The Birth, The Bible, and The Bake: The History of Bread

Georgia Lambert covers the history of bread, and offers up her own olive bread recipe

Central to the growth in population and subsequent formation of cities, bread has existed as a carbohydrate staple for over 30,000 years, with scholars noting its necessity in the diet of the prehistoric human.

According to Statista, “over half a kilo of bread was consumed per person per week in UK households” in 2017/2018. With nearly 12 million loaves sold each day, it is no surprise that bread remains a popular staple in our diets.

The science behind bread is complex: the yeast expels the carbon dioxide as it proves, then once in the oven, the heat catalyses the fermentation and respiration of the yeast organisms, allowing for even more carbon dioxide particles to be produced.

Put simply, in the investigation of why the dough rises, carbon dioxide is caught bread handed. Paul Hollywood makes it look so simple, doesn’t he?

Although difficult to believe, bread did exist before Hollywood truly brought it to the nation’s attention. Archaeologists discovered evidence of flour present in The Stone Age, and whilst the invention of bread cannot be attributed to a single person or place, prehistoric times witnessed the evolution of such a creation.

Originally existing in its unleavened form, that is without yeast or raising agent, cavemen would cook the dough on heated rocks. It was only when someone revisited their bread the next day, after having accidentally left it in the sun, which led to the discovery of the raising properties in it. This new find eventually led to fermented, leaven bread. Although there is much speculation around the origin of the leaven form, theorists believe it was born in Egypt, after evidence surfaced of paintings within tombs which depicted bread-making.

Image credit: DovesFarm, the hieroglyphics read: “let me live upon bread and barley of white my ale made of grain red”

In 2018, a discovery which would dramatically transform the history of agriculture was noted at an excavation site in Jordan by archaeobotanist, Amaia Arranz-Otaegui. The site was said to be home to many food remains of the Natufian tribe, known predominantly for their hunting during the Epipaleolithic period. The unearthing of a bread which scientists believe to be over 14,000 years old, means bread has been around for much longer than was originally predicted. This primordial piece of bread is officially the oldest bread in the world, yet what it crucially revealed, was that baking existed before farming and agriculture, leading to the belief that baking bread ultimately led to the cultivation of cereals and grains.

Image credit: Amaia Arranz-Otaegui – 14,000 year old piece of bread (I wouldn’t try it…)

The consumption of bread was held with high regard, and often as a symbol of wealth, with the rich in society eating white bread, and the poor feasting on brown. It is a food which is also known widely for its religious significance, notably in the feast of The Last Supper, and as a representation of the body of Christ in Holy Communion.

Interestingly, the Bible celebrates unleavened bread, as mentioned in Deuteronomy 16:3, where God rewards the Israelites having fled Egypt in such haste that their bread had little time to rise. Leaven bread, on the other hand, is used as a metaphor for sin in Galatians 5:9: just as a small serving of yeast will affect the whole dough, a small amount of sin will affect the whole sinner.

Thankfully, this distaste towards leaven bread exists only in the metaphorical sense, otherwise, this recipe may send us all to Hell. Enjoy!

Image credit: Georgia Lambert

Olive bread

Ingredients:

  • 500g plain flour
  • 1 sachet of instant active yeast
  • 400ml of water
  • A pinch of salt
  • Basil for serving (optional)
  • Olives

For the accompanying dip (optional):

  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tsp mixed herbs
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • A pinch of salt
  1. Begin by measuring out the ingredients, then combine the flour with yeast
  2. Add the water along with a pinch of salt to the mix
  3. Start combining the dough in the bowl, until it begins to bind together
  4. Dust a sprinkling of flour on a chopping board or clean surface, and begin to knead
  5. Knead for roughly 5 minutes, until a smooth and stretchy dough has been formed
  6. Cover with cling film or a damp tea towel, and leave to prove for 1 hour until it has doubled in size
  7. After an hour, knead the dough again, making sure it is elastic in texture
  8. Next, divide the bread into three equal pieces (measure the dough on a pair of scales, then divide it by 3)
  9. Roll each third into a long strand, making sure each strand is the same length and width – do not use a rolling pin, otherwise the dough will be flattened. Instead, form the shape with your hands by gently pulling and stretching it
  10. Once you are happy with your three strands, begin to plait them, taking the left strand and bringing it to the middle, then doing the same with the right strand (if you are unsure about this step, follow this tutorial)
  11. Now attach the beginning and end of your plait to form a circle, and gently press them down so they stick together
  12. Place your plait on a baking tray, cover loosely with cling film, and leave to prove for another hour
  13. After proving, begin to cut the olives in half (I would recommend using two different types of olives for added flavour!) then add the olives to the bread, pushing them gently down into the dough
  14. Preheat the oven to 200°C, then bake the bread for 25-30 minutes until golden and slightly crisp on the top
  15. Whilst baking, make the accompanying dip by adding the olive oil to a bowl, along with mixed herbs, oregano, and salt (optional)
  16. Once cooked, serve with basil (optional)

Rating: 10/10

Difficulty: Advanced

Cost: £3-£5

If you would like to see more recipes from Georgia Lambert, you can find her food instagram here

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