No bread is an island

...entire of itself. (With apologies to John Donne!)
I live and breathe breadmaking. I’m an evangelist who would like everyone to make his or her own bread. I want to demystify breadmaking and show it as the easy everyday craft that it is. To this end I endeavour to make my recipes as simple and as foolproof as I possibly can.

I call my blog 'No bread is an island' because every bread is connected to another bread. So a spicy fruit bun with a cross on top is a hot cross bun. This fruit dough will also make a fruit loaf - or Chelsea buns or a Swedish tea ring...
I'm also a vegan, so I have lots of vegan recipes on here - and I'm adding more all the time.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Chiminea firings of 2011: Number 16 - 19/11/11

Saturday 19th November.
A beautiful day encouraged me to fire up the chiminea again. I decided to go with it in the early afternoon - and straight away got stuck into making some bread dough first. Now I know I can get the pizzas in the oven an hour after the fire is lit, I can work out the timings much better.

So I knocked up a dough using 500g of flour, intending to make 4 pizzas weighing about 200g each. My wife asked for a potato pizza and I made 3 vegan ones for myself:

A simple bread dough covered with barbeque sauce, slices of cooked potato, Cheddar cheese, mushrooms and oregano 
Vegan pizzas - mushroom pate mixed with pesto, tomato puree and a little water to make a moist topping, with grated Sheese (Cheddar-type) and mushrooms  
As above but with Mozzerella type Sheese (the fourth pizza was eaten before the camera came out!:()
I'm now very happy that I can, at any moment, decide to make pizza for dinner - and an hour and 20 minutes later, they'll be ready. (Obviously, it's better if I'm prepared with the pizza dough, but still!)

So far I've only made four pizzas in a row - I now need to run a longer experiment to find out the limitations. Theoretically, I could go on and on, with perhaps 15 minute timeouts for replenishing the charcoal. I'd also have to build in 5 minute gaps so that I can get more heat in the chamber by turning the middle floor brick on its side.

Wednesday 28th September.
I've neglected the chiminea recently - I was getting my WFO kicks playing with my Dragon clay oven over the summer holidays!

But this was an occasion not to be missed - everything came together, leading to some bloody good pizzas! 

Foolishly I let my omnivorous wife assemble the topping on her pizza!:(
And here it is cooked. There's a proper vegan pizza in the pic as well!
It was a fantastic day - the weather was sunny and hot, very little wind to speak of, I had a day off - and it was my birthday! What more could I wish for? 

Well, pizza, that's what! 

I have to say the whole occasion was completely exhilarating! The wonderful weather we had - 25/26C and a cloudless, sunny day - my birthday - and the (almost) flawless pizza making! It was just grand!

I fired up in the afternoon - and less than an hour later I had my first pizza. I lit the fire with inflammable charcoal (bought the wrong stuff, but I have to get rid of it). When that was well alight I covered it with sticks of wood, then stuffed the firebox full of real charcoal. 

I turned the centre firebrick on its edge, so that heat was getting through to the inside of the 'mini-oven', and the brick was still getting hot as well. Once the coals were red-hot and greying a little, I turned the brick back over and put the first pizza in.

2 minutes later I turned it round 180 degrees, since the back of the oven is much hotter than the front. One minute later it was done and I followed it up with a couple more.

By the time I cooked number four, I'd lost a lot of the top heat, so I slowed down the bottom heat by placing hardboard beneath the pizza. Next time I'll soak the hardboard, since it was getting pretty charred by the time number 5 was cooked. 

The top pizza is the tomato one before cooking - topped with mushroom pate, then vegan pesto, then the tomatoes. The bottom one was the first one out of the oven. I just love mushrooms on pizza!
Experimenting with some toppings, here. The top one has pesto and  passata mixed, with  cooked potatoes on top covered with nutritional yeast. The bottom one was the same minus the potatoes. Both were extremely good!
All in all it was a great success. I now know that I can decide to make pizzas in my chiminea and an hour later the first one can be in there cooking - and that a short time later 4 or 5 pizzas will be ready to eat.

I now need to refine the process - should I forget about the hardboard and introduce more heat inside the oven (by turning the middle brick on its side) after three pizzas, for instance? And how many more pizzas can I turn out on that one load of charcoal? I also need to time everything, so I can work out how long it takes to make a batch of pizzas. In short I need to fire up again - very shortly!

