We had some family and friends over for pizzas with Big Bill the Clay Oven on Sunday. Everyone had a great time making pizzas and consuming them.
As always, after everyone’s fed on pizzas, I started cooking like there’d be a global food shortage tomorrow, just so I could put the heat Big Bill continued to provide for hours to good use (other than global warming!) 😉 (Ever since we had Big Bill, I don’t even remember when was the last time I used my electric oven… I have an aversion to turning it on even before having Big Bill…)
First up, I made some stuffed naan. I still had some plain naan in my freezer, so I thought I’d go fancy this time, and make some stuffed naan (with caramelised onions, sesame and cheese). I cooked these while there’re still embers in Big Bill.
Then around 9:20pm, I took out all the ashes and embers from Big Bill, and gave the oven floor a wipe, ready for baking. Normally I’d then put my oven thermometer in, shut the oven door, wait for the temperature to even out in the oven, and get a reading from the thermometer. But this day, for some reason, I put my fist in, decided though it might be a bit hot (I counted over 20 seconds, then I stopped counting), if I put these beautifully latticed sour cream bread (with almond and cranberry filling) in for just 10 minutes and check on them, they’d be fine.
They are not too thick, so can be cooked at a higher temperature for a short time. I put the bread in as well as the oven thermometer and shut the door. Patience was not with me at the time…
And… this is what happened to bakers without patience…
Oh no my beautifully latticed bread… So it turned out the oven temperature was around 270 C! Remember what I said about the fist being very insensitive to temperature once around 250 C or less?! Well, I guess my fists have hardened over the years, and even at 270 C, I can’t really tell anymore…
So there you go, I haven’t burnt a loaf of bread for well over a year since I bought the oven thermometer… Even though it’s embarrassing to be showing you my burnt bread, the “burning truth” (*wink wink*) is cooking with a clay oven really has it’s challenges. I once joked to a handy friend of mine I need a transparent door for Big Bill (the oven light is my hiking head torch). Learning to cook without a temperature dial and glass oven door had been a learning curve. And the reason I started this blog is so I can share this experience with you. I found that there are not shortage of articles on how to build a clay oven. But I really could not find much on how to cook with one. Learning to gauge temperature, getting a feel of the speed of temperature dropping (when the door is open versus shut), adjusting baking time, planning the sequence of food to be cooked, etc. etc. All this had been a challenging yet immensely interesting learning experience for me.
One good thing about bread (amongst a million) is that even if the crust is burnt, the inside is still perfectly tasty! 🙂
Anyhow, after realising the oven was too hot, I left the door open to cool the oven off for a good 15-20 minutes, then in goes my focaccia and roasted garlic sourdough bread. It’s the first time I tried rising my sourdough bread in a basket lined with a heavily floured cloth. (And because I was rising it this way, I made the dough a lot wetter than this recipe I normally do). My basket is too wide, so the bread came out flatter than a normal boule, but I’m happy it turned out beautifully without sticking to the cloth. I “added steam” for my bread by spraying a mist of water with my garden hose into the oven. The oven thermometer read around 180 C at this stage with the door open. From experience, I know this means the true temperature would be about 230 C when the door is closed and no draft is going through the oven.
I took out the focaccia and sourdough bread 30 minutes later. They sounded airy when I tapped them, and looked beautiful. The thermometer read 240 C, so my estimation was still off. Luckily no more burnt bread!
I let the oven cool off even more with the door open, because next I’d bake a deep dish carrot quiche and this burbon chocolate cake. They need a lower temperature to cook through without burning the outside. I put them in once the temperature read about 150 C with the door open. I checked on them after 35 minutes to see if they’d cooked though, but they were still wobbly. The temperature when I opened the oven door read 210 C. I shut the door and let them cook for another 20 mins.
The final item to be put into Big Bill was a pot of beef with spring onions and ginger. I want it to slowly cook in the oven over night. The best temperature for slow cooking meat in the oven is 130 C. I found meat can end up with tough bits on the top if they went into the oven at higher than 150 C. (This is because I leave the meat in over night, while the clay continues to radiate heat. Normally the oven would still have a temperature of 80-90 C after 12 hours from the time it’s dropped to around 130 C. This would not apply to an electric oven.) So I waited for a good 20 mins when the thermometer read ~80 C with the door open and finally put the beef and myself to bed just before midnight. (Ah, that’s why I don’t normally have a Big Bill pizza party on Sunday…)
I left the beef in there until we were ready to have out dinner on Monday evening. The pot of beef was still too hot to take out of the oven without mitts! Yay no more cooking for the week!