FAQ's - Pizza Oven Tools & Knives 🔥
Guide to Measure Your Oven for your Correct Tool Width & Length
The more we know about your oven, the better we can make your tools, so please don't hesitate to write or ring to discuss this subject – we want to get it right!
Probably the biggest thing you can do to help us make you good tools is to measure your oven. Don't worry too much if you can't measure the oven (if the tools are a present for someone else, the oven's not built yet, you're not near it at the moment, etc.) we do a really generous standard size tool length (working on the theory that handles are easy to cut down, but hard to stretch!), but we do like to get them spot on if we can.
Measuring Your Pizza Oven For Reach Length
- Stand in front of the oven.
- Measure across any front bench space.
- Through any flue chamber.
- Until you reach the inner back wall.
So, if you can, we are particularly interested in the measurement from the front of your oven structure, across any bench space or flue cavity and through the oven itself to the inside back wall.
Knowing this will allow us to make your handles the perfect length for your particular set up.
Measuring Your Pizza Oven For Doorway Width
Similarly, if you are getting a pizza peel (whatever shape!) knowing the measurement across the narrowest part of your oven opening (be it the door space or the flue cavity), will help us ensure that your peel face is exactly the right width for you.
BTW, feedback from past customers and working with the oven suppliers themselves means that over time, we have developed a list of popular sizes and shapes for most models of kit/pre-assembled ovens. If you bought your oven, please let us know the brand name and we can let you know the sizes and tools we suggest.
THERE IS NO EXTRA CHARGE FOR CUSTOMISING (well, MOST customising! If you're oven is hugely long and needs a whole tree length to hold it up or if your tool head changes are super large or really intricate, we might hit you a bit, but for 99% of customers, it's just something we do because we can!).
Which Tools Do I Need? Wood Fired Pizza Ovens 🔥
Here Are Some Tips
In the last five years, the wood fired oven world has just EXPLODED and as a result, the variety in the sizes and styles of ovens you're building (and the things you like to do in them!) have all just increased exponentially too.
When we first started doing this, we never dreamed we would have enough customers to create a huge range of tools and also offer different options for individual tools, but here we all are!
Most of you find it magnificent to have a choice of tools (and to be able to get them personally customised for your oven size and shape), but there are also some of you out there who find all this choice a bit intimidating, so hopefully, this guide will help...
Pizza Peels: The Shape Continuum
Back in the bad old days before Wood Fired Oven's Ruled and before we knew that you wanted lotsa tools, we went with the square head on the peel because we imagined people would just have that one tool and use it do everything - pizza, roasting, coal moving, etc – and the square shape is the best all rounder...
Nowadays however, knowing that we're not the only people in the world who love their ovens and who have a tool fetish, instead of one peel, we've found we're making them on a shape continuum, to meet the needs of the people who use their ovens to make pizza only (round) to the people for whom pizza is not a big priority (square).
Finally, not meaning to confuse the issue, but some people also like a spinning peel – a small (under 20 cm diameter) round peel specifically for turning their pizzas round in the oven as well. Personally, we think to justify one of these you’d need to be making A LOT of pizzas A LOT of the time, but shops and party people do seem to like ‘em!
If we are having a big party and have lots of pizzas in at once (so that some of them are heating unevenly and so they need to be turned or spun), we’d use the trowel. It’s for all the small, close-up work. The other people who like trowels are the folks who cook on the oven floor – be it making flat bread/pita bread/hearth bread or the increasing numbers of stone grillers, who plonk their meat straight on the heated stone - for these folk, the trowel is like their BBQ flipper, ‘cept it’s on steroids!
As well as the standard length of trowel, it is also relatively common for people with big ovens (particularly those serious aficionado’s who have one of those big, freestanding, rectangular, could-rent-it-out-as-a-spare-room style ovens) or the people who have deep flue chambers on their ovens, to get a trowel with a longer handle (say up to 90 cm total length?), so that they are still smaller than a peel and can be kept on the bench, but they have enough reach to get you right in there...
