Pizza in a Bread Oven
I have always said that it's easy to cook bread in a pizza oven, and hard to cook pizza in a bread oven. Last night really solidified that thinking for me.
With the help of my two daughters (age 7 and 12), we baked 5 11" pizzas with nicely hydrated pizza dough (65% in Caputo Tipo 00 flour) in rapid succession. We baked them one at a time in our small barrel vault bread oven that had been fired for three hours using well-aged black walnut wood. At the start of the evening, the oven was above 700F in both the dome and on the floor. We had a good fire burning the whole time, in the back left corner of the rectangular floor.
Using an infrafred thermometer, I watched the oven drop in heat with each successive pizza. By the last pizza (sadly mine), the oven was:
500F on the floor between the fire and the pizza
400F on the floor above and below the pizza
325F on the floor on the far side of the pizza
525F in the dome
You just can't bake a good pizza at 400F -- my pizza stone is hotter than that. There are a lot of things you can't bake or roast at less than 400F.
My idea in posting this is to give a heads up to anyone who is considering different designs for their home brick oven. I have always thought that the difference between the Italian pizza oven and a barrel vault bread oven is much larger than most people would believe -- and this helps confirm that idea. I hear from a growng number of people who are unhappy with their Scott oven, and I think it is important that folks understand the differences.
Plus, it isn't just about pizza. If you want to bake, roast and grill at home, the Italian brick oven design has a lot of advantages.
I've found my AS oven extremely good for baking bread, and that was my main vector in building it. For pizza, I guess it's all about timing. I bake pizza when the oven is at its highest heat; same for baguette (the French always time theirs as the first bake of the day); around 750 F on the deck. Sure, the heat will drop off after successive bakes, but only if the cladding isn't about as hot as the dome bricks. If it is, then the heat drop is only temporary, and it will rebound.
I try to time my bakes like this, more or less: pizza/baguette, then hearth breads (sourdough, Puguliese, etc.), then kaisers/foccaccia and such like, then roasts, chickens, etc. This seems to take maximum advantage of the heat storage and curve.
Takes experimentation but it seems to work.
Baguettes at high heat
What happens when you cook a nice thin baguette in a 700F+ oven? How fast do they cook and how do you keep the crust from burning? Heavy steam?
Does it only work with a fully loaded oven, or can you do this with only a couple of loaves? I am guessing that these are about 2" wide.
Thanks for all the tips.
Typically, I'd be baking around two dozen baguette at a shot, but I have done as few as six. Each weighs approximately 400 grams, 2-3 inches wide; I like them a bit on the chunky side, rather than skinny, skinny. Key here, in both cases, is steam. Full oven or not, I spray the interior both just before and just after the loaves go in (cheapo spray bottle from a hardware store, about twenty-five pumps each time). Spray above, not on, the loaves; hit the dome if you can. Get some good, long welder's gloves (tmbbaking.com) before you try this; otherwise, no hair on the back of your arm for a month; reach in as far as you can, safely. Also, I use a piece of old bath towel, soaked in water (wrung out, damp) to cover and seal the oven door. This seems to be enough.
My baguette are about 18-20 inches long. If the hearth brick is at or around 650-700 F (no hotter), the loaves will be done in nine minutes flat. Lower, somewhat longer, but not much. If yours are really thin, you'll have to adjust your time. Interior bread temp: 205-210 F. You'll see the sides begin to brown almost immediately they hit the brick. The bottoms aren't really browned at all (more like whitened), the tops are caramelized and the oven spring is something to behold. You can peek exactly once. If I'm not satisfied with the colour, they stay in for one minute longer (I prefer the dark European look). Okay, okay, I didn't believe they wouldn't burn, either, but one day I said, "what the heck (sic), it's only dough," :D , so I tried it after reading about high temps in, I think, Clayton's The Breads of France.
The crust is very thin; kind of crackles in your mouth and then dissolves on your tongue. Very, very popular with my people. Freeze very well, but once they've thawed at room temp (out of the bag), heat them up in a 400 F kitchen oven for about 5-10 minutes to get the crust back where it should be.
I use several recipes, but lately I've been sticking (pun) to Pain a la Ancienne, because it's easy to prep the day before, two hour rise on bake day, and it's consistent, with a great crumb and lots and lots of holes, although it's very sticky at high hydration levels. Tricks to getting them off the peel: 1. gently roll each loaf in a bed of flour beforehand (don't be stingy), 2. use four times more semolina on the blade than you think you need, 3. make sure the peel blade is clean and smooth, 4. don't let them sit on the blade any longer than absolutely necessary, 5. do a jerk and clean ;) with the peel handle, 6. don't try to straighten anything out once they're in (these things are handmade, after all, and it won't work; we're too used to perfect, injection moulded supermarket "baguette"). I load three at a time from a peel blade I made myself for this purpose: 12 inches wide, 28 long.
