Fired up over their clay pizza oven

Family makes own wood-fired pies

By Andrea Pyenson
Globe Correspondent / February 2, 2011

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

Text size +

Home stoves used to consist of four burners and a basic oven. Now they can be tricked out with all kinds of devices. Over the next two months, we’ll take you into kitchens to look at unusual stoves and ovens with special elements.

SUDBURY — On a bitter cold afternoon, the spacious kitchen at John and Susan Schaub’s house is all light and warmth. At one end, a fire blazes through a small, arched opening tucked into a white stucco chimney at waist height. This is a pizza oven, whose temperature gets so high, you can bake a pie in minutes.

John Schaub holds an infrared thermometer at the mouth of the oven to check the temperature. It has reached 800 degrees, almost ready for baking. Son Ryan, 19, is shaping and stretching a ball of pizza dough at a granite-topped island. Ingredients for toppings are laid out.

This room has been under renovation for nearly six years, but the oven has been finished for two. John Schaub got the idea to include it in the kitchen plan after he took a wood-fired baking class at the San Francisco Baking Institute in 2006. “I thought it would be fun to learn,’’ he says. From 1984 to 1998, he owned Wheatstone Baking Co. in Boston.

The Le Panyol oven at the institute, made in the south of France from white clay, is used in many professional kitchens. The Schaubs’ quest to find one for home use led them to Martin Pearson, a stone and brick mason in Plainville, who at the time was the only licensed distributor of Le Panyol ovens in the state. Pearson built the oven, erecting a double-lined stainless steel pipe that goes up through a new laundry room on the floor above to serve as the chimney. Susan Schaub, who owns an interior design business, planned the facade, which includes cobblestones from the family’s yard that are around the oven’s opening and frame the wood storage areas, as well as a granite ledge and step-down mahogany shelf above one wood storage nook.

When John Schaub had his bakery, daughters Allegra and Jessica, now 26 and 24, used to help shape croissants. Both sons, Jason, 20, and Ryan enjoy cooking. After school, the youngest Schaub works as a prep cook at the Cottage in Wellesley.

On days when they use the oven, which the Schaubs agree is “not often enough,’’ they start the fire about two hours ahead. Once the pizzas go in, they need only two minutes or less to bake through. For bread, the Schaubs transfer wood ashes to a metal bucket after pizzas are done, and let the oven cool for a couple of hours until it reaches 400 degrees.

The oven can be used to cook many other things, but no one has yet gone beyond pizza and bread. “We’re still learning,’’ says John Schaub.

Andrea Pyenson can be reached at