the right knob to control the bottom heating element. The left and right light turns on when the left and/or right heating element is active, respectively.
To turn the oven on first be sure it’s completely empty inside (don’t make the mistake of leaving the silicone sheets inside!) and turn both left and right dials to 240°C. I preheat for a full 1.5 hours to ensure the bricks are fully saturated with heat.
Once preheated, I lay my pizza peel (see Tools, below) on a table next to the oven with one silicone sheet on top and place the other two sheets in an assembly line next to the peel on the table. Then, gently turn out your dough to each sheet, score each loaf, and starting with the sheet on the peel, slide it off the peel into the oven. Then take the peel, slide it under the next sheet and continue down the line loading the oven.
From there, I perform the following steps to bake:
|1. Preheat oven (door closed, vents closed)||240°C||1 hour 30 minutes|
|2. Bake, with steam||150°C||20 minutes|
|3. Bake, vent steam (carefully open door briefly, swivel open vents)||220°C||10 minutes|
|4. Bake (reshuffle loaves, if necessary)||150°C||20-30 minutes|
When the loaves are fully baked, I’ll remove them and the silicone sheets using the peel to wire racks to cool. Then, I turn off the oven (or heat it back up to 240°C if baking more loaves) and close the door.
Commercial Strength Sprayer for Steam
If you choose not to use the Rofco steam pods, this is the best sprayer I’ve found for the oven2: the German-made Gloria Prima 3 Liter Pressure Sprayer. It’s a little expensive with shipping from Europe, but let me tell you, it’s worth the cost. I went through 3 or 4 of these from all over until buying this and wondering why I wasted so much money on the others. Highly recommended.
Oven Equipment Stand
I raised the oven up about 20″ with a custom-cut stainless steel equipment stand from WebstaurantStore. The Regency 30″ x 30″ 16-Guage Stand is extremely sturdy (it will slightly wobble if the oven door is slammed shut forcefully, but likely only because I installed casters). When ordering, I submitted a custom cut of the steel legs to 18″, which worked out perfectly to raise the oven comfortably off the ground for loading and unloading.
It’s certainly convenient to have the locking casters on the bottom should I need to relocate the oven, but if I were to do this over again I would not get them to increase structural rigidity (if you don’t get the casters, be sure you measure the height of the legs to suit).
Large Wooden Peel
When I first received the Rofco I used the included square steel baking trays, inverted so the flat side was up, to hold the silicone sheets. Then, I would drop the dough on top of the sheet that was on top of the steel tray and slide the sheets into the oven off the trays. This worked pretty well, but the steel trays were rather heavy and cumbersome to use.
I purchased a wooden pizza peel that I initially thought was too long, but have since grown to appreciate the size. It’s an American Metalcraft 1836 18″ x 29 1/2″ peel with 6 1/2″ long handle. The wonderful thing about this peel is that it’s the exact width of the Rofco B40’s decks (the decks are 18.9″ wide, the peel is 18″ wide), it’s light and very durable. I lay the peel down on a table next to the oven, place a silicone sheet near the top, unload my dough, score, and slide the sheet into the oven with the peel.
Tips & Tricks
After Baking: Drying Proofing Baskets/Bannetons
After unloading my dough to the silicone sheets, I like to place my proofing baskets on top of the oven to help expedite drying. This not only quickly dries the damp liner/canvas so I can store my baskets in a shorter time, but it also helps prevent mold from forming.
When you first get a Rofco, expect your bake quality to take a slight dip while you get accustomed to the new oven (as is the case when changing most baking equipment!). Pick a straight forward sourdough recipe and practice that for a while until you get the hang of the new process. If you’re in the market for a new Rofco, head over to Pleasant Hill Grain, where I couldn’t recommend their service highly enough.
Do you use a Rofco and have any tips I haven’t discovered yet? If so, I’d love to hear them in the comments below. Happy baking!
A huge thanks go out to all the bakers I’ve chatted with about using the Rofco: Adam from Grain and Hearth Bakery, Noah, Lieschen from Lizzy’s Bakehouse, Campbell from RackMaster, and more. Their input has helped tremendously.