Baking has become a staple for many during the coronavirus pandemic, keeping people entertained at home. With yeast that is plundered in the supermarkets, many “home-bakers” who are sheltering at home are desperate, but probably don’t know that people have produced bread without yeast across history, cultures, and climes, leaving an incredible heritage to choose from when the much coveted yeast is limited.
From the sticky-sweet steamed bread of Colonial New England to the Icelandic rye that rises in a hot spring, or a Canadian peanut butter bread of the 30s: here are some ideas that prove you don’t have to track down that elusive packet of yeast to make at home something edible!
1# Peanut butter bread
The recipe that recently became viral come from the 1932 edition of the Canadian cookbook “Five Roses: A Guide to Good Cooking” by Elizabeth Driver. It dates back to the Great Depression and features simple and inexpensive ingredients: flour, sugar, salt, milk, and of course, peanut butter. You mix together the dry ingredients, add milk and peanut butter and pour it directly into a bread pan to bake for one hour.
2# Beer Bread
The relationship between brewing and baking dates back centuries and is especially prevalent within European cookbooks of the 1700s and 1800s. Brewers would skim the “barm”, that is a yeasty foam generated during fermentation, from the tops of their brewing vats and give the frothy mixture to bakers to leaven their dough. Curious fact: some old bread recipes measure yeast in “pints”!
But if you are thinking if you need to take up home-brewing to make beer bread, you’re wrong: the carbonation provided by a regular can of beer is enough. Simply start with a normal brew that won’t have a strong impact on the flavor, then add flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Oven baking will take about 35 minutes.
3# Pane Carasau
This italian bread has no need for the rising effects of yeast: It’s supposed to be as flat as possible! Sardinian bakers keep rolling out the dough until it’s thin enough that you could read a sheet of music through it. As the discs of dough start to puff up in the oven, bakers continuously slice them into halves until they become thin and cracker-crisp. The resulting dried-out bread can last for months, ideal for the Sardinian shepherds who snacked on pieces as they wandered with their flocks.
In this period you might not be wandering anywhere for a little while, but you can still try this recipe. For ideal results, you need semolina flour, all-purpose flour, water, and salt.
This sweet fruit bread takes its name from the Irish báirín breac, or “speckled bread”. Barmbrack is popular expecially during the Celtic festival of Samhain, which traditionally marked the end of harvest season and the transition to the darkness of winter. Samhain was also believed to be a time when the barriers between the living and the dead dissolved, and spirits roamed free. In addition to cinnamon, nutmeg, and dried fruit, bakers pepper their barmbrack with four symbolic trinkets: if you discover the ring in your slice, you’re destined for marriage, but if you bite the bean inside, your romantic future will be not so bright. If you taste the metal, without swallow it, you’re in luck, but if you chew on the cloth, brace for tough times. In our opinion, the world has had enough ill portents lately, so maybe fill yours just with coins and rings.
If you want try it, stir 2 cups of black tea, raisins, currants, and candied lemon and orange peel in a bowl. Cover and let sit 2 hours, then drain and set aside. Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in a bowl, making a hole in the center. Mix the previous prepared fruit, the butter, milk, and egg in a bowl, stir until a wet dough forms. Oven baking will take about 35/40 minutes. Then brush with honey and bake 2 minutes more.
Beneath Iceland’s surface is an intricate network of bubbling volcanic hot springs. An almost exinct breed of traditional bakers harness this geothermal power to create a style of rye bread locally known as hverabrauð. To make this “hot spring bread,” Icelanders start with a dough consisting of rye flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, milk, salt, and sugar or a sweet syrup. With their mixture sealed in a covered pot, they set off for the nearest spring, dig a hole in the sizzling sand, and bury the container among the waters that gurgle below. After unearthing the pot 24 hours later, they should find a steamed, fully-formed loaf.
If you don’t have icelandic hot springs nearby, you can very loosely mimic the environment by covering your dough and leaving it overnight to slowly cook in a regular 200-degree oven. The resulting rye should be dense and chewy.
6# Salt-Rising Bread
Popularized by pioneers in 19th-century Appalachia, this curious bread also earned fame as the star of what the West Virginia Medical Journal declared “perhaps the most macabre experiment in culinary history.” But a bread can really be macabre?
While yeast-leavened loaves rise with the help of carbon dioxide, salt-rising bread gets heightened by hydrogen. Creating that hydrogen are microbes that bakers cultivate by leaving a mixture of cornmeal (or sliced potatoes), boiled milk, sugar, and salt in a hot environment overnight.
Scientists eventually discovered that the resulting bacteria is Clostridium perfringens, which also happens to be what causes a type of gangrene. Putting this connection to the test, one researcher actually used Clostridium perfringens from a soldier’s infected wound to make his own loaf of salt-rising bread in the 1920s.
Thankfully, you don’t need an infected wound. If you combine ingredients with boiled milk, mix briefly, and you bake the loaves until nicely browned, you will still have a good result!
7# Canned Brown Bread
Yes. Canned. The story of this New England bread begins with 17th-century Pilgrims. Forced to adapt the recipes of their British homeland to the New World, these settlers made some “adjustments” based on local resources. It came to “thirded bread,” a cost-cutting recipe that traditionally combined rye, wheat, and oat flours, that meant swapping in cornmeal for oats and adding in the sweet upgrade of molasses. Some baked the bread in a hearth, while others preferred to steam it. The resulting sticky-sweet product came to be known as Boston brown bread.
In the early 1800s, a new invention that would forever change the food industry also changed the recipe for Boston brown bread: the tin can. Home-bakers turned to cans to steam perfectly-formed cylinders of their bread, which continued to be popular well into the 1900s. A the combination very beloved to B&M, a Maine-based company that’s been making canned baked beans since the 1920s, and it is one of the few producers that still sells premade canned bread.
Making your own canned brown bread is easy. Whisk all ingredients in a large bowl. Set can in a pot and fill with hot water to halfway up sides of can. Cover the pot and simmer about 35 minutes. When the bread is ready, be sure they’re open at the top and at the bottom to help coax the breads out…
8# Cherokee Bean Bread
More a dumpling than a traditional bread, this Cherokee recipe relies on two of the three pillars at the base of Native American cuisine: corn and beans.
The historic method for making bread involves soaking corn kernels in a lye-rich mixture of hickory ash and water, then grinding and working the hulled, washed corn into a dough. Modern cooks, however, can purchase a premade form of this corn flour known as masa harina. The flour gets blended with water, cooked brown beans, and a bit of the liquid from the bean pot, then shaped into flat, oval dumplings. Like canned bread, this recipe relies on steaming. If you want to be a traditional Cherokee, wrap the dumplings in hickory leaves, corn leaves, or corn husks, tie the pouches shut, and steam the lot for an hour. But if this is too complicated for you, you can use a regular aluminum foil instead of the leaves. You’ll miss a bit of tradition and authenticity, but still get a close approximation of the real product.
9# Unleavened bread
Known as Matzah within the Jewish community, it represents a symbolic element with great importance. Combine the salt, flour and water together in a large bowl until the dough comes together, then cook on a hot skillet for 2 minutes on each side. This 3 ingredient recipe is a great way to incorporate a Biblical approach to the Passover holiday…or if finding the yeast in the supermarket is a task of biblical proportions!
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