A masonry oven consists of a chamber for baking that is made of concrete, fireproof bricks, clay or stone. It is also known as a stone or brick oven. Wood-fired masonry ovens are traditional, but ovens that were coal-fired were used in the 1800s and natural gas or electricity often powers today’s masonry ovens. Artisanal bread and pizza often come to mind with masonry ovens of today, although throughout history these ovens performed any baking task.
The terms “black” or “Roman” is used to describe a masonry oven that is direct-fired, dating back to ancient Rome. The term “black” is derived from the soot that collected on the oven roof from smoke produced by burning wood. These ovens were common in Europe during the middle ages and frequently served an entire community. American colonists used this type of oven, which is still widely used in pizza restaurants and in artisanal bakeries. Ovens that are associated with masonry ovens include the beehive oven of the colonial U.S. and Quebec ovens, which were designed in accordance with banal ovens that were used in France.
The Spanish referred to ovens of similar design in precolumbian Americas as “horno.” They were constructed of adobe or clay.
To bake a traditional Neapolitan pizza, masonry ovens that burn wood are required.
With a masonry oven, heat from a fire that burns within a black or Roman oven, for example, or in a firebox vented into the oven, is trapped and radiated. A vent at the oven’s front releases the smoke, either through a chimney or directly to the outside. A masonry design that is front-loading handles heat more efficiently than an oven that is open at the top, such as a tandoor, because stored heat and lower fires may be used for longer baking periods, and a live fire is not required at all times.
Obviously, materials that are fire-resistant such as clay or firebrick are used to construct masonry ovens, which may even be cast from refractory cement. Ovens used for baking bread are heavily-constructed in order to hold heat for several hours after a load of wood is burned. Ovens designed for baking pizza or live-fire use are less thickly built. In general, a Roman oven is shaped something like an egg. The oven’s ceiling is built to arc over the cooking surface.
The masonry oven called a “white oven” is slightly more complicated, piping in heat from a firebox outside the oven. Smoke from the fire is not routed through the oven. Another design, called the “gueulard” in French, uses concept from both external- and internal-fired models.
Contemporary masonry ovens look little like earlier types. One resemblance may be the concrete desk that looks like a pizza stone inside what is a relatively conventional oven. These kinds of ovens are often used commercially; however, models that work on tabletops are also on the market.
Recreating the Effects of a Masonry Oven
Even without building an entire oven, it may be possible to simulate the benefits of a masonry oven. One common way is using a stoneware pizza stone. The stone will store heat while the oven preheats and then sends it to the pizza’s bottom. A cloche, also known by the brand name Schlemmertopf, is a kind of ceramic casserole dish in which meat and bread can be cooked. A stoneware or ceramic oven liner lends many of the cloche’s benefits without restricting the size of the pan.
Pizza and flatbreads may be cooked on a grill to recreate radiant heat usage from a masonry oven. Additionally, some loaf bread recipes may allow for the use of a grill, not requiring a ceramic or masonry heating surface.
A Tradition of Masonry Ovens
- Traditional clay ovens in India are called tandoors; today tandoors that use electricity are available. The tandoor with an open top is a compromise design between the Roman masonry oven and the earth oven.
- The earth oven is the precursor to masonry oven designs of today.
- Khubz, a traditional bread in the Persian Gulf, is prepared in masonry ovens.