I am not a pizza professional, but you could certainly say I am well-seasoned! My family enjoys making and eating pizza, and even my children have high standards about the quality of the ingredients they want to eat.
A few years ago when my husband approached his fortieth birthday, he told me that he expected me to “go all out” for his birthday. I knew exactly what I wanted to do– build a wood-fired pizza oven.
The year before we had gone hiking in Crete. We hiked through terrain that felt entirely remote and deserted, then would come around a rock and find a taverna, a family-owned restaurant. More often than not, these tavernas would have a wood-fired oven, producing some of the most delicious food and flat bread I have even eaten.
Taverna in Crete- they could not speak English; we could not speak Greek. They brought my husband into the kitchen and had him point to what we desired to eat. See oven door on left?
Constructing a wood-fired pizza oven is certainly a Do-It-Yourself project, but I didn’t do it myself. I had neither the time nor inclination to muck about with cinderblocks and mortar, so I hired someone to build it for me using plans that are available for free from a site called “Forno Bravo” : http://www.fornobravo.com/pompeii_oven/pompeii_oven.html
Pompeii Oven under construction.
The finished product was a resounding success!
Silk Road Catering used the oven when preparing the meal for my husband’s birthday celebration.
The following year we confirmed that the construction of our oven was authentic when we went hiking in Italy (notice a pattern here?) and visited the ruins of the city of Pompei.
Wood-fired oven in Pompei, buried under the ashes of Vesuvius. When unearthed, there were actually loaves of bread entombed inside.
The inside construction of the oven was identical to mine, only much larger.
Domed bricks and thick walls enable oven to reach a high temperature for ideal pizza and bread making.
Here is a basic description of how a wood-fired pizza oven works:
1. Build a very hot fire in the oven and wait until all the bricks on the ceiling are white. That means the oven is between 750 – 800 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Push the remaining logs to the back of the oven, then brush the baking surface clean with a brass wire brush.
3. Using a pizza peal (it looks like a giant spatula), gently transfer uncooked pizza into the oven.
4. About 90 seconds later, rotate the pizza for even cooking.
5. A couple minutes later, remove finished pizza. That’s right – the whole process takes less than five minutes, and your pizza with be hot, bubbling, with a perfectly carmelized crust.
NOW THE REAL CHALLENGE was finding a pizza dough recipe that didn’t take all day and was able to withstand the high heat of the pizza oven. The authentic recipe from Italy not only requires Tipo 00 flour, which is great if you can find it, but also 4 – 5 hours of preparation. Not ideal for spontaneous “honey, let’s make pizza tonight” occasions. Which brings me to a story:
It was a Saturday and my husband worked in his office while I was cleaning the garage. Around 4 PM he announced that he wanted to “fire up the pizza oven” and make pizza that night. I did not have the time or energy to “throw together” pizza dough, so he went off to the grocery store to purchase refrigerated pizza dough – you know- the kind that comes in a tube. We had never bought it before. As stated earlier, the pizza oven cooks at a very high temperature, which is what makes it so wonderful. Well, we unrolled the pizza dough and added the toppings. My husband shoveled it into the pizza oven and it went “BOOF!” The pizza crust instantly incinerated! There was nothing left but the now-charred mushrooms and cheese that my husband had to scrape out of the oven. I am not saying that he burned the pizza crust. There was no pizza crust – only ash. What kind of volatile ingredients did they put in that dough?
At last, after much experimenting, I discovered a “quick” pizza dough recipe that yields thin-crusted pizza and is able to withstand the high heat of a wood-fired pizza oven. I did not invent it; it comes from Alton Brown from the Food Network and is found here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/grilled-pizza-three-ways-recipe/index.html So when my husband says, “Let’s fire up the pizza oven tonight!”, it takes me only two hours and fifteen minutes to go from “idea” to “ready for the oven”. Most recently we baked pizza after biking 30 miles with the children at St. Simons Island. It was a great way to celebrate the end of a full day! (It also explains my husband’s outfit in the photos.)
The oven is heated until the bricks on the inside turn white-hot. Because it is so well insulated, the outside is cool to the touch!
The pizza is ready for the oven.
Only minutes later the crust is brown and bubbly.
My husband typically bakes the pizza while I assemble the next one. I usually make 6 – 8.
Perfectly baked homemade pizza. Perfect!
Not everyone has a pizza oven, but doesn’t everyone love homemade pizza? I am sharing a recipe I have used for years that makes delicious “baked in the oven” pizza. I call it “Presbyterian Pizza Dough” because it includes beer. I am not a beer drinker, so I just buy whatever is cheapest. However, I would only recommend King Arthur Flour brand of All Purpose Flour.
Presbyterian Pizza Dough
12 oz. can of beer
3 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
3 Tsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 Tsp. butter
1 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast OR 2 tsp. rapid rise yeast
Mix these ingredients in a large bowl, then turn them onto lightly floured counter and knead about 8 minutes.
To make 4 thin-crust pizzas:
Divide into four parts.
Shape each into 12 inch round.
Place on pizza pan and brush with olive oil and let rest about 15 minutes.
Put on your toppings.
Bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes.
To make 2 thick-crust pizzas:
Follow same instructions except shape into two pizzas instead of four.
Baptists may omit beer, but I wouldn’t recommend it.