Get back to basics and try cooking with fire! Many community gardens across Melbourne have wood-fired ovens that are used for various projects and communal gatherings, such as pizza nights and community baking programs. Here are some useful tips to help get you baking with fire in a wood-fired oven near you.
Using a wood-fired oven requires safety precautions to be taken. This includes thorough training on correct oven use and safe handling techniques, ensuring fire extinguishers are readily available in the immediate area and that correct personal protective equipment is used at all times.
Important Tools and Terms
Peel – A round, flat oven tool, useful for moving and removing baked items such as pizza, flatbreads and focaccia
Shovel – Great for moving and removing coals
Scrapper – Great for moving and removing coals and moving around any baking trays in the oven
Natural bristle brush – Brushing ash/coals out of the oven
Mop – Wet, wring, and use to clean the surface of the oven stone prior to baking. If you do not have a mop, you can also use the peel covered in a damp towel.
Personal protective equipment – Set of heavy gloves and a long-sleeved shirt
Thermometer – temperature guns work really well and will accurately tell you when the oven is ready to cook!
Stone – is the surface at the base of the oven that heats up when a fire is set.
Thermal mass – the ability of the oven to hold and retain heat.
Fire bricks – a specific type of brick that can withstand a high temperature
Start your fire by stacking wood in a criss-cross pattern on top of each other (see picture). Newspaper ripped-up cardboard, kindling, and pinecones can be arranged in and around the stack to help start the fire. This technique allows airflow and will help to get your fire burning well!
"Never burn painted or treated wood as chemicals from the smoke are harmful to your health"
Control how quickly the wood burns by using the oven door to control airflow. An open door means more airflow and a faster burn, whilst a closed door removes airflow, slows down the wood burn but may also put the fire out.
Never let flames burn outside of the oven door. Keep the fire burning deep inside the cavity for safety and to ensure that the mouth of the oven doesn’t get damaged.
Maintain a clean oven by brushing out coals prior to use (when they are cool), either into the oven’s ash chute or into a bin. Keep and add to your soil – your garden will thank you!
Bake with tins that are a heavy-based metal, such as steel instead of aluminum, that can handle the high temperatures inside the oven.
Misting/steaming: Use a fine mist directly on the item that you are baking (breads only) to create a delicious bubbly crust. Do not wet the stone directly as sudden changes in temperature can crack and damage it.
Move fire to one side of your oven prior to baking items such as pizza or focaccia (see table below) or remove coals completely if baking bread or gozleme (relying on heat from stone alone)
Cooking temperatures and what to cook
TYPES OF COOKING
320°C - 350°C
Fast cooking vegetables
260°C - 290°C
00°C - 230°C
Scones, general breads (sourdough, dinner rolls, rye loaf, gozleme etc)
90°C - 120°C
Slow roast meats, stews