Mediocre Pie weekend/Why were my pies all “dough-y?”
Friday night, I and Forno Fio were all fired up. I had the dough, cheese, toppings, etc. Just as I started to press out the first dough, it started raining. Muther[nature]! I shut down, ordered takeout (BBQ, not pizza) and set my sights on Sunday. On Sunday, the weather was much better, and I got the oven REALLY HOT. The tops of the pizzas cooked in three minutes.
But the pies were soggy! The bottom of the crust was pale and chewy! Why was this when the fire was so hot!
My theory: I moved the fire off to the side TOO SOON before cooking. The bricks directly beneath the fire didn’t get hot enough. I should wait longer before moving the fire, that way the center floor will get and retain enough heat to cook the bottoms properly.
Does this make sense?
This makes sense. The more I do this, talk with oven owners, and we all share our experiences, I conclude that keeping/getting the floor hot enough is one of the biggest issues. Unlike a pizzeria, where the the oven is hot 365 days a year, we need to heat up the floor from scratch each time.
Do you remember how long your fire burned and how hot the floor was when you started coooking?
Did it fall off too fast, or perhaps, was it not hot enough from the start?
If you are willing, it would be interesting to see a series of floor temperature readings after pies 1, 2, 3, etc.
Here's what I recall.
I was impatient. I burned the fire in the center for maybe a half hour or maybe less, then I kicked it over to the side. That must have been the mistake. I didn't measure the floor temp before putting the pizza on; it was as high as 700 degrees during the course of the night, but that may have been "surface" temperature, not very deep. To get deep heat, I think the thing to do is let the fire burn on top of it for a good hour or more.
Description for Pizza Oven, Roasting and Baking Environments
Found this definition. I work from a white dome perspective and flame reaching to mid dome for pizza. See other definitions.
The Pizza Oven Environment refers to an oven which has been fired to maximum temperature. The goal is to saturate the floor and dome with heat, build up a large sized bed of coals and maintain a rolling large flame. When the oven is up to temperature there is no visible black (carbon build up) on the dome and there should be a large fire going with the flame reaching the middle of the oven. If using a hand held thermometer the floor should read approximately 650 degrees. Pizzas are baked right on the floor next to the fire. The door is left off during Pizza baking and smaller pieces of wood are added approximately every 20 minutes to maintain a large flame.
Roasting Oven (floor temp 550 F)
The Roasting Oven Environment refers to an oven which has first been prepped to reach Pizza Oven temperatures and then allowed to drop in temperature. The goal is to have a deep constant heat throughout the oven for initial searing and then allow the oven to slowly drop in temperature to the desired level. There should be no visible black on the dome, a medium sized bed of coals and a small flame of 2-4" high. The door may be left off for shorter roasting times (under one hour) or positioned inside the arch opening to help regulate the heat for hours of roasting.
The door is used to regulate both the air coming in to fuel the fire and the exhaust going up the chimney. Experiment with the exact placement of the door such as to not put the fire out or to create a smoky environment. If the oven is cooling off add more wood and open the door more. Inspect food periodically during
roasting and use the different heat zones in the oven to adjust for temperature i.e., move your pan deeper into the oven for more heat or forward for less heat. Add small pieces of wood as needed to maintain temperature. Roasting temperatures may start as high as 600 degrees for initial searing and allowed to drop to no less than 450 degrees.
3. Bake Oven (floor temp 450 F)
The Bake Oven Environment refers to an oven environment which has first been prepped to reach Pizza Oven temperature for total heat saturation, possibly used for other cooking, and then allowed to drop in temperature. The goal is to create a deep even heat throughout the entire oven to allow for baking items that do no need the high heat or browning that a live fire provides. You are actually cooking with the retained heat in the oven dome and floor.
The door is positioned inside the arch to completely close the oven. There should be no live flame at this time but some live coals are ok. Maintain the fully closed oven for at least thirty minutes and then remove door to check the floor temperature. If the oven is too hot either wait or leave the door off for 5 minutes then put back in place for 5 minutes before checking temperature again. Failure to do this may give you a false reading because the deep heat in the oven will raise the floor temperature once the door is in place again. A floor temperature of 450 degrees works well for baked pastas, casseroles or fruit cobblers. To bake, simply place your dish in the oven and close the door. If there are live coals in the oven keep the door cracked so the oven doesn’t get smoky. You may wish to elevate delicate items off the floor after initial searing by using a trivet or inverted sheet pan.
saturate those hearth bricks with heat!
I'm not sure the time the fire sits over the bricks matters as much as the time the whole oven is exposed to heat. I think James' previous description of building a fire that radiates heat and pushes the heat across the floor is relevant here. Especially if you have a big fire, if the floor has not been saturated with heat you end up with an imbalance of heat - yours was too hot over (although you really cannot be too hut but..) and not hot enough under. When the oven has more time to equilibrate this problem should be better. I had this happen even with a white hot dome last week, I think the white hot dome only means the dome is white hot, but the hearth bricks also need to be saturated with heat instead of just surface hot. This would be tough to measure, I think it's a feel thing. The other factor that I think I've run into is becoming better at prepping more pizza at once and keeping them moving in and out of the oven. It becomes a little harder to keep the floor hot because the pizza absorb some of that radiant heat from the fire.
It probably varies from one oven to another, but I wonder if there is a certain length of time anyone has kept their hearth at the 750 range to ensure enough time to cook multiple pizzas.
Can I suggest a covered area in front of the oven (perhaps all the way from you porch to the oven) to avoid future take out pizza? :D
I have had a lot of pizza parties since the first time that the oven was fired.
As I am an engineer, the oven has 8 thermocouples, and each fire use to result in a spreadsheet with all possible kind of data.
