Earlier in the summer, I posted this picture of an outdoor masonry oven. This oven is located a few steps out the front door of our summer cow camp. Filled with garbage and chipmunk litter, this brick construction did not instantly attract my interest. Glowing remembrances of Basque dutch oven bread from a cowhand raised on this ranch, piqued my curiosity. I did some research on my own and picked others’ brains on the subject, before stoking a fire.
My oldest-younger brother visited this summer, so I challenged him to master the oven. My brother, unlike me is graced with an innate ability to cook well. When he arrived toting a 14-inch, cast iron dutch oven, we promptly lit a fire and began slicing potatoes.
The fire fueled by busted corral poles and scraps gleaned from the yard, burned fiercely. After a close call with the heat, a new hairstyle was called for. So, I whipped a french braid into my brother’s hair, giving him the appearance of a Japanese Samurai.
Potatoes and roasts were delivered from the flames moist and crispy, a contradiction that cast iron cooking is based upon. Whether it was the long days horseback or the combination of cast iron and flames that made the meals so satisfying, I cannot say. All in all, it was a successful experiment.
The culmination of our cooking project was brick oven pizza. We had a pizza peel and stone. Tools essential to the process. Also essential, but far less appropriate, were the spade shovel and pitchfork.
We built a fire in the rear of the outdoor oven, at this point you should place your pizza stone in the oven. We didn’t do this, don’t be like us. This step insures that the bottom of the pizza crust is crispy and cooked through, rather than slightly soggy.
Prepare your crust on the peel and top at will. We went with standard pepperoni, tomato sauce, and mozzarella cheese. Place the pizza upon the stone, watching closely, as it will cook within minutes. Then, carefully remove your pizza from the oven (this is where the pitchfork comes in).
We haven’t mastered the process of brick oven baking and it is likely that we won’t fire up the oven until my brother visits again. It may be a while before you see dutch oven bread on these pages, in the meantime enjoy this recipe.
No-Fail Pizza Crust
2 1/2 cups of flour (I always use whole wheat, preferably Montana Wheat Prairie Gold)
1/2 cups corn meal
2 1/4 tsps yeast
1 cup warm water
1/2 tsp salt
Place one cup of flour, salt, and yeast into a bowl. Add the warm water and let the mixture rest for a few minutes. Mix ingredients well, then knead in additional flour and 1/4 cup of cornmeal for 7-8 minutes. Then, let your dough rest in a covered bowl for at least ten minutes or up to several hours. Liberally sprinkle corn meal on your pizza peel or stone and shape your crust. Prick the crust with a fork, top, and bake.
ETA: This recipe will make 1-2 crusts, 8-12 inches in diameter, depending upon desired thickness.