I take comfort in bread making being an ancient activity. Many modern recipes use to-the-gram accuracy and exact water and dough temperatures. Ancient bread, before measurement tools were conceived was no doubt successful without these optimisations. When baking I use my fingers in a flow of water to decide the right temperature instead of a thermometer and try to adapt good recipes to timings that work for my schedule. Still, occasionally pulling an ‘all-nighter’ to get ready for a bake on a specific day can be fun nevertheless!
A recent discovery of a fireplace in the Black Desert in Jordan containing
crumbs of bread dates the earliest signs of bread making to between 14,000 to 11,600 years ago. The bread was made by nomadic hunter-gatherers using wild barley, einkorn wheat or oats. Previously it was thought that the dawn of bread making coincided with the start of agriculture and settled societies – 3000 years later than the recently found remains.
In antiquity, a small piece of dough was retained from the previous batch and used to make new bread (the ‘starter’). Sources of yeast included foam skimmed from beer or wine grape must mixed with flour.
So if you see a recipe with lots of detailed measurements and conditions, don’t panic! Feel free to experiment a little – trial and error with small changes and experimentation is the path to discovering your own way of baking and your own recipe successes!