Baking Bread in a Wood Oven

Pizza Oven Being Lit

We have another page about making cakes in a wood-fired oven here.

Here is a description of how I make bread in a bread oven.

The Heat:

Cooking in a wood fired oven is complicated because unlike an electric or gas oven, you can’t set an exact temperature which will remain constant.The temperature is more like a curve on a graph. The main idea of a wood oven is that the initial fire will cause the walls of the oven to heat up and that heat will be given back into the oven over a period of time. It is also possible to keep a small fire going at the back of the oven to maintain the temperature over a long period of time. This technique would be used for example for a pizza restaurant who have to serve pizzas over several hours. In our case, we just heat the oven up at the start and let it cool down slowly.

If possible, it is best to use the heat for as many things as possible. For example, the oven can be heated up to 450C to make some pizzas at 2pm. At 3.30pm the temperature is just right to make cakes, bread, or roast some butternut squashes for later use. Later on, we can roast some almonds, then use the heat to sterilize some glass jars for tomatoes and when the temperature gets down to 50C, we can even use it to dry some figs overnight. The oven can also be used for smoking fish. It is always best to try to make the best use of the energy that we have used. 

We use a thermometer which came with the oven which has a metal probe and a dial (as you can see in the photo above). It is probably not that accurate because it only measures the temperature at one place in the oven but after a few uses, the thermometer will give you a good, rough indication of the temperature. If you want to know the correct temperature in any part of the oven so that you could follow a recipe, it is best to use a hand-held digital thermometer.

There is an air cut off in the chimney and the door of the oven. Generally speaking, we leave the air vents open in the burning phase and close off the air for cooking. 

There is no substitute for trial and error when using a wood oven. You learn how much wood to use and more or less how the temperature curve will behave by getting a feel for it over time.

Making Bread:

Bread made in a bread oven

Obviously the most important ingredient is the flour. In our case, we buy ready mixed bread flour from Lidl supermarket which has all the necessary ingredients such as dried yeast and nutrients already added. This flour is actually intended for use in bread makers. I mix the dough in a Kenwood mixer with a dough hook for 4 minutes. I have it wetter than they recommend in the instructions on the packet. If you want to knead the dough by hand, then you would have to have a drier mixture. 

I let it rise in the mixer bowl until it has risen quite a lot (1 hour). I then put it in tins and let it rise again for another hour. Make sure you put some oil in the tins to stop it sticking. I always cut up an onion and add it to the dough and I also add some nuts such as walnuts or almonds. It doesn’t make it taste oniony but it seems to make it go stale slower.

Cook for about 45 minutes at 180ºC. People say that homemade bread is heavy but the secret is letting it rise enough. If it does not rise, you have either got bad flour with not enough gluten or bad yeast. In a wood-fired bread oven, all these time periods change every single time. If you don’t have any bread tins, roll the dough into balls (the size of a squash ball), put them on a flat baking tray and put them in the oven when they are the size of a cricket ball. It’s not a problem if they stick together as they will pull apart after cooking. When you take the bread out of the oven, knock it out of the tins or it will go soggy. If you can’t easily shake the bread out of the tin, it probably is not ready yet. After taking the bread out of the tin, leave it on a rack with air circulating around until it cools. If there is too much for one day, cut it into slices and put it in the freezer.

We have another page about making cakes in a wood fired oven here.

Tuna and Egg Empanada Gallega

Tuna and Egg Empanada

Empanada is a Spanish pie which is typical of Galicia in the north of Spanish and is also called Empanada Gallega. The empanada is traditionally filled with meat, tuna, vegetables, and seafood or shellfish and usually is served cold. It is a great way to feed lots of people and also good for picnics.

You can make the pastry from scratch or you can buy a packet of pre-prepared dough which has already been rolled out.

It’s also a great recipe to prepare in the wood-fired bread oven after you have cooked pizzas for lunch and the oven has been left to cool down a bit. If you prepare some larger amounts of the pizza toppings (e.g. onion, green pepper, red pepper), then you already have your vegetables prepared for when you are going to cook it later.

