Earlier this month, I blogged about the re-engineering of a 2000-year-old loaf of Pompeiian Bread. Last weekend, I decided to try baking one of my own. I watched the openculture.com video showing Giorgio Locatelli bring his recipe theories to life, but the recipe didn’t appeal to me. Dry yeast? Gluten? These ingredients didn’t exist in ancient Pompeii.
I found a link to another recipe at www.thefreshloaf.com that satisfied both my intent to use ingredients and techniques available at the time and my desire for a tasty, well-sprung loaf. The recipe is for a Miche – a very large round loaf weighing 1.5 kg. I cut the recipe roughly in half and made a 2 lb loaf. My banneton nearly overflowed, but the resulting loaf was excellent.
The spelt and whole wheat flour resulted in a heartier bread than is my usual fare. I trusted my sourdough starter to leaven the dough, and I was not disappointed. No dry yeast need apply.
One of the advantages of a miche-sized loaf is that it stays fresh much longer than a smaller loaf does. Most homes didn’t have ovens in ancient Pompeii, or in Rome for that matter. As well as baking their own bread to sell, bakers provided communal ovens where citizens could bring their loaves from home to be baked. It was common to press a seal – a signature of sorts – into the dough so that loaves could be identified and retrieved by their owners later in the day.