Sunday, 23 October 2011

The summer of the pizza oven


A few posts ago I asked if you'd be happy to take a short detour from sewing so that I could share some photos of the pizza oven that my husband has been working on this summer. I had so many positive comments and emails on the subject that I think it merits a few posts as many of you asked for a technical breakdown as to how you (or actually your husband) could build a pizza oven from scratch, so that's what will follow this post - hopefully in the next day or so, whenever my husband gets a moment to write it all down. In the meantime, here's my own non-technical thoughts on matters. 


I was initially sceptical about the whole idea of building a pizza oven in our back garden - when my husband enthused over how much better stone-baked pizzas would taste I thought he was romanticising it and I questioned what was wrong with the double-width oven we'd had installed in our kitchen especially for large-scale pizza creation.  But the stack of books on the subject by his bedside grew taller, our conversations were more frequently interrupted by his pondering some aspect of construction, and his one-sided discussions over where in our garden would be the best site became more insistent in the need for a decision to be reached so that building could commence. I rejected his plan to monopolise the patio with it and eventually grudgingly agreed that an area alongside our incredibly ugly garage where it would be shrouded by a boisterous buddleia was a permissible site.  I am now eating humble pie alongside my stone-baked pizzas for his pizza oven is a triumph in every way and I wish that I had been more receptive to his initial enthusiasm.



Most of the materials were bought at reclamation yards - we visited many times to pick out just the right sort of bricks. We chose pavers for the oven floor because they're smooth and flat. Elsewhere we used bricks salvaged from a local water company - they bear the name of our town on them, a small detail which we both love. Ideally we would have used old sleepers for the base, but I worried over the creosote that might have been used to treat them in the past and so eventually we decided that it was better to buy these new - the wood at the moment rather ugly, but by the end of the winter it will have dulled to a lovely driftwood grey. Longtime readers might notice from the photos above that, really, my husband has already had a test run at building a pizza oven in ice.


The igloo that he built a few years ago was basically just a giant frozen pizza oven waiting to happen.


It took weeks to build up the layers needed to create a dome so well insulated that it would foster a furnace capable of reaching temperatures of 600 degrees. First there were bricks and cement, then a mixture of clay and wood shavings. Later, came a mix of lime and cement. At each stage a fire had to be lit to dry out the building materials and allow any heat cracks to be filled. We were lucky that my husband had friends who shared his enthusiasm and who were even prepared to take days off work to help him build it. On the day that they finished the clay layer, he and his friend Ben realised that the extra layer had already increased the fire's temperature to the extent that they thought they might be able to cook pizza in it. I quickly made up a batch of dough and that night, without the necessary pizza paddles, they manhandled the floppy uncooked pizzas onto the scorching oven floor using spatulas attached to sticks and a large helping of determination. The cooked pizzas were utterly delicious and it felt like magic. I realised that my husband's extravagant claims that he would be able to cook pizzas in under two minutes weren't so far-fetched after all. The first one was ready to eat in just 90 seconds and tasted better than any pizza I'd ever eaten before.


Just days after it was finished a truck load of wood arrived at our house - a fragrant mixture of applewood and ash, that took an hour for my husband and daughter to carry from the drive to the log store beneath the oven. On the same day a set of pizza peels and brushes arrived - a gift from his lovely mother who was almost as excited by the project as my husband was.


It feels like every weekend for months has revolved around the pizza oven and when it wasn't at the stage of being ready to cook pizzas in we lit fires in it and ate take-away pizzas around it and the children got into the habit of playing black-out football, laughing with delight as they crashed into unseen obstacles. One evening at dusk a flock of geese flew overhead in a perfect 'V' formation, honking joyfully...we stood in the garden stunned and it's been placed in my memory pot as one of the moments from this summer where everything, for a moment, felt quite perfect.


A few weeks before the oven was finished my husband began investigating sourdough recipes. Subsequently, his sourdough starter, which has been named Cecil, has sat on the kitchen work surface fermenting and doing strange things as he's tended to it each day. Yesterday he made bread from it.


And I used the residual heat from the oven to bake root vegetables with rosemary and feta.


Today, he made pizzas again, his first attempt at using a sourdough base for them.


After some of the fire has been removed from the oven and the burning embers pushed to the sides, the pizza is ready to be baked. 


It is flipped from the metal peel onto the oven floor.


And brought out again shortly afterwards, crispy, golden and piping hot.



Favourite flavours are red onion and goats cheese....blue cheese and goats cheese...or just goat's cheese and goat's cheese.


And when the table is full of pizzas....we are ready to eat.


This post is written by a pizza oven convert. A post discussing the laying of hardcore, clay ratios and other vital information is to follow...should you feel the wish to nudge your husband in the direction of brick oven building.

Florence x

28 comments:

  1. My husband is anxiously awaiting the details and hot to build one in our yard...like he needs one more project!

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  2. Yum! How fantastic and clever your hubby is!! I reckon it would be great fun using the giant comedy spatula thingy too!

