How to Bake Using an Earth Oven


| 11/20/2015 11:02:00 AM


Tags: cob building, natural building, bread baking, cob oven, pizza, Lydia Noyes, West Virginia,

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Baking in an earth oven is a wonderful culinary experience. Also called cob, an Old English term for lump, earth ovens are built with layers of clay, straw and mud that dry into a smooth brick-like substance. This style of architecture has been used throughout the world, from the adobe homes of the American southwest to 500 year old cob homes in Devon, England. When properly cared for and kept out of bad weather, cob structures retain heat very well and can last for centuries. Unlike the convection oven in your kitchen that simply heats the air around your food, cob ovens use three forms of heat transfer: radiant heat from the walls, conduction heat from the floor, and hot air convected throughout the oven space. This creates a blisteringly hot steam that caramelizes the sugars on the outside of the loaf and forms a thick, chewy crust. After cooking your bread in a cob oven, the results from your kitchen oven will seem bland and dry.

Building Your Oven

There are numerous resources about how to cheaply construct a cob oven, often using predominately local supplies. When my husband and I moved onto our historic Appalachian homestead, we were very happy to discover that the previous inhabitants had built a gorgeous earth oven just off from the kitchen. These original builders relied on the book Build Your Own Earth Oven by Kiko Denzer and Hannah Field. This fabulous resource will answer every question you have from sourcing materials to deciding on a size, as well as give you a rich back history of this ancient cooking method. A Mother Earth News resource from Kiko Denzer is also available here here.

Using Your Oven

Whether you build your own oven or inherit it like we did, cob ovens are dead easy to use with some prior planning. Give yourself two to five hours for the entire process, depending on how much food you want to make and the required oven temperature. Begin the baking process by following the steps below.

First, soak the oven baking door in a bucket of water. A good soak for a couple hours ensures total saturation and will prevent it from catching fire. The water will also produce steam for the baking process to keep your bread moist.

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