The coal scoop is particularly good for domed/curved sided pizza ovens. If your oven is straight sided (or the afore-mentioned extra room style), you are probably better off with an ember rake. The scoop has a bit of an edge over the rake for fire handling I reckon though – you can play fire-hockey with it and bring your fire in and spread it back out really easily...
The pan hook is essential if you do lots of roasts/casseroles/tray bakes or anything in pans or tins in your pizza oven, but if you are pizza only, you don't need it.
In our experience, people usually end up favouring one sort of brush head over the other (wire or natural fibre) and given that we've made them so that you can change them over really easily (see our YouTube clip of the brush changeover), rather than getting the two different brushes, we recommend you start by getting one full brush and natural fibre brush head and see how you go.
There's not much I can say about the ash pan, except to tell you that if you're a pizza only cook, you will very rarely need to move your hot coals out while you're cooking, you'll be far more likely to just want to spread them around the outside of your pizza oven with the scoop or rake. That being the case, you can do without one – once your coals are cold, you can move them with anything. If you're a baker or a roaster though, getting an ash pan is probably right up there – it's not much fun trying to move your coals out and in again (and do it quickly) without one!
As I mentioned above, if you have a domed pizza oven, the coal scoop is better for your oven as it gets into the curves, but if you have a straight sided oven, the ember rake is the go as it gets right into your corners and in a big oven, it really pushes and drags those mounds of coals around. Of course, if you've got the dough, get both – your fire won't stand a chance of being unruly then!
The damp mop is really just for serious bread bakers. These good folk need to have a really clean floor and they also need to create steam and control the floor temp, so a damp mop is essential for them. If you're a big pizza bare-baker it can be useful too, but most folk can either get away with patting the floor with their pizza peel to clean it sufficiently or they get the brush with a natural head.
Extra Busy Pizza Ovens Tips
It’s only when the place is jumping and you’re cooking lots of pizzas and more than two at a time (particularly in a smaller oven), that you need either the round OR a dedicated turning tool to take over this job…
Tracy's Audio Message
Pizza Oven Tool Dimensions FAQ's
Tool Handle and Stainless Steel Ring
How to Use a Mezzaluna
Lets make Tabouleh as an example
See our Tabouleh Recipe for the list of ingredients.
Use a normal knife to slice the two tomatoes in half. Scoop out the seeds and juice and put this liquid on the cracked wheat. Add just under ¼ cup of hot tap water to the wheat and tomato seeds, stir it all together and put it and the scooped out tomato halves aside.
Now for the parsley. Let's just start with 1 bunch. You can do 2 (or more) at once when you've finished the course, but it's a bit unwieldy if you're just starting out and also, if you process it in two batches, you get the chance to really perfect your technique on the second go.
Okay. Put your first bunch on the board. Using a normal knife (just this once, I promise!) cut off the dry or woody stems and also cut across the bunch 3 or 4 times - when your learning, it just helps to break the stem size down a bit so it's easier to handle.
Mezzaluna ROCK Action…
Pick up your mezzaluna with both hands. Rest the mezzaluna lightly on the pile and just do what comes naturally - 'rock' it from one side to the other over the parsley. Don't try to go fast, just concentrate on working out an efficient cutting motion. Get a feel for how far over to rock the blade. Concentrate on undoing all your previous knife training that's telling you to keep your wrists firm and to grip the blade tightly. Relax into the action and grip the handles loosely. Enjoy the lovely crunching sound.
When the pile of parsley spreads out too far, use the blade as a scraper and pull it back together.
Mezzaluna ROLL Action…
Start to direct the blade a bit - when you have the blade leaning over one way, say to the left, move your right handle away from you a little, so when you 'roll' the blade back to the right, you're cutting on a slightly different line. When you get all the way over to the right, move your left handle away from you a little and you'll be cutting on a different line again. Using this 'rolling technique', you should be able to make your way across the board and back again. Do this a few times in fairly large cutting lines (a couple of centimetres apart).
