Biblical Breads

BIBLICAL BREADS

The cultivation of grain is said to be the true beginning of civiliation. Grain was first planted, harvested, ground into flour and baked into bread in the region of the Fertile Crescent, where lie the modern countries of Israel, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Lebanon.

The first bread was probably made 12,000 years ago or so by combining coarsely crushed grain and water. This “dough” was then heated on hot stones and baked by covering it with a layer of ashes.

The job of baker is one of the oldest trades in the world. Loaves of bread, perfectly preserved, that were found in Egyptian tombs can be seen at the British Museum in London. These 5,000 years old loaves and rolls are an eerie link to our distant ancestors.

It was the Egyptians who accidentally discovered that when they allowed wheat dough to ferment with wild yeast that was in the air, a gas that made a light, expandable loaf formed. Wheat quickly became the grain of choice over others grown in the region, although barley was grown by necessity because it was easier to cultivate in the poor soil and dry climate.

Hereodotus (484 - 424 B.C.) describes millet that grew in the hanging gardens of Babylon, and Isaiah mentions that the rye was sown at the border of barley and wheat fields. These grains were very nutritious. Einkorn wheat, which still grows wild in the Middle East, has 1.5 times as much protein as modern wheat varieties. There is some speculation the that Egyptians also developed the first ovens.

All evidence indicates that during Bible times, breadmaking was women’s work, a task usually performed early in the morning. Grinding was done by hand using a mull (a type of bowl) and a millstone. Most families had their own. The bread was leavened - caused to rise - with a leavening agent similar to sourdough starter. It could be baked directly in the ashes of the fire as shown in John 21:9, “As soon as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread.” The bread could also be placed on the hot stones, which was more sanitary considering that kindling often consisted of animal droppings.

Bakeries existed where rich and poor alike could purchase loaves or bring their own loaves to be cooked in communal ovens. The quick exodus of the Israelites from Egypt prevented them from baking bread in the usual manner - they were uable to let it rise. Today, Jews commemorate the Exodus by eating unleavened bread.

Although it is said that “man shall not live by bread alone,” bread was long thought to be the one food essential for survival, and the acts of baking and eating bread often took on a magical significance. This “bread magic” could appear in many forms, from speaking charms over bread about to be eaten to baking it into all sorts of shapes and effigies. Early Christians would mark their loaves with crosses - a modern equivalent is the Hot Cross Buns served on Good Friday.

Essene bread gets its name from the Essenes, an ancient Jewish sect whose members may have included both John the Baptist and Jesus. Many Essenes were said to be healers, and folklore said they could cast out demons, cure illnesses and raise the dead. Many of their values - poverty, austerity, meditation - were adopted by the early church.

Originally, this bread would have been baked on hot rocks under the blazing Middle Eastern sun. A slow oven and a lot of patience (this bread takes several days to make) will get you a decent result.

ESSENE BREAD

3 c. hard wheat berries
Water to cover
Sesame seeds

Soak hard wheat in a jar, covered with water, overnight. The kernels will soak up a significant amount of water. Transfer to a colander, rinse and set aside to sprout. This will take about two days. Rinse periodically with cold water to keep from drying out.

When ready, the shoot should be approximately the same length as the berry, perhaps a bit longer. Grind in a food processor or meat grinder, not a blender. Turn onto a clean surface and knead for about 5 to 10 minutes. Form two loaves.

Sprinkle sesame seeds on a cookie sheet and place your loaves on top of them. Sprinkle seeds on the surface of the loaves as well, if desired. Bake at 250* F. for approximately 3 1/2 hours. Your sprout bread is finished when the bottom is no longer soft.

Because of its high moisture content, store this in the refrigerator if you do not eat it right away.

This recipe for bread was told to Ezekiel by God. Unfortunately, Ezekiel does not provide us with exact measurements, so what follows is a modern reconstruction - but feel free to experiement with the ingredients yourself.

Leave your mind open for guidance as you prepare this bread - many people say they feel closer to God in the simple act of baking.

EZEKIEL BREAD

4 c. lukewarm water
1/2 c. olive oil
1 c. honey
2 pkgs. active dry yeast
3 c. whole wheat berries
1 c. rye flour
1/2 c. barley
1/2 c. millet
1/4 c. dry green lentils
1/2 c. assorted, dried beans (soy, kidney, pinto, navy, etc.)
2 T. salt, or to taste
Fitches**

Combine water, olive oil, honey and yeast ina large mixing bowl. Be sure that the water is not too hot, or it will kill the yeast. (Baby formula temperature is just about right.) Set aside for 10 minutes.

