So, last Saturday, I could contain myself no longer and I finally decided to fire up my oven. I called my friend Steve, with whom I had constructed it the week before and like two ridiculously excited schoolboys, at 6 o'clock, we lit it. I had started the dough, with strong durum flour, at breakfast time, put it in the fridge for a few hours, given it a good slapping-about mid afternoon and then left it to prove for a few more hours.
it wasn't an immediate success. It fell into the ashes and the edges
were a bit gritty. But the principle had been proven. We had baked our
first bread in a home-made clay pizza oven made from clay from my flower
So we made up a proper pizza and rearranged the ashes a bit
more. This time, I blocked up the door with a bit of plywood. The
results were better, although the shape rather reminiscent of the Isle
of Wight. But it cooked, and we ate it and it was lovely!
next attempt went better. the oven was warming up now and the outside
too hot to touch. The technique to get the dough off the peel left
something to be desired and an accidental folded-up calzoni was
produced, which now tasted something like we had hoped.
Well, by now it was
getting late in the evening and the oven was fair singing with heat. We
had one ball of dough left, sufficient for one large final pizza. On to
this one went bacon, mushrooms, chorizo and olives. Five hours after
lighting, the oven was perfect. And we had run out of dough. And beer.
Luckily by then, i was on to the blackberry wine, which now has a lovely
fizz, so I had it with creme de Mur, and this was gorgeous. But that's
pizza was the best I had ever tasted. Our deep satisfaction from our
endeavours - the idea, the construction, the toil, the lighting of the
fire, the cooking - all converged upon this one glorious moment of
Much was learned that night about how (not) to use a clay pizza
oven. It seems the way to do it is to light a fire a good four hours
earlier than you need to use it and to get the base and structure really
hot before attempting to cook anything in it.
Then, when there is
a layer of glowing embers a good 5cm deep over the whole base for a
significant time, remove enough to make space for the food, and sweep
the remainder to the sides. These then need to be kept on fire and
flaming with small, thin, long pieces of kindling. After that, you have a
wonderful hot space at perhaps upward of 400C in which to cook (very
quickly). In here, pizza, bacon, lamb kebabs or even small loaves of
bread can be cooked. More experiments will continue. I shall keep you
abreast of developments, but for now, I am retiring to the patio with a
glass of lemon wine to sit and look at my oven and to pretend it has a
fire in it.