Being the amazing girlfriend that she is, Cowie took it upon herself to build a pizza oven from scratch over Easter whilst I was back at home with my family. Not only is this an incredibly brilliant thing to do… it is also enormously selfless as the wheat in pizza dough doesn’t really agree with Cowie’s stomach. So it was quite literally a labour of love.
I’ve been desperate to have a clay pizza oven ever since we saw one at River Cottage. I bought the book , by the amazingly well named Kiko Denzer, that they recommended and became engrossed in the incredibly passionate world of DIY clay oven sites such as “instrucatables” and “clayoven”. I love the idea of crispy based pizza. Of charred, smoky crust.And of puffy dough.Of that Neanderthal smell of primal food. I guess it has brought out the latent Ray Mears in me.
If you want full instructions please visit this brilliant, brilliant site. But here’s a quick overview of how we bodged our oven together.Or rather how Cowie went about creating the best pizza oven anyone has ever made for me!
1.Persuade parents, landlords, other-halves etc. that they simply cannot carry on living without a pizza oven. Don’t underestimate how important stakeholder buy in is.
2.Build a base for your oven. This should get to a height at which you’d like to cook at.
3.Use a concrete slab as the floor to the oven. Or fireproof bricks.
4.On top of you base, build a dome of wet sand. Make sure the dome is the right size. You want space around the outside to form the clay oven. The sand is essentially mapping out the negative space that will become the inside of the oven.
5.Coat the outside of the wet sand with wet newspaper.
6.Dig up some clay and moisten. Mix with sand and build a layer of clay that covers the newspaper. Ensure this is around 2 inches to 3 inches thick. Make it as strong as possible.
7.Leave a hole at the front that is 63% of the height of the oven itself. Apparently this is the perfect ratio to allow the oven to breathe.
8.Once the dome is formed and secure, pull out the sand.
9.Light a small fire and allow the oven to dry.
10.Add a second skin of clay to fill in the cracks that will have formed.
11.Light another fire to continue the drying out process.
12.Add a third layer of clay as a cosmetic layer. Make it as smooth and attractive as possible.
13.Light a proper fire and get baking!
So far we’ve got to number 9. We got a bit overexcited and decided to cook in it straight away. To our joy it worked! (We’re going to finish the process next weekend.)
Cowie made some dough following a Jamie Oliver recipe and we threw together a collection of toppings. Given that we didn’t have any mozzarella we’re delighted with the results. The pizzas were gorgeously smoky, crispy and authentic. Step aside Zizzis!
We now can’t wait to evolve our technique. For instance I’m keen to make sourdough bases, buy a herd of buffalo and to harvest my own wheat. Also, if anyone knows where we can get a bakers’ paddle, please can you let us know.