Don't concentrate on trying to 'get' individual pieces of whatever you're cutting - that'll just reduce everything else on the cutting line to mush. Instead, just think about rolling over the board evenly from the front to the back. As soon as your pile gets too spread out or extends too far out to the sides, scrape it all back to the centre. This will mix everything up and ensure you 'get' those stubborn big pieces.
After 3 or 4 passes across the board, your pile should have gone from 'twigs' to 'lawn clippings'.
Now, roll across the board a few more times, concentrating on getting your cutting lines closer together - trying to move your 'leading hand' forward about 1cm each time. When you scrape your pile back together now, try and concentrate on sort of 'throwing' the stuff that was out on the edges (and is therefore coarser in size) over the top of the stuff that's stayed in the middle and is therefore getting quite fine.
By now (8 or so passes across the board) you should be feeling really confident and have a fairly fine, even pile. Congratulations! But wait, there's more. It's time to learn to…
Mezzaluna TILT Action…
Each time you scrape your pile back together you loose momentum and break your rhythm. You can dramatically reduce the number of times you have to stop and scrape and you can actually control your pile by just 'tilting' the handles of the blade ever so slightly towards you or away from you.
If you roll out across the board (moving away from yourself), with the handles tilted towards you, the pile will move across the board too. If you then, on your last two cuts, lift the leading side of the blade up and over the pile and then roll back across the board tilting away from yourself, you'll bring the pile back with you!
Of course, when I say you're 'bringing the pile' with you, I don't mean you're bringing the same stuff. Each 'rock' will drop a new line down behind the blade, but because the blade is tilted, you're also kind of nudging the heap in front of you forward, picking up the stuff you spread out on your last crossing.
By adding diagonal cutting lines to your repertoire (rolling across the board on an angle), you can basically chase your pile around and around the board until you've turned it into dust, only stopping to scrape it into the centre when you need a rest!
Okay, put the first lot of parsley into a bowl, take a deep breath, think about all your new knowledge and get that second bunch.
This time, to cut off the stems and break up the bunch, try grabbing the mezzaluna with just one hand, with the other handle extended out in front of you - like you're going to pass it to someone. Put the curve of the blade furtherest away from your hand on the board, have the end you're holding elevated. You're going to use the mezzaluna like a paper guillotine. Hold the parsley stems together with your free hand, place them under the guillotine and do those first couple of chops (to break it up) one-handed.
Once you've finished showing off, see if you can reduce this second bunch of parsley to fine dice in around 8 or 9 passes.
How good is that! You should now be able to cut things up AT LEAST as fast with the mezzaluna as you can with a knife and you're only going to get faster.
Oh, that's right, we weren't just doing this for fun, we need to finish the tabouleh…
Cut up the mint the same way. Personally, I don't like to eat much mint stem, so I tend to pull off most of the bottom leaves and just leave the top whole before I cut it up, but if you don't mind a bit of mint stem, just use the guillotine method.
Now for the onion
With a normal knife, top and tail the onion, cut it in half, peel off the skin and cut each half into 3 or 4 slices. By now tears are probably forming in your eyes, but if you do the dicing with your Mezzaluna, not only will you be finished much quicker, you can nearly chop the whole lot with your eyes closed (because you have so much control) and THERE'S NO WAY YOU CAN CUT OFF YOUR FINGERS. Go on, shut your eyes and give it a go!
When you've finished processing the onions to fine dice, open your eyes and grab the tomatoes. Personally, I would probably normally just dice the tomatoes with a knife. Because of their skin consistency, they take about the same time either way, but in this practice session they will give you a bit of a work out and teach you a bit about cutting from different directions. Being quite wet, they don't respond well to the tilt method, but if you cut across the board each time from a different direction, you will get a nice fine, even dice with each little piece of tomato still a distinct unit. Make sure you place them on the board cut side up before you start.
