2014 Bread Challenge

January – Challah

According to Claudia Roden:

Challah is made in various sizes and shapes, all of which have a meaning. Braided ones, which may have three, four, or six strands, are the most common, and because they look like arms intertwined, symbolize love. Three braids symbolize truth, peace, and justice. Twelve humps from two small or one large braided bread recall the miracle of the 12 loaves for the 12 tribes of Israel. Round loaves, where there is no beginning and no end, are baked for Rosh Hashanah to symbolize continuity. Ladder and hand shapes are served at the meal before the fast of Yom Kippurthe ladder signifying that we should ascend to great heights, the hand that we may be inscribed for a good year. On Purim, small triangular loaves symbolize Haman’s ears; at Shavuot, two oblongs side by side represent the Tablets of the Law. The bulkah is a segmented rectangular challah. Sweet challahs with honey or raisins are baked during the festive season to bring joy and happiness.

February – Pane di Altamura

This is what Italian magazine Essen has to say about Pane di Altamura

It is the best bread in the world – or, so said the Latin poet Horace – and the clever adventurer always took a loaf away with him. Made from durum wheat semolina, derived from the grains of the varieties “appulo,” “archangelo” “duilio” and “simeto,” water, natural yeast and salt. It is a process carried out in five phases: making of the dough, formation, proofing (the rising of the dough), shaping, and finally baking in a wood oven. These phases give the Pane d’Altamura an exceptional longevity. One loaf can be enjoyed even a few weeks after its baking, with tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil maintaining unaltered the flavour and nutritive properties.

March –  Bublik

In A Taste Of Russia: A Cookbook of Russian Hospitality, Dara Goldstein describes how Bubliks emerged:

In the 1920s Soviet Russia instituted its New Economic Policy (NEP), permitting a certain degree of private enterprise. A new breed of Soviet citizen, the wily entrepreneur, emerged, wheedling the public to buy wares of often dubious quality. Many less sophisticated sellers also took to the streets in an attempt to peddle their goods, and for a while the cities were once again full of all manner of colour hawkers.

One of the most popular products of this era was the bublik, sold hot from portable ovens and immortalized in a contemporary song, “Bublichiki,” in which a young girl bewails her father’s drunkenness and the fact that she must eke out her livelihood selling buns on the street

April – Lagana

Diane Kochlias writes about Lagana on her Greek Mediterranean Cooking website

Lagana is the unique Lenten flatbread that is traditionally eaten on Clean Monday, the start of the 40-day Greek Orthodox Lenten fast. The fast, indeed, is a paradigm of the Mediterranean diet and most of the dishes eaten during this 40-day period also offer a great, delicious option for vegans and vegetarians.

Traditionally, lagana is made without yeast, a true unleavened bread, like those mentioned in the Old Testament. Lagana is NEVER cut with a knife but rather broken apart, because iron, the stuff of knife-making long ago, was believed to contain the powers of evil.

Few people make the bread at home anymore, relying instead on local bakeries in Athens and throughout Greece. It’s an all-night baking process, one punctuated by glasses of retsina, bowls of pickled vegetables and wedges of “Makedonikos” halvas, made with tahini. These are the Lenten treats bakers sustain themselves on while preparing these oversized, flat loaves.

May – Sourdough bread

The original bread! Sourdough Home sum up their feelings on this bread by quoting Dr. Ed Wood:

“10,000 years later, and there’s no better way to raise bread!”

June – Melonpan

I found it really difficult to find a good summation of what Melon Pan is all about, but the Happy Home Baker has done a lovely job of describing them:

Pans mean bread in Japanese. They are actually bread buns covered with a layer of pastry, or cookie-like dough. Each dough is left for second proofing after the pastry layer is wrapped around it. The inner bread dough will rise and cause the outer pastry layer to crack all over the surface. The name came about as the appearance of the cracked surface resembles a rock melon. In addition, for a basic or standard Japanese melon pan, melon extract is commonly used to add fragrance.

July – Hushpuppy

A hushpuppy is a savory dough made from cornmeal batter, deepfriend and then served with friend catfish. According to What’s Cooking America, there are some interesting theories regarding their origin:

The oldest story is that hushpuppies originated in the settlement of Nouvell Orleans (later called New Orleans, Louisiana), shortly after 1727. They were created by a group of Ursuline nuns who had come from France. The nuns converted cornmeal into a delicious food that they named croquettes de maise. The making of these croquettes spread rapidly through the southern states.

