Solar Oven Baking Bread – Here’s What Happened…
We took out our solar oven (sun oven) for the first time this year. The day was spring-time warm and the sun was shining bright.
We enjoy taking advantage of free solar oven cooking when the weather permits. This way we save a little propane and the house doesn’t heat up from the oven. Plus, it’s fun – kind of like doing a science experiment…
Mrs.J has been making homemade bread at least once a week. And this day seemed perfect to bake it outside.
So I took it out of storage and set my sun-oven outside on a chair. I unfolded the reflective solar panels and aligned it to the sun:
It quickly heated up to about 325-degrees. Nice. Then Mrs.J brought out the bread in a baking pan ready-to-go. We opened up the glass door, set the bread in, closed the cover and stared at it for a minute or two. Realizing that what we were doing was similar to water taking longer to boil when you keep looking at it, we walked away.
But you know what happened about 10 minutes later? Murphy.
Living in the mountains, there are days when clouds can rapidly develop depending on weather conditions. Well on this day, that’s exactly what happened. It wasn’t total cloud cover, but sporadic 50% cover. We decided to just see what happened with the bread, while the solar oven temp kept falling.
I should’ve taken a picture of it. But what happened next was nothing short of a massive “cave in” as the rising bread just couldn’t hold itself up.
At that point we decided to bring it up to the “real” oven to salvage what we could. Of course it wouldn’t fix the cave-in, but at least it cooked some more.
Since it was more or less a sort of “brick”, we ended up breaking it up and drying it out the next day on a tray in the sun. We turned it into bread crumbs and put it all in a canning jar to use next time we make meatballs (grin).
Solar Oven Lesson Learned
Check the weather forecast. Though they’re not always right, if they’re calling for partly cloudy skies (and it’s currently full sun), you might want to forego baking bread that day.
Baking Bread The Next Day In Solar Oven!
The very next day, it was nice and sunny and warm. So we tried it again. This time, success!
I bought my “Sun Oven” (view on amzn) many years ago. Wow, now that I think about it, probably a decade ago. This particular one was (is) expensive. But like many other decisions I’ve made in the past (for some things), you get what you pay for. And I knew that I would use this for many years to come (and I have).
I’ve also made a few homemade solar ovens (though I don’t have them anymore). One of these days I might try it again, just for fun.
I love my sun oven. Pop something in there in the morning, and it’s hot and ready for dinner. Pop it in there before 10 you have lunch. Bread is tricky that way, but just about anything else will cook to perfection.
Ken, I wonder if on the cloudier days (I know yours was unexpected) tweaking the yeast a bit might help. I kept trying to get a good loaf out of my bread machine but it constantly rose beautifully then fell. I ended up reducing the yeast a full 30% (2 tsp instead of 3) and the bread still rises beautifully and does not collapse. It would be neat if a small adaptation here and there could keep the oven working on non-optimal days. We seriously contemplated trying a solar oven, but here in the cloudy Pacific Northwest, it doesn’t seem practical. I’m stocking up on charcoal and honing my Dutch oven skills. Our native Douglas fir isn’t much good for cooking either.
That’s an interesting thought regarding yeast reduction. And you’re probably right regarding the PNW — all you get is rain, right? ;)
Hi Ken, I came out here looking for ideas on Bread and solar ovens. Great Post! I would like to go solar in every way I can. I am in NE Arizona, and I get plenty of Sun, unfortunately we also get Mach winds! Especially in the springtime. Having those big shiny wings on a solar oven is an invitation for flight! I have borrowed one before and wound up chasing down shiny wings, and a shattered plastic lid, and bean soup everywhere! Have you ever looked into building something that would solve the wind issues?
Many people will build a permanent structure for the solar oven, or build their own permanent solar oven.
Great post – I love my Sun Oven! Definitely agree that the extra cost is worth it. There’s a cook book I have, called ‘The Morning Hill Solar Cookery Book’ by Jennifer Stein Barker. Lots of good recipes, all are vegetarian, but meat could be added pretty easily. Really great cookbook for solar.
Murphy is my brother, can’t seem to get rid of him. I have not bought it yet but found a large wooden lazy susan on amazon. Think it was 30″ or so. thought this might be a help for turning the Sun Oven toward the sun when needed.
How about a solar panel positional gear motor? Dirt cheap and calibrated to follow the sun across the horizon.
Wonder what it would take to make a turner like a greenhouse vent opener? They use wax, usually, and as the wax heats it forces the vent open.
Interesting, never thought of that.
Do I remember correctly that you wrote a great article a couple of years ago that detailed how to make bread in a solar oven?
This would be great here in this part of Texas. It is going to be nothing but sun for months….hahaha…Seriously though, pretty interesting!
– I have experimented with several different home-built solar ovens; my favorite one was the one with the closed box with reflective panels all the way around, made from several cardboard boxes (very similar to your Sun Oven above).
I have also used the sun-funnel, made from a reflective windshield liner. It was okay, just kind of limited capacity. My main interest in it was the fact that we usually have those windshield liners around, and it seemed like an easy one to improvise.
Just a few days ago I was able to lay hands on a 72″ (Big Screen TV) Fresnel lens, which will probably be my next experiment to play with. Fortunately, here in west Texas, adequate sunshine is not one of my problems.
– Papa S.
Papa Smurf, I have one of those lenses – I haven’t gotten around to trying it yet, as a) working 8-5, 8-6 on Fridays, and b) we would have to use the front yard, the backyard has too much shade, dogs, and chickens … not to mention that it’s extremely floppy and needs a custom-built frame to stabilize it. The large size has actually been a detriment, since I can’t physically do the things I could when I acquired it.
– LGLA (Lousiana Girl in Lower Arkansas),
I think (well, I hope) I was smart, I kept it in the frame it was mounted in originally. I have a little bit of the same problems as you mention. I will have to create a support for the thing where I do have sunlight, so I haven’t had a lot of time to play with it. Just too many other things needing my time.
Papa Smurf; I totally understand ! I’ve been doing succession planting in my raised beds and containers; not on purpose, just because I can’t get out there every afternoon after work AND collect eggs/let chickens range for a while/ pick blackberries/ fix supper for hubby and me. I’m neither an early bird NOR a night owl; I’m a perpetually pooped pigeon …
I burst out laughing when I read this,
“I’m neither an early bird NOR a night owl; I’m a perpetually pooped pigeon …”
since it is such an accurate description of where I am at on so many days! Though I am working on getting better, it gets crossed up with the fact that age is creeping up on me too! LOL
I would really like to go as solar as I can. I am in Northeast Arizona, so I have lots of wonderful sun, but I also have wind. Mach force winds! I was out here hoping to find some answers, and saw you comment and just had to respond!
Off topic even if in the photo? What are the pretty pink flowers?
They are called Phlox. We have white and purple that flower for about a month during the spring in patches around the property.
Ken, we feed those failed experiments to the chickens or pigs…depending on how big the results. They love experiment or new recipe days just for that reason and clean up is fast! LOL. The sun oven intrigues me but our sun is like yours so I went with Dutch oven. Thank you for sharing.
I don’t know anything about solar ovens. I understand the concept. Do they have vents so that the temperature could be regulated somewhat to prevent the internal temperature from getting too hot?
Mine does not have vents – it’s one like Ken has, really good one. I regulate the heat, if I need to, by turning it slightly away from the maximum sun exposure. I’ve seldom ever had to do that for things I cook in it.
OK, thanks Farmgirl.