Greek Breads Part 1

These are the recipes for my Bread History Seminar #27, Introduction to the breads of Ancient Greece, November 11, 2021. This week we are making easy breads and are not stressing authenticity in baking method or getting too finicky with the flour. We will get more focused on detail in the next talk on Greek breads. The breads I suggest here are ones that period dines would recognize, even if the whiteness of our white flour might be a couple shades whiter than theirs.

What you need for the Thursday workshop. White wheat flour and/or semolina flour (durum), and/or barley flour. We will get into bespoke flours in Greek Breads II. Ancient Greece was a slave culture. Affluent people had the means to acquire or produce white flours within their households. I would also buy some feta cheese to make the Cato Libum recipe. None of the breads are leavened, so we can just mix and bake.

Note: Barley flour was apparently often toasted before use. I have not yet tested toasting the flour, but I am sure it will be devious.

Bread #1. Feta Cheese Pounded with Flour and Bound with Egg. This is a Greek recipe given by Cato, a Roman writer.

“75.Libum to be made as follows:2 lb. cheese well crushed in a mixing bowl; when it is well crushed, add in a libra of breadwheat flour or, if you want it to be lighter, just half a libra of durum wheat flour, to be mixed well with the cheese; add one egg and mix all together well; make a loaf of this, with bay leaves under it, and cook slowly in a hot fire under a crock” Excerpt From: Cato, Marcus Porcius; Dalby, Andrew (TRN). “Cato : On Farming/De Agri Cultura

This is just so damn good! The formula is simple. Either 1 part pounded feta cheese combined with ½ part four (Cato calls for wheat flour but I advise using barley if you have it. Or, following Cato, 1 part pounded feta cheese combined with ¼ part durum flour. In all cases, bind the dough with a little beaten egg. This makes a sticky mess! Keeping your hands clean as best you can, form into cakes — disks. Thickness is something to experiment with. Thicker cakes will bake soft in the middle while thinner ones will bake crisp in a hot oven. How much egg to bind? Cato’s 1 egg for 2 pounds (1kg) cheese works out to 5% egg to cheese calculated by assuming an egg weighs 50g. I don’t think this is critical. Add some egg as you feel it.

Bread #2. Barley flour make a cake that is naturally sweet. I am finding it very worthwhile mixing barley flour with liquids other than water. As an example, I made one with the very sweet Jewish American Concord Grape wine called “Manischewitz.” I thought that this would be kindof like using wine must. Delicious! I mean really and truly delicious! Mix the dough with honey. Heat honey (but do not boil) with rosemary. Make the bread with that flavored honey. I am also finding that I really like barley cakes just as they are – barely flour and water. There are scholarly arguments whether affluent Athenians ate barley bread given barley’s comparative low status. One bite of a barley cake and I think the answer is clear. Of course they did! Barley cake gives you an instant bread for breakfast.

I am finding that starting with 60% water to the flour weight makes for a good first mix. If necessary, add a little more water to make a smooth dough. Knead until the dough is supple. Form into a ball and then use your hands to form into cakes no more than ½ inch, 1cm thick. That, in any case, is where I am finding success. Bake in a 350F, 175C oven. Again. in Greek Bread Part II we will work on more authentic period systems, like baking under a lid or in one of the Greek open faced ovens.

#3 A bread from Athenaeus shaped like a mushroom.

This is not perfection. The cap should be much more bulbous to mimic a porcini. Poppy seeds at the base suggest dirt.

“The so-called bolētinus bread is moulded into the shape of a boletus mushroom..” One of the 72 breads mentioned by Athenaeus in his Deipnosophistae, published in the 3rd century CE. Make a standard white dough and bake in a well oiled flour pot. I advise using a small flour pot to get the hang of it. Try to create the shape of a Boletus edulis, porcini.You will have to experiment with how much dough to put in the flour pot. I find putting parchment paper in the bottom of the pot helps the bread release.

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