Saturday 23rd July.
Success at last! 

1st pizza took 3 and a half minutes, 4 pizzas in less than 20 minutes - all cooked on top and with a slightly charred base. 

I've had the chiminea in pieces in the garage since I came back from Bethesda, too lazy to bring it out and reassemble it (it is rather heavy for one person). But today, the weather was looking perfect and I really fancied another go - so I buckled to and managed to manoeuvre it into position.

I started off by packing in as many oven bricks as I could. I laid three side by side, placed one and a half upright at the back (not resting on the bricks, but on the grill) and placed one upright on each side - these were resting on the bricks.

I knew I needed something to roof over the top of my 'mini-oven' so that I could get the heat reflected back. I scoured the shed and the garage to no avail - I even thought of trimming down a wire cooling rack to fit over the top of the standing bricks round the side and back, on which I could place a couple of firebricks.

I came back inside and took another look at
this thread. I was reading about the use of quarry tiles and suddenly it hit me. Somewhere in the shed or garage we had some large kitchen wall tiles - roughly 10" by 8" - left over from our kitchen re-furb in 2008.

Once I knew what I was looking for, I found them straight away. I balanced one from each corner - the first one went down at a slight angle since the bricks at the back are lower than the ones at the side. The second tile was almost level. Then I placed two oven bricks on top of  the top tile for more heat retention.  It was a bit Heath Robinson, but it was fairly secure.

1st tile at a bit of an angle. The one above it was almost level.

Two firebricks on top of the tiles.

I lit the fire at 4.45 and fed it with scrap wood for about 45 minutes. Then I placed the first layer of charcoal in on some more pieces of wood. After another 15 minutes I really threw on as much charcoal as I could get in there.

(After I'd started the fire I came in and made enough dough for 4 very thin pizzas. I put together 600g of dough out of which I made 4 pizzas about 25 by 20cm - 3 vegan and one cheese and tomato.)

Another 25 minutes later, the oven was ready - the heat was tremendous - so I put the first pizza in. And 3 minutes later it was done!

 To be precise, the first pizza took 3 and a half minutes, and the 4th one took about 6. It's not that the heat of the fire was any less, it's that the pizzas sucked the heat out of the mini oven. I could have made another couple, probably, by which time they would have been taking about ten minutes, or I could have let the heat build up again and baked another 4. More practice is needed, obviously! 

My basic vegan pizza - covered with mushroom pate then pesto

The second one took about 4 minutes

Then a simple cheese and tomato pizza for my wife - this took about 5 minutes

And finally a 3rd vegan pizza, which took about 6 minutes
From lighting the fire to finishing off the pizzas took and hour and three quarters -  I'm happy with that. Now that I've got a system that works I'll make the pizzas a little thicker (I'll also leave them to prove a little longer - to be honest, the first 3 hadn't risen properly. My excuse is that I was concentrating on the chiminea - next time I'll get both the fire and the pizzas perfect! Won't I?

Tuesday 14th June. 
Not sure what number to call this - I've fired it up several times in preparation for the Ancestor's Trail stall - we'll call it number 12, I guess that's about right.

It was a lovely, sunny afternoon as I lit the fire about 4.15. I was going to be patient and let the fire run for much longer than I've done in the past. So I filled it full of off-cuts which I refreshed every 10 minutes or so while I knocked up a batch of dough (700g flour, 2 teaspoons bouillon powder, dessertspoon mixed herbs - forgot to add curry powder! - 480ml water including 14g yeast and a good glug of EVOO). I made two cheese and tomato pizzas and two vegan ones - ringing the changes here, one I made with passata and vegan Gouda on one half and mushroom pate and Gouda on the other; the second one I covered with mushroom pate then a mix of pesto and passata and added some Gouda.

After an hour and a half I added a layer of charcoal - then another, until the fire looked like this:

Which produced a pizza like this:

In the oven for four minutes, then turned round and given another 4 minutes.
The second pizza wasn't cooking on the top, so I placed two firebricks in on the coals and placed the pizza in on top of them. I've mislaid my trenching tool which I've been using as a peel, so I was a bit stuck. Eventually I found a piece of hardboard which served.

