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A masonry oven, colloquially known as a brick oven or stone oven, is an oven consisting of a baking chamber made of fireproof brick, concrete, stone, clay, or cob. Though traditionally wood-fired, coal-fired ovens were common in the 19th century, and modern masonry ovens are often fired with natural gas or even electricity. Modern masonry ovens are closely associated with artisanal bread and pizza, but in the past they were used for any cooking task involving baking.
The precursor to most modern masonry oven designs is the earth oven.
In India, tandoors are traditional clay ovens, although these days modern electrically fired tandoors are available. The open-topped tandoor is a transitional design between the earth oven and the Roman-plan masonry oven.
The traditional direct-fired masonry design is often called a "Roman" or "black" oven and dates in Western culture to at least the Roman Republic. It is known as a black oven because the smoke from the wood used as fuel sometimes collects as soot on the roof of the oven. Such ovens were in wide use throughout medieval Europe and were often built to serve entire communities (cf the banal ovens of France, which were often owned by the local government and whose operators charged a fee to oven users). Such ovens became popular in the Americas during the colonial era and are still in wide use in artisanal bakeries and pizzerias, as well as some restaurants featuring pizzas and baked dishes. Descendants include the beehive ovens of the colonial United States and the Quebec ovens based on the designs of the banal ovens of France.
The function of a masonry oven is to trap and radiate heat from a fire, either built within the oven itself or in a firebox that vents into the oven (a white oven); smoke is vented through the front of the oven, either directly to the outside or through a chimney immediately above the oven door. The front-loading masonry design is somewhat more heat-efficient than an open-topped oven like a tandoor, allowing the use of stored heat and low fires for long bakes instead of requiring a live fire at all times.
Masonry ovens are generally built with fire-resistant materials like firebrick or clay, or even directly cast from refractory cement. Those designed for bread use are generally quite heavily built to store several hours' worth of heat after completely burning a load of wood, while those designed for pizza or other live-fire cooking techniques can have thinner construction. Generally, a properly-built Roman-plan oven is roughly egg-shaped, with the ceiling of the oven constructed as an arch over the baking surface. The front entrance is ideally approximately 63%±5% the height of the top of the oven ceiling; too high and heat is lost, too low and the oven does not heat completely.
The "white oven" is a somewhat more complex design that pipes heat in from an external firebox without routing the smoke from the fire through the oven. A compromise design known as the gueulard in France combines aspects of both internal and external-fired models.
Modern-designed masonry ovens sometimes bear little resemblance to their forebears, sometimes having only a concrete deck (similar to a pizza stone) inside a more conventional oven exterior. Such devices are primarily used in commercial settings, though tabletop models are available.
Types of Masonry Oven
Cob ovens are made out of clay, sand, and straw mixed together to form a material that is thick and moldable, and known as cob. A cob oven might be built on a base that has handles coming out the front and back and (maybe) wheels on the side so it can be moved; that is, if you want it to be portable. Most portable cob ovens were owned by bakers so that they had a means to cook with at the market or fair. A cob oven that is not portable would most likely be built into the wall of the house at about waist height, for ease of moving out the coals and putting in the bread. There are still houses today where people are finding some ovens built into the wall that have been covered up by bricks.
To heat a cob oven, you would burn a fire in it until you thought it was hot enough. Then you would either scrape out the coals onto the ground and into the hearth below it (if it weren't portable) or move the coals into fire or something to hold the if there was no hearth (if it were portable).
Most people would not have their own oven in their house but would have to share an oven with the rest of the town. This oven would be located in the centre of the town and the housewife would have to bring her bread dough to the oven to cook it. A wealthy person would, however, have an oven built into their wall with a hearth beneath it so they could scrape the coals into it when the cob oven was hot enough.
A cloche or cooking bell is like an upside-down bowl that has a handle on top. After you have made your bread dough you would scrape coals away from a spot on the hearth and put your bread dough down then the cloche on top and pile coals around it. In this way people were able to use a portable oven that wasn't very heavy and also didn't take up much room.
It was very useful because you didn't have to have a portable cob oven which was very heavy and took up tons of space but instead you could have a small cloche that can easily be packed away to transport.
It is possible to get some of the benefits of a masonry oven without constructing a full oven. The most common method is the stoneware pizza stone, which stores heat while the oven is preheating and transmits it directly to the bottom of the pizza. Bread and meat can be cooked in a type of covered ceramic casserole dish known variously as a cloche, a Schlemmertopf (brand name), or the like. Most expensive is a ceramic or stoneware oven liner that provides many of the benefits of a cloche without restricting the baker to one size of pan.
It is sometimes possible to cook bread on a grill to simulate the use of radiant heat in a masonry oven; while this is generally reserved for flatbreads and pizzas, a few recipes for loaf breads are designed to use a grill as well, with or without a masonry or ceramic heating surface.
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- Cookery equipment manufacturer Cuisinart sells a tabletop "brick oven" that uses a pizza stone-like lining to store heat for baking.
- http://www.latimes.com/food/la-fo-pizza-photos-pg-photogallery.html Making a Masonry Oven in your own home Los Angeles Times
- http://www.latimes.com/food/la-fo-homepizza25-2009mar25-story.html A pizza parlor in your kitchen Los Angeles Times
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