Pizza is one of the wonder foods of the 21st century. With its emphasis on quality ingredients and artisanal methods of production, it strongly connects with modern ideas about how food should be prepared and enjoyed. And of course, it doesn’t hurt that a good pizza can be absolutely delicious!
It is perfectly possible to make delicious pizzas at home using just a home oven and pizza stone. However for really authentic results you need to cook your pizza in a wood fired oven. Wood fired ovens make such a difference because of the extremely high but even heat, which cooks the pizza in as little as 90 seconds. This quick cooking time allows the dough to cook through but retain some moisture, so the base is chewy and tender instead of hard. The other benefit is that cooking a pizza directly on a hot brick hearth allows some of the moisture under the pizza to be absorbed, so the base doesn’t go soggy.
When cooking a pizza in a wood fired oven it is important to fire the oven properly. This is done by building a fire inside the dome of the oven. For best results, use smallish pieces of wood – certainly no thicker than your wrist. The objective is to heat the dome as quickly as possible, so build a big fire. Every oven will take a different amount of time to get properly hot but a good tip is to look at the inside of the dome. At first it will be black with soot, but this will start to turn white and then burn off completely. At this point, the inside of the oven is at pizza cooking temperatures. You may need to keep a roaring fire going for a while longer to really get the heat spread throughout the oven. With practice, you will find what works best with your own oven.
Once the oven is hot enough, you can remove a lot of the smaller coals from the oven. Have a metal bin or similar ready to dump your hot coals, and be careful – it will heat up! Retain a good pile of coals, and push it to the side of the oven. Put one or two small pieces of wood on this pile, and keep feeding it as needed to maintain an active flame. This will keep the dome charged with heat, and make sure your pizzas cook properly.
Now all that’s left is to prepare your pizzas and cook them! Sweep the ash from the floor, or wipe it away with a damp rag on a stick. There is a whole world of implements you can use to make the process easier, you will soon figure out what you need and track it down in a store or make your own.
If you’re interested in making a pizza oven (and it’s a great project), you can read more about the process here: Making your own pizza oven. And here is some advice if you are keen to learn about making or using your own pizza peel.