For this week’s lab, our group focused on recreating two ancient Roman bread recipes. The first was libum, an ancient Roman cheesecake-like bread, that was mostly used in religious rituals as an offering to the gods on altars. The second was a simple bread loaf that was very dense and probably would have been more common before the invention of sourdough. We also baked a third loaf that was pre-made sourdough from Morgan Morton’s bakery just to compare the texture and baking procedure with the previous two types of bread.
|Ingredients for Libum||Amount|
|Feta Cheese||655 grams|
|Red Fife Bread Flour||327 grams|
|Water||1/16 cup or 14.7 grams|
We started off making our libum by weighing out all the ingredients we would need for the recipe. The first step was to break up the feta cheese, which we decided to mash by hand. We mashed feta for about four minutes to make sure that it had reached a workable consistency to mix with flour. At this point, the texture was a lot like kinetic sand. Then we mixed in flour with a wooden spoon and started to combine the cheese and flour into a dough. We cracked the egg and whisked it separately from the dough before adding it to the mix. At this point, the mixture was still too dry, so we amended the recipe and added some water (about 1/16 of a cup or 14.7 grams). After adding water, our dough was ready to be molded into a loaf shape. This took about 10 minutes of kneading and shaping, and once we were done, we added a heart shape to the top (so we definitely win the award for cutest loaf!). Then we stuck some bay leaves on the bottom to help deepen the flavor and waited for the pot to be ready.
Baking the libum was quite an ordeal, and we ended up leaving it on the hearth for a total of 47 minutes while checking it every 5 minutes. At 47 minutes, Jake decided that all the libum and savillum libum breads should be pulled from the ovens because none of them were baking all the way through. This was due to complications with the fire and coal heating process, and (hopefully) not a fault of our baking abilities. Even though our bread was still pretty uncooked when we took it off the heat, some of our group members tried it, and apparently it still tasted good at this stage!
Making the Simple Bread Loaf:
|Ingredients for Simple Bread Loaf||Amount|
|Red Fife Bread Flour||250 grams|
|Sea Salt||5 grams|
We again began by measuring out the ingredients for the loaf at once and started by immediately combining the flour with the salt. Then, we gradually added the water, adding just 1/4 of a cup at a time while stirring the resulting dough with a wooden spoon. This adding water and mixing process took about 10 minutes in total. Then we started kneading the dough. The lab manual said that kneading should take at least 5 minutes, and since we were waiting for our libum to finish baking, we decided to spend 20 minutes on kneading to really strengthen the gluten bonds in our bread. After 20 minutes of kneading, we were ready to place it on the hearth. The loaf stayed on the hearth for 15 minutes and then rested off the hearth for 11 minutes with coals on top of the pot. After this period, it still was not fully cooked, so we placed it back on the hearth for another 23 minutes. After 23 minutes, we took it out of the pot and let it cool on our tray. This means that our simple bread loaf was baked for a total of 49 minutes. This bread was extremely dense and heavy, and when we were able to rip off a piece to taste, it was very salty. However, the texture was much more appealing than the libum, and it was overall, a very basic, easy-to-make type of bread.
The Sourdough Experience
Making sourdough bread is an approximately 24-hour experience, so we did not attempt to make the dough ourselves during lab. Instead, Morgan brought us some of the sourdough dough from her bakery, and we baked it on the hearth on Mai Fete. The dough itself was lighter, softer, and fluffier than the dough for the simple bread loaf or libum that we had just made.
We put the sourdough loaves into the pre-heated pots on the hearth as soon as our simple bread loaves were done baking. They stayed on the hearth from 3:51 until 4:14, for approximately 23 minutes. They stayed off the hearth, with coals on the top of the lids for another 12 minutes until we took out the fully baked loaves at 4:26. The baked sourdough loaves were of a much different consistency, shape, and size than our simple bread loaves, and the taste was significantly better.
Our lab this week was more experimental than some of the others, and there were many factors that we had to control for while making our bread. While we didn’t get the heat right this time, hopefully, future groups will be able to produce better-looking, fully cooked libum and simple bread loaves. We also wanted to experiment with making smaller libum loaves to see if those were able to bake all the way through. Finally, our experience with sourdough bread and the technological advancement that it represents in terms of diet was eye-opening. Our group totally understood why ancient societies would have reformed their baking processes in favor of sourdough!