We have eaten and baked bread for centuries, and we are always thinking of other ways to bake bread than in a standard oven. We have tried dough on barbecues and wondered: can you bake bread in a pizza oven? Which bread recipes are the tastiest in a pizza oven?
Pizza ovens are good for baking bread. There are different pizza ovens (electric, gas, and wood-fired), and these are suitable for bread-baking. Flatbreads are best to try first as these bake at the same temperature as pizzas. Other larger loaves need a cooler pizza oven and bake for longer.
Although you can use all types of pizza ovens, this post focuses on wood-fired pizza ovens for baking bread, as this is the traditional way. Here’s how to bake bread in a pizza oven and recipes with some variations that work well in a pizza oven, including one for must-try sourdough bread.
How To Bake Bread In A Wood-Fired Pizza Oven
Using a wood-fired pizza oven for baking bread is not novel. It’s been done for centuries. The difference is that it was not called a pizza oven then, but a stone oven. Baking bread in a pizza oven is popular for the taste and the rustic look of loaves of bread.
Baking bread in a wood-fired pizza oven is as much about preparing the fire as making the dough. Just remember that you’d have to add in preparation time for the sourdough bread as the starter takes seven days to prove. The pizza oven temperatures are important too, as bread bakes between 500 – 550F for flatbreads and focaccia and enriched bread (like sourdough) between 400 – 450F.
How To Prepare A Wood-fired Pizza Oven For Baking Breads
As seen above, there are different heats for bread, and flatbreads bake quickly and crisp at high heats like pizzas. Larger loaves of bread take longer at lower heats, and it’s best to do these when the heat in the pizza oven dies down but is still hot enough to bake. Get the pizza oven fuelled and fired once you know what you’re baking.
Stoking the pizza oven high enough for the bricks to turn white-hot is quick if you know what you’re doing. But learning how to gauge the heat does not come naturally. You’ll need to learn this as the temperature of your oven in bread-baking is critical. Or get an infrared thermometer as the temperatures in wood-fired ovens have a wide range.
Tips for Baking Bread in a Pizza Oven
1. Watch your Temperatures
Pizza ovens are meant to cook on high heat very fast. Bread is more of the low and slow type of cooking. Bread is typically cooked at 350-450 degrees. Keep watch of your pizza oven temperatures.
2. Close the Door
If you have a pizza oven with a removable door, it may be best to keep the door shut as long as you keep the temperature correct. This will hold the temperature more consistent.
3. Watch this full video on How to Make Pizza in a Wood Fired Oven
Best Starter For Your Wood-fired Pizza Oven Bread
A good sourdough starter is a secret and almost guarded like gold. It takes seven days to make from flour and water that’s left to ferment. For the starter use:
- ½ cup of wholemeal flour
- ¼ cup of warm water
Make a smooth paste and leave it in a warm place in a jar for two days (don’t touch it).
Then on day two, the mixture will bubble. You’ll notice a brown liquid called hooch. You can pour off the hooch on day three. That’s when you start a process called ‘feeding’ the starter. For the next five days, daily add and mix into the starter mixture:
- ½ cup of all-purpose flour
- ¼ quarter cup of water
Note: you’re using ordinary flour, not wholemeal now, and tap not warm water.
The aim of adding flour and water to the starter is to double its size and keep the fermentation process going. You want a bubbly mixture. The stronger your starter, the better your wood-fired bread will rise in a pizza oven. Once made, you can use or keep some of the starter in the fridge to use the next time. You’d need to feed the starter once a week.
Wood-fired Sourdough Bread In A Pizza Oven
With your naturally fermented starter made, either after seven days of curing or stored in your refrigerator from a previous fermentation, you can mix the dough for your sourdough bread. Make sure the logs are laid in the pizza oven, ready for your bread-baking. The rising of the dough, lighting of the fire, and readiness of the oven take coordination.