The 3rd pizza was given similar treatment:

Next time I'll take a picture of the pizza actually in the fire-pit.
And here's a view of the last pizza, which I left in the oven whilst I ate my dinner.

No point in taking close-ups if I can't keep the camera steady!
All-in-all, reasonably successful day but still not getting that 3-minute pizza. Used over half a bag of charcoal and a load of firewood. Could have filled the fire-pit up even more if I'd really tried. Next time maybe!

Tuesday 3rd May.
Whilst doing my  exercise this morning I was thinking about making pizzas in the chiminea (it's on my mind since I'm intending to offer my pizzas at an event coming up later this month), I suddenly remembered a Tarte Flambe recipe in one of my bread books (The Bread Book by Linda Collister and Anthony Blake, to be precise).

Describing a bakery in Alsace, the authors said the 'pizza' (actually creme fraiche, onion and lardons of bacon on top of a thin layer of bread) was 'flashed' in the wood oven - which is where the 'Flambe' bit comes from.

I suddenly realised I could use this method in my chiminea if I put a couple of bricks in the firepit on top of the coals. Then, when the underneath is cooked in the top oven, I could transfer it to the bottom oven (the firepit) to cook the top.

I wasn’t intending to fire up today, but I had to try this out. Here’s how I went about it:

I thought I’d make 4 pizzas, so I knocked up 800g of plain (except I couldn’t resist adding half a teaspoon of very hot curry powder) dough, so 200g for each pizza. I planned two vegan pizzas and two cheese and tomato ones.

I’d made the dough by 4.30, and I fired up at 4.50, after chopping some wood.

I added a layer of charcoal at 5.05 and began shaping the dough.
The first pizza went in at 5.20 (once again I was too impatient – the first two pizzas would have benefited from a longer proving time) and I placed two firebricks in on top of the coals.
After four minutes, the base was browning nicely, so I transferred it down to the firepit for two minutes – and it was done!
The second pizza went in whilst the first was in the firepit, and once again it had 4 minutes for the underneath to cook then I gave it two minutes in the bottom oven.
I topped the second two pizzas and repeated the exercise – this time it took a little longer, say 5 minutes in the top oven. Since the two firebricks in the firepit had by now become very hot, the bottoms of these last two pizzas were fairly well charred. Next time I might have to think about swapping firebricks around – a somewhat hazardous operation – or providing some insulation to the underneath while the tops cook.

So, I’d now made 4 pizzas in half an hour – to say I was pleased would be an understatement. I was very, very happy!

And what happened next made me even happier!

I gave one of the cheese and tomato pizzas to my next-door neighbour to try out – and he marked the pizza 10 out of 10! He was especially taken by the spicy base.

And what happened then astonished me! My wife heard me telling the neighbour that “My wife doesn’t care for pizzas, she doesn’t like the tomato”, saw the second, really charred pizza, and, after tasting it, decided to have the rest of it for dinner! “I like these,” she said!

I was gob-smacked! Especially since she doesn’t generally like anything spicy – at all!

So, after about 8 months of experimentation, I think I can say – I’ve finally cracked it!

And only just in time, because in 3 and a half weeks, on the 29th of May, I hope to be selling pizzas to the general public at this event:

So it's just as well I've finally worked it all out! (Although there's still room for improvement.)

(Look out for a  new thread all about the planning for this – I’ll be asking the good folks on several different forums for advice on all aspects of pizza-making and selling. I’ll post all the ideas I get on here.)

Monday 25th April.
Lovely sunny afternoon - just crying out for some outdoor cooking!

Made 650g of dough (400g flour, 250g water plus a few chopped s-d-tomatoes) in preparation, then lit the fire at 4.10. At 4.20 I added a layer of charcoal, adding more at 4.40 - by now the firepit was pretty full. I went indoors and shaped the pizzas - one with mushroom pate and pesto plus sliced tomato and mushroom; one with a spicy tomato sauce, pesto and roasted peppers; and one with the sauce plus the end of a pot of houmous - and some more peppers. (Recipes and pics here - when I get round to it!)

Went out and checked the fire - it was definitely the hottest it's been so far. I took out the central brick on the floor of the oven to allow the heat more access to the inside of the 'mini-oven'.

