This whole wheat breakfast bread recipe has taken several tries to elevate from an ordinary sourdough bread to a loaf worthy of the “Artisan” label, and today’s variation turned out beautifully. The secret? a few grams of spelt flour substituted for some of the bread flour. Spelt is an ancient grain, a relative of Durum wheat. It originated in the Fertile Crescent over 8 thousand years ago, in the Late Neolithic period. Spelt was carried throughout Europe as civilization spread, and was a favorite baker’s ingredient in Medieval Germany. It is more easily digested than regular flour, and some people with wheat intolerances can eat spelt-based bread, even though it’s not gluten-free. Bread dough made entirely from spelt is extremely fragile and likely to collapse and deflate at the most inopportune moments during early baking. But, adding spelt to whole wheat flour lightens the dough and improves oven spring dramatically. Spelt has a delicious nutty taste which does very well in this recipe.
I have only recently branched out from baking all-wheat sourdough breads to adding other grains. It all started with a reconstructed recipe for 2000-year-old Pompeiian bread. For this recipe, I used a variety of grains available to the inhabitants of Pompeii, including rye and spelt as well as whole wheat flour. The bread had a rich flavor and hearty consistency. And I had a pantry full of flours with which to explore new recipes. My very next loaf of bread was a sourdough rye bread recipe I found on Breadtopia. Almost as interesting as the recipe itself were the videos that Eric had prepared to demonstrate the recipe techniques. I was quite taken by the Romertopf clay baker he used to baked the rye bread, and vowed to acquire one for myself before attempting the recipe.
I was in luck – one of the thrift stores nearby actually had a clay baker on the shelves. Though there wasn’t as much luck involved as you would imagine: Romertopf and other clay bakers are perennial favorites at wedding showers and such. Usually, the poor recipient has no idea what to do with it, and it’s put away on an out-of-the-way shelf. Eventually, it may wind up on eBay or in a thrift store. Since buying mine, I’ve seen several for sale in various states from cracked to pristine. The one I bought was nicely seasoned and in perfect condition. If you price them online, you’ll find that new clay bakers run upwards of $60.
If you decide you’d like to try baking bread in a clay baker, you probably won’t have to shell out $60 or more if you have second-hand shopping available. And you’ll give a marvelous piece of cooking equipment a second chance and a new home.
While mixing my dough this morning, I thought about all of the ritualistic practices I’ve developed while studying sourdough bread baking, and while practicing the art myself. Some of the practices have a scientific basis, and some are simply handed down from baker to baker. In the Internet Age, much of that arcane collective wisdom actually makes its way into common lore via cooking blogs, recipe collection sites, YouTube channels, etc. And hence, the lore makes its way into hobbyist kitchens like mine.
So here is a run down of some of the lore-based superstitions and rituals I practice on baking day:
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.
Aside from being highly skeptical that ancient Roman bread involved fortifying the sourdough with powdered yeast, this recipe looks both interesting and authentic.
I plan to try this (sans powdered yeast). I’ll report back! Continue reading “Bake Ancient Bread — Today”