Panus Quadratus, the Bread of Ancient Rome
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 Panis Quadratus 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 I saw on the wall in a Villa while in Pompeii Oct. 2022
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
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.
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
KAMUT Khorasan wheat flour is optional, it can be bought on Amazon here
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
The Bread of ancient Rome
- Pre-dough a day before (Poolish):
- 1 cup water (luke warm)
- 1/4 tsp dry yeast
- 1/2 cup KAMUT Khorasan wheat flour (or whole wheat)
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- Main dough:
- 1 cup water (luke warm)
- 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
- 1 cup KAMUT Khorasan wheat flour (or whole wheat)
- 1 1/2 cup Spelt flour
- 3 tbsp all purpose flour
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- Kitchen twine or thin rope
- Sesame, Poppy seeds, Chia seeds or Anise to sprinkle on top. I topped the dough with “Everything but the Bagel Sesame Seasoning blend”
Ancient Rome had most likely materials available such as Khorasan wheat flour and Spelt flour. I plunged into the adventure of baking ancient Roman bread. For the Topping I used “Everything but the Bagel Sesame Seasoning blend”Watch a YouTube video from the British Museum
- Prepare the Poolish or pre-dough a day ahead and let rise loosely covered in a high jar (20 to 24 hours)
- Day 2:
- Add dry yeast to 1 cup of lukewarm water, let sit 5 minutes.
- Add the pre-dough (Poolish).
- Mix all flour ingredients and salt in a separate large bowl.
- Make a hollow and place the Poolish pre-dough in the middle.
- Mix together from the outside in.
- Check the consistency, add more flour if necessary.
- Knead for 8 to 10 minutes (or use a Danish dough whisk)
- The dough should come off the bowl completely.
- Place in an creased bowl and let rise for 1 hr at room temperature.
- Stretch and fold the dough again and again with wet hands in between, so the dough gains a lot of tension.
- Place the dough on the floured work surface and carefully form a loaf it with well floured hands.
- Drop the loaf in a floured proofing basket and let it rise for 60-90 minutes at room temperature until about double.
- Now tie a piece of kitchen twine or thin rope around the risen bread dough.
- Preheat oven to 485F.
- Turn proofing basket upside down and drop the loaf onto the baking stone.
- Brush with water and sprinkle with the seed mix, then cut four ridges crosswise, approx. 1/3 inch deep.
- Put it in the oven, preheated to 485F on the baking stone.
- After 10 minutes, reduce the temperature to 425F and bake for another 40 minutes.
- After baking, let cool on a wire rack.
The bread came out a little flat, but it was a very aromatic and wholesome bread with a yellowish crumb thanks to the Khorasan wheat and the seeds on top. The bread has an unusual shape, as the Romans probably used the loaves with an integrated strap (kitchen twine or rope) baked in for carrying.