[Sca-cooks] tannurs

Phil Troy / G. Tacitus Adamantius adamantius1 at verizon.net
Wed Aug 4 05:41:01 PDT 2010

On Aug 4, 2010, at 4:51 AM, Stefan li Rous wrote:

> Adamantius answered my questions about a tannur with:
> <<< The rationale is that dough-based products stuck to the walls of the tannur will stick to the rather porous limed inner surface (it's basically tile grout, sort of chalky), but not too tenaciously >>>
> How were medieval/mass ovens typically lined? Different from these Indian/Asian ovens?

I'm not certain. Sounds like a Bear question...

> <<< because the dough will shrink at the edges as it cooks and begin to peel itself off the surface of the tannur, especially since the wet dough has an instant jet of steam built up between the hot wall and itself. Often what happens it that the trick to removing the cooked bread or pastry is to know exactly when to go in after it with a long hook: it has puffed up enough to be fully cooked, and also to push itself off the wall; the experienced baker knows when it's expanded as much as it'll go without launching itself off the wall and onto the coals. >>>
> The entrance to the oven is usually covered over, correct? So you can't really see the bread baking. This sounds a bit tricky knowing when to open the oven and pull off the bread. Late enough that the bread is baked well enough, but not so long that any have fallen off into the coals.

No, the entrance to the oven (except for an opening to allow air in and possibly remove ashes, at the base) is its mouth, which is basically like a narrow chimney.

Think of a tall, tapered cylinder, sort of like the classic shape of an 80's nuclear plant. There's an opening at the base, to which is attached a pipe that angles up at a 45-degree angle or so for a couple of feet. A fire is built in the base, and the base, up to the midway point, is buried. Air is blown into the pipe and creates a fierce heat, like a blast furnace, running maybe, what, Bear, 900-1400°F?

Heat is controlled by controlling the air flow into the pipe, either with a cover or sometimes the foot of the baker. The baking surface (except when roasting meats, which are usually on the vertical skewers previously described) is the semi-vertical walls of the belly of the cylinder, and sometimes, where less heat is needed, the cylinder itself.
> So if there are coals, does this mean a tannur is not a mass oven?

Not in the beehive oven sense, where the heat comes from building a fire, heating the oven, then removing the fire and the oven remains hot for a period of time, no. The fire is in the oven at the same time as the food is.

> Where the oven is heated up to temperature, all the coals are raked out and the food is then put in and is baked by the retained heat only? I that case there wouldn't be any coals to be concerned about the bread falling onto.

If that were the case, then yes, that would make sense, but it's not the case ;-) There's a pile of glowing coals at the bottom of the tannur. I seem to recall there's another oven style found [in Persia?] which involves basically a bank of hot coals that occupies half a box, radiating heat into the other half where the baking takes place.

I vaguely recall reading a lengthy article in one of the Middle Eastern archaeological journals on Persian baking which included pretty detailed discussions of tannurs, griddles, the griddle-like object whose name escapes me but which looks like an inverted wok sitting on top of a fire, and the aforementioned box oven. The article was basically a study of ancient methods that have survived to the present day. It's possible Cariadoc or Johnnae might be able to recall the article before I am able to dig up the ubiquitous smudgy old photocopy...


"Most men worry about their own bellies, and other people's souls, when we all ought to worry about our own souls, and other people's bellies."
			-- Rabbi Israel Salanter

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