Baking in a Wood-burning Oven

Now that the oven has been built, we’re anxious to start baking. Pizza and focaccia are what we have in mind to try first. But before we begin, let’s take a look at some of the tools we have assembled to help us along. Left to right- Round Metal Peel for turning and removing baked items from the oven, Shovel to remove hot coals and ashes, Rake to move the wood and hot coals, Metal Peel for placing items into the oven, and finally the Oven Brush to clean the oven floor.

Lets get started!

Richard gets a nice fire going. So far, so good.

He checks the temperature with a digital thermometer. When the oven reaches 800F, it will be time to bake the pizza. At that temperature, pizza will bake in less than 2 minutes. Then we will wait for the oven to cool down to about 500F before adding the focaccia.

I must admit, making pizza in a wood burning oven is much harder than it looks. So many things can and do go wrong. For one thing, the dough has to be just right, wet, but not sticky. Our first attempt went awry when we couldn’t get the dough off the peel and into the oven. We ended up with a total mess on our hands. It was frustrating, so we looked to the internet for some problem solving. I was thrilled when I stumbled upon a wonderful blog by Jeff Varasano, who spent 6 years perfecting his recipe and technique for making authentic Neopolitan pizza in a wood burning oven. I followed his advice to the best of my ability, and this time it worked. We were able to release the pizza from the peel onto the oven…success! But clearly there is a learning curve, and hopefully with practice, our technique for making, baking, and forming the dough, will continue to improve.

Focaccia is a different story. Baked in a pan, there is no anxiety about it sticking to a peel. It’s a matter of getting the dough and oven temperature right. I’m going into this feeling more confident. Here the focaccia dough has gone through it’s second rising. Olive oil, fresh rosemary and sea salt are sprinkled on top, and it’s ready to bake.

Removing it with the peel. The baker’s smiling and that’s a good sign!

Beauty shot!

The focaccia was very good, but I’m still experimenting, so a few days later I tried a different recipe. My Bread by Jim Lahey, is a phenomenal bread cookbook that I’ve used in the past with excellent results. His focaccia recipe calls for the addition of boiled and mashed Yukon potatoes in the dough. I gave it a long cold rise in the refrigerator overnight before the final rise in the pan. Once assembled, I knew we had a winner.

Oh yeah…

Slice reveals a beautiful crumb.

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