The History of Bread
Recent evidence indicates that humans processed and consumed wild cereal grains as far back as 23,000 years ago in the Upper Paleolithic period. From the Neolithic period 9500 BC simple stone mechanisms were used for smashing and grinding various cereals to remove the inedible outer husks and to make the resulting grain into palatable and versatile food.
As humans evolved we mixed the resulting cracked and ground grains with water to create a variety of foods from thin gruel, to a stiffer porridge. By simply leaving the paste to dry out in the sun, a bread-like crust would be formed.
This early bread was particularly successful when wild yeast from the air combined with the flour and water, this started a fermentation process which slightly raised the crust. These ancient breads would however be unpredictable depending on the type of grain, the flour texture, the liquid, the availability of wild yeast and especially the weather.
Both simple, yet elusive, the art of controlling the various ingredients and developing the skills, required to turn grain and water into palatable bread, gave status to individuals and societies for thousands of years. The use of barley and wheat lead man to live in communities and made the trade of baker one of the oldest craft in the world. Successful bread making was considered an important life skill for ancient Egyptians who left graphic inscriptions on tomb chamber walls.
The Egyptians and Bread
The Egyptians were curious why the effect of the bread ‘rose’ and attempted to isolate the yeast, to introduce directly into their bread. They also found that they could take a piece of dough from one batch and save it for the next day’s batch of dough, this was how the origin of sourdough came about and is a process still used today.
Records also show that the Egyptians were baking bread as far back as 2500 years ago and sometimes paid their officials with good bread.
The Egyptian hieroglyphics above read:
"let me live upon bread and barley of white my ale made of grain red"
Travellers took bread making techniques and moved out from the Egyptian lands, the art began spreading to all parts of Europe. As bread was valuable it was offered to the Gods such as Isis and Osiris, the protectors of grain and givers of bread. As milling processes were refined it became possible to bake whiter bread – which at that time was seen as the most valuable bread of them all.
In Old Testament times, the evidence points to the fact that preparing the grain, making the bread and baking it, was the women's work. The bread was allowed to rise (leavened), into the shape of our familiar loaf. As the story goes, when the Israelites left Egypt in a hurry, described in the Book of Exodus in the Bible, they were prevented from allowing their bread to rise(leaven) as usual; the Jews today commemorate this event by eating unleavened bread on special occasions.
The Romans and Bread
Baking flourished in the Roman Empire from as early as 300 BC but it wasn’t until 168 BC that the first Bakers Guild was formed, within 150 years there were more than three hundred specialist pastry chefs in Rome.
The whole craft was incorporated in a guild of bakers - COLLEGIUM PISTORUM - and was of so high repute in the affairs of the state that one of its representatives had a seat in the Senate. The ruins of Pompeii and other buried cities have revealed the kind of bakeries that existed in those historic times.
The Romans enjoyed several kinds of bread, with interesting names. Lentaculum, made originally flat, round loaves made of emmer, (a cereal grain closely related to wheat flour) with a bit of salt were eaten. There was also oyster bread (to be eaten with oysters); 'artolaganus' or cakebread; 'speusticus' or 'hurry bread', tin bread, Parthian bread and the Roman Style Slipper Loaf
Breads were made richer by adding milk, eggs and butter, but only the wealthy and privileged could afford these. The Egyptian grammarian and philosopher Athenaeus, who lived in the 3rd century A.D., has handed down to us considerable knowledge about bread and baking in those days.
“the best bakers were from Phoenicia or Lydia, and the best bread-makers from Cappadocia.”
He also gave us a list of the sorts of bread common in his time; leavened loaves, unleavened loaves; loaves made from the best wheat flour; loaves made from groats, or rye, and some from acorns and millet. There were lovely crusty loaves too, loaves baked on a hearth and bread mixed with cheese, but the favourite bread of the rich was always white bread made from wheat.
Bread in Ancient Greece
In ancient Greece, keen rivalry existed between cities as to which produced the best bread. Athens claimed the laurel wreath, and the name of its greatest baker, Thearion, has been handed down through the ages in the writings of various authors.
During the friendly rivalry between the towns, Lynceus sings the praises of Rhodian rolls.
“The Athenians', he says, 'talk a great deal about their bread, which can be got in the market, but the Rhodians put loaves on the table which are not inferior to all of them.
When our guests are given over to eating and are satisfied, a most agreeable dish is produced called the "hearth loaf", which is made of sweet things and compounded so as to be very soft, and it is made up with such an admirable harmony of all the ingredients as to have a most excellent effect, so that often a man who is drunk becomes sober again, and in the same way, a man who has just eaten is made hungry by eating of it.”
The island of Cyprus had a reputation for good bread.
Another old writer, Eubulus, says,
"Tis a hard thing, beholding Cyprian loaves, to ride carelessly by, for like a magnet, they do attract the hungry passengers."
All through the ancient days, bread and bakers were held in the highest respect; this respect lives on to our times, for what would we do without our bakers?
The Greeks and Romans really liked their white bread; colour was one of the main tests for quality at the time of Pliny (A.D. 70). Those who think the obsession for white bread is a modern trend should read this.
"The wheat of Cyprus is swarthy and produces a dark bread, for which reason it is generally mixed with the white wheat of Alexandria."