Tuna and Egg Empanada Gallega
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Ingredients
  1. 1 onion, finely chopped
  2. 1 green pepper, finely chopped
  3. 1 red pepper, finely chopped
  4. 240g tinned tuna
  5. 4 hard-boiled eggs, roughly chopped
  6. 1 egg, beaten
  7. 200ml tomato sauce
  8. extra virgin olive oil
  9. salt and pepper
Instructions
  1. Heat some olive oil in a frying pan and gently fry the onion, green pepper and red pepper until soft.
  2. Add the tomato sauce and continuing frying until the mixture is quite dry.
  3. Flake in the tuna and the hard-boiled eggs and stir well.
  4. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Leave to cool.
  6. Meanwhile, unwrap the pastry and place the greasproof paper on a large baking tray.
  7. Place one of sheets of pastry on top of the paper.
  8. Spread out the filling to within an inch of the edges.
  9. Put the other sheet of pastry on top, matching up the edges.
  10. Using your fingers, create a rope-like effect by rolling over the edges.
  11. Brush the top with the beaten egg.
  12. Bake in a 180ºC oven for 4 minutes until the top is golden.
  13. Leave to cool before serving.
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Pizzas in the Bread Oven

pizzas in the bread ovenWe’ve now more or less perfected the art of cooking pizzas in the bread oven. I buy the dough from the baker’s in the village. One kilo of dough costs 1.50 euros and for a hungry person, 185g is generally the right amount of pizza. It’s always a good idea to do a couple extra just in case anyone wants seconds. The idea is for each person to assemble their own pizza.

Putting Pizzas in the oven

Putting Pizzas in the oven

The first step is to prepare all the topping ingredients: chopped onions, green peppers and red peppers, sliced mushrooms and garlic, shredded anchovies, ham, salami, etc., oregano, grated cheese and the tomato sauce.

The next step is to weigh and roll out the pizzas as thin as possible. The pizzas are rolled directly onto vegetable paper. The choice of paper is important as the pizzas are cooked on the paper in the oven. As the temperature of the oven is extremely hot, the paper must be able to put up with at least 400ºC. We had a bad experience with some greaseproof paper once and the paper welded itself onto the paper. Not a pleasant gourmet experience.

Roughly cut round the paper. The paper will burn when the pizzas are in the oven so it is a good idea to get rid of as much paper as possible.

Making Pizzas

making Pizzas

Smear the pizzas with tomato sauce and then add the toppings.

The ideal temperature for cooking the pizzas seems to be somewhere between 300ºC and 350ºC. They literally take three minutes to cook and should be turned half way through to ensure that they cook evenly.

Baking cakes in a wood-fired oven

We have another page about making bread in a wood fired oven here.

Baking cakes and bread in a wood-fired oven can be a bit difficult: things tend to cook too quickly on the outside while remaining under cooked or raw inside. 

To get round this, it is a good idea to cover the cake or bread with foil for most of its cooking time. It is best to use a cake tin with high sides so that the cake mixture does not stick on the foil when it rises.

wood oven

Inside the wood oven

Through a process of trial and error, I have found that if a cake needs to be baked for 40-45 minutes, then what works best is to cover it with foil and bake it for 15 minutes. Have a look and if it seems to be cooking too quickly or too slowly, move it forwards or backwards in the oven. Turn it 180º and cover it again for another 15 minutes before having another look

Turn again through 180º and remove the foil. Let it cook for a further 5 minutes before checking. If it seems to be browning too quickly, replace the foil otherwise leave uncovered for another 5 minutes.

Test the cake and if it is still not done, put back in the oven for another 5 minutes.

A wood-fired oven retains the heat a lot better than a conventional oven so there doesn’t seem to be the same problem of opening the oven door and letting the heat out.

We have another page about making bread in a wood fired oven here.