Saturday, May 21, 2016

16. Update - Five Years On

Not a Happy Oven

It turns out that the crack (see earlier posts) is not the biggest problem I could have had. We had a tropical cyclone rated at category 4. I was not home when the cyclone hit, and my usual technique of protecting the oven with a bit of plastic held down by a big roll of fencing wire failed. You might say that was predictable, but in 18 years not a single cyclone has directly hit my city, and the damage the oven suffered is nothing in comparison with many people's houses and yards.

Exposure to a category 4 cyclone is a problem for clay pizza ovens. It is repairable, but I have to decide whether to repair or whether this is a message that it is time for 'Mark II'. I wont go into details yet, but I have some ideas for improving on my first oven.

A little dejected,

...Geoff (not currently using the oven)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

15. Update - Three Years On

The Crack - Ever Growing
Well, it's been a long while since I last posted. It seems a good time to give an update.

First, the crack is getting worse, as you can see here. The smoke you can see in the photo is coming out of the mouth of the oven, but last time it was used I saw a vague outline of smoke venting from the main section of the upper-most crack. (Mark II is always coming closer!)

The Wood Box - Full at the Moment

Second, I don't know if I've shown this angle before, so thought I'd include a photo showing the wood box below the oven.  Next time I run out of wood I'd like to make some sort of cradle to keep the wood off the ground (as the bricks are doing), but also to let our terriers in, in case of rats.
Pizza Cooking in the Clay Pizza Oven

Thirdly, here are some shots of the oven in use. You can clearly see my technique of creating a small bed of hot coals to cook on.
Another Pizza Cooking

Sorry I cannot give you a taste, or even a chance to smell them. You'll just have to use your imagination.
Chocolate Self-saucing Pudding in the Clay Pizza Oven

Fourthly, and finally, dessert is cooked straight on the floor after all the pizzas are finished. Usually 10-14 pizzas have been cooked over about an hour by this time.

I don't know how hot the oven is, but the chocolate self-saucing pudding takes about 10 minutes to cook. (The recipe we use says something like 40-60 minutes in a moderate oven.)

As you would know, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. And the eating is good.

...Geoff the Chef

Thursday, June 12, 2014

14. Simple Pizza Base Recipe

Since posting my original recipe back in 2012 there has been an ongoing process of extensive testing involving seeing 'what I can get away with' in eliminating complexity and effort.  (Laziness and distraction are hard taskmasters.)  I am down to commencing this process about 90 minutes before pizza cooking time.

So here is the 'stripped down' version of my former recipe (a lot less recognisable as originating as the Forno Bravo 'Authentic Vera Pizza Napoletana Dough Recipe'):


1kg box                 Lighthouse Bread & Pizza Plain Flour 
650ml                   Warm water (65% hydration)
1/2 tablespoon (15gm)   Salt
1 tablespoon (6gm)      Active Dry Yeast
1 splash                Olive Oil
couple handfulls        Plain Flour


Mixer with dough hook
Pizza Trays (8")
Rolling Pin
Dough Roller Docker (confused? click here)
Lightly floured flat surface

  1. Put dry ingredients in bowl of the mixer.
  2. Mix well.
  3. Turn the mixer to low and add the water gradually - you need all of it.
  4. Run the mixer on medium for maybe 5 minutes, then on slow for a minute or two.
  5. Make a big ball of the dough, splash on some olive oil, rubbing it around to coat the whole ball.
  6. Put the ball back in the mixing bowl, cover with Gladwrap (Saran wrap?) and put it in a warm place until doubled.
  7. Wait 1-2 hours.  (If it gets really big, push the air out with your fist.)
  8. When you are ready to cook, lightly flour a flat surface.
  9. Tear off a 3/4 fist-sized chunk (for 8" pizzas).
    (You may need to experiment to find your preferred size.)
  10. Make it into a ball.  (If you are fussy, choose a smooth part of the ball, and stretch it downwards by rubbing the palms downwards, then pinch the remains together at the bottom.)
  11. Roll the ball out on the floured surface using the rolling pin. Thin is good
  12. Put the rolled-out dough on a pizza tray and roll with the dough roller docker to perforate the surface.
  13. Add toppings, then cook.
By the way, stuff all the 'this topping, that topping' stuff.  Just raid the fridge and remember, 'everything savoury tastes better on pizza'.

