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Jewish Recipes --> Jewish and Israeli Foods --> Bread


Bread is a staple food which is prepared by baking, steaming, or frying dough. Bread consists minimally of flour and water; salt is present in most cases; and usually a leavening agent such as yeast is used. Breads may also contain spices (such as caraway seed) and grains (sesame, poppy seeds) which are often used for decorative purposes. There are a wide variety of breads and preferred varieties often vary from regional to region.

Also See: Bread and Challah Recipes

Breads may be eaten plain or topped with butter, peanut butter, or other nut butter; preserves or sweet spreads such as jam, jelly, marmalade, or honey; or savory spreads such as Marmite or Vegemite. It is also used as an enclosure for sandwiches. Once baked, bread may be subsequently toasted. Bread can be served ranging anywhere from room temperature to hot.

Unwrapped bread can be stored in a breadbox to keep it fresh longer. It actually becomes stale more quickly in the low temperature of a refrigerator, although by keeping it cool mold is less likely to grow.


The first breads produced were cooked versions of a grain-paste, made from ground cereal grains and water, and may have been developed by accidental cooking or deliberate experimentation with water and grain flour. Descendants of these early breads are still commonly made from various grains worldwide, with the Mexican tortilla, Indian chapati, Chinese poa ping, Scots oatcake, North American johnnycake, and Ethiopian injera all being examples.

The basic flat breads of this type also formed a staple in the diet of many early civilizations with the Sumerians eating a type of barley flat cake, and the 12th century BC Egyptians being able to purchase a flat bread called ta from stalls in the village streets.

The development of leavened bread is commonly believed to have occurred in Egypt, due to its favorable wheat growing conditions, and required the development of wheat varieties with two properties not available in earlier varieties. The first development occurred by the beginning of Dynastic Egypt and consisted of a grain that could be satisfactorily threshed without being first toasted. Discovery of a wheat variety containing sufficient gluten-forming protein was the second development required for raised bread. Initial development of leavened bread is believed to have occurred during the 17th century BC, but the wheat capable of producing it appears to have been rare for a very long time after it was initially developed. This scarcity is suggested by the fact that such grain did not become common in Ancient Greece until the 4th Century BC despite regular trade having occurred between Egypt and Greece for the previous 300 years.

There were multiple sources of leavening available for early bread. Air borne yeasts could be harnessed by leaving uncooked dough exposed to air for some time before cooking. Pliny the Elder reported that the Gauls and Iberians used the foam skimmed from beer to produce "a lighter kind of bread than other peoples". Parts of the ancient world that drank wine instead of beer used a paste composed of grape juice and flour that was allowed to begin fermenting, or wheat bran steeped in wine, as a source for yeast. The most common source of leavening however was to retain a piece of dough from the previous day to utilize as a form of sourdough starter.

Even within antiquity there was a wide variety of breads available. In the Deipnosophistae, the Greek author Athenaeus describes some of the breads, cakes, cookies, and pastries available in the Classical world. Among the breads mentioned are griddle cakes, honey-and-oil bread, mushroom shaped loaves covered in poppy seeds, and the military specialty of rolls baked on a spit. The type and quality of flour used to produce bread could also vary as noted by Diphilus when he declared "bread made of wheat, as compared with that made of barley, is more nourishing, more digestible, and in every way superior. In order of merit, the bread made from refined [thoroughly sieved] flour comes first, after that bread from ordinary wheat, and then the unbolted, made of flour that has not been sifted."

Within medieval Europe bread served not only as a staple food but also as part of the table service. In the standard table setting of the day the trencher, a piece of stale bread roughly 6 inches by 4 inches (15 cm by 10 cm), served as an absorbent plate. At the completion of a meal the trencher could then be eaten, given to the poor, or fed to the dogs. It was not until the 15th Century that trenchers made of wood started to replace the bread variety.

Otto Frederick Rohwedder is considered to be the father of sliced bread. In 1912 Rohwedder started work on inventing a machine that sliced bread, but bakeries were reluctant to use it since they were concerned the sliced bread would go stale. It wasn't until 1928, when Rohwedder invented a machine that both sliced and wrapped the bread, that sliced bread caught on. A bakery in Chillicothe, Missouri was the first to use this machine to produce sliced bread.

For generations, white bread was considered the preferred bread of the rich while the poor ate dark bread. However, the connotations reversed in the 20th century with dark bread becoming preferred as having superior nutritional value while white bread became associated with lower class ignorance of nutrition.

