Almost too Cool, and Still Testing Boundaries


We had a few friends, who we really don’t get to see often enough, over on Saturday for a pre-X’mas catchup over Big Bill’s wood fired pizzas. I prepared 1.5 Kg of sourdough focaccia dough and 4 Kg of sourdough ciabatta around 11am. I want to spend most of the time having a decent catch up with friends, so I choose to do only the “low maintenance” (minimal handling) breads. There were only going to be 7 or 8 of us plus two kids, so I only fired up Big Bill my clay oven for an hour.


I fired up the oven at 4:15pm, and only kept a small fire going after 5pm. We started cooking pizzas close to 6pm, and I made sure there’s always some embers burning. I didn’t keep the oven as hot as usual, so we could just take our time making and eating pizzas.


We cut up some raw sausages as toppings this time, and they are really wonderful!


For dessert, we smeared some Nutella over the base, and topped with white chocolates, almonds, and strawberry slices.  It was SOOOOOOO good!


I made the left over dough into more pizzas, which we could have on the second day.

All the chatting and catching up eventually moved inside around 9:30pm when it became dark and cooler outside. I brought all the embers into the centre of the oven and threw another small piece of wood on to keep it going.


After farewelling our guests around 10pm, I took the embers out of Big Bill, sweep the hearth, and threw in the two trays of focaccia which I dimpled and oiled around 9pm. They baked for 20 mins, and the oven was around 180C when I took them out. I then put in 4 x 500g of ciabatta (which I shaped on the spot) went into Big Bill for 40 mins with the temperature reading ~180C.

When the ciabatta came out, the temperature had dropped to 140C already, which was much lower than I’d have liked. But I threw in the another 4 x 500g of ciabatta in and shut the oven door for an hour.


The ciabatta came out fine, though a bit paler compare to my normal bake. They were a bit over proofed, but still taste fine. (I thought I’d bake them around 8pm instead of 11pm! I did threw the dough in the fridge around 7pm because I noticed they’ve risen more than enough by then.)

A friend was going to bring me a X’mas ham to slowly cook in a glaze in Big Bill overnight, but couldn’t come in the end. So I had hubby chopped up a pumpkin and sliced a whole lot of onions to caramelise in Big Bill overnight instead. The oven was only 110C by then, which would have been just great for the ready cooked ham, and perfectly fine for the veges too. The pumpkins and onions were simple topped with cubes of butter and covered to slow cook. I just love having some caramelised onions on hand because they are so handy for a range of things.


This and the last time I fired up Big Bill, I didn’t fire him up long (1 hour), and only kept a small fire going during pizzas. The temperature of the oven dropped a lot faster then if I had fired him up properly (2 hrs) and kept the oven hot during pizza time too. I’ve been cooking with Big Bill for 4 years, and sometimes I still feel like I’m treading on thin ice, worrying if the temperature is too low for what I’ve prepared to cook. So far I’ve always gotten by, though cooking ciabatta at 140C really is too cool for my peace of mind… But if I feel like I’m not fully utilising all the heat from one firing, it just somehow seems such a waste (though we are probably only talking about a few cents worth of firewood…).

In the future, if I’m only firing Big Bill up for 1 hour and not keeping him hot during pizza time, I should only prepare one batch of fast-cooking bread, such as focaccia or ciabatta, and one batch of other bread, then play by ear. If there’s still enough heat, I can do some muffins or soda bread (quiches bake well at low temperature too). However if the temperature had dropped enough, then just throw in the overnight casseroles, and I won’t stay up so late either!

Cooking with Big Bill the clay oven is such a never ending learning journey! So much fun on the way too!


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