...Geoff the Lazy Chef

Saturday, May 12, 2012

13. Pizza Base Recipe

(NOTE:  This is a very effective recipe. However, it has been superseded by the simpler recipe posted here.)

Having undertaken extensive experimentation, testing and possibly some extra pounds around the stomach region, here is the recipe I am now using.  It is based on the Forno Bravo 'Authentic Vera Pizza Napoletana Dough Recipe', which is very good, but let's face it, a recipe can always be improved (or at least made more convenient and with locally available ingredients).


1kg box                 Lighthouse Bread & Pizza Plain Flour* 
650ml                   Water (65% hydration)
1/2 tablespoon (15gm)   Salt
1 tablespoon (6gm)      Active Dry Yeast
1 splash                Olive Oil
couple handfulls        Plain Flour


Mixer with dough hook (optional)
Large Bowl (diameter about 30cm/12")
Baking Tray/Baking Sheet/Cookie Pan (large)
Baking Paper/Parchment
Rolling Pin
Dough Roller Docker (confused? click here)

  1. Mix dry ingredients then add the water - you need all of it.
  2. Use a mixer with a dough hook - add water slowly, run slowly for 2 minutes, faster for 5 minutes, then slowly again for 2 minutes.
    (OR  Mix by hand for about 10 minutes - this is not for the faint hearted.)
    (Apparently you can also do this step in a bread machine.)
  3. Make a big ball of the dough, splash on some olive oil, rubbing it around to coat the whole ball.
  4. Put the ball in a bowl in a warm place until doubled (1 - 2 hours).
  5. Punch out air. Tear off 3/4 fist-sized chunks (for 8" pizzas) and form into balls.
    (You may need to experiment to find your preferred size.)
  6. To form a ball, choose a smooth part of the ball, and stretch it downwards by rubbing the palms downwards.  Pinch the remains together at the bottom.
  7. Put the balls pinched end down on oven paper well spaced on a large oven tray.
  8. Spray on olive oil.
  9. Store in the oven - rest for about an hour. (Too long and they run together, so if you are storing them longer, refrigerate.) 
  10. When you are ready to cook, roll them out on a bed of loose plain flour, and put on pizza tray or other surface and add toppings. Don't forget to use the dough roller docker to perforate the surface.
By the way, stuff all the 'this topping, that topping' stuff.  Just raid the fridge and remember, 'everything savoury tastes better on pizza'.

...Geoff the Chef

* Here is an interesting article about the protein/gluten content of Australian Lighthouse Bread & Pizza Plain Flour vs Italian Tipo 00 flour.  It is probably also relevant elsewhere.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

12. Loving the Pizza Oven (Cracks and All)

I thought I'd post an update on the clay pizza oven.  As usual, the proof is in the eating, and the eating is great!

I mentioned experimenting with various cooking methods in the previous post.  The pizza-on-pizza-tray-on-a-bed-of-coals method has been very successful.  If there are a lot of coals, banking them around the outside results in the top burning before the base is cooked, so I have started to put most coals under the pizza tray, with less pushed into the corners.  This is working well so far.

The Steel Peel in Action
It would seem to be obvious that a timber pizza peel (or shovel) would burn when in frequent contact with hot coals, but I didn't predict it.  My parents were on-hand when this happened, and bought a 'pizza oven warming gift' of a steel peel which has been excellent.  It is from Barbeques Galore in Australia.  (Link to the product.)  The handle may not be long enough for igloo-shaped doors, but is perfect for my oven.

Although I did a patch up with leftover clay, the crack has returned.  It does not take much imagination to see the crack (which starts on one side of the door, goes around the back of the oven, and terminates on the other side of the door) as being like a boiled egg that has been cracked prior to taking off the top.  I am learning to live with it.  No extra heat or smoke escapes through the narrow gap, which is the priority.  As the oven is Mark I it also seems to be OK to have some rustic charm.

...Geoff the pizza chef

Sunday, May 29, 2011

11. First Pizza & Great Satisfaction

Homemade Pizza Peel
My wife noticed that I had gone quiet about the clay pizza oven; it having been my obsession for the last few months.  She decided that we would cook pizzas the next day, and we did.

