Whoever said that we’re all made of the same dough, we’re just baked in different ovens, has never made bread from scratch. Because there are just so many types of bread. It can be soft or crunchy, big or small, round or twisted into the most amazing shapes. It is also almost always delicious and comforting. There are practically no cultures that don’t have any kind of bread at all.
But with all this variety, what is bread, really? According to Wikipedia, bread is a mix of liquid and flour. The most common flour is wheat, the most common liquid is water. But sometimes, other types of flour are used: rye, corn, teff, chestnut, almond, rice and many others. Sometimes, the flour is very fine, other times it is coarse and whole grain.Some recipes call for milk, beer, or other liquids instead of water (for example this recipe calls for pickle brine and this one for broth)- depending on the taste and texture you want to achieve. Besides, check out Food Retro for other great bread recipes! For example, adding milk will result in a softer dough-these pain au lait look fabulous! Sometimes, fat (like oil or butter) are added as well.
While many breads are unleavened, some calls for addition of raising agents. The most known are yeast, sourdough (which is practically wild yeast), baking powder, soda (like this Irish soda bread) or beer (which also includes yeast). Eggs can be used as leavening agent as well.To help with this process, sugar is added as “fuel” for the yeast.
Speaking of sugar, I am amazed what the name bread refers to. For example, in English, bread can be sweet (like pumpkin or banana bread), while in Polish, ciasto drozdzowe (yeast cake) would be translated into English as bread.
Sometimes, other ingredients are added to the bread: nuts, olives, raisins, dried tomatoes, herbs and spices (caraway, z’atar, rosemary, fennel, sesame or poppy seeds and others). Sometimes, pulp of cooked vegetables or grains are used: pumpkin, potatoes, kasha, rice, nuts. Sometimes, even chocolate, marcipan, dried fruit or even strawberries. Some are mixed directly into the dough, while others are sprinkled on top (like on pizza). Cheese is a common addition to breads:yum!
As for shapes, most bread come in the loaf form we know so well. But there are plenty of ways breads can look like: flat and round like roti, naan and parathas. Sometimes, they are huge and flat, like Turkish breads- or this First Nations bannock. Others are crescent-formed (like croissants or Croatian Klipici rolls), long and slim like baguettes, braided like challah, Bretzels, round with a hole like bagels, or simple buns, or heartshaped like this pleteno srce (which means braided heart). Sometimes, they are more like little balls like this huckabuck bread. The possibilities are endless.
The taste and texture is different too. For example some are soft and chewy, others are fluffy, yet others are harder and grainy.
And there are so many things you can do with bread! In some countries, it is eaten for breakfast and/or dinner. Check for example the German Abendbrot! Sometimes, it can be eaten with a topping, like pizza (the recipe linked isn’t for classic Italian pizza but looks delicious nonetheless) for dinner or lunch- or first course. Sometimes, it is used in place of a spoon, to scoop up food. Sometimes, it holds a surprise like a filling-I would love to try these empanadas! it can also be used to wrap up a delicious filling, the way burritos do. The Dutch love to eat it for lunch (yes, with knife and fork) and it is topped with ham, cheese, cucumber, tomatoes and egg- a version known as gezond (healthy). In other countries, bread accompanies every meal like in Italy or France.
Oh and did I mention the preparation methods? Some breads are baked, but what about fried breads? What about steamed bread like for example these Chinese steamed buns? What about bagels or soft pretzels which you need to kind of cook first and then bake them? Some are also shaped into balls and then deep-fried, like krafne.And of course let us not forget the good old bread machine! And the cool thing is that a bread machine allows you to make other things, like brioches! So many great ways to make bread.
And let us not forget the many traditions about bread. In Poland, newlyweds are welcomed with bread and salt. Also in Poland, a very Catholic country, bread was considered sacred and when it fell to the floor, it was supposed to be picked up and kissed! Again in Poland, it is a Christmas tradition to break the wafer before the meal: you can read about the whole tradition here.
Some cultures make special breads for special occasions. For example in Poland, special croissants with marcipan are made for St Martin’s Day, or Jewish people traditionally make challe for holidays. Even the German Abendbrot becomes more elaborate on holidays and for special guests.
And what to do with bread leftovers? Again, bread is the gift that always keeps on giving. How about this pudding? Or these Czech dumplings that are totally delicious? You can also add breadcrumbs to coat fried meat, to cover casseroles or stuffed vegetables, or add to meat when making meatballs.
In short, no bread is like another. With so many delicious and flavourful breads to choose from, one can never be bored! And I hope this post will inspire you to start making your own bread.
Besides, if you’re looking for great simple and diverse bread recipes, go no further than Babble!
What is your favourite? What are the traditions and recipes from your culture? How do you like your bread? Let us know in the comments!