Have a look at the cracked wheat. By now it should have absorbed all the water and be fairly soft. We're not after mush here, the lemon juice will soften it a bit more, but each grain should be fairly plump and it should be easy to fluff up with a fork.
Put the wheat into the same bowl as all your herbage and tomato and add the oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste. Leave the mix sit at least 15 minutes for everything to get to know one another.
CONGRATULATIONS! You're now an official graduate of the Mezzaluna School of Excellence. You've also made a good start on your graduation dinner. ENJOY!
How to Sharpen a Mezzaluna
Because of the steel, the tempering and because Pete takes a lot of time hand-honing the edge; these mezzalunas really keep their sharpness. You should only have to sharpen your blade once or twice a year. And by 'sharpening', we don't mean some complicated rigmarole with a block and oil and stuff. All you need to do is to run over each side with a steel.
If you've never done this before, it's one of those simple, yet deeply satisfying things:
Hold the knife upside down by one handle and upwards, with the blade facing away from your body (see picture), rest the other handle on the inside of your forearm. Run the steel up and back along the blade once or twice at about a 15° angle. Repeat for the other side.
Never store steel knives on a magnetic block or strip, or leave them loose in a draw with other knives, because when knives are magnetized, the iron particles align in one direction and the blade goes blunt much more quickly. The only other exception to the 'once, maybe twice a year' rule is if you do a lot of cutting on marble or granite surfaces. Being harder than steel, these surfaces tend to blunt the edge and you may have to sharpen a little more often.
Mezzaluna Cleaning Instructions
Our mezzalunas are made traditionally from tempered steel. We tried doing them out of stainless steel, but (pardon the pun) they just didn't cut it. Stainless steel is great for laser cut knives, particularly if you don't need to sharpen them, like scalloped-edged bread knives (see our bread knife below) but it's lousy for handmade knives because it gets too tempered when you beat the shit out of it on the forge and it just won't hold a nice, fine, easy to sharpen cutting edge the way real steel does.
As well as these technicalities, we think the stainless steel ones are just, well, wrong somehow. Mezzalunas are proud traditional knives with a long history behind them and we believe they should look it...
Having said all of that, mezzalunas are not hard to look after. They do need regular oiling and will rust if put in a dishwasher or left lying around wet, but all you have to do is after each use, wipe them over with a damp cloth or wash them gently and dry them thoroughly. Spray or wipe down with olive oil before you put them away.
Anyone can use a mezzaluna, you just pick it up and away you go. So why, you might wonder, have we managed to write so much about something so basic?
Well, we don't want you to just USE your mezzaluna, we want you to become a MINCING MACHINE, and we want you to reach that exalted status as quickly and effortlessly as possible.
When we first started selling our products, we did a big trade show. Pete hates crowds (and in Pete Land, any gathering of more than 3 people constitutes a crowd). He is also absolutely hopeless at any sort of sales chit-chat (or indeed chit-chat in general) and in an effort to avoid SPEAKING TO STRANGERS, he basically barricaded himself behind the chopping board and chopped parsley like his life depended on it.
Funnily enough, this ended up being a fantastic sales technique. People love a bit of a demonstration and Pete started to relax because he had something to do. There was a close moment when he first realized he was actually ATTRACTING THE CROWD, but after a while he loosened his death grip on the handles and even started answering questions.
If there's anything people like more than a demonstration, it's the chance to have a go themselves. Pretty soon punters were actually arguing about who's turn it was next and demanding more parsley (like I had a bush or two on me) and my 'man of few words' was actually standing IN VERY CLOSE PROXIMITY TO STRANGERS, putting his hands over their hands and showing them how to 'Rock' and 'Roll' and 'Tilt' as if these were technical terms in the mezzaluna training manual!
