Tuesday 28 April 2009

Cowie's Pizza Oven

Cowie's pizza oven

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!


Ham and pepper pizza

Pizza in the oven

Pizza done

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.


goodshoeday said...

Wow - thats impressive - I've been thinking about a pizza oven for ages - I think this is going to spur me on :)

Browners said...

The key is to get the book and to have a good look at all the websites. It's all pretty easy really.

Good luck!

Food Urchin said...

You made my mind up, I AM going to build one, looks great. Anything else in mind to cook in it?

Browners said...

Bread. Porchetta. Shoulder or leg of lamb. I reckon they would be amazing.

The websites and the book mentioned in the post should help.

The Ample Cook said...

You are truly a very very lucky man! Well done that woman - amazing.

Catlin said...

Dude, what's that upside-down tray you are baking on? You need a pizza stone. They are cheap, can be used in the oven as well, and they make sooo much difference to the texture of your base.

Rob said...

The aga shop sells pizza paddles [http://www.agacookshop.co.uk/epages/Store.sf/en_GB/?ObjectPath=/Shops/AgaShop/Products/W1825] but they're not cheap.

Apart from that you can look on eBay but when I was in the market for one the only guy who sold them only sold them as part of a set including a pizza stone, and you don't need one of them for a clay oven!

Browners said...

@The Ample Cook - I am counting my lucky stars. I am the luckiest man ever. What on earth can I possibly do to match it?

@Catlin - Given that it was our debut we had to improvise. The upside down baking tray worked a treat. I shoved glowing coals underneath it so it got mega hot and cooked from the bottom up. Going to improvise a bit an maybe get a stone as well. But in truth, we shouldn't need a stone as that's what our base should do as Rob says.

@Rob - thanks so much for the advice. I'll jump on ebay or maybe even make one from scratch.

Alex said...

Ah, nothing says true love more than a homemade pizza oven!

Jules said...

Seriously impressive! You can't beat a pizza cooked in one of them. When we were at River Cottage we had a pizza cooked in their oven and it was delicious.

Toasted Special said...

Wow! And I thought I was taking this foodie business too seriously, but an oven in your garden ... that is hardcore dude. Pizza looks amazing!

Helen said...

The pizza oven looks truly amazing! Well done to Cowie. I am day dreaming about how good that pizza tastes, they looks incredible. Sadly, I don't think building one on the balcony is a good idea...

A Girl Has To Eat said...

This looks awesome! I think I might have to try putting it! Thanks for the suggestion.

Ollie said...

I'm so impressed. That looks like a superb oven - and as you've said in a previous response, it'll be useful for loads of other things too. Sourdough pizza definitely the way forward.

Le laquet said...

Wow! That is more than impressive!

Angela said...

Well done Cowie, I am really impressed, never thought it would be easy to make your own pizza oven.

Browners said...

@Alex - true love. It really must be. Who needs flowers?

@Jules - I now can't wait to go back to River Cottage and chat they about a few new techniques. I feel like we've just entered a whole new world!

@ToastedSpecial - I guess this is what a passion for food really means! You land up giving up a whole holiday weekend to making a big cave out of clay. But I wouldn't change it for the world. Plus I can't believe I've only just found your blog. It's in my RSS reader now.

@Helen - Cowie is over the moon with all of this praise. I am worried it's going to go to her head. I reckon a mini pizza oven on the balcony is a genius idea. If you want a hand I'll send Cowie over.

@A Girl Has to Eat - that's a pleasure.

@Ollie - I think I might get in contact with Mr Franco Manca about getting his sourdough recipe. Or maybe EggBeater.

@LeLaquet - thank you.

@Angela - Cowie has made it look easy! There's a lot of complicated background reading. But in essence it is quite straightforward.


Anonymous said...

That's seriously impressive! I dream of the day we own our own house and can build an oven in the garden.

Looking forward to seeing more of what you cook with it, I bet you'll hardly be eating indoors at all this summer!

Browners said...

@Ginger - I am picturing a blissful summer spent stoking the oven and feasting on pizza and flame roasts. Fingers crossed for some sunshine.

Toasted Special said...

Thanks for that Jonathan, good to hear you're enjoying it.


Unknown said...

Truly amazing - Cowie sounds like you are the best girlfriend ever!

Boo said...

OMG - that is such an amazing thing to do. I am untimately envious, I don't have a garden so it's not really an option for me but go Cowie!

Hollow Legs said...

Brilliant! Poor Cowie, not being able to eat wheat. Looks like you'll just have to slow-cook a hunk o' meat in there...

Hollow Legs said...

Ooh - I just had a thought. Spelt flour is meant to be better for wheat intolerances, so maybe try that?

Browners said...

@Gourmet Chick - she really is amazing. I am just looking forward to seeing how Cowie tops this one.

@Boo - Cowie has nailed it. Great work. Maybe you could build a communual pizza oven in the park?

@Lizzie - spelt flour is a great idea. I'll get some from Sharpham Farm. And some sort of roast shoudler of lamb. Yum.

kerstin said...

Cowie is a genius.Strong as well as pretty! Can she come and help me buld one?

Jules said...

I've just shown Hubby this post and guess what his project is going to be this weekend?!

Helen Yuet Ling Pang said...

Cowie, you are amazing! The husband has been talking about building one in our garden for ages, so I'll send him the link to your post and hopefully we'll be eating pizzas this summer! PS it was lovely to meet you at Hawksmoor the other day. Hope you've recovered!

Browners said...

@MsMarmitelover - I'll send Cowie over. If you supply the clay and the bricks we can help you build it. Would make for an awesome Italian night at the Underground Restaurant.

@Jules - Looking forward to seeing the end result.

@Helen YP - Good luck with the project. At this rate most of the UK food blogging community are going to have their own pizza ovens!

Thomas said...

Hi there
I had to build it myself, my girlfriend is the cook and i am the baker.
For everyone interested in making outstanding pizza, look for the dough recipe by Peter Reinhart.


It already makes a difference, when you use less yeast(one fourth of suggested) and let it rise four hours or so.
Have you ever tried a "Flammkuchen"? If not, you should.
By the way, i'm the one who made this:

Browners said...

@Thomas - what an honour! Thanks for popping over and leaving a comment and suggesting these links. We're gearing up for a mega pizza off next weekend. We'll give your dough a go! Cheers...


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