The Quality Of Leaven Bread. The quality of the final loaf depends very much on the flour used and its gluten content. A well risen loaf will result only if the flour contains enough gluten-forming proteins which, when mixed with water, form an elastic substance which prevents the carbon dioxide gas (produced by the yeast in the dough) from escaping. Wheat, barley, rye, oats, rice, millet, sorghum and maize can all be cooked in the same way to form a nutritious porridge, but when it comes to making leaven bread they each have different gluten-forming properties.
Wheat is far superior to all other cereal grains for making aerated bread, its gluten-forming properties are much greater than the other cereals when ground into flour, and trap much more of the carbon dioxide produced by the yeast in the fermentation process. From the middle-ages expensive wheat only breads (wheaten breads) became status symbols, afforded by the very rich, as it was recognised as baking the finest and softest crumb of all the cereal grains. This is also why it has become the dominant cereal flour used in bread making today; (within the wheat family the species triticum vulgare is a particular preference of many bakers – and is different to the wheat, durum, used by pasta makers).
A Very Basic History Of Bread:
8,000 years ago Bread was made with no raising agent. Doughs were mixed from roughly milled seeds, often containing grit and sand.
3,000 years ago The Egyptians began to brew beer and by chance discovered that yeast left over from the brewing process made dough rise and improved the bread. But it was improved milling and sieving that really made the difference.
AD100 The Egyptians taught the Greeks, whose renowned skills in turn spread to Rome. The first written records of bread recipes and bakers’ goods date from the time of the Greek writer Athenaeus and Roman writer Cato the Censor.
Medieval period After the fall of Rome, we see the rise of bakers, as both travelling craftsmen who offered their skills as needed and a feature of feasts and fairs. Baking was also seen as part of being a good housekeeper or wife and an essential skill and daily chore.
Modern period The high standing of baking compared to other kitchen craft was set down in Eliza Acton’s English Bread Book (1857), while very large scale, mass production, and standardisation of breads using mainly wheat, became defining features of commercial baking. There is also a marked difference between the flour’s ground on a traditional millstone (windmills and watermills) and that which is now ground on the modern roller mill.
The slower stone ground “old process” flour and meal is softer to the touch, because the particles are fully ground and not left flat and sharp, they will also typically contain all the germ. In the “new process” a roller ground flour and meal has the germ largely removed and the flour has rougher edges. These new flour’s may also be organic and non-organic, which describes the farming processes.
If we were to consider the longer, historical view of bread, as a world food instead of a British food, we would first need to consider the Egyptians, and then the Romans, whose Empire spread and made available the techniques and mechanisms necessary for the making of bread to the whole of Western Europe and North Africa. There are thousands of years of history of bread, and the many impacts it had on social, religious and political systems, all needing far too much detail to go into here, so instead we recommend H.E. Jacob’s book, “Six Thousand Years Of Bread” published by ‘The Lyons Press’, and will instead turn our eye back towards bread and its impacts in Britain.
Romano Celtic Bread In Britain
The Roman bakers had the first bakers guild, and the prices of both the grain and bread were fixed, with bakers being given certain privileges. Although it was also required by law that each loaf be marked or stamped with the baker’s identifying mark or name, to trace who made it. This made it easier to clamp down on sub-standard bread or a baker cutting his flour with sand and dust to increase profits.
Many of these roman baking techniques were absorbed by the British Celts on the Roman invasion from 44 AD, however, in certain aspects the bread of the Celts and Gauls were considered superior to that of the Roman bakers. The Roman historian Pliny tells us that the Gauls and Celts used the foam thickened on their beer (barm) as leaven for their bread.
Anglo-Saxon Bread In Britain
The earliest breads baked in Britain were flat bread, unleavened. However, from surviving poems, we know that the leaven, wheaten-breads had become prized, if not altogether common in the Anglo-Saxon period. Rents to the lord of the land were often paid in leaven bread – in one source a recorded food-rent suggests that bread given in rent was distinguished as being either ’sour’ or ‘clean’ – which is certainly a reference to breads risen either with a yeast from a sourdough or from a brewer’s yeast.
The open field system used by the Anglo-Saxons meant harvests were often thin and poor, frequently failing because of blight, disease and the weather. In order to maximise the availability of food grown (and surviving to maturity) the Anglo-Saxons planted a varied crop each season so that blight etc. did not decimate a whole single crop and leave them with nothing. They grew various hardy cereals, (barley, rye, corn etc.) beans, peas, vetches and ‘weeds’ (for their animals to eat). If corn failed (the least hardy of the crops) then they had other food stuffs to feed them through the year. This also meant that in their bread they added various mixed cereals and dried, ground beans and peas as flour to their bread. This made a course ‘black bread’ leavened with beer barm and sourdough.