Wood-fired Oven: Part 3 - Firing the Oven

The key to using a wood-fired oven to its best advantage is good planning. While there's nothing wrong with firing the oven just to make pizza or bread, somehow I feel guilty if I waste any of that wonderful heat. At the very least, I'll bake pizza and bread and I usually try to fire-roast a few vegetables, bake some sweet bread, roast some meat or vegetables, and cook a pot of beans or chili in the dying heat of the oven.

A small fire is started near the mouth of the oven with cedar kindling. A couple of larger pieces of wood are then added. Once the fire is well established it is pushed back about half way into the oven and another five or six pieces of wood are added.

At this point the fire can be left alone for awhile. Now is the time to get some vegetables or meat together for live-fire roasting, assemble pizza ingredients, and shape the loaves that will be baked after the pizza.

We will often fire-roast vegetables to top the pizza or roast eggplant and garlic for a wonderfully smoky baba ganoush.

Once the dome has turned completely white, the wood has burned down to coals, and the temperature has reached about 1000 degrees we spread the coals out and let the oven "soak" for about half an hour.

At this point the temperature has dropped to 800 degrees and the coals are banked to one side to start baking pita...

...or pizza. If we're baking more than one or two pizzas we add an extra piece or two of wood (no larger than 4 inches in diameter) to the coals banked on the side. If the hearth cools down we simply transfer the coals to the other side.

The coals are spread out over the oven floor to help equalize the temperature and then removed with a long-handled shovel. The deck is swabbed with a damp mop. When the temperature drops to around 550 the hearth breads can be baked.

After the bread is baked (if we fire the oven briefly the night before we can do two loads of hearth bread) a batch of cinnamon buns, sweet bread, or some meat or vegetables goes in (shown here: peppers stuffed with garlic, capers, olives and cherry tomatoes).

7 comments:

JPF999 said...

It appears that you are using Le Panyol, how do you like it? Which model? Why clay vs. refractory cast, Forno Bravo, etc.
Thanks for a great post

Real Food from a Small Island said...

Thanks for your comment. Indeed, it is a Panyol 99 and I love it! Read more about it on two of the previous posts that I made in January. I chose the Panyol 99 mostly because it was one of the few ovens that had an oblong shape and fit into the corner of our terrace. The decision was clinched when we were able to see one in action at the Stone Turtle Baking School in Maine. I don't know much about Forno Bravo but I hear they are quite good. My research told me that some ovens are designed more for pizza but the Panyol is a great all-round oven. Whether you make a mud oven, build an Allan Scott model or buy an oven core like I did, I'm sure you'll be happy with it.

Chris said...

perfect explanation, exactly what I do myself when using the oven I work with regularly. AND you're making me hungry!! Great pictures!!

lgranitedog said...

Nice to see such beautiful (edible) works of art coming out of a Le Panyol baking oven. We just installed two large units here in Duluth MN. Can't wait to see what the chef does with them. Pics at http://www.beaumontstoneworks.com/gallery/

Gandhi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gandhi said...

Great Pics!

need some information though if you could help.

1) how long does it take for your oven to heat up to cook pizzas? At what temp do you cook pizzas?

2) do you feel your pizzas are as good as if cooked in ROUND oven?

3) how long does the oval oven hold the temp or is it lost more readily than a round?

thanks in advance!!

Real Food from a Small Island said...

Hi Gandhi,

Here are the answers to your questions:

1. It takes about an hour to heat up for pizza. The pizzas are cooked at between 600 to 800 degrees. The pizzas take around two minutes to cook.

2. A round oven works just as well, in fact it's probably easier to place the food in a round oven. I chose the oblong shape simply because it fit into the space I had. The oven at the Stone Turtle School is round and works beautifully.

3. I don't think it makes a difference - it really depends on the insulation - but I'm not 100% sure on that.

Hope that helps. Feel free to ask if you have further questions.