Building a bread oven

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We tasted food cooked in a wood oven on the roof of a hotel at the Siwa Oasis in Egypt. We didn’t see what it was made of. We did notice the exquisite taste of the lavash (Egyptian bread that we call pita bread), Clepara pizza and oum mali (oriental pudding).

More and more people are building an outdoor oven in Quebec. These ovens are taking different shapes. One thing to keep in mind is that the materials have to support high temperatures for a long time. You think that brick would be the obvious choice. But wait! The quality of the brick or its finish are not always up to par.

You just can’t combine field rocks or bricks stuck together with mortar. Our cold temperatures require a good insulation system.

There are several places on the web that show you how to build an oven. We will summarize the ones described in the document Four à pain published by the department of Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation (2002-07). It provides two plans: one for a clay oven and one for a brick oven.

Let’s start with the clay oven. A plank floor is laid on a foundation of masonry or cedar blocks. It’s then covered with a clay-sand mixture containing hay or straw in 40 to 50 cm twigs.

A mould of maple poles (long sticks) or other flexible wood is used to shape the interior vault. The poles are curved and placed at 50 mm intervals. Before covering the mould with the clay-sand mixture, cover it with a thin layer of straw, cedar or birch bark. This prevents the clay-sand mixture from seeping between the poles.

Then add a protective roof: arched or leaning or two-faced, it will be covered in tile, slate or overlapping planks, etc. After a few days, when the clay-sand mix is dry, a small fire will eliminate the remaining humidity imprisoned in the clay-sand. The temperature of the oven will rise slowly until the vegetable matter mould has disappeared.

For the brick model, it’s recommended that you use refractory firebrick. The mould should be formed of wood arcades, which are stronger than sticks-sand. To make things easier, you can buy bricks designed to build the arcade.

These ovens often have doors made of wrought iron or carved in steel plates. Their frame should be well anchored to the masonry.

The Four à pain document gives a good description of the steps proportions and dimensions. It also describes how the oven works, which is quite simple.

Some people add a chimney that respects environmental standards to their outdoor oven.

To create your own model, here’s a link to a site that I found quite useful: Patrimoine acadien