I'd like to stress that I'm still stumbling about, experimenting with all of this. Be prepared to adjust, adjust, adjust. However, these methods seem to work for me, right now.
Makes sense. Do you think that you are able to bake your baguettes at high heat primarily because you are packing them in there, or because they are pretty thin? Or both.
I (and other brick oven owners) feel like it's easy to burn bread at the higher heat, where the loaves are black on the outside and still doughy on the inside.
Baking Breads, etc
Thanks...this was an extraordinarily helpful exchange!
Glad it was of some help. James, I think it's because they're thin. I've read several times, in several places, that in France/Europe traditional baguettes are baked first, when the oven is at its peak, too hot for anything else. This seemed contradictory at first, and I wasn't at all sure about it until I tried it. With such thin loaves, it seems, the trick is hot and fast. This provides the kind of oven spring they require, particularly those made with high hydration doughs. The shaped loaves simply don't have time to flatten out on the hearth, because they start to spring immediately, perhaps because the gluten is set so quickly? I haven't found it matters that much how many loaves are in the oven at the same time, so long as there is sufficient steam to set and then caramelize the crust: fewer loaves, more added steam; with more loaves, the dough itself provides a lot of steam, so you have to add less. With a set crust, the spring is "contained" as the loaves rise, something like a balloon at its maximum inflation.
Yes, you must be very careful with time, or else you've just made the next batch of charcoal. My experience is that baguette tend to be doughy inside if the heat isn't high enough, rather than the other way round, even if the interior temp is at the correct point (205 F +).
If you take a careful look at the crumb on baguette baked at high heat, you'll see what amounts to a geyser of bubbles from the bottom to the top of the loaf, driven upward by the temp. This in addition to the large hole structure.
We all have failures, and it is easy to bake them too long, as I well know. However, with practice I've had a lot of success with this method.
My second bake of the day, and subsequent for a while, is boule. At about 600 F on the hearth brick, a two pound loaf takes 18 minutes to reach an interior temp of 205-210 F; more or less.
As a very general guideline, I've found that the home oven times (stone in place) specified in books should be cut roughly in half for wood fired brick baking. Anyway, at least that's a place to start.
These times and temps, no doubt, have to do with the characteristics (not to say quirks) of my particular oven. Before I got to know them a bit better, the learning curve was pretty steep.
Most of all I'd love to know what mistakes not to make and the most favorable oven materials.
Does the size of the oven and the price coralate? Or since I'm going to spend the time to build one should I 'go big'?
Strong trade winds sweep through the property certain times of the year. Are there any tricks to venting the oven? Do I need to overly concern myself with the direction of the oven? Is anyone a feng shui counselor?
Only partly joking on the feng shui.
It would help to know the general area where you live
(M) You wrote:
Ok. I'm sold on building an Italian brick oven. I like to keep costs down - who doesn't - but I don't like to cut corners on a project like this.
(M) Good attitude!
Most of all I'd love to know what mistakes not to make
(M) I have a long list of mistakes I've made but most of my Forum buddies have heard them before. Write to me at email@example.com and I'll supply them.
and the most favorable oven materials.
(M) Read the primer on bricks at:
Does the size of the oven and the price coralate?
(M) Roughly, yes, but the cost % of a 42" over a 39" suggests going bigger is better, at least in the case of oven construction.
Or since I'm going to spend the time to build one should I 'go big'?
(M) "Bet it like you got it"
Strong trade winds sweep through the property certain times of the year.
(M) You'll get better advice if others know your general area for pointers on frost heave, if applicable.
Are there any tricks to venting the oven?
(M) Tall chimney is good but that is only one parameter.
Do I need to overly concern myself with the direction of the oven?
(M) Robert Musa would probably say, "yes".
Is anyone a feng shui counselor?
(M) Oven construction is fairly rigid where the igloo part comes in but if you're going to enclose your oven, then you have a lot more room for crativity.
(M) Your first big decision should probably be whether you will be housing your igloo. More on that at:
(M) Look for my post #30 on that page ^ above.
Only partly joking on the feng shui.
In nautical terms you want the oven opening on the leeside
In hunting terms you want the opening downwind
Reason - once the fire is down and you are cooking you don't want the wind blowing in and cooling down the oven nor sweping the ash that may still be there on your food
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