How to fire up the wood oven
The wood oven was my grandmother and mother's main cooking equipment - bread, cakes, pies and all the important holiday food was made in here. I was too young to understand all the details of this process, but now, since we have a wood oven at our small holiday house, I had to learn. My main advisor is my father, who still remembers how they used to make the fire in our big oven back home.
So, after 2 years of testing and working with the small wood oven, I can show and give you advice on how we use it and enjoy delicious and special dishes. For any wood oven - bought or built with your own hands (by the way, there are many videos in English on Youtube on how to do it yourself) - you should know that there are universal rules, but each oven may have particularities that you'll learn in time.
Read all the steps to see how many delicious dishes you can make in one fire, literally!
Hardwood for pizza oven
we use beech wood, the quantity is approximate, it depends on the size and how the oven is built
Step by step
This is what our oven looks like. It's not big, it has a chimney and a door which closes, optionally, it can have a thermometer attached.
At first it looked beautiful. In time, it got smoked, the door and the basket rusted, but this way you'll be able to see that we use it quite often and I really know what I'm talking about.
Make sure the firewood is dry and split into thicker and thinner pieces.
Open the oven door wide and the chimney smoke control vent on top.
At the front, arrange 4 slightly thicker logs, leaving an empty space underneath, see the picture.
Place 3-4 more logs on top. In the empty space at the bottom, stuff some paper / cardboard and maybe some kindling.
Light the papers with matches. Recently, we started using this large gas lighter, it's much more convenient and faster.
Matches will also work. I should know, I've been using them for a year.
Once it's burning well, carefully push the wood pile to the bottom of the oven with a hoe.
We use this garden hoe as a tool for handling the fire and the hot coals in the oven.
When all the firewood burns nicely, spread carefully at the bottom of the oven and towards the sides.
Don't overload the oven, maximum 4-5 logs.
Add them along the way to keep the fire burning in the oven.
When you notice the back of the oven turns white, not black from the smoke, move the fire towards the middle and the front, to cover the entire oven floor.
Continue to keep the fire in the front area until the dome and the walls of the oven turn white.
This bleaching process means that all the bricks have a moderately hot temperature, when even soot burns. It's the main indicator that your oven is hot and the process is going well.
Allow the wood to burn completely. Then spread the fire embers all over the oven floor and leave for 10 minutes.
Then remove all the embers using the hoe and collect in an iron or stainless steel container.
We keep them in a small grill and we use them later to make meat, sashlyk / skewers, baked potatoes etc.
Put the chimney aside (it's very hot, so protect your hands with a thick towel) and close the smoke opening as tightly as possible with a heat-resistant brick.
Notice below that, while baking pizza, the chimney remains, it mustn't be removed.
Bake in the oven: meat, sarmale (stuffed cabbage rolls), pies, bread etc.
Here I had a roast chicken with potatoes and some Khachapuri with cheese.
The meat and the sarmale always go first, even if the oven is super-hot. I recommend for the bread and pies to be delayed by about 15 minutes, not to burn them. You can adjust this in time, depending on your oven.
Close the oven with the metal door and wait. From time to time, check the food. If you think it browns too quickly, you can adjust the temperature in the oven by keeping the door ajar.
If you plan to make pizza in a wood-fired oven, follow this process up to step 9. From then on, you'll have to do things a bit differently:
- when the oven is hot and ready, let 2 logs still burn in it, don't wait for the flames to stop completely;
- remove with the hoe all the hot embers, but leave the 2 logs that are still burning in the oven, near the wall on the left;
- I asked the man who built the oven to make a bent iron thing, with holes on the sides;
It's optional and it's meant to protect the pizza from the fires spread by the burning logs.
- I place it in the oven to surround the burning wood and to create an isolated fire zone which will maintain a constant temperature of about 350 degrees in the oven, perfect for real artisanal pizza, baked on the hearth.
Periodically, I add 1-2 more logs as I prepare and bake the pizza, so there must be a medium fire at all times.
- I saw an Italian pizzaiola wiping the hearth before baking the pizza with a towel well moistened in water. I do the same. I soak a large towel in cold water, drain well and wrap around the pizza spatula. Then I wipe the oven floor with it and get rid of any pieces of charcoal.
This way, your oven is ready for baking the pizza. The fire is burning on the side, the oven floor is clean and the chimney must be put up in its place, so that the smoke can come out.
In the wood fired oven, pizza bakes very quickly. It's done in 3-4 minutes, like a real Italian pizza on the hearth. I will write a different post about pizza in particular, with all the necessary details. For now, you just need to know how to prepare the oven for it.
This is what my pizza in the wood oven looks like. It's extremely good, as everyone who tasted it said. I will come back with the recipe in 2 days.
After you've finished with the pizza, remove from the oven the metal grill for the pizza fire and the remaining embers.
Set the chimney aside and close the opening with thermal insulation brick, as in steps 10-11 above. Put in the oven any food you want and close the metal door.
Here I baked some chops and loin seasoned with spices, in a heat-resistant glass dish.
After about 3 hours, it looks like this. It tastes... exceptionally!
I brought from Moldova my grandmother's clay pot for sarmale. I bake the cabbage rolls like in any clay pot, only it doesn't have a lid. I cover it with moistened parchment, so that the cabbage rolls on top won't burn.
Here are skewers, placed on the grill with the embers removed from the oven.
As I told you - all in one fire - skewers, pizza, sarmale, meat, dessert etc. This process is very efficient. You only need to organize a bit in advance and learn your oven.