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  3. Oh that looks absolutely fabulous! Although I feel a Mrs Beaton moment here - first catch your husband... oh, and a garden.

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  4. I've sent a link to my husband! That looks fantastic, it's making me hungry.

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  5. That is totally Fabulous!! I have a bit of pizza oven envy, I think. Enjoy autumn in your garden!

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  6. Wonderful. Sadly, I am quite certain that nothing similar will ever materialise in our back garden unless I build it.

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  7. This is fantastic. I'm so jealous! We LOVE pizza at our house and my husband is the our pizza chef. I'm going to show him this post!

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  8. Wow that is so cool! The pizzas look amazing. So jealous.

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  9. I took a bread making course in Italy and all our loaves and pizzas were baked in a stone oven. How I wished we could have one. But now you've proven I CAN have one. I am so nudging my mister so we can plan on having one when we move into a house.

    Maybe a tutorial on making a stone oven can be next ;) ?

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  10. Pizzas look wonderful.If anyone built an oven here it would have to be me, sadly - though husband would be happy to eat what it produced!

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  11. Well this post has just confirmed my husband's opinion that your husband is "such a dude!".
    Ever since the 'Mr Teacakes' imaginary giveaway' post my husband has felt that he has found an ally across the ether. Another much put upon, fabric smothered, patient husband.

    And now he can up his campaign for the Pizza Oven. We have the River Cottage Bread book which devotes at least one quarter of its pages to the construction of said oven. He has the plan, has identified the spot, but for some reason just haven't quiet got around to it. So the knowledge that "Mr Teacakes has a pizza oven" may just be the impetus that he needs!

    Looks great, I can hardly wait.

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  12. I've been nagging for one of these for years!! next summer will be our summer of the pizza oven .. Mr. M is always saying he needs a project...

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  13. What a great post! I can almost smell those pizzas from here in France. My partner has been talking about making his own pizza oven for years, but we have not managed to get a home with a garden yet. Once we do, he will be taking all the advice your husband can give! :)

    PS I loved your makeup bag with zipper tutorial and will be making it this week. My fledgling blog is here .

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  14. Simply amazing! Love it! What a fabulous addition to the garden. Such a sociable installation - I can picture people gathering round with cocktails and fairy lights eating stone baked pizza fresh from the oven... my idea of heaven!! Does it give out heat in the manner of a heater, too? And could you bake potatoes wrapped in foil in it? (would be good for autumn/Bonfire Night occasions!) And, I was wondering if you might share a fool-proof pizza dough receipe (and being extra cheeky, your tomato base one too?) The pizzas look so scrumptious... Louise

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  15. Mary said - this is a fantastic oven your husband has built (my husbands idea of a nightmare!). Good on him - hope you have many good pizzas with your family and friends.

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  16. What a fabulous achievement! I even got my husband to read this post and he's anxiously awaiting the full details - I think it was the goats' cheeses that swung it. Bet your neighbours are really jealous with all those smells coming from your garden! Perhaps your husband could draw up a "pattern" and instructions (to sell) - I know I'd buy it for someone's Christmas stocking...

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  17. Now that's what I call a project with a RESULT! I'm jealous!

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  18. Amazing! I am well impressed! I adore home-made pizza, but I'll bet it tastes soooooo much better from an oven like this.

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  19. That looks like the greatest thing ever!!! That pizza looks amazing! He did such a great job and so cool that you can use it for all kind of things other than pizza. Thanks for sharing!

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  20. I definitely feel the need. Big pat on the back for Mr Teacakes. I hope my landlady fancies the idea!!

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  21. Well done that man!
    The pizzas look great. How long did the veggies take to cook?

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  22. I think the construction method does the trick. I heard of so many friends in Italy having trouble with a brick oven because it takes ages to heat up and they don't use it much in the end.
    So, I'd love to hear the details.

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  23. COOL! Or should I say HOT!!!!!!! Just plain wonderful. Vanessa xxx

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  24. Oh my goodness I would love one of these! All I have to do now is point my Hubbie over to this blog....

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  25. Hello lovelies, more details are to follow...although it may be as a downloadable pdf as he's only half way through writing it up and it's run to seven pages!

    Thank you so much for all your lovely comments.

    Philippa - your comment made me laugh - I'll pass that on to my husband!

    Louise - yes, it does - standing by it is very warming.

    x

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  26. I LOVE your igloo! :)

    And coming from an Eskimo...I'd say that was pretty good! haha.

    I've been pushing my husband for a Pizza oven forever. But first he has to make my Backyard Sauna. Then Pizza Oven! :)

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  27. mmmm must have pizza oven, husband has agreed. However he is geeky and I am crafty so father in law will build it I think

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  28. Congrats on your beautiful Wood-fired oven build. Great looking food and pizza's....and goat's cheese.

    Terry (Admin of the UK WFO forum)

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Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a message - it's always really lovely to hear from people.

I now tend to reply within the comments section, so please do check back if you've asked a question or wish to chat.

Florence x