Life is Sweet
We’ve had such a spell of wonderful weather here in Los Angeles… the cool ocean breeze tempering the warm sun, plants blooming everywhere… enough to make one forget that earthquakes and traffic ever existed! Our peach tree yielded an abundant and welcomed harvest, and I kept making peach cobblers as fast as family and friends could eat them. Fruit desserts come out really nice in the wood fired oven and I love using up the lower temperatures, when the oven is starting to cool down (350 F).
I think that the charm of cooking in a wood burning oven is that life slows down, just like it does when you are on a vacation. I leisurely start the fire, right in the middle of the oven floor. Humming contentedly while I enjoy the beauty of the fire and its crackling sound, I gather all my ingredients and start preparing my dishes. In the meantime, the oven is absorbing a great deal of heat into its walls and floor, and this heat will be released slowly over a period of about 6 hours.
When the fire has died down to coal and embers, after about one hour, I sweep the embers with a long-handled ash stick to the right (or left) side of the oven, and then I wait 10 minutes before I use a natural bristle brush to sweep the remaining bit of ashes from the floor. The oven is now ready and usually registering about 750F. At this point I have a choice: I can either bake some pizza or focaccia or wait for the oven to cool down further.
Pizza is traditionally cooked by adding a small piece of wood onto the pile of embers. This way, the extra heat generated by the small flame will travel in a circular way from the side of the oven to the dome and down again onto the oven floor. Pizza will bake in 3 minutes, and it will absorb a little bit of heat from the floor, but by keeping that small flame you will replenish the heat balance immediately between pizzas and you could continue to bake forever until you drop or until your one hundred guests just cannot eat one more slice! Check out the pizza recipes and make your own dough from scratch.
For most dishes like roast meat, chicken, turkey, etc. I wait until the temperature is about 500F. If it is Thanksgiving and there’s a lot a lot of cooking happening, then I let the oven heat up a bit longer in the beginning by adding a little more wood and extending the firing up time to one hour and a half. This way I know there will be a lot of retained heat in the walls and floors.
I bake bread at 500F and in this case, I will scoop out all the embers and coals and will close the opening tight with the metal door for the 30 minutes or so it takes to bake. Mmm… you should always wait one hour before you break your freshly baked bread and eat it… but I overlook that rule so many times. The aroma wafts into my nostrils and overpowers my mind, what can I say. Baking bread in a neighborhood is like making popcorn in an office, everyone will know, and your friends will suddenly knock at your door, all smiles.
I bake pasta dishes, like lasagna, at 450F. Vegetable dishes come out fabulous too, with a nice smokey flavor. Fish and lobster can be grilled over the coals inside the oven or placed on a bakeware dish along with their condiments.
And lastly, at 350F the time comes for the desserts… as I mentioned, I have been doing a lot of peach cobblers and I am thinking of doing my famous cherry galette soon. The sugar in the fruit browns and bubbles to perfection in the wood-fired oven!
Well, actually there is still something I will put in the oven: a pot of beans to slowly, very slowly cook over 3 hours as the ovens gradually cools down from about 300F. See the recipe, click here.