What actually happens in the oven ?…
It helps to understand what is going on in your oven to be able to get the best from it. Lighting up is very simple. The basic rule to success is dry wood. You will never get a fast and easy light up if your wood is damp. Technically speaking below 20% moisture content. Ash is a great all rounder! Birch is good, but burns hot and fast, oak is a nice background timber thats is slow burning and long lasting. If you only have room for one type go for Ash. But make sure its kiln dried. Damp wood is very smokey and hard to light.
Wood burning ovens operate in a different way to any other oven.
Wood fired ovens cook in 3 ways simultaneously.
The three heating systems work together to cook a pizza in 90 seconds. The wood smoke adding that special unique flavour!
Reflective -The flame from the live fire is “reflected” off the dome onto your pizza, baking the pizza from above, and fusing the sauce, cheese and oil to a wonderful rich brown color and deep flavor. This reflective heat is hot enough to “cook” a fresh tomato sauce on top of the pizza.
Conductive – We line our base with fire bricks. Like a storage heater the bricks will absorb heat, naturally the longer you leave it the hotter they get. This heat is released slowly once the fire is moved to the side. This high heat in contact with dries out and cooks the base at the same time.
Convection – Just like your oven at home, the ambient heat in the oven soaks into the food. This is the predominant heat that you use when making bread for example, once the oven is cooler.
How long does this take? If your oven is very dry and the ambient temperature warm you can be hot in as little as half an hour. If your oven is cold and in any way damp then it will take much much longer. Up to a couple of hours especially if its not been used for a while. If you want to be sure of getting up to heat quickly say for a party, light your oven early in the day and give it a short burn just to warm it up ready for lighting later on. This will help drive any mositure out and get the base warmed up. You need to get the oven to around 400C to start cooking. You can easily tell when this is achieved as the soot will start to burn off the dome.
Unique to our Rustica oven the fire bricks provide a barrier to the ash and keep it off the cooking area.
As the fire dies down add another log to keep things nice and hot. Little and often is the key. This is the time, if you have a selection, when you can use denser logs that take a little longer to burn. Remember pizzas like it hot! You can’t expect to maintain high heat levels unless you keep adding fuel as its expended. If you want to roast or bake then naturally you let the flames reduce and along with it the temperature. This is also the time when you will want to use the oven door to maintain and control the heat level. Without the door the oven will of naturally cool down much quicker.
There are three basic temperatures that are utiised in a wood fired oven described below and how to achieve it.
Pizza Temperature 400c, floor approx 350c.
The pizza cooking temperature is around 400c or more. You fire up to this maximum temperature and “heat soak” the oven. The object is to saturate the oven with heat don’t skimp on timber at this stage. With the Neo, Rustica and Subito Cotto ovens when the oven is up to temperature the soot will be burnt off the inside of dome. With the metal ovens you have a thermometer built in. Once you are hot the fire is moved to either side or back of the oven ready for cooking.
You need to maintain a decent fire with the flames licking over curve of the roof. If using a hand held thermometer the floor should read approximately 350c. The door is usually left off during Pizza cooking. Keep adding wood as needed to maintain a decent flame.
Always get your oven to this stage even if you intend to roast in it. The oven is then “heat” stable and will cool down slowly and controllably.
Roasting Temperature, floor approx 270/300c
A roasting Oven has a temperature of around 270c. Remember you always want to get your oven up to this initial high temperature to allow it to stabilise. A constant heat is achieved throughout the oven for initial searing and then allow to naturally drop in temperature. There can be a smallish amount of timber still alight with a small flame to provide some additional background heat.
The door can be left off if your quick roasting or placed in the entrance to regulate heat. The use of the door is especially useful if its windy! As well as stopping heat escaping from the mouth of the oven the door is used to adjust the amount of air entering in to fuel the fire plus the exhaust and heat going up the chimney. With the door behind the chimney you reduce the amount of heat disappearing up the flu and cut down or maybe stop combustion altogether. A bit of trial and error with door position will help you get a feel for this. If the oven is cooling off too quickly add more small sized wood that will catch quickly and position the door at an angle. Keep on checking your goodies to make sure all is well in there!
Finally experiment a little and place food in different places to get a feel for the differing temperatures in the various areas of your oven.
Baking Temperature, floor approx 200c
The Baking oven has an oven temperature around 180C, that has been allowed to drop in temperature from its initial high heat. The idea is to create an even heat throughout which will be used to “bake” items that do not need high heat and live flame. You are cooking with the retained heat in the oven dome and floor. With some ovens the door can be positioned behind the flue to close up the oven retaining more heat. If there is a choke on the flue this can be used for the same control. There should be no live flame at this time but some glowing embers are fine. If the oven is a bit too hot leave the door off for a while.
Bake in the same way you would in a normal oven. Its a good idea to place dishes on a grill to raise them off the hearth. This cuts down on direct transferred heat.