Hard (Wood) Questions

Does almond wood make for better baking?

Barbecue pitmasters—who have plenty of time to jaw while their meat's smoking—can talk incessantly about the relative merits of post oak and hickory. But despite all the recent hoopla over restaurants with roasting ovens, there's been remarkably little discussion of the wood used to fire them. That's because, depending on how the oven's used, the variety of wood may not matter much. 

"We use scraggly old dead apple trees," says Stephen Brown, president of Eltana, which cooks its bagels in a Wood Stone oven. Eltana sources its wood from Tonnemaker Family Orchard, which sells its produce at 19 Puget Sound farmers markets, including those in the University District, Columbia City, and Queen Anne. But Brown says he isn't partial to applewood for philosophical reasons. "It's not handsome, but it's plentiful," he says. "Any hard wood will do." As for customers who claim they can taste the apple smoke in their sesame-wheat bagels with date-walnut cream cheese: "That's not true," Brown says.

But woodsmoke is more apt to penetrate a pizza, especially if the final step of the baking process calls for the pizzaiolo to lift the pie into the smoke, as is done at Tutta Bella. "It definitely comes through," Brent Murphy, manager of Brave Horse Tavern, says of the applewood used at Serious Pie. Applewood is also the wood of choice at Brave Horse. "We love to stay local, and we love the flavor coming off the wood," Murphy says.

At Von's 1000 Spirits, the unfortunately subtitled "gustobistro" set to open next week, the wood-fired oven will run on almond trees. "The hardwood has a characteristic brilliant and intense flame," a press release explains. "Very few restaurants use almond wood because of the skill required to properly maintain and manage the high heat output."

Elemental Pizza starts with northern California almond wood "to get the heat levels," manager Andrew Hem says, but adds apple wood to the log pile.

"It gives us the top flame which gives us the char we like," Hem says.

hraskin@seattleweekly.com

 
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