Recently, domestic bread makers that automate the process of making bread are becoming popular in the home.

Bread is a popular food in Western and most other societies except for the Asian societies that typically prefer rice. It is often made from a wheat-flour dough that is cultured with yeast, allowed to rise, and finally baked in an oven. Owing to its high levels of gluten (which give the dough sponginess and elasticity), wheat is the most common grain used for the preparation of bread, but bread is also made from the flour of rye, barley, maize (or corn), and oats, usually, but not always, in combination with wheat flour.

Composition and Chemistry


The amount of water and flour are the most significant measurements in a bread recipe, as they affect texture and crumb the most. Professional bakers use a system of percentages known as Bakers' Percentage in their recipe formulations, and measure ingredients by weight instead of by volume. Measurement by weight is much more accurate and consistent that measurement by volume, especially for the dry ingredients.

Flour is always 100%, and the rest of the ingredients are a percent of that amount by weight. Common table bread in the U.S. uses approximately 50% water, resulting in a finely textured, light, bread. Most artisan bread formulas contain anywhere from 60 to 75% water. In yeast breads, the higher water percentages result in more CO2 bubbles, and a coarser bread crumb. One pound of flour will yield a standard loaf of bread, or two French loaves.


Flour is a product made from grain that has been ground into a powdery consistency. It is flour that provides the primary structure to the final baked bread. Commonly available flours are made from rye, barley, maize, and other grains, but it is wheat flour that is most commonly used for breads. Each of these grains provides starch and protein to the final product.

Wheat flour in addition to its starch contains three water soluble proteins groups, albumin, globulin, proteoses, and two non-water soluble proteins groups, glutenin and gliadin. When flour is mixed with water the water-soluble proteins dissolve, leaving the glutenin and gliadin to form the structure of the resulting dough. When worked by kneading, the glutenin forms strands of long thin chainlike molecules while the shorter gliadin forms bridges between the stands of glutenin. The resulting networks of strands produced by these two proteins is known as gluten.


Water, or some other liquid, is used to form the flour into a paste or dough. The volume of liquid required varies between recipes, but a ratio of 1 cup of liquid to 3 cups of flour is common for yeast breads while recipes that use steam as the primary leavening method may have a liquid content in excess of one part liquid to one part flour by volume. In addition to water, other types of liquids that may be used include dairy products, fruit juices, or beer. In addition to the water in each of these they also bring additional sweeteners, fats, and or leavening components.


Leavening is the process of adding gas to a dough before baking to produce a lighter, more easily chewed bread. Most bread consumed in the West is leavened. But there is also unleavened bread which has important symbolic use in Judaism (Matzo) and is used by some Christian churches.

Chemical leavening

A simple technique for leavening bread is the use of gas-producing chemicals. There are two common methods. The first is to use baking powder or a self-rising flour that includes baking powder. The second is to have an acidic ingredient such as buttermilk and add baking soda. The reaction of the acid with the soda produces gas.

Chemically-leavened breads are called quick breads and soda breads. This technique is commonly used to make muffins and sweet breads such as banana bread.

Yeast leavening

Many breads are leavened by the fungus yeast. The yeast ferments carbohydrates in the flour and any sugar, producing carbon dioxide. Most commercial and home bakers in the U.S. leaven their doughs with baker's yeast. Baker's yeast produces uniform, quick, and reliable results.

Both the baker's yeast, and the sourdough method of baking bread follow the same pattern. Water is mixed with flour, salt and the leavening agent (baker's yeast or sourdough starter). Other additions (spices, herbs, fats, seeds, fruit, etc.) are not necessary to bake bread, but often used. The mixed dough is then allowed to rise one or more times (a longer rising time results in more flavor, so bakers often punch down the dough and let it rise again), then loaves are formed and (after an optional final rising time) the bread is baked in an oven.

Many breads are made from a straight dough, which means that all of the ingredients are combined in one step, and the dough baked after the rising time. Alternatively, doughs can be made with the starter method, when some of the flour, water, and the leavening are combined a day or so ahead of baking, and allowed to ferment overnight. (Such as the poolish typically used for baguettes) On the day of the baking, the rest of the ingredients are added, and the rest of the process is the same as that for straight doughs. This produces a more flavorful bread with better texture. Many bakers see the starter method as a compromise between the highly reliable results of baker's yeast, and the flavor/complexity of a longer fermentation. It also allows the baker to use only a minimal amount of baker's yeast, which was scarce and expensive when it first became available.

