For centuries, Italians have been using their wood-fired pizza ovens to bake loaves of bread. Bread cooks at a much lower temperature than pizza (200-250°C rather than 400°C-plus), so this has traditionally been done after the pizzas have been eaten and the embers and ash swept from the oven floor, but while plenty of heat continues to emit from the oven walls as they cool.
You can use this same post-pizza method with your Alfa oven, or if you have a gas-fired oven it’s easy to fire it up specifically for a loaf of bread.
Before baking a large loaf (more than 500g), you’ll benefit from humidifying the oven chamber by wiping a damp cloth over the hot floor. The steam helps keep the crust soft and pliable in the first few minutes of baking, allowing the bread to fully expand.
For this recipe, you’ll need a sourdough starter, instructions for which can be found all over the internet, including this simple set from our friends at Big Green Egg.
- Serves: 6
- Cooking temperature: 250˚C
- Cooking time: 40 minutes
For the dough
- 680g strong bread flour
- 70g wholemeal flour
- 50g rye flour
- 365g sourdough starter (fed 8 hours prior to use)
- 1 tbsp malt flour
- 15g table salt
- 580ml chilled water
Place all the dry ingredients into large stand mixer with a dough hook and mix until well combined. Gradually add the chilled water, then the starter and mix for 15 minutes more, resting for 1 minute every 2-3 minutes, until a smooth dough is formed. Place into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with clingfilm. Leave to prove until doubled in size.
Tip onto a floured surface and gently fold the dough back on itself a few times, to expel any air. Place back in the bowl, cover with clingfilm and return to a warm place for a further hour.
The dough should be quite active by now, so handle carefully. Turn out onto a floured surface and divide in two (each portion approximately 800g in weight). Shape each half into a ball shape and cover with a damp cloth to rest for 15-20 minutes.
While the dough is resting, line a bowl or a banneton and dust heavily with flour. Now place the dough into the basket smooth-side down and place into a fridge covered with clingfilm for 12-14 hours or overnight.
Remove from the fridge and allow to prove for a final 2-2½ hours.
Bring the oven up to 250°C (or leave it to cool to that temperature having cooked your pizzas and swept out any ash or embers). To humidify the chamber, wet the oven floor with a damp cloth a few minutes before baking.
Slash the top of the loaf with a sharp knife and bake for around 40 minutes (longer if the oven is cooling). It’s ready when it has a dark brown crust and sounds hollow when you tap the bottom. Remove and place on a wire rack to cool. Serve in thick slices with a generous portion of salted butter.