We stand in a long tradition of wood-fired oven designing and building going back to remains found at the Roman city of Pompeii, near modern Naples, Italy. Wood-fired ovens in various forms, mostly unfired clay, probably existed for thousands of years before but the existing ovens have given us a model for construction and design detail that has been built on and refined over succeeding generations.
Wood-fired ovens can be found in every culture that has access to natural fuel as a resource and grain as a food. The building materials used vary from region to region but one thing they have in common is their refractory nature; they hold heat for extended periods without degrading, enabling successive batches of bread to be cooked on one heating cycle. Today, modern high alumina clays and crushed firebrick are formed into shapes, brick, tile or segment, and fired to give a stable product resistant to temperatures up to 1700C. These form the basis of brick built ovens.
The magazine asked us to contribute to an article about building an outdoor kitchen, See our outdoor kitchen projects here
Please see our blog post ‘designing and building an outdoor kitchen’ where we give invaluable advice on setting up your own Grand Designs like space, whether its traditional or modern in design. We have designed and built quite a few cooking areas over the years using high quality materials, all sourced in the UK, and with good sustainability ratings. From FSC hardwood to top of the range Stainless steel, we can do it all.
Coca de cebolla is yet another regional Catalan variation made with slow cooked onions as a base.
You’ll find these delicious snacks at most bakeries throughout the Catalan region but here’s a recipe you can try yourself at home in a wood-fired oven
Coca de cebolla ( lit.onion flatbread) dough base is very thin and oily and the almost caramelised onions make this absolutely delicious as a lunchtime snack.
You can add anchovy and manchego cheese as a more filling meal.
Traditionally Coca ( pl ‘Coques’) is also made with wood roasted sweet peppers. Nowadays bakeries add all sorts of toppings like tuna, salmon, courgettes and tomato.
Make a pizza dough and when rested, stretch out into rectangles the size you want your Coca to be. Fry onions in olive oil or butter until brown, gooey and caramelised then leave to cool.
Spread over the stretched dough then add ingredients of choice- roasted tomatoes, roast red peppers, cheese, anchovy but keep it simple with a few choice herbs like thyme or oregano and salt and pepper.
Slide into wood-fired oven until risen and browned on top. Eat hot or cool completely for a snack the next day. Delicious!
Catalan cuisine is an interesting fusion of flavours some indigenous Spanish some inherited from its earlier Moorish period. The use of fruit in meat dishes almost certainly comes from this tradition. Historically the Catalan language was related to areas of Southern France like the Languedoc and Provence and is now found down the North East coast of Spain down to Valencia and over to the Balearic Islands of Mallorca, Minorca and Ibiza.
Make the same pizza base but spread black olive paste mixed with olive oil over it instead of tomato then add slowly cooked onion so it covers the olive paste.
Make a Pissala- a Roman paste similar to Garum or fermented fish and add this first before the onions ( see video)
Add salted anchovies as decoration.
Sprinkle with thyme leaves and bake as before.
You can also vary this recipe by using the onion first spread out over the base and then adding whole olives and anchovies
See a good authentic recipe here although use your favourite dough recipe We recommend baking this either in a tin as shown in the photo or as a ‘pizza’ straight on the hot hearth of a wood-fired oven. Either way it will be delicious!
Serve sliced as a starter with aperitifs or cold Provençal rosé wine. Here is a video to make it a bit easier…..
Ingredients to make pizza dough and 4 x 12” pizzas
750g Tipo 00 flour (molino caputo blue
or strong bread flour
525g warm water (70% hydration) 3 tsp maldon sea salt crushed 1½ tsp dried yeast or sourdough starter.
Make your pizza dough
Pizza dough takes some practice to get right. Some people put oil in the mix, I never do and its traditionally Neapolitan not to. Keep it slow and cool and never rush it. This recipe will work in a home oven with a baking stone but really kitchen ovens never get hot enough.
Hand-stretching is key to a good base so please practice- I’ve put a link to a You Tube video in the recipe so you can see how its done. Getting air in the edge or cornicione is very important and when well risen on baking will stop the crust being too heavy. Don’t whatever you do, don’t ever, ever use a rolling pin even if Jamie Oliver does!
Combine and dissolve the yeast in the water. Crush the salt and mix with the flour.
Pour yeasty water into a well in the flour and slowly bring it together.
When the bowl is clean, pull the dough and flop it over itself twisting slightly as you flip it.
Keep working the dough until it is smooth and silky, about 10 minutes and then let it rest.