Combine all remaining ingredients ina flour mill. Add to the yeast mixture and blend well. It should have the consistency of a batter bread. Divided dough into two greased and floured 9 X 5-inch loaf pans. Cover and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size. (Do not punch down.)

Bake at 350* F. for 50 minutes. Loaves are done whne they are a rich golden brown.

**There is much debate over what is meant by “fitches.” It was probably meant to be an herb, and nutmeg, fennel, and cumin have all been recommended by various cooks. Fennel does make a tasty bread.

Many people think that white bread, which has a refined texture and smooth taste, is a modern development over coarser, whole-grain “peasant” breads. However, white bread has been around in one form or another for atleast 2,000 years. The Romans, whose empire covered much of the known world during the biblical era, had a preference for white bread, as noted by Pliny (A.D. 70), “The wheat fo Cyprus is swarthy, and makes a bread that is dark. For this reason it is often mixed with the white wheat of Alexandria.”

ROMAN BREAD

1 pkg. dry yeast
1 c. lukewarm water, plus 1/3 c.
3 to 3 1/2 c. flour
2 t. salt
1 T. butter, melted
1 T. sesame seeds

Sprinkle yeast in 1/3 c. water. Stir lightly and set aside for several minutes. Sift together half the flour and the salt, then add to yeast mixture. Work together, adding more four until you have a dough that is workable, but still slightly sticky.

Place dough in greased bowl, turning once to coat all sides. Let rise for 15 minutes. Knead dough on a lightly floured surface for 15 minutes until smooth and elastic. Add a little more flour if necessary, so that the dough is no longer sticky. Return the dough to greased bowl, cover, and set in a warm spot and let it triple in size. Be patient - this will take several hours.

Punch the dough down and divide into 4 balls. Grease a glass baking pan and sprinkle sesame seeds on the surface of the pan before placing each ball of dough in the pan. Flatten slightly to form a classic round bread shape and mark with a cross, if desired. Brush with melted butter and bake at 400* F. for 30 minutes. Bread is done when it is a lovely golden color, and a “tap test” sounds hollow. Serve with a hit spiced butter.

This recipe is based on historic breads from the 1st century, I can not vouch for it’s authentisity, but is very , very good none the less.

Recipe Name: UNLEAVENED WHEAT BREAD
Category: BREAD
Serves: 18

3 1/2 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
Pinch Salt
1/3 Cup Honey
1/2 Cup Vegetable Oil
1 Egg Yolk
7/8 Cup Warm Milk

Mix honey and oil and warm slightly. Mix egg yolk in warm milk. Add honey and oil to flour and salt. Then add egg and milk mixture gradually to the flour mixture.

Divide dough into three equal pieces. Working with one piece at a time, roll out very thin to dinner plate size. Score dough using a shot glass for the center, then a saucer and next a salad plate (or whatever works to make approximateyl three equal outer circles). Then score twelve spokes out from the center circle.

Bake on cookie sheet for 10 minutes at 350 degrees.

Wrap while still warm. Store in refrigerator or freezer

Makes three flat loaves.

According to the civil coed found in Leviticus, the corners of a farmer’s field were not to be harvested. Any grain that was left behind was to remain in the field for passing travelers or the poor.

This recipe for pita bread is very basic and easy to make. It’s great to have on hand for unexpecterd guests.

SIMPLE PITA BREAD

2 t. dry yeast
1 c. lukewarm water
1/2 t. salt, or to taste
3 c. flour

Dissolve the yeast in warm water. Be sure that the water is not too hot or it will kill the yeast. (Baby formula temperature is just about right.) Combine yeast, waster, salt and flour into a dough. Knead for approximately 5 minutes. Cover and let rise in a warm spot until tripled in size. Divide dough into six portions and shape each into a ball. Pat each round into a circle that is about 1/2-inch thick. Bake at 350* F. for 10 minutes until golden brown. Great for dipping into sauces or with hummus.

In Hebrew, Bethlehem means “House of Bread.” It was home to Ruth and the birthplace of both David and Jesus.

Jesus was considered the bread of life, “Then Jesus said unto them, Verily verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven, and giveth life until the world. Then they said unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” (John 6:32 - 35.)

WHOLE WHEAT PITA BREAD

2 t. active dry yeast
2 1/2 c. warm water
3 c. whole wheat flour
3 c. flour
2 t. salt
1 T. olive oil

Sprinkle yeast into water. Be sure that the water is not too hot, or it will kill the yeast. (Baby formula temperature is just about right.) Set aside for 5 minutes and then stir in half the flour, one cup at a time, until blended. Set aside for 30 minutes. Add salt and blend in the olive oil. Add remaining flour, one cup at a time. Turn dough onto floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 to 15 minutes. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, turning once to coat all sides. Cover and let rise until double.