At 5.00 I replaced the brick and put the first pizza inside:

This was how it looked after two minutes - I turned it round 180 degrees
I gave it two minutes, then turned it round to cook it evenly - the back of the oven was obviously a lot hotter than the front. 3 more minutes and it was, to all intents and purposes, finished. Replaced it with pizza no. 2 and had a look at the underneath of pizza no. 1 - not surprisingly it was almost black down both sides - and uncooked in the middle. I was too impatient to get the pizzas in the oven and didn't give the middle firebrick time to gather any heat. So I divided it in two lengthways, put the sides to the middle and put it back in after no. 2 came out.

Somewhere along the line I decided the bottoms were still being cooked too quickly, so I protected them with some hardboard - which got scorched, but not burnt.

When the pizzas were done, the fire was still hot, so I knocked up a quick soda bread which I rolled out to a flat disc and gave it seven minutes each side.

Here's a couple more pics:
Pizza no. 2 before being turned

And done!
It rose beautifully - but still too much dough
I'll definitely cut the dough down by a quarter next time. The pizzas were gorgeous, but still a bit soggy in the middle on top.

(More thoughts as to what I do next, still to come.)

Tuesday 12th April.
Most successful firing yet! Another splendid afternoon here in Somerset; although, with a bit of wind-chill, I still needed a fleece.

I made 800g of dough – roughly 500g white flour and 300g of water – in preparation, before I went out to light the fire. Before I did light it, I arranged the firebricks to create a ‘mini-oven’ inside the top oven. This comprised 3 across the bottom and one standing up at the back. I placed one on each side – on top of the bricks - then balanced two bricks over the top as a ceiling.

Fire just getting underway - these bricks will never be this clean again!

View from the top.

I lit the fire, added a layer of charcoal when it was well alight, and removed the centre floor brick to allow the heat to get to the ceiling.

Then I went and shaped my bread: one cheese and tomato pizza, using 200g of dough; one focaccia, same amount; plus four ‘sizzlers’ – one cheese and tomato, one cheese and mushroom and two vegan ones, with tomato and nutritional yeast.

The pizza still needed the oregano, and the sides of the sizzlers were simply wrapped over.
After refreshing the charcoal and giving it time to settle in, I replaced the middle firebrick, gave it 5 minutes to warm up, and slid the pizza in, straight on the bricks – as Turkey advised on the Wood and Pizza Oven forum.

I gave it 5 minutes, then turned it round to bake it evenly, as there was more heat at the back. After ten minutes it was done! And, I have to say, it was fantastic to see the top all bubbling and cooked!  My first pizza! It was a very satisfying feeling!

Before turning 180 degrees and giving it 5 more minutes.

I was very happy with this!

And the crumb was OK.
Then, hearing the neighbour's kids playing next door, I shouted over, “Piece of pizza, anyone?” Instantly, three heads popped up over the fence. They all had a piece, as did mum and dad – and then it was all gone! But, I have to say, it was worth it! (I’m vegan, so the pizza was no good to me, and my wife isn’t a pizza fan.) My neighbour  (who supplies all my kindling) was kind enough to say that the pizza was “Really, really, good!” And one of the youngsters volunteered that it was better than Dominos!

I’d replaced the pizza, in the oven, with the sizzlers. These took a bit longer, as the fire was dying down. In fact, I had to turn these upside down to cook the tops. 

They look a bit pale, but they were cooked, OK.
When they were done I placed the small focaccia in the oven, turning it upside down after ten minutes, then promptly forgot about it whilst I had my dinner. No idea how long it was in the oven, must have been at least half an hour, but it was fine. Interestingly, it weighed 170g after baking, but of course there was added olive oil to take into account!

Conclusions (or, lessons learned):
The mini-oven setup worked really well. There’s a gap at the top of the back of the ‘mini-oven’ – the thickness of a firebrick. If I can stand another firebrick on top of the first, that would close it off. I shall also look at spacing the 3 floor bricks out to create two gaps, which will allow more heat in.

However, these three breads took me 2 hours, which is not good enough. So, if I’m to start producing pizzas on a continuous basis, which is my stated aim, I have to stop being so parsimonious with the charcoal and really fill that bottom fire grate with coals.

I’ve also got some coal briquettes I want to have a go with, to see what different they make, if any.