(My enthusiasm had waned due to mixed performance with bread and large cracks.)

I started the day with another trip to the Dump Shop for materials.  This time to make a pizza peel (or shovel).  I found a perfect piece of laminated timber, cut it to shape, and added a eucalyptus stick for a rustic handle.  I used a hand sander to thin out the front edge into a blunt blade.  The peel performed well, but needs some more work to thin out the 'blade'.

Patching the Crack
I planned to start cooking at 5pm.  I set a medium-sized fire at about 3pm, lit it at 3:30, added sticks and hardwood logs no bigger than my wrists, and worked up to a full base of coals about an inch thick by 5:30.  At that time I stopped adding timber, and waited half-an-hour for the contents to burn down to coals.

While the oven was heating I patched up the cracks using some clay and sand (probably 50:50) that I had left handy in a bucket.  At full heat the clay dried and blended in.  It is now as if there had never been a huge gaping crack.  (I know, I exaggerate.)

At 5:30 I made the pizza dough, using the recipe in an early edition of Simply No Knead Breadmaking by Carol and Ken Bates - a practical, classic Australian home bakers' 'how to'.  This dough is only slightly moist and very easy to handle.

The Very First Pizza - Garlic
Starting at about 6pm, I cooked 8- to 9-inch diameter pizzas using a number of methods, including:

  1. Garlic pizzas on 9-inch aluminium pizza trays on the floor.
  2. Pizzas with few toppings on 9-inch aluminium pizza trays.
  3. Pizzas with few toppings on 9-inch aluminium pizza trays on a bed of hot coals.
  4. Pizzas with lots of toppings on 9-inch aluminium pizza trays on hot coals.
  5. Garlic pizza directly on the brick floor.
  6. Pizza with lots of toppings directly on the brick floor.

One With The Lot
All of the pizzas were great to eat.  The tops cooked well, and rapidly using all methods.  However, when the pizza trays were on the floor of the oven (at around 400 degrees celsius) the bases were pale and did not cook well relative to the speed at which the tops and edges cooked.  The bases cooked best on trays on a bed of coals, and also when cooked directly on the brick floor.  Cooking directly on the floor was fine with garlic only, but a messy job when toppings were added.  The winner is cooking on pizza trays on a bed of coals.  I am sure I will continue to experiment.

...Geoff the L-plater oven chef
Cooking on the Bricks

Saturday, May 21, 2011

10. Firing The Oven

Firing the Oven
Apparently it is important to dry out the clay thoroughly at low temperatures gradually increasing to pizza-cooking temperatures.  Thanks to 'david s' at the Forno Bravo forums, I now know why the top layer of clay formed cracks.  Scary cracks.  I once had a crack on my windscreen that started small.  Eventually the windscreen needed to be replaced.  And the cracks in the windscreen were nothing on the cracks in the oven.

The Crack, Not Big Enough for a Matchstick
I sort of went through a process of firing the oven - after the first fire, I set fires a few more times.  And the crack continued to grow.

Crack a Week Later, With Matchstick
For Mark II, apparently firing (also known as 'curing') the oven properly involves paper fires, then briquette (heat bead) fires, then stick fires, then log fires.  David s suggested 20 kilograms of briquettes.  This might be 10 times the 10 or so hours I had in fires.  Also, my enthusiasm for fire overtook caution, so my fires started pretty big.  Firing can be accompanied by weeks of air drying.  It did take about 3 weeks to work up to pizzas, but mostly due to a temporary loss of confidence (in proportion with the growth of the crack).

Spuds in Foil Among the Coals
Another alternative may be to dry each layer in turn.  I wondered why Simon Brookes emptied out sand and fired the first layer.  I did not have confidence that the first layer would stand up.  Hence the need to add more layers before emptying the sand.

Spuds Ready For Eating
Along the way I tried to cook a couple of french sticks, which failed due to insufficient heat.  I rescued them in sufficient time to put them in the inside oven and cook them successfully, but this was a failure for the oven.  Later that day, after a lot more briquettes, I roasted whole potatoes in foil to great success.

...Geoff (still) the pyro
Shiny 9-inch Pizza Trays

At about this time I also took delivery of a dozen shiny 9-inch aluminium pizza trays.