Group A: Ellie, Kenton, Maya, Ben
This week in lab was a ton of fun, and looking back, we learned more than we had realized. The differences between unleavened cheese bread, simple unleavened bread, and sourdough were enormous. In density alone there was enormous difference.
My group started out the lab by making Libum, a type of simple unsweetened cheesebread.
The ingredients we used were:
328 g of whole grain flour
655 g of feta
37 g of water
To make the dough we first combined the feta and flour, crushing up the feta into as small of chunks as possible. We then added the egg, and after kneading determined that it was too dry. We added a bit of water (37 g) to make the dough behave well. This may be accounted for by the fact that ancient feta may have been less compact and had a higher water content. We divided our dough into 3 small loaves which we called “goslings,” and one larger loaf which we called “mama goose.”
We began cooking the Libum in a cast iron pot on coals at 1:59, and didn’t take it off until 2:40. This was not enough heat or time to cook our loaves through. Much of the interior, even of our smaller loaves, was uncooked. This seems to be a result of the incredible density of the cheesebread. A higher heat and a larger period of time must have been required to bake these celebratory loaves. Despite being uncooked, the warm cheesebread dough was quite delicious, and was described by group member Maya as “like if someone overcooked their macaroni buy added the cheese sauce anyway.” And macaroni and cheese is pretty good, so I’ll take it!
Simple Unleavened Loaf
The second loaf that my group made was a simple loaf containing only flour, water, and salt.
250 g of whole wheat flour
176 g of water
6 g of salt
We first combined the flour and salt, and then slowly added the water while kneading. I was the one kneading, and was immediately convinced that we had added way too much water. The dough was sticky and I could hardly manipulate it as it was so stuck to my hands. My group encouraged me to keep kneading with my palms however, and over the course of about 10 minutes, the gluten proteins developed and the loaf was unrecognizable. It soaked in much more water, and developed a beautiful round appearance rather than the uneven sticky surface it had before kneading.
We began cooking the loaf using the same method as before at 2:55, and took it out at 3:45. Due to its impressive density, more time seemed to be required to bake it. This loaf was still less dense than the cheesebread however, and was fully cooked when we took it out. Different people had different expectations for the loaf, and thus were either impressed or disappointed. Nonetheless, the conclusion among our group was that with something to add flavor every once in a while, we could realistically live off of unleavened bread. It wasn’t anything special, but it wasn’t bad.
As we finished our unleavened loaf, Morgan arrived with uncooked loaves of sourdough for us. These loaves were made with the same simple ingredients as the unleavened loaf, and in the same proportions, but were made with a bit of sourdough starter, giving them a culture of bacteria and yeast. The uncooked sourdough loaves had risen and looked about double the size of the uncooked unleavened loaves.
We began cooking the sourdough (same method) at 3:51, pulled it off the fire at 4:14, and removed it from the pot/oven at 4:25. The loaf looked spectacular. It was light and airy unlike our previous bakes, and had cooked all the way through. When we tasted it we were blown away. The previous breads had been surprisingly good, but trying the sourdough afterward we felt like ancient people discovering leavened bread. It was like an awakening. The flavor alone, and the lightness of the bread explains to me how sourdough took over so quickly – not the mention the other benefits!
This lab was a good way to close out our unit on bread and ancient Roman grain. A focal point of our discussions has been the transition from home baking to a sourdough bakery system. That transition makes so much more sense after having tried to replicate ancient baking.