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Ancietn Greek Mushroom Bread
What is common between mushroom and bread? Your first thought probably would go toward flavored bread. And you’ll be right. Partly. Ancient people often mixed dough with oil or fat from bacon to improve the taste of a loaf. They also added various spices such as pepper, cumin, poppy or sesame seeds to achieve different types of bread.
Surprisingly (or not), there were up to 70 different kinds of bread and cakes in Ancient Greece. After the 5th century BC they could even be bought from outside, from special backer’s shop called “artopolion” (ἀρτοπώλιον). Nevertheless, kneading remained one of the main women household daily tasks.
In ancient Greece, bakery was not just regular craft. There was a severe rivalry among all Greek cities (almost the same like the participation at the Olympic Games). The laurel for finest backing belonged predominantly to Athens. The large import of various goods made the city a place where all types of flour could be found, even the precious white wheat one.
Ancient Greeks pioneered two aspects of the backing process that are still valid today. The first is the invention of a free-standing oven, with a door, that could be pre-heated before using. The second one is the leavening agent that allowed the dough to rise. Usually, a piece of dough from the previous day was used, but alternatives existed too. Greeks either prepared a paste from grape must and some flour or soaked wheat bran in wine as a source of yeast.
At the beginning I told you the relation between mushroom and bread might be only partly the flavor. In this recipe the analogue between the two is the shape and the color. The bread, as described by Athenaeus in “Deipnosophistae” (The Banquet of the Learned), was called so because when backed it reminded terrestrial fungi, i.e. mushrooms, so Mushroom bread.
We thought it was not necessary to prepare smaller oven plate to achieve the specific, most common mushroom’s shape. Although it might look like a possible technique, we decided it was not a must - terrestrial fungi vary in height and shapes; among them could be seen such that remind a round loaf of bread. At the end of the day, we were to bake a bread and not a cupcake.
Ingredients for approximately 1 kg/ 2.2 lb/ bread
- 600 g flour, white unbleached
- 1 tsp. instant dry yeast
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. sugar, If you use specialty yeast for French bread you don't need to add sugar.
- ½ cup poppy seeds
- 1 cup wheat bran
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 370 ml water
- Add the salt, the sugar, and the yeast to the flour and mix them together.
- Add slowly the water while mixing to prepare a dough.
- Knead well until the dough becomes elastic and not sticky.
- Cover the bottom of a tray with poppy seeds and place the dough over them. The poppy seeds will prevent the dough from sticking to the tray.
- Cover the dough with a towel and leave it to rise for 40-50 min.
- After 40 min, knead the dough again. You can mix it with the poppy seeds if you wish.
- Cover the bottom of the oven plate with wheat bran and place the dough on top.
- Oil the top of the dough with olive oil and sprinkle with poppy seeds
- Preheat the oven to 160° C / 325 F°/ gas 3, and bake for 35-40 min.
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As partisans of the homemade food, we often bake our bread at home. Although it might be a time-consuming process, eventually it pays off providing us with a healthy product that we consume on a daily basis. Mushroom bread became a regular part of our menu; our kids just love the poppy seeds in the loaf and always search for them.
If you have any doubts, just consider the fact that poppy seeds are part of many cuisines including Germany, France, Czech Republic, East European region, Turkey, India, and Iran. As less allergenic than other seeds and nuts they are safe for food use. In fact, poppy seeds are highly nutritious. They are a good source of dietary fiber and oleic acid (that helps lower the “bad cholesterol”). They are also packed with essential minerals like iron, copper, calcium, potassium, manganese, zinc and magnesium.
1. It is better to knead the dough twice – first, when you mix the ingredients and second, after the raising, as is it was suggested above. It will allow all ingredients to blend well and to produce elastic dough. The bread structure will become smoother too.
2. While kneading the second time don’t be afraid of mixing the poppy seeds with the dough. That will make the dough less sticky and will improve the taste. It is very unlikely for the ancient people to have put special efforts to avoid that anyway.
3. The using of the wheat bran as a layer between the bread and the backing plate is described in the original recipe of Athenaeus. That creates a crunchy bottom crust of the bread.