How To Bake Pizza In A Wood Fired Oven

A Wood Fired Pizza Oven

A Wood Fired Pizza Oven

Pizza ovens have circular floors, and parabolic ceilings that reflect the heat down. Because of the circular floor they provide nicely organized workspace: Since pizza baking is a dynamic process, in which the oven door stays open while you add, turn, and remove your pizzas, you have to keep a fire going in the oven lest it cool. The circular floor allows you to simply keep the fire to one side where the roof slopes down, and have most of the floor area free for pizza.

This oven was built by James Bairey, who runs Forno Bravo, a company that imports some of the best Italian pizza ovens to the US and England. Though he will sell you a ready built oven if you want, he also sells kits of the sort one finds in Italian hardware stores, and assembled this oven from a kit in the course of a day. “I wanted to see how fast I could do it,” he says, and while it is true that he is experienced, the instructions that come with the kits are clear (and there is email support), so if you enjoy working with your hands it’s not that difficult a project.

Note the storage space for wood under the oven, and the single orange tongue of flame within the oven, which was still fairly cool when the photo was taken.

You’ll find much more about putting together a pizza oven, including free plans if you want to work from scratch, and a neat photo gallery, on the Forno Bravo site.

Balls of Pizza Dough Ready to be Stretched

Balls of Pizza Dough Ready to be Stretched

To make pizza you have to do two things: Heat the oven and make the dough. We’ll begin with the dough; making it the traditional way will take about 3 hours, most of which is rising time. If you instead use a bread machine it will take about 90 minutes. Neapolitans, the masters of pizza baking, say the dough should be made from brewer’s yeast, flour, salt, and water. Many people also add a little olive oil.

  • 4 cups (1/2 kg) stone-milled flour (bread flour will work perfectly)
  • 1 cup (250 ml) warm water
  • 1 ounce (30 g) brewer’s yeast or 2 teaspoons active dry yeast, dissolved in the water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • A pinch of salt

If you are working by hand, make a mound of the flour, scoop a well in the middle, and add the salt and olive oil. Next, mix in the water-yeast mixture, and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, and comes easily away from the work surface — about 10 minutes, and you should knead energetically. Shape the dough into a ball, put it into a lightly oiled bowl, cover it, and put it into a warm place to rise for 2 hours or until doubled in volume. Punch the dough down, knead it briefly, and divide it into 4 balls. Put them on a floured surface, cover them, and let them rise for an hour.

Need more dough? For a dozen dough balls you’ll need:

  • 4 1/2 pounds (2 k) of flour
  • A quart (1 liter) of water
  • More salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 8 teaspoons yeast

If you are rushed, see James Biarey’s notes on using a bread maker to speed things up.

The Oven is Still Cool

The Oven is Still Cool

While the dough is rising, heat your oven: build a fire in the center of the oven floor using several sticks and let it burn; when the oven ceiling reaches a temperature of about 700 F (350 C) the soot will vaporize and a white patch will appear, which will expand, migrating down towards the floor as the oven continues to heat. When all the soot is burned off the oven is hot.

How long does this take? It depends upon the materials used to build the oven and its shape. Rectangular barrel-vault-roofed bread ovens and brick pizza ovens can require as much as 3 hours. A pizza oven built with modern refractory materials will require about 90 minutes to come to temperature.

The Pizza Oven is Hot

The Pizza Oven is Hot

Once the oven is hot, use a long metal-handled scraper to push the coals to one side of the oven, and brush the ash from the floor with a metal-bristled brush, again attached to a long handle. Some people also swab the floor of the oven with a damp rag, but this removes heat.

To maintain the oven temperature, add a stick (well seasoned hardwood, 3 inches in diameter and 18 long (10 by 45 cm)) to the fire every ten minutes or so. Some pizzaioli also put a small andiron where they keep the coals, to keep one end of the stick raised so it will burn better.

In terms of measuring the temperature, you can buy an infrared thermometer, though the hand is sufficient: put it into the oven, a few inches above the oven floor, and if you can hold it there for more than 2 seconds (one-onethousand, two-onethousand), add another stick to the fire.

And now, cook your pizza!

Pizza Disks, Ready To Be Topped

Pizza Disks, Ready To Be Topped

Pizza dough should be shaped into a disk by hand, because using a rolling pin will result in a thin, tough disk. Also, work quickly, because overhandling will toughen the dough.

Take a ball, leaving the others covered, and put it on a floured work surface. Flour your hands too, and begin spreading it from the center, splaying your fingers and working clockwise; don’t touch the rim until the disk is at least 8 inches (20 cm) in diameter. Lift the disk with both hands and flip it, rotating it from one hand to the other, and return it to your work surface, with the unpressed side up. Continue to stretch the dough, leaving the rim a little thicker, until your disk is 12 inches (30 cm) across.

With practice you’ll learn how to stretch the dough with your hands without pressing it down on your work surface, and you may even get to the point of pulling the disk in the air.

A Pizza Margherita Ready For The Oven

A Pizza Margherita Ready For The Oven

The most classic Neapolitan pizza is the Margherita, topped with tomatoes, buffalo milk mozzarella, and basil; popular tradition attributes it to Raffaele Esposito, who in 1899 selected ingredients whose colors mirrored those of the Italian flag in honor of Queen Margherita di Savoia.

There are, however, a great many other options, and you are pretty much free to do as you wish. Do keep in mind, however, that less is more; too much topping makes for a heavy pizza.

Italian pizza topping combinations, and calzone fillings.

And now…

Slip the Peel Under the Pizza

Slip the Peel Under the Pizza

The next step is to slip your topped pizza onto a lightly floured pizza peel.

Putting the Pizza into the Oven

Putting the Pizza into the Oven

Put the pizza into the oven and give the peel a deft jerk to transfer the pizza from the peel to the floor of the pizza oven. The crust will begin to puff up and cook immediately; after about 40 seconds slip the peel under the pizza and rotate it 180 degrees to insure that it cooks evenly. Don’t shift it to another part of the oven when you rotate it lest it burn.

The cooking will be much faster than it is in a kitchen-type oven — the specifications for the government-certified Vera Pizza Napoletana state that the pizza should be done in 60-90 seconds. It will be done when the crust is nicely browned, the cheese is melted, and the other ingredients of the topping are bubbling. If you are making a calzone, don’t be surprised if it swells like a football.

When it’s done…

Pizza Margherita, Fresh Out of the Oven

Pizza Margherita, Fresh Out of the Oven

Remove it from the oven.

The Pizzas are Done!

The Pizzas are Done!

Once the pizza is done, slice it. The other pizza here is made with pesto sauce and mozzarella, while the focaccia behind the pizzas was made with sourdough and sprinkled with olive oil and coarse marine salt before going into the oven.

Pizza, Anyone? All About Pizza, including history and Italian toppings and more.


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Categories: Illustrated Recipes And More, Pizza, Calzoni, and Similar, Tecniques

Author:Cosa Bolle in Pentola

Italy boasts an astonishing number of varietals, denominations, and wines, and tremendous changes are sweeping the land. New wines are being created, new DOCs are being introduced, and the existing denominations are overhauling their regulations both to reflect the practices adopted by their member wineries and to favor improvements in quality. Even the most staid and stolid region can flower seemingly overnight, emerging with exciting new wines and wineries that require rewriting the enological maps and rethinking one's positions. And, of course, recipes too, because cuisine and wine are closely intertwined and it's difficult to imagine one without the other.


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