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Ultimate Guide to Cooking Pizza in a Wood-Burning Pizza Oven

Ultimate Guide to Cooking Pizza in a Wood-Burning Pizza Oven
Cooking pizza in a wood-burning oven is an art that combines the right techniques and the best ingredients to produce a perfect pizza with a crispy crust, melted cheese, and a smoky flavour. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you master the art of making pizza in your wood-burning oven, complete with hints and tips for best practices.

Step 1: Preparing the Dough
  • 500g (3 1/2 cups) strong white bread flour
  • 325ml (1 1/3 cups) warm water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 7g (1/4 oz) dry yeast
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

  1. Activate Yeast: In a small bowl, mix warm water with sugar and dry yeast. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes until frothy.
  2. Mix Ingredients: In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Make a well in the centre and pour in the yeast mixture and olive oil.
  3. Knead the Dough: Mix until a dough forms. Turn it out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic.
  4. Proof the Dough: Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and let it rise for 1-2 hours, or until doubled in size.
  5. Divide and Rest: Punch down the dough and divide it into 2-4 equal parts. Shape each part into a ball, cover, and let rest for 30 minutes.
Tip: Use a high-protein flour for a chewier crust, and allow enough time for the dough to ferment for better flavour and texture.

Step 2: Preparing the Oven
  1. Preheat the Oven: Start by building a fire in the centre of your oven using dry, seasoned hardwood like oak, ash, or beech. Avoid using softwoods as they can impart a bitter taste.
  2. Heat Distribution: Let the fire burn for about 1-2 hours to heat the oven thoroughly. The temperature should reach between 700°F (370°C) to 900°F (480°C) for the perfect pizza.
  3. Check Temperature: Use an infrared thermometer to check the temperature of the oven floor and the dome. The floor should be around 650°F (343°C) and the dome around 800°F (426°C).
  4. Move the Fire: Once the oven reaches the desired temperature, push the fire and coals to one side or the back of the oven to create an even cooking area.
Tip: Keep adding small pieces of wood to maintain the temperature. Avoid using too much wood at once to prevent excessive smoke.

Step 3: Preparing the Toppings
  1. Tomato Sauce: Use high-quality canned San Marzano tomatoes. Crush them by hand or blend them lightly with a pinch of salt and a drizzle of olive oil.
  2. Cheese: Use fresh mozzarella for the best results. Tear it into small pieces to ensure even melting.
  3. Toppings: Keep it simple. Classic Margherita includes fresh basil leaves and a drizzle of olive oil. For other varieties, pre-cook ingredients like sausage or mushrooms to avoid excess moisture.
Tip: Less is more. Too many toppings can make the pizza soggy and difficult to cook evenly.

Step 4: Assembling and Cooking the Pizza
  1. Stretch the Dough: On a floured surface, gently stretch the dough into a round shape using your hands. Avoid using a rolling pin to maintain the dough’s airy structure.
  2. Transfer to Peel: Place the stretched dough onto a well-floured pizza peel. Give it a little shake to ensure it moves freely.
  3. Add Toppings: Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce, add cheese, and your desired toppings.
  4. Launch the Pizza: Slide the pizza off the peel and into the oven in one swift motion.
  5. Cook the Pizza: Cook for about 1-2 minutes. Use a pizza turner to rotate the pizza halfway through cooking to ensure an even bake.
Tip: Keep the door slightly open during cooking to allow oxygen to feed the fire and maintain a consistent temperature.

Step 5: Finishing Touches
  1. Check for Doneness: The crust should be blistered and charred in spots, the cheese melted and bubbly, and the bottom crispy.
  2. Remove from Oven: Use the peel to remove the pizza from the oven.
  3. Add Fresh Toppings: Add fresh basil leaves, a sprinkle of grated Parmesan, or a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
  4. Slice and Serve: Let the pizza rest for a minute before slicing to allow the cheese to set slightly.
Tip: Serve immediately for the best taste. Wood-fired pizza is best enjoyed hot and fresh.

Hints and Tips for Best Practices
  • Wood Selection: Use only dry, seasoned hardwoods to avoid excessive smoke and soot.
  • Oven Maintenance: Regularly clean ash and debris from your oven to maintain efficient heating.
  • Experiment: Try different dough recipes, wood types, and topping combinations to find your perfect pizza.
  • Practice: Perfecting wood-fired pizza takes practice. Don’t get discouraged by initial failures.
  • Hydration: Keep a spray bottle of water handy to manage the fire and adjust humidity as needed.

With these steps, hints, and tips, you’ll be on your way to making delicious, restaurant-quality pizzas in your wood-burning oven. Enjoy the process, and happy cooking!

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