 An African cook in Atlanta is said to have given the name hushpuppy to this food. When frying a batch of catfish and croquettes, a nearby puppy began to howl. To keep the puppy quiet, she gave it a plateful of the croquettes and said, “hush, puppy.” Since the name was cut, it stuck. This same story is also attributed to a Creole cook.

 Hunters and trappers could be on the trail for days at a time. At suppertime the hunting dogs would get hungry, so the hunters would mix a batter out of cornmeal or flour and cook it in grease on the campfire. Then they would throw the fried dough to the pups, telling them to be quiet, shut up, or “hush.”

 Confederate soldiers would sit beside a campfire preparing their meals. If they detected Yankee soldiers approaching, they would toss their yapping dogs some of the fried cornmeal cakes with the command “Hush, puppies!”

August – Chickpea bread

This is a type of bread from Albania and Turkey and uses natural yeast from fermented chickpeas. Paula Woldfert describes her thoughts on chickpea bread:

I’ve come to her to learn the secrets of one of the most difficult, demanding breads of the entire Mediterranean, a fermented ground chickpea leavened bread that has become my nemesis.  After numerous failures I have been tempted to give it up, but this bread is so delicious, golden, and aromatic, I am determined to finally get it right.

   The bread is made from a fermented dough of ground chick- peas flavored with aromatics. (Note: The well-known  chickpea flour-based mixtures, such as those used in Indian fried puris,  Ligurian farinatas, or Provencal soccas are different, being batters in which there is little or no chick-pea fermentation.) And, interestingly, once made it’s generally not eaten in bread form, but turned into rusks.  In a way it’s the Cretan, Cypriot, and Turkish answer to the German-Mennonite  Zweiback, but with a mouth-watering flavor all its own.

September – Mantou

This is your classic Chinese steamed bun/bread dough. According to the info on Wikipedia, the word ‘mantou’ is a homophonous word which means ‘barbarian’s head’. There is an interesting story:

This story originates from the Three Kingdoms Period, when the strategist Zhuge Liang led the Shu Army in an invasion of the southern lands (roughly modern-day Yunnan and northern Burma). After subduing the barbarian king Meng Huo, Zhuge Liang led the army back to Shu, but met a swift-flowing river which defied all attempts to cross it. A barbarian lord informed him, in olden days, the barbarians would sacrifice 50 men and throw their heads into the river to appease the river spirit and allow them to cross; Zhuge Liang, however, did not want to cause any more bloodshed, and instead killed the cows and horses the army brought along, and filled their meat into buns shaped roughly like human heads – round with a flat base – to be made and then thrown into the river. After a successful crossing, he named the buns “barbarian’s head” (mántóu, 蠻頭, which evolved into the present day 饅頭).

October – Zwieback

Zwieback refers to a twice toasted, yeast bread. According to Jennifer McGavin, the process of twice toasting  it was a method of preservation:

Originally used to preserve bread for long trips or voyages, its ingredients changed in the 19th and 20th centuries to include sugar and milk, making it popular for children and people with sensitive stomachs. In English, they are sometimes called rusks…Zwieback may be used for crumb crusts. Just like graham crackers, they are crushed and mixed with melted butter and sugar, then patted into a pan.

November – Lavash

Lavash is a traditional Armenian bread and plays an extremely important role in Armenian cuisine:

The prominent features of Armenian cuisine were founded at least a thousand year before Christianity and have been kept nearly unchanged over the next three thousand years. The type of oven (touner) and utensil (crockery) had a great influence on distinctiveness of the culinary technique, diet, and particularly on uniqueness of the Armenian flat bread called Lavash.

Throughout the ages, Lavash has not only occupied the highest place in Armenian cuisine but also acquired the sacramental meaning, symbolizing life and wisdom. Unlike most other types of bread, Armenian Lavash doesn`t contain a yeast or traditional bread starter which makes Lavash healthier and suitable for almost any diet. Armenian lavash is a very thin bread that can be kept well in a dry place.

December – Potato bread

Found in both European and South American cooking, potatoes have been used in bread. A little history here:

It is believed that the first recipe was squared up by Antoine-Augustin Parmentier – a famous French pharmacist and agriculturist who promoted potato as “poor man’s vegetable”.  Soon it became a norm to add potatoes to flour. Antoine – Augustine Parmentier is also credited with introducing various vegetable ingredients in bread preparation.  Parmentier used potato pulp or starch for preparing bread. Various recipe variants were propagated by culinary authors throughout the 18th century.


2 thoughts on “2014 Bread Challenge

  1. Pingback: Hush Puppies Y’all | In The Gateaux

  2. Pingback: Bao Chika Wow | In The Gateaux

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