baguette, batard, boule, bread humor, bread making, bread wreaths, ciabatta, Fertile Crescent, ficelle, Flat breads, focaccia, fougasse, French bread, miche, Middle East conflict, puccia, Shaping, torpedo, where bread comes from
I admit that part of my fascination with bread making has to do with the challenge of making a visually appealing loaf of bread. Obviously, the taste is the most important thing, but coming in a close second (okay, maybe third) would be the aesthetic quality of the bread. As I look at breads from around the world, I see such an array of beautiful breads, using various shapes, glazes, scoring (slashing) patterns, stencils and toppings. I certainly cannot do justice to the entire planet of breads, however, I have selected some basic shapes to show you as a way to convey that breads are works of art found internationally, meant to be appreciated by the eyes, as well as the nose and taste buds.
Before there were metal loaf pans, there were free standing loaves which we now call “hearth breads.” Anthropologists suggest that breads were likely first made in the part of the world that we refer to as the Fertile Crescent, an area which would have included Mesopotamia, and current day Iraq. That region of the world is often considered to have produced the first farmers; the first humans to figure out that it was possible to live in one place on the earth rather than move across the landscape following herds of whatever was tasty. Way back then, the Fertile Crescent was more fertile than it is today; the climate was a bit kinder (as opposed to desert heat) and it had plenty of rain fall and therefore was a great region for roaming nomads to discover lots of naturally occurring foods that wanted to grow there. At some point, two men (Bud, the atlatl thrower and Dave, the spear thrower) looked at each other and one of them said, “I’ve had it with picking up and moving household every new moon. Me and (holding up 2 fingers) Women going to stay put and eat the food that grows here. Maybe see you and the Others when the Giant Gronka come back this way. BTW I’m keeping (holding up 3 fingers) Goats and Dog here with me.” At which point, the two men either agreed amicably to divide the property and go their separate ways, or more likely, they didn’t agree on how things should be divided up, and thus began the conflict in the Middle East.
Well, it is only a hop, skip and a jump from the Fertile Crescent to the surrounding areas now known as Italy, Greece, France, Turkey, Hungary, and so on. It makes sense to me now that many of the breads that we are most familiar with had their origins not far from the Fertile Crescent. Thus, I will be using many of the terms that the French and Italians came up with to describe their breads. France and Italy share a common border and so it is not surprising to see evidence of the give and take of ideas about bread making, and language about bread crossing their borders. Although I do not speak French, I have a sister-in-law who does, and have asked for her assistance in correct pronunciation of the French breads.
French bakers call the round loaf a boule (pro. Bool) meaning “ball.” A boule made with a white flour dough and very active starter is going to remain fairly round, like a ball. The same shape made with more whole wheat flour and other ingredients may not rise as much and may be less spherical, but would still be called a boule. When the boule is single serving size, we call them buns, or in Italy, they may be referred to as puccia (pro. poo-CHEE-ah) meaning “little cheeks.” How cute is that? Conversely, when you see a very large round loaf of bread, it is frequently referred to as a peasant loaf, or the French may call it a miche (pro. meesh) meaning “butt cheek.” Who said that bread bakers lack humor?
Have you noticed that in movies, all NYC grocery shoppers are depicted carrying a long, slim loaf of bread? (Must be some rule of urban cinematography or something). Some readers may say, “ah, ze French bread.” I hereby declare that the term “French bread” is entirely inadequate. The long slender loaf may be called a baguette meaning “stick” or “rod.” It may also be referred to as a baton (same meaning). A shorter loaf with a broader girth is called a batard (pro. ba-TA-rd). The Italians have another name for a similar loaf but which has more predominantly pointed ends and a plump middle, a torpedo meaning, what else, “torpedo.” The Italians also have a miniature version of a baguette which they call a ficelle (pro. fee-CHEH-lay). I haven’t found a translation for “ficelle.” Rather than cutting a ficelle, it would be eaten whole, as a stick of bread.
Beyond the sticks of bread, there are a number of breads which fall into a category that we call rustic breads. In this context, as I understand it, “rustic” refers to the doughs that are rather wet and do not maintain an upright shape in proofing, nor in the oven. A wet dough allows a bread to develop a very light, airy crumb with large holes. One of the rustic breads is ciabatta (pro. chee-ah-BAH-tah) meaning “bedroom slipper.” Apparently, somebody was reminded of foot apparel when they looked at this loaf. I can’t see it myself, but am willing to accept that title. Ciabatta is sometimes used as special sandwich bread. I like it dipped in olive oil. Another Italian bread is called a filone (pro. fee-LO-nay) meaning “long loaf.” But rather than it representing a long loaf, to me it describes a rather angular, squarish, loosely formed bread. The other wet Italian bread that comes to mind is focaccia (pro. fo-CAHSH-yah). I find no translation for that word but we certainly recognize it as a flattish bread, sometimes stuffed with garlic, onions, sweet red peppers, or cheese or topped with those sort of ingredients. A focaccia dough is used to make a bread that we call fougasse (fo-GAHS) which translates to “focaccia.” Perfect, huh? To my knowledge, we call a bread fougasse for the way that it is cut through and pulled apart to allow as much baked crust surface as possible. The more bread surface that is exposed to the hot oven air, the more caramelization that can occur, adding to that somewhat crusty and chewy bread quality. Many regions of the world have their version of a “flat” bread: Ehiopia with injera; India, the Middle East and northern Africa with their pita breads and naan; and many countries with types of crackers or lavash.
The French also have a wheel-shaped bread which they call a couronne (pro. coo-ROAN) meaning “crown” and to which I referred in a previous post about a recipe for Wild Rice Crown. In France, that would be a white bread peculiar to a region called the Auvergne. I borrowed the name for the Wild Rice Bread. Other cultures have also used that wheel shape to make breads characteristic to their areas: Norway has the Vorterkaker; Finland, the Hapanleipa. The wheel-shape provides a practical way to store multiple loaves of dry bread if the wheels are threaded over a rafter which is what many of the Scandinavians did years ago. The Scandinavians also devised many other breads which were formed into rings or wheels, or even braided and then formed into wreaths for holidays or special festivities; Iceland’s Fylltur Hveitibraudskrans (Coffee Wheat Bread Ring); Sweden’s Saffronsbullar (Saffron Christmas Bread); Denmark’s Valnoddekrans (Wheat Walnut Wreath). I have to stop at some point–there are too many beautifully shaped breads from around the world to name them all, but I hope these whet your appetite to learn more about the many facets of bread as art.