For the sourdough bread mix, in a large bowl, whisk:
- 1 cup of water
- ¾ cup of starter
- two tablespoons of olive oil
To this add:
- 5 cups of bread flour
- A pinch of salt
Knead the dough with your hands to a dry or rough feel. Leave the mixture covered to stand for 30 minutes to become soft and manageable. The mixture needs to rise double the dough size and not look dense. This stage can take three or more hours, depending on the strength of your starter and the temperature of the room.
About 40 minutes into the resting period, you can stretch and fold the dough; it’s fun but not mandatory.
This form of bread-making is labor-intensive, artisanal bakers agree. To prepare your live-fermented sourdough bread for pizza oven baking takes planning. When it’s risen, bake the bread for 25 minutes, checking and turning it more often than in a conventional oven.
Variations On Sourdough Bread In A Wood-Fired Pizza Oven
Most likely, you’ve kept some sourdough starter, and the pizza oven is ready for you to try variations on sourdough bread-baking. A good twist is to add to your sourdough mix:
- One teaspoon of activated charcoal powder
Add the charcoal powder at the stretch and fold stage (see above), which is about 40minutes into the resting stage (when the bread stands to rise). This addition gives wonderful color to a sourdough loaf.
You can also add seeds (pumpkin or sunflower) or herbs like rosemary to the bread mixture. Or chop up some lavender leaves finely for an unexpected flavor.
To make rolls, divide your dough into about eight sections. Take a handful of dough (big enough to fit in your palm) and mold these into ball shapes. Quickly you’ll have a dozen or so buns (with the activated charcoal mix) for a definite wow!
Or flatten rounds of dough by rolling these out lengthwise (elongated) and bake these flatbreads when the pizza oven is at its hottest. You can add mozzarella cheese and a tomato paste before baking these. This pizza-oven flatbread is a delicious variation on the classic grilled cheese sandwich!
Wood-Fired Cornbread In A Pizza Oven
Everyone knows cornbread is done in a skillet, and few have not exclaimed delicious when tasting the smoky, rich aroma of wood-fired cornbread. You can use empty canned-food tins that have been washed and have no sharp edges to bake individual cornbreads.
The rich butter flavor of cornbread is a favorite, and people have handed down cornbread recipes for generations. The only difference in these recipes is the amount of sweetness added. Here’s an easy recipe.
In a large bowl, mix:
- 1 cup of flour
- 1 cup of yellow maize meal (polenta)
- ¼ cup of brown sugar
- One teaspoon of baking powder
- ½ teaspoon of baking soda
- A pinch of salt
- ½ cup of butter (unsalted, melted, and cooled)
- 1 cup of buttermilk
- Two large beaten eggs
- ¼ cup of honey
Mix well, but don’t overmix the ingredients. Pour the mixture into the oiled cans to a height of just over half the size of the individual cans.
As the wood-fired pizza oven is hot, these bake fast. Normally it takes just over 20 minutes at 400degrees F. It’s about that time, too, in a wood-fired pizza oven. Be sure to watch the baking. You’ll know it’s ready when the bread rises above the cans and the crispy crust browns.
Bread In A Wood-Fired Pizza Oven
It’s clear that with the right attitude and experience, you’ll learn to gauge the temperature of a wood-fired pizza oven like you do with your barbeque. You can master the art of baking bread in a pizza oven too. It’s possible to do this from baguettes, ciabatta, focaccia or polenta bread, assorted bagels, or ever-popular banana loaf too.
Remember that most baking in standard ovens requires around 425 degrees F, and that’s needed too for wood-fired pizza oven bread. Don’t forget that the floor of the wood-fired pizza oven is hot, and you’ll need to move the bread more often than in a standard oven. You can regulate the heat in a wood-fired pizza oven by moving the burning logs around.
Standard bread-baking is an art, and doing it in a wood-fired pizza oven is an even greater achievement. From stoking the fire, gauging the temperature, handcrafting the bread to overseeing the baking process, too, it’s worth the effort.
The skill, mastery, and talent involved in baking bread in a pizza oven deserve the reward of a chunk of hot bread, either dunked in olive oil or with a thick smear of butter.