The sour taste of sourdoughs actually comes not from the yeast, but from a lactobacillus, with which the yeast lives in symbiosis. The lactobacillus feeds on the byproducts of the yeast fermentation, and in turn makes the culture go sour by excreting lactic acid, which protects it from spoiling (since most microbes are unable to survive in an acid environment). All breads used to be sourdoughs, and the leavening process was not understood until the 19th century, when with the advance of microscopes, scientists were able to discover the microbes that make the dough rise. Since then, strains of yeast have been selected and cultured mainly for reliability and quickness of fermentation. Billions of cells of these strains are then packaged and marketed as "Baker's Yeast". Bread made with baker's yeast is not sour because of the absence of the lactobacillus. Bakers around the world quickly embraced baker's yeast for it made baking simple and so allowed for more flexibility in the bakery's operations. It made baking quick as well, allowing bakeries to make fresh bread from scratch as often as three times a day. While European bakeries kept producing sourdough breads, in the U.S., sourdough baking was widely replaced by baker's yeast, and only recently has that country (or parts of it, at least) seen the rebirth of sour-vinegar dough in artisan bakeries.

Sourdough breads are most often made with a sourdough starter (not to be confused with the starter method discussed above). A sourdough starter is a culture of yeast and lactobacillus. It is essentially a dough-like or pancake-like flour/water mixture in which the yeast and lactobacilli fungus live. A starter can be maintained indefinitely by periodically discarding a part of it and refreshing it by adding fresh flour and water. (When refrigerated, a starter can go weeks without needing to be fed.) There are starters owned by bakeries and families that are several human generations old, much revered for creating a special taste or texture. Starters can be obtained by taking a piece of another starter and growing it, or they can be made from scratch. There are hobbyist groups on the web who will send their starter for a stamped, self-addressed envelope, and there are even mail-order companies that sell different starters from all over the world. An acquired starter has the advantage to be more proven and established (stable and reliable, resisting spoiling and behaving predictably) than from-scratch starters.

There are other ways of sourdough baking and culture maintenance. A more traditional one is the process that was followed by peasant families throughout Europe in past centuries. The family (usually the woman was in charge of bread making) would bake on a fixed schedule, perhaps once a week. The starter was saved from the previous week's dough. The starter was mixed with the new ingredients, the dough was left to rise, then a piece of it was saved (to be the starter for next week's bread). The rest was formed into loaves which were marked with the family sign (this is where today's decorative slashing of bread loaves originates from), and taken to the communal oven to bake. These communal ovens over time evolved into what we know today as bakeries, when certain people specialized in bread baking, and with time enhanced the process so far as to be able to mass produce cheap bread for everyone in the village.

San Francisco sourdoughs

The most famous sourdough bread made in the U.S. is the San Francisco Sourdough, which in contrast to the majority of the country has remained in continuous production for nearly 150 years, with some bakeries able to trace their starters back to the American conquest of California. It is a white bread, characterized by a pronounced sourness (not all sourdoughs are as sour as the San Francisco Sourdough), so much so that the dominant strain of lactobacillus in sourdough starters was named Lactobacillus sanfrancisco.

Steam leavening

The rapid expansion of steam produced during baking leavens the bread, which is as simple as it is unpredictable. The best known steam-leavened bread is the popover. Steam-leavening is unpredictable since the steam isn't produced until the bread is baked.

Steam leavening happens regardless of the rising agents (soda powder, yeast, baking-powder, sour dough, egg snow…)

  • The rising agent generates carbon dioxide - or already contains air bubbles.
  • The heat vaporizes the water from the inner surface of the bubbles within the dough.
  • The steam expands and makes the bread rise.

It is actually the main factor in the rise. CO2 generation, on its own, is too small to account for the rise. Heat kills bacteria or yeast at an early stage, so the CO2 generation is stopped.

Bacterial leavening

Salt-risen bread employs a form of bacterial leavening that does not require yeast. Although the leavening action is not always consistent, and requires close attention to the incubating conditions, this bread is making a comeback due to its unique cheese-like flavor and fine texture.

