The good news is, the pizza oven is finished! (See the construction deets over at This Green House.)
Below, D, our guest blogger, describes our cooking experiences so far:
We are still in the “learning how to bake” stages, but have used the oven twice. It’s a wonderful communal, slow-cooking (in one way) procedure. The “slow” is the heating of the oven; you have to build and maintain a fire for at least 1 1/2 hours before cooking. That’s the communal part: various members of the family either started or periodically checked the fire. There’s nothing slow about the actual cooking (at least as far as pizza goes); a 12″ pizza is done in about 6-8 minutes. Theoretically an oven should be “all around hot” i.e. the dome and floor should be very hot and the cooking, I suppose, is a combination of all three forms of heat transmission; conduction, convection, and radiation. The conduction obviously comes from the heated floor. The convection would be the swirling hot air, and the radiation would come from the heated dome radiating its heat in a lens-like focused way.
Well, as far as these amateurs go we have a bit to work out. Theoretically a properly heated oven should be able to cook with the fire burned down. Many people, in fact, clear the ash entirely, either to the back of the oven or via an ash-drop. We have found that we need an on-going fire to do the job, so possibly we’re not heating the oven correctly. In any event we build the fire at the centre of the oven, burn it for an hour+, then move it to the back, put some more wood on, and lay the heated pizza stone down where the fire was. Let it heat for at least 45 minutes and you’re ready to go. We found, though, that maintaining a fire at the back of the oven was necessary.
She and Gail begged a bundle of hardwood scraps and discards from Vincent Lang, our cabinet maker. Tess glued, planed, sanded, and oiled the wood into a beautiful, timeless tool. The peel works perfectly with just a couple of modifications to our techniques.
First, the pizzas have to be no larger than 12″ and have to have flour or cornmeal beneath them; that allows the peel to slip easily beneath them. Second, since the cooked pizza has a propensity (at least until we learn more) to resist being scooped up in the oven, Tess and Liam placed a fire brick on its side directly behind the pizza stone, like a backstop. That solved the problem. Until we learn to heat the oven properly (we suspect), the pizza also had to be turned once during cooking else the fire itself scorched one side of the pizza and left the door-side uncooked. Turning was easily done with the help of the peel.
The communal part of the process isn’t limited to fire-building. It’s been fun to mix a large batch of pizza dough, assemble a variety of toppings, and let everyone design his/her own pizza. We think that the oven and communal dinners are going to be integral parts of our summers (indeed, any season) for a long, long time.
And, now from Gail:
People seem surprised that we make our pizzas “from scratch.” We just always have. For dough, we make an ordinary yeast bread dough in the bread machine (sadly, it’s broken, so we make it by hand again!)
Here’s our recipe for Bread Machine Pizza Dough (makes enough for four 12″ pizzas):
In this order, put the following ingredients into the bread machine:
1.5 cups water
1 Tbsp oil
1 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp salt
4.5 cups flour (we use 1/2 whole wheat and 1/2 white)
2 tsp bread machine yeast.
Set the bread machine to “dough”, and “start” (it takes our machine 1 hour and 50 minutes.)
Divide dough into four sections, then roll (or toss into the air, if you have the skill!) to 12″ rounds. Place the pizza rounds onto well-floured or corn-mealed pans or bread boards as you add your sauce and toppings.
To get the prepared pizza onto the peel, either slide it off the pan or slip the peel underneath with a “brisk” movement.
Here’s my favourite pizza tomato sauce recipe:
Spicy Garlic-y Pizza Sauce (enough for 4 large pizzas)
1. In a medium-sized saucepan, saute 1 large onion, chopped, 5 cloves crushed garlic, and 1 or 2 chopped jalapeno peppers in 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil.
2. Add 1 tsp salt, 1 Tbsp each of dried oregano and basil (or 1/4 cup fresh, if you’re lucky enough to have it) and 1 tsp each of thyme and sage (1 Tbsp fresh.)
3. Add a large can of diced tomatoes, drained (or 1.5 cups diced fresh Roma tomatoes) and 1/3 cup tomato paste. Simmer to let the flavours blend and reduce to a sauce, for about 1/2 hour.
4. Spread thinly onto pizza crust.
If anyone has advice about getting our oven hot or cooking in a wood-fired oven, we’re all ears.