Either divide into 270-300g portions in a plastic proofing box or keep whole and let it rise in the bowl covered with a bag overnight in the fridge or as time allows. The flavour will be better the longer and cooler you can leave it. Some pizzaiolos leave their dough for up to 3 days! Remember when forming your dough balls to keep pulling the surface tight either on your worktop or with your hands.
When you’re ready to start preparation, mix some 00 flour in a bowl with about 10% fine polenta or fine semolina and use this to dust your work-surface or wooden peel
Take your portion of pizza dough and press it into a flattened circle with your fingers. Keep pushing the dough out until its wide enough to pick up with both knuckles underneath.
Gently stretch the pizza dough by pulling your knuckles apart and work your way round until the dough thins. Put it back on a dusted surface and push the thick edges thinner and thinner as far as it will go, stretching all the time until you reach about 12” in diameter.
To dress the pizza say for a Margherita, spread a ladle full of sieved and pureed tomato pulp or passata so it stops just short of the edge.
Don’t be tempted to put too much tomato on as it will get soggy, leave areas just touched by the pulp. See Vito Iacopelli’s video here Add drained and squeezed mozzarella in dots all over the surface, sprinkle with fresh basil leaves and drizzle some olive oil in a spiral over the top.
Slide the finished pizza into your hot wood-fired oven( 350-450C) and leave on the hearth for 15 seconds before turning it with a small peel.
Continue to turn so the edge has faced the fire all the way round. When the top is hot and bubbling and the crust just starting to spot and burn, slide a small metal peel in and remove the fragrant pizza and drop it on to a plate for serving.
Sprinkle a bit more sea salt over, a good whack of black pepper and eat hot.
Pizza recipes and dough recipes are all over the internet and vary from baker to pizzaiolo but there are few things which crop up again and again in almost every post or video: sugar and yeast and olive oil in the dough.
Contrary to what you may see or hear, you don’t need sugar to get yeast going. Just dissolve it in warm water and add it to your flour. Flour has enough sugar in the carbohydrate to activate the yeast.
Pizza dough recipe- keep it cool
This goes for bread making as well. The dough will also taste better if retarded overnight or for a couple of nights in the fridge and then brought back to room temperature before you bake. The cooler the dough, the more it will ‘pop’ in the oven as the gas in the dough expands rapidly.
Olive oil is not traditionally added to a pizza dough. It is 00 flour, yeast, salt and water. Olive oil can be added in small quantities however and will make the dough a little softer It is added when topping the pizza before cooking, as a drizzle and will help to fuse the ingredients together.
As a well known pizzaiolo in the US quite rightly pointed out, pizza is NOT bread! Pizza is a leavened flatbread which should just bubble up in places around the edge or cornichione. As a word, pizza is related to and derived from the ancient greek pitta and similar breads are found all over the continent from pissaladiere in France all the way to Turkey’s pida and middle eastern pittah.
Traditionally cooked at high heat in a brick oven, these breads are a staple food combined with simple fresh ingredients and not a dumping ground for anything that comes to hand from the fridge.
The modern pizza has regional variations even within Italy and changed character somewhat when taken to the US with the deep pan pizza of Chicago. Humble pizza dough recipes continue to evolve with new toppings added daily as the concept spreads across the globe.
Here is a pretty good video with Vito Iacopelli – he has a comprehensive series so please have a look.
Our recipe, which is baked whenever we fire up the wood-fired oven, is a thin crust pizza made from approx 275-300g of dough made with 00 high gluten flour, salt and water, stretched out by hand on a floured wooden peel and then baked in a very hot 450C oven. It is always cooked in under 90 seconds and usually a lot shorter, sometimes 45 seconds at the beginning of baking!
Can be sourced from any good supplier but try and make sure they are the best available as they’ll have the best flavour. There are several Italian 00 flour importers for large 25kg sacks but for home use, get organic 00 flour and yeast from a mill like Shipton mill who specialise in organic high quality flours.
For mozzarella we recommend organic and biodynamic Laverstoke Park Farm buffalo cheese which is superb quality. For classic neapolitan style pizza you need San Marzano tomatoes, available in cans from specialist suppliers but given there’s a lot of fake cans around, you’re better off just buying a can of organic peeled plum tomatoes are processing yourself.
Everything else, just buy organic vegetable and herbs
No matter what your pizza dough recipe is, pizza can be made successfully on a preheated bake stone in a home oven set at max temperature, usually 230-250C. It will take longer to bake but will rise the same as a wood-fired oven, eventually!
For best results, use a wood-fired oven fired to 450-500C in the dome and minimum 350C on the hearth so that your dough rises fast around the edges making it lighter, and cooks, caramelises and fuses the toppings. At these temperatures most pizzas cook it under a minute and max a minute and a half.
