admin on September 9th, 2009

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My mate Mike from Perth has made the ultimate portable pizza oven. This one on a steel frame - that much even I can tell… I’m waiting for the full story.
Kitset or from scratch build? Who made the frame? How much did it cost? How does it cook? How long does it take to get to temp? What’s your favourite recipe? - Watch this space - Michael under duress to spill all! I feel Mark II is coming soon from me. Anyone else seen any portable pizza ovens out there?


admin on August 17th, 2009

Fascinating multi-faceted video from Aussie manufacturers DoughPro - would have any wannabee pizza restauranteur salivating…and really worth a watch for us mere amachewers.

There are some really interesting bits, and totally cringemaking stuff - sorry guys I’m a complete thin crust fan - this family pan pizza with a kilo of cheese doesn’t work for me.

Thanks for the video though.


admin on July 7th, 2009

Fresh, light, tasty - the attributes of a good tomato base. I’ve tried lots of recipes amongst them those from Jamie Oliver and Rick Stein.

Some use tinned tomatoes that are strained after preparation, others call for bottled strained tomatoes or passata.

I  think fresh tomatoes are simply the best. And preparing them is really quite easy. Do this in bulk and it’s very cost effective. I buy fresh tomatoes when they are on special (last weekend they were $1.99 a kilo at My local Harris Farm) then prepare a batch of sauce. It’s delicious for pizza base, or pasta sauce and it freezes well.

So for about 6 portions of sauce (each of which does 2 or 3 pizzas, or a nice bolognaise or pasta sauce)…

5 kilos of fresh tomatoes
olive oil - 10 tablespoons - or a fullsone few glugs
a large bulb of garlic (yes about a dozen cloves), finely chopped
a large bunch of fresh oregano
6-8 fresh basil leaves (I love basil but find it very strong - it will overpower the oregano imho)
Lots of salt and pepper
(drop quantities proportionally for smaller quantities)

Method:
The first step is to bring a big pan of salted hot water to boil.
Blanch the tommys for a few minutes until you see the skins splitting then drop into a sink of cold water.
The skins will be easy to remove when cool.
Then hold the tommy inside your hand and poke your fingertips into the seed cells. Squeeze out the juice and seeds as best you can. This is basically seeds and water - you just want the flesh.
Start the oil and drop in garlic for a minute. Once this has started to brown, drop in the tommy flesh and bring to the boil.
This mix will soften up after a while. I use a potato masher to pulp it up.
Season with salt and pepper and finely chop and add the oregano.
Reduce the whole mix down and intensify the flavour.
I tend to lightly zizz the mix using a soup liquidiser to break up the lumpy bits (you can leave them but they tend to get super hot and hard to deal with when you’re scarfing down a piping hot pizza slice - causing major cheese slides or burnt lips!)
Allow to cool slightly, then use immediately or freeze (it will keep for a few days in the fridge too).

Next, the base!


admin on July 5th, 2009


OK, a few weeks in and I have had three or four attempts and starting to get the hang of it of my not so new wood-fired pizza oven. No question that each result has been better than the last (and the kids assure me that it’s “MUCH better than before, dad”).

Lighting the fire
Kindling is best, nothing thicker than an inch or so. I criss-cross the timber with space underneath into which I sequentially loosely jam lit newspaper until the timber has caught. It smokes like buggery for about 15 minutes and then calms down. Takes about an hour to get to the right temp. About half a bag does the trick for a few pizzas.

A few watch-outs as you learn to judge the heat of the oven:
- undercook the base by not waiting long enough for the oven to warm-up. Result: Burnt topping
- overcook the base by not allowing the heat to calm down enough: Result: Burnt dough
- get patchy burns by allowing the pizza too close to embers or live flame (most common).

All pretty obvious stuff really!


admin on June 21st, 2009

Fully fired the oven this weekend, producing some awesome pizza. Also managed to blacken the bases of a few too! The oven seems to need a bit of calming down once the fire is moved back. Using trays is a good way of backing off the contact heat from brick for a while. It’s the opposite problem to cooking in an oven where you end up overcooking the topping in order to get a crispy base. Here the base can literally cook in 30 seconds leaving the topping undercooked.

Also had a wonderfully constructed Thai Chicken number ready to take out, when a big clod of clay detached itself from the oven roof and dropped in unannounced, rendering the pizza into a sizzling mess. This was part of the clay I used to patch up the roof around the flue. Going to need to rethink the flue I think. Also need to fill up some additional cracks that appeared through the Vermiculite layer.

Recipes to follow.


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admin on June 16th, 2009

Here’s the project in a minute - say no more.


admin on June 13th, 2009

I know I should have left this until next weekend, but being a fairly impatient kind a guy, well I couldn’t resist having a crack late morning Sunday with a short 2 hour window….

The fire was lit, and for the next hour smoked like buggery. Sydney in winter is not so bad - however I can see in the summer this is going to get interesting -  fires are quickly leapt on by the fire brigade on so I’m going to need to find a way to create a less smoky start-up. The long flue helped get the smoke up and away, which was great.

