Bread of the Ancients
Bread Right Out of the Oven is a Treat For the Holidays or Any Day.
Nothing says "home for the holidays" like homemade bread.
The story of bread is part of the story of civilization. Bread was not possible until humans went from a nomadic lifestyle, following herds to an agrarian way of life. While unleavened (flatbreads) breads may date to as early as 30,000 years ago, the earliest varieties of leavened bread probably were first baked about 6,000 years ago. The earliest written records of bread making is known to go back to ancient Egypt. This past year Xbox creator and designer, as well as amateur Egyptologist Seamus Blackley and others recreated ancient Egyptian bread using yeast from the Old Kingdom. Blackley documented the experiment in his Twitter feed.
A nearly 2,000 year old loaf, known as the "Herculaneum loaf," was found in the ruins of Pompeii by archeologists in 1930. The bread had been partially preserved due to being carbonized by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 C.E. The brick oven in which it was placed partially protected it from being destroyed. The British Museum offers a take on this famous bread created by Chef Giorgio Locatelli in their blog, as does Tasting History by Max Miller. (I added Max's video at the bottom of this page.)
Many Roman breads were like today's sourdough using a starter, or a combination of flour and water where yeast and bacteria naturally occurring in the air grow to make the bread rise. Both ancient Egyptian and Roman bread was made using emmer, an ancient type of wheat. Modern wheat was introduced to Rome about 450 BCE. For this bread, I used standard active dry yeast and a blend of all-purpose (plain) and bread (strong) flours.
Sweet Country Bread
Makes One Extra Large Loaf
24 generous slices
4 cups bread flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon yeast
½ cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
¼ cup heavy cream
1 cup water
¼ cup olive oil
¾ teaspoon salt
Bloom yeast in warm (about 130°F) water for ten minutes with one tablespoon of the sugar. Stir in rest of sugar into the yeast. Measure two cups of bread flour and add to stand mixer with a dough hook.
Create a volcano in the flour and pour in beaten egg and yeast mixture. Mix until blended and continue to add flour, one half cup at a time. Then add heavy cream one tablespoon at a time. Sprinkle in the salt while the dough hook mixes the dough. Continue to add flour and heavy cream until dough is a stretchy but not sticky consistency. The dough ball will begin to “walk” around the bowl when it is ready to remove from the mixer.
Spray a large bowl with canola cooking spray and place the dough ball in the bowl and roll it around the bowl to coat it with cooking spray. Cover the bowl with a kitchen bowl and let it rise in a warm place, like on top of an oven set to 200°F for about an hour, until doubled.
Once the dough has doubled, punch it down and knead for about one minute by hand. Then form it into a large boule and place it on a greased baking sheet and allow it to rise again for about 45 minutes. While it is rising the second time, preheat the oven to 375°F for about 20 minutes.
After the second rise, score the top of the loaf with a knife. Bake at 375°F for 30 to 35 minutes until it sounds hollow when tapped and when a cooking thermometer placed in the center reads 200°F.
Serve along with a meal or with a cup of tea. You may even want to dip your bread into the tea. Dipping bread into tea is a way to bring life back into homemade bread that is a few days old and getting dry, I recommend pairing it with black tea with a pinch of anise added and two teaspoons of heavy cream. Enjoy!
Photos by Janae Jean
Further Reading and Watching
Ancient Egyptian Bread
https://blog.britishmuseum.org/making-2000-year-old-roman-bread/ (Accessed 27 Nov. 2020).
Janae J. Almen is a professional music instructor, composer, sound artist, and writer. She has a BA in Music/Education from Judson University and a MM in Computer Music/Composition from the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. She is the founder of Perennial Music and Arts and is passionate about sharing her love of music and arts.