Preheat oven to 450* F., placing unglazed quarry tiles (or small baking sheets) onthe bottom rack of your oven. Punch down dough and divide into 16 equal balls. Flatten each piece toform rounds that are 1/4-inch thick. Place breads on oven tiles and bake for 5 minutes or so, until the breads balloon. Remove from the oven and set aside while you bake the remining breads.

Pitot (the plural for pita) will puff up while cooking and flatten while cooling. You can cut them in half and fill with any number of goodies or tear and dip them in our favorite sauce.

The Roman Army enjoyed all kinds of bread, and each one seemed to be baked with a special purpose in mind. “Oyster bread” was to be eaten with oysters, and other special breads were made with spices.

Hardtack, or flatbread, as been eaten for thousands of years. Traditional hardtack is made from little more and a 2:1 proportion of flour and water, with a pinch of salt thrown in for flavor. Its nickname, “Teeth Dullers,” is an adequate description. It often needed to be softened in a liquid before being edible - thrown on top of soups or dunked in hot ale or pork fat. Bit it was easy to pack and transport and would last a long time, makng it a favorite of armies on the move.

FLATBREAD

4 c. rye flour
Hearty pinch salt
1 1/2 c. water

Combine flour and salt. Bring water to boil and carefully moisten flour/salt mixture. Knead until blended and roll into thin, round cakes about 7 or 8 inches in diameter. Bake on a cast-iron griddle, turning frequently. Break into serving pieces about the size of crackers and serve with butter, cheese, hummus, smoked fish or smoked meats.

And when Gideon was come, behold, there was a man that told a dream unto his fellow, and said, Behold I dreamed a dream, and, lo, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the host of Midian and came unto a tent, and smote it that it fell, and overturned it, that the tent lay along. (Judges 7:13)

Round loaves of bread have been popular in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cultures for centuries. The chape came from the ceramic bowls that the dough was set to rise in.

BARLEY BREAD

1 pkg. dry yeast
3 t. brown sugar
1 c. warm water
2 c. barley flour, divided
1 T. olive oil
1 t. salt, or to taste
1/3 c. fava bean flour

Combine yeast with 1/2 t. brown sugar and water in large mixing bowl. Set aside for 5 minutes. Stir in 1 c. barley flour along with the remaining sugar, olive oil and salt. Add fava bean flour and remaining barley flour.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, until you have a dough that is smooth and elastic. Divide dough in half and form two round loaves. Mark a cross on each one by pressing a knife into the surface. Let rise until doubled and bake at 350* F. for one hour.

Makes 2 loaves.

GOOD FRIDAY BREAD

Some people will admit to the belief that the buns baked on Good Friday will never get moldy and can be used in various charms to combat illness. It used to be the custom that at least one was kept from each year’s baking for medicinal use. It was hung in the kitchen and allowed to dry out thoroughly, then powedered and mixed n a glass of milk, water or ale to be given to the ill person.

UNLEAVED BREAD

1 c. whole wheat flour
1/4 t. salt
1 T. butter
2 T. oil
1/4 c. water

Sift together flour, and salt. Add butter making a crumbly mixture. Combine oil and water and blend into flour mixture. Combine thoroughly. Knead on a lightly floured surface. Roll out as thin as possible. Prick in several spots and bake at 400* F. for 8 to 10 minutes.

VINEGAR BREAD

3 c. flour
1/4 t. baking powder
1 c. water
1 c. clarified butter, melted**
1/4 t. salt - or to taste
2 t. sugar
1 t. white vinegar

Combine flour and baking powder. Beat in water, 1 T. butter, salt, sugar and vinegar. On lightly floured surface, knead for 10 minutes to form a dough that is smooth and elastic.

Divide dough into 6 round balls and allow to rest, covered, for 15 minutes. With lightly floured hands, pat each ball into a 6-inch round. Brush with melted butter and roll up like a cinnamon roll.

Let bread rest another 15 minutes before flattening it out again. (Rolling increases the flakiness of this bread.)

Brush the surface with melted butter and roll it up again. Repeat this process a total of 4 times, waiting approximately 15 inutes in betwen each cycle.

Pat each bread into a circle and fry on both sides until you have a bread that is rich and golden. This bread is traditionally dipped in honey.

**Clarified butter, known as SAMNEH, can be kept for long periods of time without turning rancid. In Egypt and Israel, it is sold in large tubs, but in the U.S. it’s easier to make your own.

Melt one pound of butter in a keavy skillet over very low heat. Simmer 35 to 40 minutes until a foam forms on the surface and butter is light golden brown. Skim off foam and strain butter through cheesecloth. Store in the refrigerator or any cool place.