Bare Baking in Wood Fired Oven
How to Bare Bake in a Wood Fired Oven
If you want to bare bake (i.e., slide the dough directly onto the Pizza Shovel and then into the oven without having a tray underneath it), here are a couple of hints that will make it easier for you:
Firstly, bare baking is not essential. Your wood fired oven is a lot hotter and dryer than a normal oven and you will get nice crusty pizza and bread even on tin trays. Bare baking requires a fair bit of oven knowledge and the confidence that only comes with practice - you must be familiar enough with your oven to be able to judge if the floor is at the right temperature or not.
Don't let wood fired oven "snobs" intimidate you into thinking that you HAVE to bare bake, because, if you're a beginner, you'll end up eating humble pie and if you've never had humble pie or humble pizza or humble bread before, let me tell you, it can be hard to swallow! It's got a burned bottom, a coating of ash and grit all over it and some particularly nasty additive that leaves you feeling insecure and afraid of your oven. Humble pie also has the curious tendency to happen most often when you least want it. In fact, if you want to show off your brand new oven to 6 friends who chose to use THEIR tax refunds to go skiing, whatever you bare bake, you're guaranteed to end up eating it!
So, my advice is to wait a month or so and just concentrate on learning your way around first.
ONE MONTH LATER…
You know how I said before that bare baking's not essential. Well, that IS true, but it's also true that it does make a difference. First of all (and maybe it's because I've HAD a few humble pies and got a taste for it), there's something about a little ash on the bread. A little taste, some extra crustiness that just can't be duplicated unless the dough's on the stone. Secondly, there's that inner satisfaction, that Italian peasant in all of us that just goes 'aahhh' about doing things the traditional way - oh my god, watch yourself - in just three paragraphs I've turned into an oven snob!
Back to reality. We don't bare bake all the time. If there's a party on and we just want to bang pizzas out fast, trays really help. Similarly, if you've already consumed lots of liquor, if everyone's topping their own pizzas, if children are actively participating, you'll be cleaning up a whole lot less flour and mess, if you use trays.
Okay, so you've done your time and you know all about moving your fire around to get a nice even floor temperature and you know how much to let the fire die down before you start to bake? (If not, see Recipes: Pizza Dough) You're now ready to lose the training trays and go nude baby…
Make your pizza base or pizza dough as usual. Get yourself a duster or a sifter and some corn flour. Make sure your shovel is dry and oil free. Test your oven to see if it’s ready.
When you think its time to put whatever you are making in the oven, wait just a little longer - maybe 10 minutes - just till the floor's a touch cooler then you'd usually have it, before you begin.
When it is, you can either use our new bristle brush to sweep the floor totally clean or use your Pizza Shovel or Trowel and gently pat the oven floor a few times to dislodge most of the ash and dust. I'm embarrassed to say that, until I saw someone fan the floor like this on an episode of Vasili's Garden on SBS television last year, I used to go to the trouble of trying to clean the oven floor with a well-soaked damp mop every single time I put a pizza in. This technique still has its place (it adds a nice bit of steam if your doing a whole load of bread), but it's a heck of a lot easier to just wave the shovel around. Note to self – be gentle though. I was a bit enthusiastic the first time and after a great whoosh with the shovel, ended up with singed hair and ash-fixiation!
Of course, if you're a serious baker or just a bit fernickety about eating grit, you can't beat our Natural Bristle Brush for cleaning all the ash off the oven floor.
All you have to do now is sprinkle the corn flour lightly and evenly all over the Pizza Shovel plate, take a deep breath, slide the Pizza Shovel under the dough, take it to the oven, hold the Pizza Shovel just above and ever so slightly back from where you want the dough to end up and just kind of ‘shrug' the dough off the plate onto the stone.
This is one of those techniques that you just have to have the confidence to try (like flipping an omelette). Not too much confidence though - I've seen the odd beginner gird their loins and hurl a well floured pizza so that it skimmed across the floor and rolled up like a rug right on the coals! Be gentle. It doesn't matter if you take a couple of ‘shrugs' to get the dough off the shovel completely. Just keep your attention focused on depositing the dough where you want it to go, because without a tray, it'll be a little while before the crust hardens enough for you to move it if you need to.
Once the dough's safely in, proceed as normal, just checking occasionally (by lifting up a corner – see photo Oven Trowel) that the floor's not too hot and that your bum's not burning. If one side is browning more or rising faster than the other, just wait until the bum has crusted up slightly (sounds appetizing, doesn't it?) and move it. There's no need to re-flour the shovel or anything to change position.
When you've finished baking or before you put the shovel under a pan if you're using both techniques at once, wipe the shovel over with a dry cloth or paper towel to remove any excess flour.
So, that's bare baking. Once you know you're oven, it's a lot easier to DO then it sounds (or indeed, writes).
One final word of warning though. This is a great technique to try with pizzas, buns, turkish bread, naan bread and unstructured, rustic loaves. It's NOT such a good technique with potato-based pizzas, or indeed, chickens – even if you flour them really well - you know who you are!