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We all love Franco Manca or Pizza Express, but REAL foodies build their own pizza ovens – well writer Neil Davey did when he went to try out the Cob Courses pizza oven making course.
Cob is basically a mix of 25% clay and 75% sandy gravel and the quantities involved for an oven should only set you back a few quid from a builders merchant.
Handful of cob
• We start by shovelling the raw ingredients and tip onto tarpaulins.
• Kate Edward, the course leader instructs us to - "Do The Stomp" - working the mixture together with our feet. "Clay's the sticking agent and it needs some serious welly action."
• We add a little water to help things along, before pulling the tarpaulin to flip the mixture over and starting again.
• "Now do The Twist," instructs Kate, as we start to grind the mixture together with our heels.
Neil doing The Stomp
There are two ways to do this. When you roll the tarpaulin, does the cob form a sausage and hold its shape? Alternatively, if you take a tennis ball-sized lump of cob and drop it, does it flatten on impact but mostly stay tennis ball-shaped? If so, you're good to go.
Yep, this rolls up a treat
You're going to need at least four loads of cob to complete the oven, and two of these need an extra ingredient danced into the mix. Straw gives the cob strength and adds insulation. It will form the outer layer of the oven.
• A sturdy base
The base is rubble-filled, level, and topped with sand and onto that goes your cooking surface: either firebricks or marble.
One very sturdy base
Once these are in place, it's time to mark out the oven, and build a dome of sharp sand, that's the height of the door plus that additional 37%.
Creating the sand dome
• Hardwood door
"The height of the door needs to be 63% of the internal height of the oven," says Kate, explaining that a gap of that height gives the oven the level of draw it needs to keep oxygen coming in. "The width isn't as important but rule of thumb is it should be about a foot or so across."
Taking a couple of handfuls of the cob mix without straw, Kate makes some small bricks. "This layer needs to be three inches thick," she says, placing the bricks flush with the sand dome.
Laying the bricks around the sand
When the dome is entirely covered with bricks, and no gaps (!), it's time to cut a space for the door. Using the door as a template, Kate removes an arch of cob and wedges the door into place.
Making room for the door
It's then time for the final layer of cob with the straw mix.
Then on with a layer of straw mix
In a matter of minutes, the dome is complete, and we grab trowels to smooth the surface down. Remarkably that's pretty much it, although we do take the opportunity to decorate it a little, while Kate removes the door and scrapes the sand out.
Scraping out the sand to create the oven!
You can either leave it to dry," says Kate, "or you can fire it straight away."
This incredible-looking pizza cooked in about one minute. Plus you can cook bread in the oven as it cools down.
For more information about building your own wood-fired oven, visit cobcourses.com