The story of baking bread in a wood-fired oven is a well-known one for the people of Dubrovnik and is deep-rooted in the cuisine of Dubrovnik region. Throughout the entire area, numerous households have been baking specialties in wood-fired ovens for a very long time, and thus kept the tradition of their grandmothers and grandfathers alive. The way the dishes have been prepared is a reflection of Dubrovnik’s customs. Even though the seamen and merchants traveling the world gained a variety of experience and brought numerous innovations to the city, in terms of cuisine, the people of Dubrovnik have remained loyal to tradition and held fast to traditional recipes. Bread used to be made of mixed flour (wheat, barely and corn), but only once a week. Bread made entirely of wheat flour was consumed only on special occasions. The bread was kneaded in a wooden trough (traditionally called nacve or kopanja) with homemade yeast, and in the case of extreme scarcity, when there was no salt in the household, people used sea water for the dough. A quick version of bread made without yeast, called pogaca, was often made in wood-fired ovens. This dough is very similar to the pizza dough we make today.
Now, you may ask what is a traditional wood-fired oven? Wood-fired ovens used to be built as detached structures or as a part of the back wall in the kitchen. They are basically chambers enclosed by a refractory material such as stone, brick, or refractory concrete. These ovens are traditionally heated with wood, straw, or some other locally available combustible material, but can also be heated with coal. The best fuel for a flash fire is the fuel that burns hot and fast. Tree prunings are perfect, as are small-diameter branches, and construction scraps. It is a well-known fact that bread is ten times better when baked in such ovens than in regular stoves. These ovens were traditionally used also to dry fruits, mushrooms, herbs or the firing wood for the next firing if it was fresh or too wet from the rain.
Baking in such ovens is a ritual, an opportunity to gather family and friends around the fire and cook a heartwarming meal that will remain in our memories and always remind us of home. It is about eating wonderful foods prepared by ourselves and cooked using a little fire in a wood burning pizza-bread traditional oven. It is visually very pleasing, interesting, as well as efficient and economical. You can cook meats, roasts, casserole dishes, bake cakes and never have to clean the grease inside the oven. It will burn in the oven’s hearth. This type of oven creates a thick, crisp, crackly crust that’s better than any you could hope to achieve without a professional bread oven. How does it work? First, let’s do a quick recap on the science of bread baking. Bread forms the crispest, crackliest, most blistered crust when it is baked at very high heat in a very moist environment. The high heat produces oven spring—the rapid expansion of air bubbles and water vapor inside the dough that creates its airy, open structure. The walls of the oven store heat from a fire built within the oven chamber. After the fire has sufficiently heated the walls of the oven, all embers and ash are swept out of the oven, but the fire can be kept in the background. A deep and wonderful crust is one of the foremost features of wood-oven baked goods. Obviously, this heat radiates across the dome evenly while the floor of the oven is slightly cooler than the vault top under which we place our meals. The baking temperature is very high and it is in this environment that a good pizza is made since high temperature produces flavors which can’t be achieved by slow cooking.
This recipe makes enough dough for 3-5 of 12″ to 16″ (305mm to 406mm) thin bases for pizzas.
410 grams plain fine flour
7 grams active dry yeast – or one ½ tablespoon
1 teaspoon salt
250 ml “tepid” water
1. Mix all of the dry ingredients first, then add the water. It will appear to be too dry at first. Do not add water. Keep working the dough until it is smooth.
2. Let the dough rise once (1 hour). Punch it down and knead again.
3. Let the dough rise a second time for 1 hour.
4. After it has risen, punch it down and use it for your pizza. The dough will rise a little while you put the rest of your pizza toppings on it. First place the rolled out dough onto floured wooden peel. Then place your toppings. Always start with tomato sauce, then mushrooms, then the rest of the ingredients and finish with cheese and olives. Slide the pizza inside the oven with the peel, let bake for 2 minutes (turn around halfway through) and take it out. Serve.