Baking Bread of ancient Rome

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On my Romans in Rhineland fact finding trip I became interested in bread baking like it was done in the antiquity. After some research, I plunged into baking the bread like the Romans did as depicted in paintings, and found as carbonised loafs in ovens of Pompeii. The bread diverged a little, but it had a very aromatic, whole grain taste with a yellowish crumb, thanks to the KAMUT Khorasan wheat flour.

At the British Museum Pompeii when some artifacts and remains were on display in 2013, one of the items shown was a carbonised loaf of bread found in a bakery oven. On the day of the Pompeii eruption in 79AD, it received a little longer and higher temperature than the baker had intended.

Below: A painting or Fresco found in a Villa in Pompeii

Ancient Roman bread painting

I devoted myself on bread that Archeologists have found in the Roman Empire. I researched two interesting websites for the reconstruction of the carbonised bread from Pompeii. There were most likely raw materials available and used in antiquity, such as KAMUT Khorasan wheat flour, whole wheat, spelt and sourdough

Ancient Roman bread Pompeii

When the Pompeii Live exhibition was staged at the British Museum in 2013, one of the items on display was a carbonised loaf of ancient Roman bread found in a bakery oven from 79 AD.

Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napolii (© Fotografica Foglia)

There were 18 loaves of this type of bread found in various bakeries in Pompeii, therefore I believe it must have been the standard type of loaf. Compelling is the unusual shape on the artifacts. It is believed the Romans tied a rope (kitchen twine) around the dough before baking the loaves, mainly for easier carrying them to the markets.

KAMUT Khorasan wheat flour is optional, it can be bought on Amazon here

At the RömerWelt in Rheinbrohl I saw a flour grinder/mill that was pulled by mules in ancient times, and bread ovens next to it. These reconstructions you see below were built as seen on paintings and mosaics found in Roman villas

Here is a version of the Roman ancient bread with ingredients easy to find today:

  • Vorteig or Poolish a day before: 1 cup flour and 1 cup water, 1/4 tsp dry yeast (or 200g Sauerteig, Lievito matre (1 cup sourdough)
  • 200g Weizenmehl Type 550 (1.5 cups bread flour)
  • 200g Weizenvollkornmehl (1.5 cups whole wheat)
  • 1 1/3 tbsp salt
  • 4g Frischhefe (I used 1/4 tsp dry yeast)
  • 225 ml Wasser (1 cup lukewarm water)
  • Kitchen twine
  • Sesame, Poppy seeds, Chia seeds or Anise to sprinkle on top (I used Everything but the Bagel Sesame seasoning blend)

Sieve the flour in a large bowl or on the work surface and dissolve the yeast in lukewarm water in a hollow and add the pre-dough or sourdough. Mix everything together for three minutes to form a dough (I use my Danish Whisk). Check the consistency, add more flour if necessary. Then add the salt and knead everything into a smooth elastic dough for another five minutes. At the end shape the dough into a round shape, press lightly into a flat baking pan (or baking stone) lined with baking paper. Cover and let rest for 1-3 hours until it has risen nicely. Preheat the oven to 425 F top / bottom heat. Now tie a piece of kitchen twine or thin rope around the risen bread dough, so that the bread retains its shape while baking. Cut the surface crosswise with a sharp knife and bake for about 35-40 minutes.

The result is a bread with an unusual shape, as the Romans probably used the loaves with an integrated strap baked in for carrying.

I don’t usually knead dough, instead I use a Danish Dough Whisk that can be bought on Amazon here

In the video at the British Museum shows how a 2,000-year-old recipe can still be baked today without machines and baking tins. The British Museum asked the Roman baker, Giorgio Locatelli, if he could bake this Roman bread from historical models for the exhibition “Culinary investigations for Pompeii Live”.

When watching this clip, please pay attention to the consistency of the dough before resting