Athenaeus’ “Cappadocian” Bread circa 300 CE

“The Greeks use the term “soft” for a type of bread prepared with a little milk, oil, and just enough salt; you need to make the dough soft and spongy. This type of bread is called Cappadocian, since soft bread is for the most part produced in Cappadocia.”
From “Deipnosophistae” Book III circa 300 CE

As a lightly enriched bread, I think we can understand cappadocia as a bread at peace with other breads designed to be soft. As examples, the lightly enriched yeasted French breads that were so popular in England and France in the 18th century are examples of breads in this cappadocia class of breads. They are made with yeast (this bread follows the section were Athenaeus discusses dried and fresh yeast) formulated into a soft dough enriched with a little milk and oil — butter in the case of the Northern European versions. Light enrichment with a little milk and fat makes for a standard Anglo-American sandwich bread. Adding an egg to the dough as we find in Henry Howards French Bread recipe from the early 1700s would not be remiss.

As a “soft bread” this is a very different product from the unenriched manceht described in Dawson’s 1590s Huswifes Handmaid in the Kitchen. Dawson offers clear instruction to make a dough that is so hard to work that one will be tempted to add more water, which Dawson warns us not to do. The reason that I jump 1200 years here is to suggest that recipe detail offers myriad clues to the finished product.

Athens description continues, “The Syrians refer to this type of bread as lachma; it is particularly good when produced in Syria, since it is eaten very warm and is . . . resembling a flower. “ The dots cover a problem with the text. I nonetheless include this passage as it refers to eating the bread warm as I think most of us also prefer. but there was a long period in which eating warm bread was discouraged. Eating warm bread was frowned upon in Early Modern Europe so I think it notable that here, and in a few other references to bread in the Deipnosophistae, that warm bread is preferred. The warm bread idea suggest to me that these were white breads and that the loaves were not very big. They were not the five, ten, fifteen, and even twenty pound behemoths (2kg, 4kg, 6kg) thatI suspect were the reason that Early Modern authors insisted on waiting until the loaf was stone cold before one cut into it. Baking continues until the bread falls below baking temperature. Before that the interiors will tend to be sticky. Athenaeus refers to “warm” breads, not breads that are hot, so we can assume some time passed after baking before the lovely soft white cappadocian was eaten.

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