The oven is a round one with 41 one inches diameter, 4.5 firebrick walls and hearth and 4/5 inches of isolation all around. Of course, the overall construction is perfectly dry.
Based in those data, even if much was said in this and another threads, I would like to add that the hearth temperature took 1 and half hour to go from ambient to 400°C (750°F), the ceiling reaches the 650°C (1200°F) and the ambient temperature (with flamed embers) in the dome goes near of 1000°C (1800°F).
Far go the flames, higher the temperature. However, the growing rate goes down. The maximum temperature that I had measured on the hearth was 450°C (850°F) – less than a minute pizza – with a strong fire going by 2 and half hours.
Another important fact is that the hearth (on the cleaned place of pizza position) has a fast increment in the final temperature when the fire is relocated to the side.
This is because the flames and the hot gases go high up, and the wood that was over the hearth offered a kind of shield to the hearth. When the wood is relocated, the flames from the side, running around all the rounded ceiling of the dome return to floor, plus the irradiated heat from the dome to the floor affects the hearth temperature to go higher.
When the target temperature was reached, just a few embers on the side are going to maintain the hearth and ambient temperature by several hours.
My oven has a constant temperature about the 400/410°C (800°F) by all the party time (3 or four hours).
Returning to Fio´s first question, could not your dough temperature be to cold? Or the dough had been so thin and the toppings been cold over it? I am pretty sure that your pizza was soggy because the dough management, and not the oven temperature.
Just my two cents, I hope this help.
Luis, I am staggered at the temperatures you reach in your oven, this emboldens me to perhaps try larger fires - I have seen the oven hearth actually drop a little in temperature after about 30 minutes when the fire has died down a little during the preheat sometimes from 750 back down to 700. I thought the 750 might be a threshold that I would not be able to surpass, but with your higher hearth temperatures I may try to push it past this during the preheat.
I'm surprised to hear your observation that the fire over the cooking surface actually slows down heating of the hearth - I would have expected it just not to help, but not to shield it from heating.
Where in the hearth bricks are your thermocouples? Are they in the surface layer, the middle, or under the bricks (it sounds like you might actually have several of these locations measured)?
I'm understanding that you fire your oven for 2 1/2 to four hours to reach pizza cooking temperatures - what does your hearth temperature vs time graph look like (hopefully with a superficial and a deep hearth reading)? Can you graph this (even a plot of several data points would be helpful) with a corresponding thermocouple or two in the dome at the interior surface of the oven?
While different ovens will perform differently at heating, your data could really help provide a concrete basis to oven management. I've cooked pizza in a little over an hour from the time I start my fire, and can get away with this with small amounts of pizza cooked, but I certainly have had a falloff of hearth temperature towards the end of my cooking despite having a flame in my oven 3/4 of the way to the apex of the dome. I have seen better crust when I have preheated the oven more than 1 1/2 hours. For bigger parties it sounds like the 3-4 hour preheat may be needed.
Thank you for your two cents, I think you've changed my understanding of this significantly.
Though mine is a bread oven, I've found using thermocouples invaluable for measuring mass heat. I can get to hearth brick readings of the 700 F range fairly quickly, but the mass heat simply is not high enough to bake repeatedly unless my slab and cladding are at the 450 range for each. I have a thermocouple in the hearth bricks, one inch below the cooking surface; one in the slab; one in the dome, about one inch above the brick surface, and one in the middle of the cladding. These readings, to me, mean a lot more that the surface readings given by an IR gun.
Food for thought.
There are in this forum several post from me, most of them referring to thermocouples installation and measures of these.
There are Excel graphs too, that you could use as reference to observe the oven behavior.
The main (most widely used ones) thermocouples in my oven are installed in the hearth, 1cm (0.3 inches) – two of these, one in front and another in rear - below the surface. Same deep to the thermocouple installed in the center of the dome. I read an ambient temperature too.
Since the hearth thermocouples are near of the floor/ceiling, my readings are normally a little higher than others in this forum. (If I recall, there is a conversation with James about this).
If you go to the graphics, it is possible to see that the temperature of the hearth is not reaching the 400°C (800°F). This is because I use to heat the oven no more than 11/2 hours before baking pizzas to the family.
When a big party is being prepared, this time goes to 2 hours, rising the temperatures.
And yes, in my experience, the embers over the point of measure shield the heat to go down.
The management of the fire is, in few words, as following: a little fire begins in the front of the oven. Several stems (4/5 inches) are added almost immediately. As the fire grows up, this embers are pushed to the rear of the oven. More stems (3 or 4). Big fire. Temperature rising up. Embers to the side of the oven. Hearth brushed and cleaned. Temperature of the hearth rising up again. Pizza.
I am writing results about a pizza party for 35 invitees that was carried out this last week end and I am going to touch this subject again.
OK Luis, thanks, I did not see the graph before, I found one posted 7-15-06 at 5am. If I am reading it properly, the oven was heated about 1 hour (ambient temperature rising), then the fire was allowed to die out (ambient temperature falling steadily). Your hearth temperature (piso is hearth?) rose steadily for a while after the ambient temperature began to drop and reached 750 at about the two to three hour mark in this case depending on the thermocouple looked at. I also read your 35 person party post where you noted it is usually about 1 1/2 hours to reach 750 for your hearth thermocouples.
Jim, I appreciate your comments as well, if I ever make another oven I will include thermocouples. I suppose if I decided I really needed to I could drill through my concrete hearth slab into the bricks from below. You and Luis both have the thermal mass layer under your bricks rather than an insulating layer as I have. I wonder how much time difference there is in saturating the hearth bricks with no extra thermal mass under the hearth bricks. My take away from this is to definitely give more time for the hearth to fully heat up if more than 10 pizza are planned (I usually cook 2 at a time) to prevent heat dropoff in the hearth.
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