Citizens, you may not be aware that I – your glorious leader and erstwhile arbiter of all things gastronomically tasteful – was once an ancient history major in college!
I’ve had the privilege of excavating several sites in Egypt, Santorini and Greece and have been fortunate to have visited Pompeii in my youth. The weight of antiquity is fully felt as you walk amongst these hallowed streets, knowing how many thousands lost their lives in an instant thanks to the volcano ever-present on the horizon.
Thanks to the action of the quick-setting volcanic ash, much has been preserved in Pompeii – up to and including foods like this loaf of bread, found still inside its oven! It’s moments like this that quicken the heartbeat of any archaeologist – I can only begin to imagine what it must have felt like to discover something so fragile, and unique.
The fact that this survived the eruption is nothing short of miraculous, and the loaf has several unique features: there’s the bread stamp on it which reads ‘Property of Celer, Slave of Q. Granius Verus’. It is also wrapped in a cord, and it’s divided into eight wedges.
Here, you can see a modern chef recreating the bread – though using modern baking techniques.
The amazing blogger at thefreshloaf.com has instead decided to recreate the bread using artisinal techniques, which I heartily endorse. I hereby present their recipe in its entirety for the pleasure of my glorious Citizenry! 😀
Battle on – The GeneralissimoPrint
- 50 g Rye sourdough culture (100% hydration) (preferment)
- 180 g Kamut Khorosan flour (preferment)
- 40 g Strong Bread Flour (preferment)
- 180 g water (preferment)
- 450 g Sourdough (preferment)
- 540 g water (or less (depending upon sourdough hydration))
- 405 g Spelt flour (wholemeal (wholewheat) spelt)
- 405 g Kamut Khorosan (or wholemeal (wholewheat) flour or buckwheat flour)
- 24 g salt
- 2 t Anise, poppy and sesame seeds (optional)
- PREFERMENT: Mix the ingredients for the preferment together into a stiff-ish dough and leave at room temperature (18-24℃ – 65-75F) for 12 hours or overnight.
- MIX. When ready, and if you have a thermometer at hand, determine the Desired Dough Temperature (I aimed for 25℃ – 77F) and adjust your water temperature to achieve it.
- Stir the preferment into half the water.
- Add the flours and stir to incorporate.
- Gradually add the rest of the water and let the dough come together (you may need all of the water or even a bit more, depending on the flour you use). If you can, reserve 10% of the water for later double-hydration.
- KNEAD: Knead for 1 minute into a shaggy mass.
- AUTOLYSE: Cover and let the dough rest for 30 minutes.
- KNEAD: Add the salt and knead for 3 minutes on a stand mixer (5-6 minutes by hand).
- DOUBLE-HYDRATE. Continue kneading and dribble a little of the remaining water into the mixing bowl (or sprinkle on your work surface). Wait until it is absorbed before making the next addition. Do this for 2 minutes on a stand mixer (3-4 minutes by hand)
- KNEAD: Continue until you achieve a good window pane (with these flours it’s never going to be great).
- BULK FERMENT: Return to a greased bowl and let it rest for 50 minutes.
- FIRST S&F: Wet your hands and, either do one complete stretch-and-old turn in the bowl, or tip onto a floured work surface then do one stretch-and-fold. Return to bowl, cover, and leave to rest for 50 minutes more.
- SECOND S&F: Repeat and leave for another 50 minutes.
- THIRD S&F. This is optional depending upon the strength of gluten development in the dough. When I replaced the Kamut flour with either buckwheat or wholemeal it was needed.
- PRE-SHAPE: On a lightly floured surface, gently de-gas the dough, tuck the edges into the centre, flip over, then, with floured hands (the dough is quite sticky), drag it into a loose boule in four quick turns, making sure not to overwork it.
- Cover with a damp cloth (or similar) and let it rest for 20 minutes.
- Prepare a large (1.5kg) banneton.
- SHAPE: Lightly flour your surface and hands again then shape the dough into a tighter boule, making sure not to tear its skin. It’s a big loaf, so you’ll need to use both hands and/or a bench scraper to do this. Make sure you flour your hands again if they begin to stick to the boule.
- Sprinkle the top of the boule with flour, gently turn it upside down, then carefully place it in the banneton.
- PROVE: Cover again and leave to prove for up to 90 minutes. Precise time varies with the ambient temperature. When you think the bread has risen enough, use your finger to carefully make a very small dent in the dough. If after 30-45 seconds the dent remains, the bread is ready to bake, if the indentation disappears, the dough needs a little bit more time.
- Preheat your oven to 225/205(fan)ºC (440/400F).
- When the loaf is ready, turn the oven up to 240/220(fan)℃ (465/430F). Prepare your steam tray.
- Carefully turn the miche onto your baking peel. Spray it lightly with water then sprinkle on the seeds.
- Dust your peel with flour then turn the boule onto it.
- Tie the cord around the loaf, knotting it to make a carrying loop from its tails.
- SCORE: Make four cuts from rim to rim across the centre to create eight segments. You need to slice down to the cord. I used a sharp bread knife to do this; my lame was not up to the task. I’ve also cut it some loaves into six wedges rather than eight. Either way is good.
- BAKE: Slide the miche into your oven and immediately turn the heat down to 225/205(fan)ºC (440/400F) and bake for 50-75 minutes until dark brown.
- Remove the steam tray 30 minutes into the bake.
- When baked, transfer to a rack and leave to cool.
- Calories: 1240.8 kcal
- Sugar: 15.51 g
- Sodium: 1317.27 mg
- Fat: 10.72 g
- Saturated Fat: 2.03 g
- Trans Fat: 0.01 g
- Carbohydrates: 250.25 g
- Fiber: 25.77 g
- Protein: 47.52 g
- Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
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