I love the rough, crunchy feel of the crust on a loaf of freshly baked bread. The sound the crust makes as it cools; crackling and snapping like something alive inside, trying to break free! If you have never heard this, you are missing out one lone of life’s little treasures.
And then the taste…oh boy! It’s creamy, and slightly chewy. Perfect by itself, or perhaps with a little soft butter.
Wow! I need some bread!
So I had been baking bread for a number of years and collecting many recipe books on the craft of artisan bread. Many of these authors discussed the different options for baking bread. The topic of wood fired ovens kept popping up. I was intrigued. I had never thought about baking bread outdoors. I guess it could be done in a dutch oven over a fire or with charcoal, but what was this oven that they kept talking about.
That stayed in the back of my mind for a while until one day at work (I worked in a book store at the time) I read an article in Mother Earth News that discussed how simple it is to build your own oven. I thought that there is no way that it could be so easy. After more research and finding that a “typical” masonry oven could easily cost tens of thousands of dollars, there was no way I could afford, (remember – bookstore) to build something like that.
If you follow the link above, you will see some great pictures and get some great instruction on building a very simple “mud oven”. This may sound odd, trust me, I thought it was really weird at first. I kept reading, then discovered that the author, Kiko Denzer had also written a book on the topic. Build Your Own Earth Oven, has a wealth of information on how achievable it is for anyone to have their own oven.
Two warnings: it is a great workout and sift your dirt if possible to eliminate as many rocks as possible. My mud mix used a higher percentage of topsoil that is recommended. I added a couple five gallon bucket loads of clay from a local reservoir to help hold it all together. The mix in the picture is a bit dry. Just add more water until you can start making ropes of mud as described in the book and article.
This picture shows the first layer of mud after it has been applied to the sand dome. In the next layer I mixed a couple buckets of vermiculite into the mud. This is supposed to help with insulating the oven. The vermiculite layer must be covered by another layer as it is extremely crumbly once it dries. The picture at the top of the page on the right shows the vermiculite being covered. I have since covered that layer with one more. The picture on the below shows that the bricks for the opening to the oven are nearly covered. The cracks are superficial. I have not had any problems with the cracks that form on the outside or inside.
Once the fire is lit, it takes about 3 hours for the oven to heat thoroughly. The black on the oven floor around the pizza below is from the corn meal I use on the pizza peel. The temperature inside the oven about 800 degrees farenheit. You need to be careful at this temp, as your pizza will cook in about 90 seconds! I never would have guessed that a oven like this could cook faster than my modern microwave.