Which of course, they now are. You can just pick up your mezzaluna and start to use it and these motions will come to you in time, but if you'd like a bit of a head start, read on…
Just like Pete did, the best way to improve your technique is to get some intensive practice and the best way to get some intensive practice is to make something really delicious that requires a fair bit of diced herbage (and some of our customers seem to have a bit of practice with the "illegal" kind of herbage in mind, but don't try telling the judge we suggested it to you as a training exercise!).
We've included a legal product recipe that is eminently suitable - Tabouleh salad. Make this recipe and not only will you have the base for a fantastic meal, you'll be a fully qualified MINCING MACHINE.
Bread Knife FAQ's
Hints & Tips
This bread knife is really easy to use. There are only two things to remember:
Number 1 - IT WILL HELP YOU SLICE STRAIGHT
Once you have positioned the blade across your loaf of bread at your desired thickness and you have assured yourself that it's straight, don't look at the bread again! Watch the space between the wooden handle and the slice and just work on not tilting the knife as you cut. As long as that space and the knife angle stay the same, you can't help but cut right.
Number 2 - BE GENTLE
Don't try to force the knife to cut deeper or faster, you'll just squash your bread and veer off course. These blades are sharp and jagged enough to cut a brick - they don't need extra help from you. Just concentrate on watching the guide and performing the sawing motion and the actual cutting will happen almost by itself.
Just like any other wood product, these bread knives are not real fond of the dishwasher, but apart from that they have no special needs and can just be wiped over or washed up like a normal knife. Do watch out for the blades though!
Don't leave the knife soaking in the sink where someone could cut themselves by accident. Don't run a tea towel over the edge of the blade - particularly if your fingers are holding it! Never, ever dry the blade by rubbing it across your clothes! For the same reason, it's probably not a great idea to leave the blade face up in a drawer...
To maintain the lovely timber grain and colour, occasionally rub some oil over the handles.
Pizza Oven Tool Care FAQ's
Oven Tool Care
These fire tools and wood fired oven accessories are made from high quality food grade stainless steel. They are tough as nails and can be left outside in all weather. The only thing you need to do is to oil the handles occasionally (i.e., once or twice a year) to maintain the timber colour.
The tools can be washed just like any other kitchen item, but usually a wipe over with a damp cloth will suffice.
If you manage to really burn food onto them (and that takes a fair bit of effort) remember that, just like any other stainless steel items, they can be scratched by harsh abrasives. Resist getting out the steel wool and just soak the burnt gunk overnight - it'll just fall off then.
If your one of those people who like to be able to see your face reflected in the stainless surface, the occasional polish with one of the commercial stainless steel products or a stiff paste of bi-carb and water, will bring it back to a nice, shiny finish.
Please note: Obviously, care must be taken when using any natural/flammable product in the oven. Do not leave these tools in the oven longer than necessary to perform their particular function and as you finish using each tool, check that no live ash or coals adheres to the surface or underside.
Brush and Mop Care
Please Note: Occasionally, strands or bristles may come loose from the brush or mop head during use. Please check the oven floor thoroughly before placing food directly on the surface. Also, obviously, care must be taken when using any natural/flammable product in the oven and the natural bristle brush and mop in particular should never be put directly in, or held directly over, the fire.
To change the brush heads: Pete puts the broom handle between his legs with the brush head facing upwards and sticking out about a foot from his clenched thighs(!). He presses the little lever-y bit of the clip back towards him with one hand and grips the brush head by the bristles in the other hand and pulls it out as the clip raises up (My God, it's like writing porn!). To put a new head in, you pretty much do the same (clench thighs, brush holder facing up) and then insert the new head under the front edge first and lift the clip back enough to get the rear end in. Don't worry, it's both easier and less lewd to do then it is to write about!
