Thursday, 24 May 2012

Successful baking from Mud and Enthusiasm

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.
Well, a few hours later, the oven was getting hot to the touch and there was considerable amount of heat coming out of the front of it. So we made a pizza and swept the embers to either side of the base of the fire. Placing the pizza dough on the paddle, or "peel" as I believe it is called, the first flatbread was plonked unceremoniously inside.
Well, 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 beds!
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!
The 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.
Many hands appeared, to grab a slice, and enthusiasm was building along with the heat. we were getting the hang of it now.
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 another story.

This 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 shared consumption.

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.


sonia said...

How cool! Now I want a chorizo pizza in a clay oven!

Librarian said...

The headline "...baking from mud..." made me think of mudcakes for a moment, the kind of stuff we would have made as children, playing house outdoors. But then I realised that what you actually did was probably a lot more tasty than any home-made mudcake could ever be!