Build an Outdoor Adobe Oven - Summer Family Project
Outdoor Adobe Oven
We are going to find out how to build an outdoor adobe oven, called an horno by the puebloan people. This will be a great summer family project. Along with some history of these amazing ovens and a recipe, you will soon become an expert on the subject.
Horno (pronounced or-no) is the name of the Pueblo outdoor ovens where the wonderful breads of the villages are baked. The smells that drift through the Pueblos when these ovens are fired up and going all day long is so aromatic it is mouth-watering!
If you have one going in your own backyard filled with breads, your whole neighborhood will be drooling. You may even have a few visitors at your front door with a tub of butter to help you eat the breads - or, you can put up a "Bread Straight from the Oven for Sale" sign.
Prior to 1540, the Puebloans grew and harvested corn for their bread, which they baked outdoors in a fire pit or cooking pit. They would grind the kernels into flour. Mixing blue corn flour with lime, they made piki bread. The dough was patted and smoothed out onto hot flat rocks to cook. Tortillas, with yellow corn flour and water, were cooked the same way.
When the Spanish came into contact with the pueblo peoples, they introduced wheat and the concept of outdoor ovens built above ground. These beehive shaped ovens were then used by the puebloans to bake their wheat or corn flour breads. The Spanish taught them how to build the ovens. The construction and use of these hornos is done in pretty much the same today as it was back in the early days.
Hopi Women Grinding Corn
The Family Horno
Each family, or village, may have their own unique way of building hornos by using sandstone, lava rocks or adobe bricks made with clay and straw.
The basic method is to first clear and level the ground where the horno will stand. Lay down two layers of brick right on the ground in a circle. This is the middle area of the oven and is left empty. Around the outside edge of this circle is where you begin carefully laying the bricks that are to become the wall and roof. This requires precise placement, one brick at a time with mud mix being used to fill in spaces between bricks.
The placement of bricks is done in such a way that eventually you will be forming a beehive shape. The open space for the doorway should be at the bottom and at least a 1'X 1' space. A small vent should be placed near the top of the oven. After the oven is of the desired size and shape, the inside floor and the outside wall are covered with layers of adobe plaster. It will require re-plastering each year in order for your oven to last for several years.
Note the man Stays Inside the Horno Till the Oven is Plastered Inside
Fire it up!
When your oven is ready to be fired up to bake bread, gather some cedar wood, build the fire inside the hornos and watch it closely to make sure it lasts for 45 minutes to an hour and a half.
When the fire dies down remove the charcoal with a shovel. A clean, damp mop can be used to take out the ash residue. Keep this mop clean and just for this purpose. Toss in a small sheet of newspaper or dried corn husk. If this burns up quickly the oven is too hot, so use the damp mop again to help it cool down. If it is still too hot, leave the oven to cool down by itself, with heat escaping through the door. When the temperature is right for baking, put your loaves in the back first then work forward with the rest of the loaves.
Place a cover over the door. In thirty minutes to one hour, you should have some wonderful breads. There is nothing like the smell that drifts through the pueblo (or your neighborhood) on bread baking days! The loaves can be placed in pie pans or on cookie sheets before putting them in the oven.
Bread Baked in an Horno is Wonderful
There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.— Mahatma Gandhi
Bread Recipe For Your New Hornos
The following recipe is basic. After awhile, you will probably be experimenting and create your own unique breads.
- 1 package dry yeast
- 1/2 cup shortening
- 1/4 cup honey or sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup warm water
- 5 cups flour, all purpose
- Dissolve yeast in ¼ cup of warm water, add a little sugar to help those little granules grow. Mix and set aside (there should be a layer of bubbles on top when this is ready).
- In a large bowl, mix the shortening, honey (or sugar) and salt. Stir in one cup very warm water. Set this aside till it is room temperature.
- Add the yeast mixture in to large bowl and blend in well. Add one cup of flour at a time, stirring well, until you have 4 cups of flour in mix. Stir well after each cup is added. Sprinkle the fifth cup of flour on your breadboard or counter and knead until it it feels like a baby's cheek when you put it up to your cheek, it should be smooth and elastic after about 15 minutes of kneading.
- Put dough in a large lightly greased bowl, turning to grease all sides. Cover bowl with a cotton towel, put it in a warm spot out of drafts until double in size. Punch down and knead for about five minutes. Cut dough in half with sharp knife. Shape each half into a loaf and place on a cookie sheet. Cover with the towel and let them rise again till doubled in that same warm spot. Make sure your oven temperature is 400 degrees.
- Place a shallow pan of water on the oven floor. Place loaves in oven, starting from the back and work forward. Bake in 400 degree oven until lightly browned - 50 to 60 minutes. When baking those breads in your outdoor oven it will turn you into the envy of the neighborhood.
Please Rate This Bread Recipe
Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse - and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness -
And Wilderness is Paradise now.— Omar Khayyam
Meats can also be cooked in an horno. A 21 pound turkey will cook in about 3 hours. The fire is burned down to white hot coals. The smoke hole and door is sealed with mud after the turkey is placed inside. The adobe wicks the moisture into the food and the meat comes out very succulent.
© 2015 Phyllis Doyle Burns