Above are some examples of bread baking using a home-made sourdough starter or in the case of the Pain au Raisin, commercial yeast. The breads feature different types of slash pattern that enables the dough to rise in a controlled way.
Sourdough starter or Levain
Sourdough requires a natural leaven made from just water and flour left open to natural yeasts in the air to start the fermentation. It usually takes several weeks to get a viable fully active Levain or starter, one that is bubbly enough to grow fast within the dough and has got that classic tangy sour smell so typical of the bread.
The flour for the starter can be any good quality organic bread flour, white, brown, rye or a combination. Wild yeasts do quite like rye as a food so adding a bit in always helps. Always mix at 100% hydration-so normally 100g of flour to 100g water- mixed in a closable clean container to keep unwanted moulds out. Stir every day until you see small bubbles appearing then pour half the mixture away. Add fresh flour/water as before until the bubbling is more pronounced. Keep discarding half the mixture until the mixture is really bubbling well and even trying to get out of your container!
There are many recipes for basic sourdough bread baking on line but the fundamentals are this- measure out your volume of flour, say 600g, and put into a bowl. On your kitchen scales, we’re going to aim for approx 1kg 70% hydration loaf, so measure 400g of water and 100g of levain and add to the flour. Don’t mix it, just leave it there for about 30mins- this is known as autolyse- and helps the fermentation process start.
Start to mix together with 2 tsp fine sea salt until all the ingredients are blended evenly then there are two ways to go-
1. Folding method
Both work but with folding, all you do is keep stretching one side of the dough and pulling it over the other side and then resting. You do this every hour until you feel the dough change- it will start to feel pillowy and resistant to breaking. It means the gluten is aligning itself in strands and strengthening the dough. If it feels loose, give it another fold and rest.
2. Kneading method
From your blended mix, pick up your dough with two hands, thumbs on top, and keep flipping the dough over on itself. It will be horribly sticky to start with but after about 5-10 mins it will tighten and come together as a ball. Ideally knead for about 15-20 mins then rest and leave to rise.
Proving- does your dough rise?
The dough should now rise slowly. Again there are several ways forward. Let it rise naturally in a cool room until double in size or leave tightly covered in the bowl overnight in the fridge. The cooler and longer the proving the better tasting the dough will be. Either way when doubled in size, knock back and stretch the dough out into a square, pulling each corner out and folding it back in on itself. This stretching tightens the gluten.
Forming- forming the shape
Keep stretching the dough a few more times and let rest. The idea now is to drag the dough toward you with a tiny amount of flour so that it really tightens and forms a ball. Use a scraper to drag it and eventually you’ll get a tight ball with a taught skin.
Second rising-its alive and well
There are again several ways to contain your loaf- a tin, a banneton or cloth lined basket or a couche which is a floured linen cloth that is folded to support the dough. Take your dough and scoop it up with your scraper and turn it upside down into a banneton so that the top is down. For a tin, you’d scoop up and drop it top up and for a couche, you’ll more than likely form a longer loaf and drop it upside down. Let is rise again until when poked gently will return slowly to its original form.
bread baking- making it edible!
The oven or wood-fired oven should be preheated to about 250C, some bakers go a bit lower some higher but either way the baking time will be adjusted accordingly.
If baking in an oven in the kitchen try and use baking stone as its good at retaining an even heat and put a tray with a small amount of boiling water at the bottom for steam. Turn out your risen loaf onto a small floured peel so the top is now up, flour it and slash with a very sharp knife or Lame ( a short handle with a razor blade ) and slide onto the stone. Bake for 30-40 mins until it sounds hollow. A tin can be put straight in after you’ve floured and slashed the top. If on a couche, flip the dough upside down onto your peel, flour and slash as above.
When ready, your loaf will sound hollow, well browned and crusty. It will crackle as it cools but don’t get tempted to eat it yet no matter how hungry you are, the starches are a bit indigestible whilst hot. The starches need to set so once its cooled down to room temperature get stuck in and enjoy your handiwork.
If you’re lucky and everything worked out, you should have a well risen loaf, full of air bubbles, crusty and slightly caramelised on the outside and light, fluffy and tangy on the inside.
Artisan Bread baking is an adventure, many things can and do go wrong at every stage but bakers know that working methodically helps to eliminate those errors. Write down your successful recipes and pass them on and when you’re ready for the ultimate test, buy yourself a wood-fired oven and up your game!
You never know, you may catch the bug and try and do it professionally so if you do, please know we are here to help you get started with trade discounts and advice.
If you want to join fellow bread bakers on your journey, consider joining the Real Bread Campaign, a force for getting the industry to make bread baking better and encourage artisan bakers in their quest for great tasting bread.