Bread oven tools and how to cure the oven (6)
This is part 6 of How to Build a Free-form Bread Oven. See here for bread oven principles, plans and construction recipes (part 1), how to build a bread-oven base (part 2), how to build a bread-oven floor
(part 3), how to build the dome (part 4), the final layers (part 5) or cooking in the bread oven (part 7).
The concrete of your bread oven takes at least three weeks to cure. You have finished the building project and are dying to use it ... but don't be tempted. You will ruin all your hard work. Put your time into making some tools that you will use in the cooking process.
You will need:
1 a fire poker on a long handle
2 a long handled brush - to clean the hot oven floor of ash. It's handy to have one long one and one at right angles as shown in the photo.
3 a hoe or scraping tool that will allow you to push the embers to one side
4 at least one paddle - a long handled toll that will allow to slip a pizza onto or off the oevn floor
5 a container to receive excess ash to take it away (doesn't happen often as the fire burns very efficiently.
Any old poker from a second-hand shop can be slotted and glued into a hole drilled in the end of a length of dowel. Use a two-part glue (see Glues and adhesives) or a cyanoacrolate (super) glue.
Buy natural bristle brushes and attach them to long handles with two screws each. Do not use plastic bristles as these will melt in the heat. The natural bristle brush can be dunked in water before use to prevent any burning. Bevel the ends (as shown in the vertical brush in the photos). This will allow you to reach right to the edge of the oven floor where the dome wall rises.
I use a garden hoe to move ashes around inside the oven. I also made a scraping tool from a child's rake which I put on a longer handle. I cut the tines off the rake with tin-snips. This is smaller than my garden hoe and often more versatile (see tool with red top in photos).
I made two paddles, one the same size as the pizzas we make. The other, as you see above, is square. I thought I would use this for trays of food, but find that it is much easier to slip trays in and out of the oven by using oven gloves. I eventually changed the shape of the square one to become another pizza paddle (always handy to have two if more than one person is cooking.)
The paddles are constructed by cutting the shape from an aluminium oven tray. Be aware that the shape you see also has an extension that fits into the slot of the tool handle. I bought the handle new. Also fitted into the tool hande slot at the back, is a firm piece of metal which supports the aluminium as it comes out of the slot. I used a short piece of carpet edging. This is riveted into the paddle further up.
Not an essential item, but fun to make. This one (as shown in the two
pictures at the top) is made from an olive-oil tin I was given by the local
restaurant. The edge of it fits snugly under the floor tile at the door of my
oven. It has a handle on it that allows me to hold it easily while scraping
ashes with my other hand.
To make it, I cut straight across the middle of one side of the can and
around the top and bottom of that side. I then folded the metal over, to double its thickness for strength, to form the lip on one side and a strong edge on the other side to which I attached the handle with screws. The lip side is bent to a 60º angle or so to work against the oven. Bend yours to fit your oven.
First firing to cure the oven
After three weeks have passed you should light a fire in the oven to dry the
oven out completely. Do not expect it to light easily because there is probably still some moisture in the walls, so don't get disappointed at this stage and think that it's never going to work. It will!. DO NOT light a large fire or expect it to dry the dome completely the first time. DO NOT light a fire
expecting to cook with it this time round.
Place some screwed up newspaper across the floor and add a layer of fine
twigs on top. Throw 20 or so pieces of charcoal over the top and light the
paper. The fire will probably smoke a bit at this stage. Don't worry. Once the
charcoal has caught and is turning to embers, add more pieces of charcoal to
keep the embers going for about an hour. Do not build up large flames or you will crack the dome. Do this again next day. The day after that, you can safely take your oven to a suitable heat for cooking.
See Cooking in a bread oven