Once burning hot the outside surface remained cool for a long time. There I was thinking “wow great insulation” when the steam began to rise off the surface. The heat grew. At one point I could actually hear the water boiling inside the vermiculite, and for a while wondered if I might be picking up pieces of exploded oven from all over the neighborhood. Note to self: The insulation  mix definitely needs some time to dry - especially since Vermiculite is very absorbent and holds a lot of moisture.

Also I noticed the flue getting seriously hot and at one point a discoloration appeared on the galavised surface. I had gone for a double skinned gas flue thinking that this would work well. The discoloration turned out to be a result of the inner skin of the long extension piece. Melted. Blimey this thing generates some heat.

While the oven was heating through I prepped some dough and toppings for a very quick trial. Fortunately I had some home made tomato base in the freezer too. For the purposes of the test I made 2 pizzas in 12″ trays though in future I plan to drop the pizzas straight onto hot brick.

What a great sight to see my bubbling round of cheesiness against a glowing backdrop of embers. And the result: family and friends absolutely convinced that the last few months of pizza oven talk, might just have been worth it!

Seriously the hypothesis that wood-fired trumps everything is proven beyond doubt… if you’ve been thinking about building an oven - do it, do it, DO IT.


admin on June 12th, 2009

OK, so we ended up last weekend with an ugly looking part brick, part clay oven… yes definitely on the way to an oven. I went around the brickwork filling gaps with Hebel adhesive. I lit a small fire and watched the steam rising off the still damp clay. The flue extension went in nicely and took a lot of the smoke up and away. Initially I had thought this was way too long, but I think it’s going to be perfect.

This week’s part of the process began with some crack filling - yes a few more appeared in the drying.
I found Vermiculite from a Hydroponic supplier, see the pic above. It’s a super light substance and when mixed 6:1:1 with clay and cement forms a sloppy (and quite difficult to work) mix. The Vermiculite mix covered everything with an thick and even layer of insulation - aiming for around another 50mm thick. At this point the final shape of the oven emerged…I’m really quite happy with it.

The last stage will be a final coat on the oven exterior but for now we’re ready for a trial - leave it overnight and let’s fire it up!


admin on June 7th, 2009

Long weekend in Sydney and time to make some progress. First step was to rough out the shape of the oven, igloo-esque seemed to work best. The fire cement ran low and I skimped on this - which has caused some problems. This outline needs to be well cemented-in as the sand mould and working the clay in puts pressure on the sides and a few of the bricks became loose - not so much a problem if your oven is going to be static. A real problem for mobility though!

I built a mould for the door, allowing a lip or the door piece to fit in snugly - this was about 450 wide and 250 high. I weighted this down and then packed the oven space with filler (a few left over Hebel bricks and timber off-cuts). Then the sand mould was created and the flue roughly positioned. This flue is a double-skinned gas flue - it has an stainless interior and galvanised exterior. It’s actually a spacer on to which fits a much longer piece, again something I thought would suit the portability.

Then came the fun bit. My boys helped me mix a 2:1 sand clay mix. We cut the bristles off an old paintbush in order to get some natural fibre into the dry mix and then added a few trowels worth of cement. The whole mix squidged up really quickly when water was sparingly added into a very satisfying (and as it turns out, very throwable, mixture - as my 4 year old discovered).  It took about an hour to get 3 layers on the oven with a constant supply of cunningly fashioned patties. The door area took quite a bit of shaping and cajoling, its fun stuff to work with.

I left out the builder mix called for in the plan I’m following (see part 1). The clay I settled for is called ball clay and comes in 25KG bags costing $30 each - I bought three and have used less than one so far.

A few hours later and the clay started to harden up - it had cracked in two places - expected and easily remedied with more mix. One of these was on the door lip and I decided to lose the option for a tightly fitting door in favour of a more rounded opening (not sure I’m going to need a door as we’ll be cooking mainly pizza). Plus It’s so easy to work with I can aways add this later.

Also, in hindsight I think I should have created a bit more height in the outline, now that the sand has been removed I feel the space looks a bit on the tight side - but we’ll see. More pics to come.


admin on May 30th, 2009

A wet blustery day in Sydney today - kids soccer and rugby cancelled this morning which meant I had some time to get the clay pavers onto the Portable Pizza Oven base.

About 38 clay pavers in total, cut them using a hired wet saw. Cemented them to the Hebel layer using fireproof cement, a hideously expensive item at 25 bucks a pot - I used two, but really not convinced it’s needed - I wonder if mortar might have done the trick. Decided on a protruding  lip at the oven door end.

Next step is to rough out the actual oven shape. This is proving to be a conundrum. By necessity the design is narrower than I would have liked, which is why I made it a wee bit longer. Of course this is going to make for a bunker-like oven (I wanted to be able to get 2 pizzas in at once too).

Time for a bit more research…