Fats or shortenings

Fats such as butter, vegetable oils, lard, or that contained in eggs affects the development of gluten in breads by coating and lubricating the individual strands of protein and also helping hold the structure together. If too much fat is included in a bread dough, the lubrication effect will cause the protein structures to divide. A fat content of approximately 3% by weight is the concentration that will produce the greatest leavening action.

In addition to their effects on leavening, fats also serve to tenderize the breads they are used in and also help to keep the bread fresh longer after baking.

Breads across different cultures

There are many variations on the basic recipe of bread, including pizza, chapatis, tortillas, baguettes, pitas, lavash, biscuits, pretzels, naan, bagels, puris, and many other variations.

  • In Britain and the United States, the most widely consumed type of bread is soft-textured with a thin crust and is sold ready-sliced in packages. It is usually eaten with the crust, but some eaters or preparers may remove the crust due to a personal preference or style of serving, as for high tea.
  • In Scotland, another form of bread called plain bread is also consumed. Plain bread loaves are noticeably taller and thinner, with burned crusts at only the top and bottom of the loaf. Plain bread has a much firmer texture than British and American pan bread. Plain Bread is becoming less common as the Bread consumed elsewhere in Britain is becoming more popular with consumers.
  • In France, pan bread is known as pain de mie and is used only for toast or for making stuffing; standard bread (in the form of baguettes or thicker breads) has a thick crust and often has large bubbles of air inside. Some fancy breads contain walnuts, or are encrusted with poppy seeds.
  • White bread is made from flour containing only the central core of the grain (endosperm).
  • Brown bread is made with endosperm and 10% bran.
  • Whole meal bread contains the whole of the wheat grain (endosperm and bran).
  • Wheat germ bread has added wheat germ for flavoring.
  • Wholegrain bread is white bread with added wholegrain to increase the fiber content.
  • Granary bread is bread made from granary flour, trademarked to Hovis made from malted white or brown flour, wheat germ and wholegrain.
  • Stottie cake is a thick, flat, round loaf. Stotties are common in the North East of England. Although it is called a cake, it is a type of bread.

Bread in Germany

Germany has the widest variety of bread available to its residents. About 300 types of breads and approximately 1200 different types of pastry and rolls are produced in about 17,000 bakeries and another 10,000 in-shop bakeries.

80 million people consume around 1,100,000 tons of bread, 5,024,000,000 rolls and 454,000,000 pretzels per year. This is a world record. Bread is served with almost every meal. A German breakfast typically consists of sliced bread or Brötchen (rolls) with either cold cuts, cheeses etc. or jam, honey and other sweet toppings. For supper, traditionally, it is usually just cold cuts and cheese, although this tradition is rapidly changing. Bread is not considered a side dish and is considered important for a healthy diet. Germany's top nine in bread are:

  • 1. Rye-wheat ("Roggenmischbrot")
  • 2. Toastbread (white bread)
  • 3. whole-grain ("Vollkornbrot")
  • 4. Wheat-rye ("Weizenmischbrot")
  • 5. White bread ("Weißbrot")
  • 6. Multi-grain ("Mehrkornbrot")
  • 7. Rye ("Roggenbrot")
  • 8. Sunflower seed ("Sonnenblumenkernbrot")
  • 9. Pumpkin seed ("Kürbiskernbrot")

Especially the darker kinds of bread like Vollkornbrot or Schwarzbrot are typical of German cuisine. Internationally well known is Pumpernickel which is steamed for a very long time, it is one kind of dark bread from Germany but not representative. Most German breads are made with sourdough. Whole grain is preferred for high fibre. Germans use almost all available types of grain for their breads: wheat, rye, barley, spelt, oats, sorghum, corn and rice. Some breads are even made from potato flour.

French Style Baking

The French are renowned for their artisan breads. By using the four basic ingredients of water, flour, yeast, and salt, the French have mastered the art of creating complex breads that widely vary, despite the fact that each loaf contains the mixture of the same ingredients. French law dictates that for “French” style breads, only the four above-mentioned ingredients may be used, along with ascorbic acid and rye flour. By manipulating rising times, kneading techniques, and with the use of specialty brick ovens, the French breads are as varied and unique as the regions in France.

