Cooking in a bread oven (7)
This is part 7 of How to Build a Free-form Bread Oven. See here for bread oven principles, plans and construction recipes (part 1), how to build the base (part 2), how to build the floor of a bread oven (part 3), how to build the dome (part 4), the final layers (part 5) or make your own oven tools (part 6).
It takes about 2 hours to bring a bread oven up to heat. Gather yourself a
supply of small pieces of natural firewood or untreated timber (approximately 1 wheelbarrow load per firing). Organise your tools alongside the oven.
Begin by laying some light kindling across the floor of the oven. Lay sheets of newspaper on this and add another layer of kindling. On top spread 15 to 20 pieces of barbecue charcoal (made from wood, not coal-based carbonettes). Light the paper in several places, at the back, coming forward.
Once the charcoal has taken, gradually add timber. All the time, keep the
fire relatively low, making sure the flames do not lap right around the dome. Keep the fire fed for two hours, and burning right across the floor so that all parts of the floor are heating.
You might like to place an oven thermometer on the floor of the oven to test the temperature (use barbecue tongs to put it in and pull it out). Watch it carefully though, because your oven might gain heats greater than the thermometer can register. Don't explode your thermometer!
Once your oven has reached 400º C it is ideal for cooking pizzas. Push the embers of your fire to one side or the back of the dome with the garden hoe or scraping tool. Scrape the floor as clean as possible. Dip your brush into a bucket of water and sweep the last of the ashes away. Be quick, so the bristles of your brush don't burn. If the floor is not ash free, dip the brush again and sweep again.
Now your oven is ready. If you are cooking a fresh-dough pizza, sprinkle the paddle first with semolina before you pick up the pizza. This provides a rolling slippery surface that will allow the uncooked pizza to slip off the paddle and into the oven.
An easier way is to roll out a series of fresh-dough pizza bases and bake
them for two minutes in the electric oven. You can do this beforehand and store them in the frreezer if you wish. A partially cooked base is much easier to deal with on the day and tastes just as good (especially if you like thin-based pizzas).
Keep an eye on the cooking pizza. Turn it around if the side nearest the
embers is cooking faster. Once browned and crispy round the edges slip it out on your paddle and enjoy!!
Baking in the oven
You can use your bread oven as a conventional oven, but remember that you are baking on a reducing heat. You will get a lovely wood-fired flavour like none other!
I place some tin foil around my wooden door before I put it in place, to
protect it from singeing.
To cook a chicken, add herbs under the skin and place it whole on an open can of beer. The beer keeps it moist and flavoursome. You may need to take the chicken out if it is cooking too fast on the top and place some aluminium foil over the top of it.
Baked vegetables are delicious from a wood-fired oven!