Learn how to create better baked bread using wood-fired ovens.
A conventional gas or electric oven bakes bread with a lot of hot air, or convection. An earthen oven uses conduction, convection and radiation, providing faster, more thorough baking and better flavor.
Here’s how it works: Build a fire in the hollow earthen dome. The dense walls soak up heat for two to three hours, after which the oven’s interior reaches about 700 degrees. Remove coals, sweep the oven floor, and let the temperature stabilize and even decline a bit. Slide your loaves onto the oven’s hot floor.
Heat is conducted immediately from floor to loaf, creating a higher, airier loaf (an effect called “oven spring”). The intense heat drives moisture from the crust, making it crisp and filling the oven with steam.
Convection then disperses that superheated steam, caramelizing sugars in the crust and creating the unique flavor and texture of authentic hearth-baked bread.
The oven walls radiate heat equally throughout the oven — no hot or cold spots — so many loaves bake as thoroughly as one.
An earthen oven holds heat for several hours, so after the bread (or pizza) is done, you can cook anything: vegetables, meats, casseroles, soups, stews, cookies, cakes, pies, or puddings. And when the oven is too cool to cook (usually after several hours), you can use the remaining heat to dry the wood for your next fire.
Kiko Denzer is a sculptor and oven builder living in Oregon. His book, Build Your Own Earth Oven, provides details on building and using wood-fired Earth ovens, including selecting soils, firing techniques, insulation, chimneys, sculpture and fancy finish plasters, as well as oven photos and references. Build Your Own Earth Oven is available at our online store.
Read more about how to cook using a wood-fired oven: Baking and Roasting Meats in Wood-Fired Ovens.
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