Denmark and Bread

Bread is a very important part of the Scandinavian table and lunches at home or in the workplace (and in Danish restaurants) will usually be based on bread, primarily rugbrød, which is unleavened rye bread. It is a dark, heavy bread which is often bought pre-sliced, in varieties from light-colored rye, to very dark, and refined to wholegrain. It forms the basis of smørrebrød, which is closely related to the Swedish smorgasbord, literally 'spread bread' (smør is butter). Traditional toppings include sild, which are pickled herrings (marinerede - plain, krydder - spiced, or karry - curried, being the most popular), slightly sweeter than Dutch or German herrings; thinly-sliced cheese in many varieties; sliced cucumber, tomato and boiled eggs; leverpostej, which is pork liver-paste; dozens of types of cured or processed meat in thin slices, or smoked fish such as salmon; mackerel in tomato sauce; pickled cucumber; boiled egg, and rings of red onion. Mayonnaise mixed with peas and diced carrot, remoulade or other thick sauces often top the layered open sandwich, which is usually eaten with utensils. It is custom to pass the dish of sliced breads around the table, and then to pass around each dish of toppings, and people help themselves. Hundreds of combinations and varieties of smørrebord are available. A famous and very old restaurant in Copenhagen's historic Nyhavn harbour, Ida Davidsen, serves up many imaginative combinations, and the fridge in a typical Danish home will often be stocked with toppings for rugbrødsmad, or 'ryebread meal', which is a way of saying 'a plain normal lunch'. Denmark has strong traditions of special types of food eaten at particular times of the year, such as smoked eel with slices of a sort of scrambled-egg loaf eaten on ryebread at New Year, accompanied by beer. Other types of bread are sold in supermarkets and in bakeries, which are important shops in every town and shopping centre. Many women still bake at home, particularly boller, which are small bread rolls, and often the traditional kringle, which is a long cooked dough with currants and a brown-sugar and butter paste. Home-baked bread uses moist yeast, and many thousands of packs are sold every day, the major brand being a division of Carlsberg Brewery. In the great trucking strikes of 1998, yeast was one of the first products to be sold out in shops, indicating the importance of home baking in Denmark. Sliced square white bread is known in Denmark as franskbrød, literally 'French bread', and is not as common as it is in many other western countries. People often eat jam with cheese on crusty white bread for breakfast, and also very thin slices of chocolate, called pålægschokolade. Another popular way of consuming bread in Denmark is as tiny buns for long hotdogs, like small puffy napkins made out of white bread, which are available in little kiosks everywhere and in pølservogn ('sausage-vans') that move about the cities.


The following instructions to make bread were taken from the Household Cyclopedia of 1881:

"Place in a large pan twenty-eight pounds of flour; make a hole with the hand in the centre of it like a large basin, into which strain a pint of brewer's yeast; this must be tested, and if too bitter a little flour sprinkled into it, and then strained directly, then pour in two quarts of water of the temperature of 100 °F (about 40 °C), or blood heat, and stir the flour round from the bottom of the hole formed by the hand till that part of the flour is quite thick and well mixed, though all the rest must remain unwetted; then sprinkle a little flour over the moist part and cover it with a cloth; this is called sponge, and must be left to rise. Some leave it only half an hour, others all night.

"When the sponge is light, however, add four quarts of water the same temperature as above, and well knead the whole mass into a smooth dough. This is hard work if done well. Then cover the dough and leave it for an hour. In cold weather both sponge and dough must be placed on the kitchen hearth, or in some room not too cold, or it will not rise well. Before the last water is put in two tablespoonful of salt must be sprinkled over the flour. Sometimes the flour will absorb another pint of water.

"After the dough has risen it should be made quickly into loaves; if much handled then the bread will be heavy. It will require an hour and a half to bake, if made into four pound loaves. The oven should be well heated before the dough is put into it. To try its heat, throw a little flour into it; if it brown directly, it will do."


The word itself, Old English bread, is common in various forms to many Germanic languages; such as German Brot, Dutch brood, Swedish bröd, and Norwegian brød; it has been derived from the root of brew, but more probably is connected with the root of break, for its early uses are confined to broken pieces, or bits of bread, the Latin frustum, and it was not until the 12th century that it took the place—as the generic name for bread—of hlaf (modern English loaf), which appears to be the oldest Teutonic name; Old High German hleib and modern German Laib, or Finnish leipä, Estonian leib, and Russian khleb are similar (all are derived from Old Germanic).

Sept 2005 - 2014 - Kosher Recipes - Kosher Cooking - Jewish Cooking - Jewish Recipes - Jewish Foods- Jewish Foods
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Bread.