To change the mop head over: Your replacement mop probably has a plastic head piece on it (it is not possible to buy one without it these days). Obviously, this needs to be removed before the new head is attached to the handle. If you have bought the mop head directly from us, you may wonder why we have not done this for you in advance, but during product development, Pete beheaded many, many mops and we discovered that, despite his best intentions and several ingenious suggestions from me, once undone, the mops tended to get untidy no matter how you tied them up and that it's best to just get them straight on the clamp rather than leave them lying around with their hair loose, getting all bedraggled! Anyway, what we do is just cut or snip the plastic piece away (we like garden secateurs) then undo the d-clamp fitting on our handle, take it off, 'drape' the mop-hair over the 'd' part and then put the ends of the 'd' back through the handle piece and do them back up.
Bare Baking in a Wood Fired Pizza Oven
If you want to bare bake (i.e., slide the dough directly onto the pizza peel 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 Readying Your Wood Fire Oven for Bread Baking) 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 peel 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 peel 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 peel around. Note to self – be gentle though. I was a bit enthusiastic the first time and after a great whoosh with the peel, 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 brush tool 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 peel plate, take a deep breath, slide the pizza peel under the dough, take it to the oven, hold the pizza peel 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 peel 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) 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 peel or anything to change position.
When you've finished baking or before you put the peel under a pan if you're using both techniques at once, wipe the peel 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!
Firing Up Your Wood Fired Pizza Oven
Unless you’re a serious wood fired oven addict, most of the time you’re just going to ‘quick light’ your wood fired oven and make pizzas. In fact, these days, quite a few wood fired ovens don’t have any insulation and are really only meant for pizzas or fast grills. But, even if it doesn’t have a lot of insulation, you and your wood fired oven are capable of a hell of a lot more than just pizzas (no matter how terrific they are!) and occasionally, it’s nice to explore that potential.
If you’re going to have a baking day or a baking day party though, you’ll need to take it seriously. It’s not something to do lightly…
Readying Your Wood Fire Oven for Bread Baking
Your wood fire oven needs to be well soaked with heat to make good bread - a solid 2 to 3 hours with a nice, medium size, stable fire going and the door open will do it. Because getting to a well soaked oven - one where the floor, the walls and the air temp are all evenly activated - requires a bit of effort and uses up precious fuel, it's always a good idea to make the most of a serious firing. Make 20 loaves of bread, plan a roast or quiches or pavlovas or something for afterwards, but don't waste that lovely lux heat, it's just too special a cooking environment.
If you want a few pizzas first, go for it. In fact, you may be pleasantly surprised to see the difference that the soaking heat makes to your pizza dough too. A lot of beginners report their first real 'crust' success with a soaking fire.
These two pictures show the oven ceiling as it changes and become pizza-ready – when we say it goes white and all the tar and dirt etc., burns away, this is what we mean (first is the ceiling when the fire's been lit for a while and second is the ceiling when the oven is 'ready' – note how clean it is)...
Anyway, if you do pizza up, after pizza time, bring your fire back to the middle and add another one or two small logs and leave them to burn for another 15 minutes or so, just to bring the floor heat back into alignment, or, if you're not cooking pizza first, wait until you get the oven to pizza temp (a clean, white ceiling all over) and then quickly remove your fire and coals to whatever you're using as an ash bin and ensure that you've put it somewhere safe and out of the way of little hands or big folks bottoms (someone inevitably goes to sit on our lidded bin!)
When you've removed the coals from the oven, give it a good sweep or pat (to remove the small bits of ash or grit from the floor) and then scatter a bit of flour on the floor and make sure it's not too hot. If it incinerates immediately, wait 10 mins and try again. If it’s still too hot, use your mop to reduce the floor heat, or just wait it out. When the flour takes at least a couple of seconds to colour up and then disappear (i.e., when the process is slow enough that you can observe the flour toasting!), you're in the zone.