Bread in the Middle Ages
As mentioned above, bread and the art of baking were exported from Egypt and across the Roman Empire. During the early Middle Ages (5th Century) the Roman Empire started to break down but baking had already been embedded in Europe and even spread to Asia. The Vikings made bread mainly from Rye grains, which produces a dense, hard bread. Circular loaves were often made with a hole in the middle allowing bread to be hung from a pole or rope.
Commonly, Kings, Princes and large households would have their own staff whose only duty would be baking. There were public bakeries, normally owned by the local land lord, where the poorer people brought their bread to be baked communally, and later where they could buy ready-baked bread. It was the job of the housewives to bring their dough to the baker, who would then bake it into bread.
Medieval bread was very similar to the loaf we know today. According to historic sources, the taste was comparable to modern wholemeal bread made from stone-ground flour. Unfortunately, very few original bread recipes have survived the passing of time. It can be presumed that as bread was such a staple part of the medieval diet, it was not considered necessary to include it in recipe books.
Some bakers used their positions to take advantage of their customers and had trap doors that would allow a small boy to pinch off a bit of the dough to later sell off as his own. In England in the 13th Century practices like these led to a regulation known as the Assize of Bread and Ale.
This regulation regulated the price, weight and quality of the bread and beer manufactured and sold in towns, villages and hamlets and also laid out harsh punishments for brewers and bakers who were caught cheating. In response, bakers commonly threw in an extra loaf of bread; this tradition lives on today in the modern "baker's dozen."
Nowadays it’s possible for anyone to become a Baker, all you need to do is go to a proper Baking School or open a shop. In Medieval times it was much harder and there were often apprenticeships which took 7 years. There were statutes to keep these rules in place and it preserved the art of baking.
There are a number of accounts of apparently 'different' breads from the Middle Ages. These included flat round loaves, round bread rolls, and famously ‘trencher bread’. The word trencher comes from the French verb trenchier or trancher’ which means "to cut".
A bread trencher is normally described as a thick slice of dry stale wholemeal bread (typically four days old) used as a kind of ‘edible’ plate. It’s thought that trencher bread was more commonly served at feasts, where a person of substance was paying the bill. For the wealthier host, bread trenchers were relatively cheap and had the bonus for of being easy to prepare and use. Meat with sauce was served directly onto the bread platter, which had a shallow hollow or ‘trench’ cut into the bread to retain any gravy or juices, the plate could then be eaten along with the meal. This became less common in the 16th Century and was replaced by a wooden bowl, with a circular hollow of about 6” in diameter. The Assize of Bread and Ale was in place until the start of the 19th century, and was then abolished in London.
Bread in the Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution really moved the process of bread making forwards. The first commercially successful engine did not appear until 1712 but it wasn’t until the invention of the Boulton & Watt steam engine in 1786 which drove the Albion Flour mill in Battersea that the process was advanced and refined.
The Albion Mill was far ahead of its time.
It was rumoured to be so large and efficient that in one year it could produce more flour than the rest of the mills in London, put together.
Unfortunately, the mill mysteriously burnt down after 5 years, at the time it was alleged that the other flour millers had formed a gang and burnt the mill down but it was never proved.
In London at this time, pastry chefs sold their goods from handcarts. This developed into a system of delivery of baked goods to households, and demand increased greatly as a result. In Paris, the first open-air café of baked goods was developed, and baking became an established art throughout the entire world.
For most of the 19th century, millers continued using Windmills and Watermills, depending on their locations, to turn the machinery. It wasn’t until 1874 that a Swiss engineer invented a new type of mill; abandoning the use of the stone mill-wheels, he designed rollers made of steel which operated one above the other. It was called the reduction roller-milling system, and these machines soon became accepted all over Europe and in Britain.
At the time of the Industrial Revolution, the North American prairies which were ideally suited to grow wheat, provided ample grain for the fast-growing population of Great Britain. This, together with the invention of the roller-milling system, meant that for the first time in history, whiter flour (and therefore bread) could be produced at a price which brought it within the reach of everyone - not just the rich.
The Modern Era and The Chorleywood Bread Process
In 1961 the Chorleywood Bread Process was developed and revolutionised the way bread was made and produced. Now used to produce 80% of the bread in the UK it made an important impact on the domestic population.
The Chorleywood process is able to use lower protein wheats to produce bread, this development has enabled more bread to be produced in the UK where our wheats don’t normally have a high protein content.
The process uses intensive high-speed mixers to combine the flour, improvers, vegetable fat, yeast and water to make the dough. The whole process from flour to a ready loaf can be done in about 3 ½ hours. This is able to happen because introducing a number of high speed mixes the fermentation period quickens it up, making each loaf much faster. It is also important the solid fats are used, this is because it's used to provide structure to the loaf during baking otherwise it would collapse.
This process can’t be done in a normal kitchen because of the equipment required. The dough then needs to be shaken violently for around 3 minutes, this requires a lot of energy and the heat given off helps the dough to rise. The air pressure in the mixer headspace is maintained at a partial vacuum to prevent the gas bubbles in the dough from getting too large and creating an unwanted "open" structure in the finished crumb.
Once finished the dough is sliced and left to ‘recover’ for about 8 minutes. After being placed in its tins it sits for about an hour, at this time it’s very important to regulate the humidity and temperature of its local environment. After the time is up the bread is baked for around 20 minutes at 400 degrees F and then moved to cool down. After about 2 hours it’s ready to be sliced, packaged and sent out.
A typical recipe using CBP Bread Recipe would be:
CBP improver 1.0kg
Hard Fat 2.0kg