Pizza Oven Baking Techniques

We know you bought your trusty pizza oven (or you will soon right?), order to make those authentic, gold-crusted, deliciously delectable, sort of roundish disks of cheesy, meaty, salty, juicy (but crisp at the same time) heavenly creations.  Even so, why should you limit your pizza oven experience to pizzas only, when pizza ovens can be used for so much more?!  There are in fact, LOTS of foods you can bake in your pizza oven.  I dare say that you can bake ANY food in a pizza oven that you can bake in your indoor, conventional oven.  I can take it a step further and say that your pizza oven is actually more useful (depending on how to look at it) than any other oven, because it offers you a variety of cooking/baking options which your conventional oven cannot, and it imparts a more “fire-infused” and even “smokey” quality to your creations.

Before we get into specifics on what we love to bake on in our oven (that’s covered in the “The Top 10 Foods to Bake in Your Pizza Oven – Other Than Pizza), let’s see what qualities a pizza oven has, that is simply not available in a regular oven.  In a pizza oven, we can achieve at least THREE different baking styles.  One of these styles is impossible to achieve with a conventional oven since it needs the heat of at least 700˚F.  The different styles are High Heat, Roasting, and Baking.  What do they mean?  Here’s a quick visual thingy to help;

High Heat

Let’s explore these pizza oven baking techniques since they are foundational to achieving the various foods we talk about making in your pizza oven.  First of all, the high heat technique brings the oven to over 800˚F and makes it possible to make authentic wood-fired pizzas with crispy bottoms and leopard skin charring.  We happen to know where you can find a very helpful article explaining the temperature in detail.  You could try clicking HERE!  It works for various crusty appetizers, and also for caramelizing foods.  To achieve this, you’ll need to bring your wood-fired oven up to around 850˚F and then slowly let it settle down to around 750˚F for a temperature to maintain (you’ll probably have to add wood every 10-20 min.).  Be sure to have the fire on the edge of the oven interior so flames will rise up and over the body of whatever it is you’re making in that sucker!  Your food should be placed relatively near the fire, with the basic knowledge that it will be hotter as it sits closer to the flame, and the side of the food closest to the flame will be done sooner.  It’s REALLY important to rotate the food every minute or so for evening cooking.  It’s also a great practice to move the fire from one side to the other if you’re making several dishes over a bit longer timeframe than one item would take.  This will help ensure even heating of the oven bottom, which is incidentally, the baking surface too!

Roasting

The roasting technique offers you the capability of sealing in juices, browning foods or baking right through while still keeping that tender quality.

The roasting technique brings the oven to 400˚F – 550˚F as a temperature to maintain.  Probably the easiest and most common technique you’ll use here is to cover your meat with foil (ie. chicken) and bake it through and then remove the foil to let it brown.  It’s a good idea to fire the pizza oven up to it’s maximum of around 800˚F and use this temperature for carmelizing/browning/sealing foods, and then let it burn down to the 450˚F range for cooking.  If you have multiple items, be sure to rotate them occasionally.  Also note that while roasting, the heat is derived more from the radiant quality of the stones and floor of the oven, and the coal/embers rather than the flame itself.  You can experiment with how much of the oven opening to cover with the door (and for how long) if you have a door option.

Baking

With the baking technique, you’ll notice the fire is smaller still than the roasting option.  It’s still a good practice to fire the oven up to its maximum temperature (as outlined in the high heat and roasting techniques), since this gets the oven floor (AKA – baking surface) to it’s properly heated levels, and then let it slowly fall to a maintenance temperature of around 200˚F – 350˚F.  This is an excellent technique for a variety of foods like bread, pastries, veggies, and pasta.

Those are some of the basic pizza oven baking techniques to get you started as you explore new foods to bake in your wood-fired pizza oven.  It should go without saying that the High Heat technique is the one you use for authentic pizzas.

This topic simply would not be complete without mentioning a few other methods of using your pizza oven.  For example, it can be used as a barbeque – imagine that!  We’ve heard of making pizza on the BBQ, but now the tables are turned.  For this to work, you’ll want to fire the oven up to maximum temperatures, then spread charcoal around the floor of the oven (not too tall – just about 1/4 – 1/2 inch in height, or you can remove them altogether once the oven floor has been heated adequately).  Then, place a sturdy cast iron grill over those embers/coals and let the grill heat up.  Who doesn’t love the scorched grill mark look on their meats (adds to the flavor – at least psychologically it does!!).  Much like using a barbecue, this method removes much of the fat, but you’ll have to be sure to clean out the resulting mess on the oven floor once you’re done!