But, I’m definitely getting there! 

Tuesday, March 8th.
Another lovely day in Somerset – a lot less wind this time (Sunday was sunny but a bone-chiller!) – so I fired up the chiminea.

I’ve just taken delivery of some firebricks to aid with heat retention, but like a fool I started the fire before placing the bricks in the chiminea! With a bit of a struggle I took off the top part – the chimney – placed three bricks side-by-side on the top of the firepit...
Finally got my firebricks!
...and replaced the bottom half of the chimney (which is in two halves, an upper - fairly light - and a lower - pretty heavy!). 

Through the top of that I was able to place another brick – on its side – on the right-hand side of the other three.

I then replaced the top of the chimney and, realising I hadn’t made any bread yet, I nipped inside and knocked up a basic focaccia (today's effort at the bottom of the post) – I thought I’d try something simple before I put a full-blown pizza in there. Initially I made a sticky dough which I left for ten minutes while I went and stoked up the fire.

This time I was a bit more generous with the charcoal! Now the fire was going I went back inside and finished shaping the loaf. I brought it out and gave it a minute inside the oven to kickstart the rising process. 

Nicely risen - ready to bake!
Left it out for five minutes, then I repeated the process. After this I left it in for 15 or so minutes, checking every 5 minutes to see the bottom was OK – and turning it around 90 degrees each time. After 15-18 minutes the underneath was cooked – and all the olive oil had disappeared, which is a pretty good indication the loaf was nearly ready. However, there was no sign of any colour on top, so I turned it over, baked it for a further 7-8 minutes and pronounced it done!

I took my trusty breadknife, and, letting the knife do the work, I hacked off the end for a taster. I have to tell you it was wonderful!

Dinner was ready, so I left it to cool. After dinner I thought perhaps I could manage a little taste – so I hacked off a slice and slathered it with marmalade (my homemade stuff with ginger, it’s my preserve of choice, any time day or night!). Three slices later I thought I’d better stop!

This was a loaf made in about 45 minutes – and the flavour is superb. Still, fresh bread always tastes pretty good – I’ll see what it tastes like tomorrow. But, so far so good - that's the best bread I've made in there yet!

Next time I’ll try a pizza  – perhaps a thincrust to begin with!

Saturday 26th Feb.
The sun was burning my eyes out this afternoon (as my dad used to say), calling me irresistibly outside - where it was lovely but chilly due to the cold wind.

ATM, my need for chiminea baking is for bread I can turn over to cook both sides, and up to now I've mainly been making calzones.

However calzones tend to have a lot of bread round the edges, simply because of the way they're shaped. The dough is tucked in all the way round squeezing away the filling from the edge. So you end up with a lot of bread round the sides - and not a lot of filling.

So I thought I'd make a fairly dry pizza with no liquid to leak out over  the oven tray, bringing the temperature down, and just lay another layer of bread over the top without tucking the sides in - so, 'Covered pizza'!

(Here's the recipe.)

I lit the fire, got it going, then covered it with charcoal. However, I've begun to realise that I don't use enough charcoal. As soon as there's a layer of glowing coals my mean streak kicks in and I leave it at that.

So when I put the pizza in the top oven it began cooking - but very slowly. And I'm an impatient sort of bloke, so I cleared a gap in the bottom oven and switched the pizza down there - with the results that you see in the pictures. I have to say that, despite appearances, the pizza was just gorgeous!

And bottom! I'm beginning to like these carbonised pizzas! (Perhaps that's what I should call it!)
I've finally been in touch with a fire-brick supplier - so I could have some by the next time I light up!

Saturday 19th Feb.
Another glorious day in Somerset! With a free afternoon that only meant one thing - the chiminea had to come into action!

I decided to make a calzone (or two) for dinner (Here's the breadmaking bit.) but left it a bit late, as usual.

With a glass of homemade stout at my side I prepared and lit the fire. When it was well alight I threw on a load of charcoal. When that was glowing nicely I began baking the calzones.

I placed one in the top oven - and realised after a few minutes that it wasn't cooking very fast, so I thought I'd use the bottom oven. I place an oven tray upside down on the coals and put the other calzone on top (with some baking parchment underneath).

