This week, the recipe portion is going to be back! At 10:10 am Pacific, I will stop talking, and we will start shaping breads.
Few types of historic Egyptian loaves have been attempted by experimental archaeologists. They are mostly interested in recreating the breads baked in the narrow, conical loaves in fire-pit bakeries.
Emmer and barely are the only flours used by Egyptian bakers throughout most of the history of ancient Egypt. This only changed with the Ptolemaic period, around 300 BCE, when free threshing wheats were introduced. I have tested a couple breads with emmer I had ground and sifted. As emmer costs around $4.00 per pound (450g) where I live, I will say that I don’t think using emmer for this week’s experiments makes sense.
I am including here a few images of actual Egyptian loaves that were found in tombs, as well as a few paintings. All the material is from the Pharaonic period. These are all cultic breads. It seems at least some of these shapes were made for thousands of years. Very hard to get one’s head around that! Or, maybe not. We recognize breads from the bakery scene in Pompeii as looking like breads we recognize, so maybe this isn’t so extraordinary. The hosts used in the Roman Catholic Church have been the same for over one thousand years.
The goal this week is to work out what some of the images mean — how do images painted on the walls of ancient tombs translate into actual breads? I think it is a matter of matching flour grades (and flour type), with hydration levels, and the appropriate bread. Fermentation from sourdough or yeast is necessary for loaf breads. Flatbreads and griddle cakes made with coarse flour can also be baked fairly thick — like finger thick.
The relationship between tomb breads and the breads people ate at home is one thing we will discuss on Thursday.
It is very open ended this week. The ancient Egyptians did make basic flatbreads, of course! The images, below, are to inspire you. I suggest we work with bread wheat and barley. We are trying to see how close we can get to the actual breads, below, or to one of the painted breads.
If you are milling your own flour, I suggest using three screens: 1000, 600, and 300 microns. The 1000 micron will only catch the largest pieces of bran, the 600 should give most of the endosperm, and the 300 micron screen produces white flour. Using whole meal is also appropriate for some of the breads, and I am sure that middlings will also have had a place in Egyptian breads.
Baker’s math: 100% flour, 45%-65% water. 1.5-2% salt (I have no idea about historic practice but desert people do need a lot of salt), sourdough or 1% yeast.
1kg emmer or barley flour, 450g-650g water, 12g-20g salt, sourdough or 10g yeast.
Flavorings: Egyptians added seeds and fruits to breads, at least! Nigella, for example, was a seed that they often used in cooking and breads. They also had sesame seeds. Sometimes, figs and dates (and other fruits) were chopped up and added to breads. Please come to seminar prepared with spring onions — Egyptians still today still eat their bread with spring onions for breakfast, and we see this also in tomb paintings.
Breads intended for tombs were not necessarily intended to eat. If unleavened, a bread this thick would have to have lots of bran in it to make it palatable. When flour is refined there are the throughs (the fine flour that goes through the sieve) and the overtails (what is held back). Given the scale of bread production, there must have been an awful lot of breads made with bran and middlings, either for direct consumption, or as symbolic breads for tombs. There had to have been a wash in lower grades of flour, given the inefficiencies of their milling systems.