Wood fired ovens and Pizza Kettles

Cooking fire, oven
Buns for the oven
No need to spend $2000 or more on a wood-fired oven. You can build your own for $600.

Ovens were first developed for baking bread, and bread alone. Everything else was cooked on or in front of a fire. It was only in the 19th century that ranges with integral ovens began to be inserted into domestic kitchens and that roasting before the open flame dropped out of favour, only recently revived as we relearn the art of the barbecue.

The general-purpose domestic oven is not a perfect instrument for breadmaking. The heat is too fragile. A loaf truly enjoys the deep heat that comes from the structure of the oven itself, and it revels particularly in the kiss of the brick on its bottom. Although there are lots of tricks that can fool bread into thinking that a gas cooker is an old-fashioned bread oven (baking stones, sprays of water, coating the crust with some form of browning agent), the ultra-enthusiast (verging on the lunatic) will want to have a go at building a proper oven. It’s that self-sufficiency thing and the fact that breadmaking often develops into a larger programme of equipment, construction and rethinking one’s whole kitchen economy. It just grabs you by the balls, I find.

There are big ovens and small ones. And they can be indoors or outdoors. For the majority, outdoors may be safest (neighbours notwithstanding). Even small ovens create an awful lot of smoke and flame. And there are times when you need to get the flame out of the oven in order to get the bread in. Don’t forget that the Great Fire of London was started by a baker.

A simple bread oven works on the principle that you build the fire inside the oven itself until the structure has absorbed sufficient heat to cook a loaf of bread. At that point the fire is raked out, the oven is washed or cleaned, and the baking begins. A pizza oven works on the same lines but hotter, with the fire kept chuntering along during the cooking process, so that it may be revived at short notice to get steam up again for another baking.

Some people provide plans. Tom Jaine has done so in his book Building a Wood-Fired Oven for Bread and Pizza, 13th Edition (English Kitchen)” title=”Buy it on Amazon” target=”_blank”>Building a Wood-Fired Oven for Bread and Pizza , or there is Your Brick Oven: Building It and Baking in It by Russell Jeavons.

The scale of these things goes from the sublime to the ginormous. All the materials for a technically simple but nonetheless massive oven that affords a baking area one metre square will probably set you back above pounds 500, although economies can be made by using secondhand materials – firebricks, for example, can be liberated from old electric storage heaters.

Of course, driving the oven may become more important to you than making the bread. There is a fascination in watching the flames curl over the brick dome and listening to the roar at the mouth as the heat gets up to maximum. There’s also the sheer delight of using the baker’s peel (the long flat shovel with which you insert the loaf into the depths of the oven), or its attendant disasters as you tremble and hesitate too much and deposit the loaf in a horrible mess in one corner.

And the speed of it takes you aback. An oven up to its full potential will cook bread at twice the speed of a standard cooker and then, as it settles into a gentle decline after baking is done, you can slap in the stews, the cakes, the biscuits and meringues to profit from the heat for free.

More Books on building backyard ovens

Build Your Own Earth Oven: A Low-Cost Wood-Fired Mud Oven, Simple Sourdough Bread, Perfect Loaves, 3rd Edition
by Kiko Denzer

The Bread Ovens of Quebec”
,” by Lise Boily and Jean-Francois Blanchette

The Bread Builders: Hearth Loaves and Masonry Ovens” by Daniel Wing and Alan Scott

Same principles apply to Pizza ovens. You cannot use a domestic oven with a Pizza stone. They just don’t get hot enough. You’ll find a pizza stone on a gas grill a little better.

Reading Slice, especially the work of J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, might spur you on to the next step – a Weber kettle grill, a contraption called KettlePizza that includes a pizza stone, and a rectangle of baking steel. The steel sits on the Weber grate above the pizza, radiating heat to blister the top.

A few gadgets here and there, and you’ll end up around $600. That’s not cheap, but for the real Pizza fan it willgive all the joy others might find in a good set of golf clubs.

The dough is the sticky part now. here is a dough recipe, built on Caputo “00” flour from Italy, trying to get an easy-to-work-with consistency.

Sources: Kettle pizza insert with prograte and tombstone, $299, Caputo “00” flour, Guercio & Sons or Premier Gourmet.

Basic Neapolitan pizza dough

4 cups Caputo “00” flour

1a cups warm water

One packet active dry yeast

Pinch of salt

Add salt to flour in a large bowl. In small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let it sit about 5 minutes until it starts to bubble.

Add to the flour mixture. As the concoction turns into a ball, add water or flour as needed until it’s a workable, but not too wet, consistency. (I use a mixer because it helps me fine-tune the moisture.)

Put the dough ball in a bowl lined with a thin schmear of olive oil, cover with a damp cloth, set on counter and let it rise. Punch dough down after a couple of hours and let it rise again.

Punch it down, put it in a gallon ziptop bag, squeeze out the air, and let it ferment in the fridge for one to three days.

Remove from fridge an hour before use so it can come to room temperature. (If it’s dinner, I take it out that morning). Form five or six balls for pizzas and keep them in an airtight container in a single layer, until ready to use.

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