Keep in mind that when using any of these techniques, it’s a great idea to add enough wood for the next baking session, into the oven as it gets lower in temperature (but still warm or even a bit hot).  This will dry the wood and prepare it for the next baking session.  More on WOOD in this helpful overview.

Bread

If you own a pizza oven, you’ll want to perfect at least one method of bread-making which will make any store-bought loaf feel like Cinderella’s ugly sister!  You may find yourself baking bread (should I say it???) ….. MORE often than pizza, if you have a large family and you’re focused on your health!  Once again, you’ll want to fire up your pizza oven to 800˚F -ish, and then let it cool to around 300˚F give or take 25 degrees.  When you place your loaves on the oven floor, it’s helpful to have something that resembles an oven door.  That’s because if you shut it during the first few minutes after placing them in the oven, you’ll get a crispier outer crust than if you did NOT shut the door.  Of course, be sure to rotate the loaves not only by turning them so different sides of the loaf are closer to the fire, but also move different loaves closer to the fire at different times to ensure even baking.

Fun Tip

I’m sure you already know this, but for those crazy few that don’t, here’s an interesting tidbit that I did not know until relatively recently!  You can create a crispier crust using a simple technique which is achievable best in a wood-fired pizza oven.  If you create steam for a short time, you’ll optimize the baking environment to allow for a crispy crust.  You can do this by putting a few ice cubes in an oven-safe dish to create steam, or you can just spray water with an atomizing unit (fancy word for “spritzer bottle”) into the oven.  It’s best to have a door to lock in the “environment” you’ve just created.  How does this work?  Okay, if you don’t really care about the technical reasons, let’s just say that if you add steam, you’ll get not only a crispier crust, but you’ll get a lighter and more “airy” loaf.  If you have a morbid fascination with the science behind the “fun”, do read on!

Why steam in your Pizza Oven makes light, airy bread with crispy crusts

When the surface of the dough reaches 180°F, various starches in the crust (or the dough close to the surface of the loaf) start absorbing the moisture. They soon become so incredibly saturated that they burst and become liquid. As the bread continues to cook, this starchy gelatinous goo turns into a brittle and glossy shell. The more water or steam (AKA – moisture) there is on the surface of the dough, the more abundant the starch gel, which results in a significantly crisper and more crackly final crust.  Believe it or not, steam can also determine the color of a crust!  The sugars in the crust start to caramelize at around 275˚F which affects the color (not to mention the flavor too!).  Between 300˚F and 400˚F, the crust gets even more brown.  Steam prevents the temperature on the surface of the bread from getting too hot near the start of the baking session, and this allows the rest of the loaf to bake right through without the risk of burning the exterior of the loaf.  One final note on this;  depending on the specifics of your oven (size, temperature, etc.) there is a good chance that any steam you produce may not have any effect on the bread crust since the extreme heat (and porous nature of the brick) will either absorb or dissipate the steam before it does any good.  There is such a thing as a steam injected system for just this purpose, but that’s a bit beyond the scope of what we’re talking about.  Let’s just say that in order for your loaf to have enough of a wet surface to make your crust crispy, you may have to add a lot more “moisture”.  How?  Well, some bakers actually shove the entire loaf in a bucket of water and then straight onto the wooden peel for application to the oven.  That may work, but please note that adding too much water too quickly into a hot oven could cause cracking in the brick …. just sayin’  (though lower temps will minimize that risk).  The whole baking time for a loaf can be anywhere from 45 min. to over an hour, but please don’t take my word as law, since I’m a pizza guy, and there are too many variables in the process, so you’ll just have to experiment (that’s the fun part). Whew!  I knew a bit about that, but I wasn’t sure how to explain it.  I’ve done my best, and if it still doesn’t make sense, then TOUGH!  It’s all I got!  Enjoy your bread!  Have fun experimenting with your pizza oven baking techniques and I’d love to know if you have anything to add to my tips.

Sources:

slate.com, thestonebakeovencompany.co.uk, thefreshloaf.com

 

 

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