Hopefully, if you've timed it all right, at this point, your loaves will be just coming to the end of their half an hour rest and you can move them outside, really close to the oven and assemble everything you need ready to get them in. Once your oven's ready and the coals are removed, speed is of the essence. It's a bit like a stir fry - everything needs to be ready to go before you start...
So, as soon as possible after removing your coals and cleaning the floor with a sweep or a pat, mop your floor over with a well-soaked-but-not-ringing-wet mop, or if you don't have a mop, push a well-soaked-but-not-ringing-wet old towel around the floor with a stick.
There are two reasons why you want to create some steam at this point. Firstly, it evens out and slightly reduces the floor temperature, so that when you put your loaves in, their little bottoms definitely won't burn. Secondly, the intense, moist heat 'explodes' the protein in the flour, giving you a magnificent crusty top if you work quickly enough to get the loaves in and the door in place before the steam all dissipates.
Incidentally (here's the sales plug!) we make really good damp mops, ash pans and oven brushes and even special baking doors - ones with a ledge all around them that Baker's traditionally put a length of wet rope on to seal the oven tightly and to keep the steam-action happening…
Anyway, plug over, so you've got your loaves in and the door closed nice and quickly? Nothing to do now except get ready to gloat. Oh, also, you do have to resist the temptation to open the door (and that can be hard!).
You need to wait at least 20 minutes for your loaves to cook. After that, you can risk a peak. Well, a feel and a tap will probably be more help! You're looking for your loaves to feel 'set' and quite light and for there to be a nice hollow sound when you tap them. If it's not happening, get the door closed ASAP and check every 5 mins until it does.
When it's done, pull your bread out and put it on a rack or a tea towel to cool. Incidentally, great bread will 'talk to you' - the crust will crackle as it hits the outside air - and what it's saying to you is "try not to eat me all straight away". Good as this bread is straight from the oven, it's even better as bruschetta or toasted. It'll get that lovely, chewy ciabatta quality to it and that's definitely worth a bit of a wait!
Make Better Pizzas Even in an Electric or Gas Oven
Make your own pizza bases - bought ones NEVER taste as good.
Experiment with different moisture levels, different levels of elasticity, different resting times and find what works best in your oven.
Reduce the 'wetness' of your pizza.
The biggest problem with electric and gas ovens is that they just don't get hot enough to cook the pizza base to a good crunch, so anything you can do to assist in keeping the base dry helps. Use a really solid base-sauce and don't use really wet toppings, like raw tomato slices - cook or drain wet ingredients first to reduce the moisture you are adding to your pizza.
Concentrate on getting maximum heat.
Never cook more than 2 pizzas in the oven at once and if possible, cook them one at a time, with 10 minutes between each 'session' to allow the oven to reheat.
Before you even turn the oven on, arrange the oven shelves in the position that will best maximize the air flow between the pizzas - once it's fired up, you don't want to have the oven door open for any longer than is absolutely necessary.
Before you even think about putting your pizzas in, crank the oven temperature up as high as it will go and leave it at that level for at least half an hour.
Before you even think about opening the door, make sure your pizzas are absolutely ready and that you have one in one hand ready to go on is as soon as you open the oven and the other (if you are cooking two at once) really close by.
Get yourself a pizza stone.
It's amazing the difference a cheap (around $20) piece of clay can make! One of these babies will give you the closest possible thing to a wood fired pizza experience that you can get in a normal oven, because it allows you to cook the underside of your pizza at the same time - speeding up the general cooking process and crisping up your base.
Just pop the stone/s (one per pizza) into the oven before you start to preheat it. Let the stone and oven heat for as long as possible (half to three quarters of an hour) and then, working quickly, carefully lift the stone out and adapting the bare baking techniques to suit your skill level and equipment, deposit your pizza on the stone and get it back in the oven as quickly as possible.
Your pizza will cook a lot more quickly on the stone then you will be used to, so keep an eye on it. If you want to cook more than one pizza on the stone, you need to reheat it for 10-15 minutes first.