Recipes for the Introduction to Egyptian Bread Seminar #22

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.

The Recipes.

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.

This bread is roughly 3500 years old. For real! Note the smooth surface. Suggests a white flour to me – would have been emmer (or possibly barley) through a 300 micron screen. Note the pin pricks around the center and the outside of the loaf. Stippling bread in this way was common. Note how clean the stipple still is. I think that suggests a stiff dough, and one that didn’t rise a lot. Note the cracks around where the pole or post was stamped into the center of the bread. Again, suggests a stiff dough. I’m guessing that the dough was pushed up against the post that was stamped into the center. Did this start as a ball?
I made this with emmer that I ground and sifted through the 300 micron sieve that I use for our Early Modern white flour. I had not conditioned the emmer — had not increased the moisture content of the grain. I think that would have given me a whiter flour. I’m happy with the smoothness of the surface. I had added yeast. Mine was a 60% hydration dough (60g water for 100g flour). I think 50% or even a little less might be the next try. At that stiffness will the dough crack as we see in the original?
These have the clear stipple, but they are more blunted. I think the flour may have been coarse, which would be consistent with an unleavened cake. I’d try this with barley that is largely whole grain.

These two styles of breads appear to be very simple. I read them as flat breads. The ones with the eyes are often seen in these offering images. It has been suggested to me by museum curators in Egypt that this is some kind of fruit.
Here we get into the most complex of the bread paintings! I believe the white loaves are white — either from flour or from a lime wash. I believe the darker brown in the oval loaves represent expansion points where the bread was slashed. I think it is possible that the thick, deep, lemon band suggests a rim, with the white area at a different plain. This would be consistent with the next bread I will share with you. And! There are stipples everywhere! I believe these are leavened loaves. I think the oval loaf in the middle is a fully leavened loaf made with the whitest emmer.

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.

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