The new masonry oven

Step by step ...

We decided a couple of years ago that what we really needed, in order to get consistently good bread was to have our own masonry oven to cook it in. So we started looking around and reading books. A couple of the most helpful were: xxxxxx and xxxxxx. We decided on getting a 'Le Panyol' oven as having the reputation of being one of the best prefabricated ovens around. Making a choice as to the size was rather difficult. There are always at least a dozen around our table and we couldn't really visualize whether the Panyol 83 would be big enough or whether we should splash out (almost double the price) and go for the Panyol 120. In the end we settled for the 83 cm model and once we got it installed we knew we had made the right choice.

The next step was trying to decide where to build it, the real problem being, of course, the evacuation of smoke. After several wild ideas we got the idea of incorporating it into the existing fireplace, which is quite wide. This obviously alleviated the need for a separate chimney. Here is a picture of the fireplace before the work started.

The walls in the house are 60cm (2 feet) thick so we knew it was a job beyond our capability. We got a local artisan who was willing to undertake it and after carefully planning things with him, the work got started. In the picture below you can see the contents of the pallet to the left which contained the oven segments and with the oven paddle sitting on top of them.

To give you an idea of what we were up against, here is a picture of the fireplace before the work began, as well as a shot of the outside of the house which gives onto a small terrace and then to the back lawn. A cement stairway leads upstairs to another apartment so we decided to hide the oven under the stairs which would give it a bit more shelter from the elements in winter and be out of the way the rest of the time.

Here the wall has been breached and the doorway piece is sitting on a couple of cinder blocks in its rough position.

Meanwhile, inside the living room, this is how things looked.

Next the cinder block shell was erected for the base to sit on later. The gap in the bottom brick has been left in order to run a PVC pipe outside to connect with the air intake vent to the fireplace.

This hollow shell was filled with rubble and sand and topped with of clay soil. Next, the refractory brick base is laid. This was furnished by Fayol as part of the oven assembly.

Here we have the oven finally in place and starting to look recognizable. All the segments, as well as the bricks of the base, were grouted with the special refractory grouting cement furnished by Fayol as part of the unit.

Meanwhile, this is what things were looking like inside.

Outside, the sides were continued so that we could fill in the top with more dirt for insulation.

A final coating of cement gives it a finished look but we have left a bit of time for settling of the dirt inside and also for everything to dry properly. This will then be filled in.

Our first gentle fire to speed up the drying process (and also because we can't wait!).

Here is a close-up of the oven with our first pizza!

The finished oven on its first use. We have found that the lip of the overhanging shelf goes a long way to protecting the wooden handles from the heat and we have had no problems so far.

Next we wanted to try our hand at good wholemeal bread. The results were delicious -- happy? You bet!

Everything tastes better cooked in a wood-fired masonry oven. Everyone knows that. Cooking times need to be altered, of course, and recipes slightly adapted but we have found that now we have a 'bake day' and do tarts, pies, quiches, pizzas, breads, meat roasts, meringues, flans and even fruit as the oven cools. For a 'pizza party' we often just leave the fire inside and move things around but for the bread we rake the ashes out and put the door in place. It's a lot of fun for everyone but takes a bit more organizing so that everything is ready at the right time. Fayol's kit made the whole project very easy and we are very happy with the results. As for size, we have baked five pies at a time in our 83cm oven with no problem at all. Bon appetit!

The oven was erected during the last week of October 2002