This, of course, started cooking very quickly, so I took a long thin offcut (like a small plank) and put that between the bread and the tray.

This worked fairly well even though the underside of the 'plank' became charred after a few minutes. I've noticed before that charred wood is a good insulator - as long as it doesn't burst into flames.

It took about 4-5 minutes on each side to bake the bread. By this time it was cold, the stars were out and I was on my second glass of stout and I was very hungry! So I turned the other calzone over in the top oven and came indoors for my dinner - calzone with baked potato and a spicy lentil/tomato sauce.

It was truly wonderful - the smell of the wood smoke along with the bread which was full of flavour, was a great combination.

Monday 31st Jan.
Today was a beautiful sunny day - albeit  a bit chilly - so I thought I'd fire up my pizza oven come chiminea. (Other chiminea adventures here:)

I made two batches of bread dough in preparation - a granary-type loaf using 200g of white and 200g of malted grain, plus a pizza dough with 300g of white and wholemeal flour which made one vegan mushroom pate and pesto pizza and cheese and tomato pizza.

I started the fire using some offcuts (I’ve got loads of these given me by the painter/builder next door!), then when it was well ablaze I added some charcoal.

My intention was to use a combination of wood and charcoal to get the heat underneath and the flames coming up the sides. (I know – I’m still playing with it!)

Once the charcoal was established I place two baulks of wood, one on each side of the fire. The intention was that they would send flames up the sides of the chiminea, while the charcoal provided heat from underneath.

In went the first pizza – and after only a couple of minutes we could smell burning, so out it came again, nowhere near done on top.

After some thought I placed several oven trays on the bottom of the oven, then placed a dish of water on them to soak up the heat. Back inside went my pizza.

It took about another 10 minutes for the top to cook – and the bottom became no more burned, due to the water.

I placed the second pizza in there, but, I’d got my timing all wrong, and the roast dinner my wife was making was ready to eat.

I took out the pizza – still not cooked on top – and replaced it with the loaf, which I left in there for half an hour while we ate dinner.

The loaf still hadn’t finished, so I finished off the pizza and the loaf in our domestic oven.

The first pizza suffered from having the flames licking up around it by becoming – not exactly blackened by the smoke, but certainly ‘greyed’ by it – as did the loaf. Both the 2nd pizza and the loaf went home with my son-in-law and my daughter - not at all bothered by the appearance.

So the exercise today wasn’t a great success, but I learned a lot from it!

Next time I’ll go back to using just charcoal, start the pizza off on the grate for a couple of minutes, then, when the bottom is cooked I’ll introduce the water-containing dish.

But all this is fiddling – I really must get around to buying the fire-bricks I’ve been promising myself.

Cheers, Paul


  1. "So the exercise today wasn’t a great success, but I learned a lot from it!"......Please allow me to sounded like a brilliant success. I would much prefer to have those blackened characteristic's on the edge of a pizza from a wood-fired oven than have the perfect looking "plastic" pizza from one of the large pizza chains.......and all this from a Chiminea !!!

    You are my hero Paul....keep up the good work


  2. what temperature does the oven part get to?
    i bought an over thermometer for a couple of quid
    my pizza oven used to get 900 degrees,but it broke
    was going to get one of these
    needs to be at least 400 degrees for proper pizza
    so is it hotter than an oven?

  3. Hi Ben

    Not sure what temperature is reached - but I'm sure it's hotter than 400 degrees. The main problem is that I've got bottom heat, but not top heat.

    But I'm working on it. I've got a couple of ideas on how to accomplish this - one is to build a metal frame which will hold a couple of firebricks, so that I've got firebricks above and below my bread.

    Watch this space!

    Cheers, Paul

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. good stuff
    have you done that yet?
    any news?

  5. Hi Ben

    Not yet - hope to fire up again on Monday. Will get straight back on here to report.

    Cheers, Paul

  6. Didn't make it today - too many chores, with visitors coming on Thursday. But *definitely* tomorrow!

  7. How exciting, it looked great to me. I like slightly charred bits. I will look forward to your next attempt, how you get the top bit heated up.
    Best wishes
    Converted one more family member from India to making her own bread, thanks to you. She lived in Germany for a year and loves crisp breads, which are hard to find in India. She is going back today and looking forward to making her own breads. Thanks :-)