The importance of bread

Translated from La Repubblica Newspaper in Italy.

May 16th 2018 article by ENZO BIANCHI

Sicilian Bread made at our Hermitage

“The history of humanity begins with bread”, said Pythagoras, because bread is a product of nature and culture. Bread is a precise, effective reality, but also a symbol, a system of concrete signs that makes it possible to establish practical wisdom. Bread is food that nourishes us and transmits us life, it is solid food that is imprints itself on our senses. Think of the scent of freshly baked bread that once in the early morning could be felt in the streets of the villages, passing by the baker: the perfume precedes the bread itself, reaches our sense of smell and from the morning conveys a feeling of life. But the view is also involved: the infinite forms of bread, due to local imagination and tradition, make the bread become a presence, impose itself and demand respect.

Past generations, who knew the hunger for bread and often did not dare to hope to eat if not bread, there was even a kind of veneration towards this extraordinary food that breaks with the crumbling of crumbs, a sign of its brevity and at the same time, I invite you to discern it also with your hearing. But the greatest epiphany of bread to our senses is when it is tasted, chewed, eaten and so becomes ourselves, because we assimilate what we eat. The bread accompanies the other foods – it is no coincidence that the company – from the beginning to the end of the meal, is usually appreciated by everyone, a very rich food from the dietary point of view.

If this is the substance of bread, its symbolism is no less rich. Bread is primarily “bread of need”, a sign that without food we can not live. This is why we say that “without bread we die”, we talk about work such as “earn the bread”, we evoke the “bread of tears” or we hope for a “bread of life”.

Bread is the daily food par excellence, it is “our bread” because we normally share it, at least in the family, in the community. It is no coincidence that Christians every day invoke “give us today our daily bread”, calling it “ours” because absolutely to be shared, food capable of creating and narrating a communion. The bread either is “ours”, shared or ceases to be bread and God himself can not be confessed as “our Father”. In fact, without this sharing, an ancient truth will be perpetuated that the current migrations confirm tragically: when bread does not go to the poor, it is the poor who go towards bread.


Never break the bread. – The Precepts of Pythagoras.

This can only be understood fully when we know that both the Greeks and Romans used to divide their bread into four parts by impressed lines into the dough before it went into the oven.

Many interpreters have found this saying of Pythagoras obscure, since obviously bread is made to be broken when eaten. Some have compared the bread to human life, presumably on the basis that bread is called the staff of life, and believe the saying cautions against tearing your life to pieces by pursuing conflicting purposes; others that it commands concord toward those with whom we have dealings.

Dacier has come close to the most likely meaning when he asserts that the saying signifies we should not be stinting in our displays of charity. – that is, we should give the whole loaf rather than breaking it up into parts. However, I do not think Pythagoras referred to charity so much as hospitality towards friends and guests.

It is the view that the meaning is “that when we share our house and table with others, we should give them the entire loaf, even if we go hungry as a result, because by dividing the loaf, neither we nor our guests will have enough, but by giving all to our guests we can at least insure that their needs are satisfied.


The Bread Recipe we have used at the Hermitage

Ingredients

2 cups of lukewarm water (you may not use all of it)

3 cups all-purpose flour, or (you can use Farina Tipo 00, Oat flour blend, or Wheat flour)

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 teaspoons of active dry yeast or a packet

1 Tablespoon of Olive Oil

1 Tablespoon of Sesame Seeds (optional for the top)

Instructions

1 Note: Preheat your oven to 375 degrees

2 There are 2 techniques that I will call out below that deal with where you add the sugar. There is one way where you add the sugar to the yeast and another where you add the sugar to the flour. I have used both ways and they both work for me.

Technique 1

1 In a bowl, add 1 cup of warm water and dry active yeast and let it stand until creamy (about 5 minutes).

2 In another bowl add flour, salt, and sugar. After 8 minutes take the yeast and give it a mix then add it to the flour mixture, mixing it in with a fork until sticky, add the additional cup of water a little at a time and continue to form it into a ball. Note: You may not need all of the water. Just make sure the dough is a tad bit moist. Add a little bit of flour at a time to get it to a less sticky consistency. Continue on with the steps 1-11 below.

Technique 2

1 In a liquid measuring cup add 1/4 cup of lukewarm water, add the yeast and 2 teaspoons of granulated sugar. Check back in 10 minutes to make sure it has bubbled and foamed up. If it has then add lukewarm water up to the 2 cup mark of the measuring cup. Note: If it didn’t then you need to try another packet / jar of yeast.

2 In a bowl blend the flour and salt, mix well. Next pour the water 1/2 cup at a time into the flour mix using your fork to blend. Continue to add as much of the water/yeast mixture that you need. Please note you may not need all of the water. You want the dough to be just a tad bit moist. Flour your hands and begin to form the round ball. Continue on with the steps 1-11 below.

Continue with Steps 1-11 below

1 Next, sprinkle with a bit more flour and work it with your hands to make a ball. It’s not necessarily kneading per say. You are just rolling and tucking in gently to get a smooth ball

2 Take the dough and gently mold it into a smooth but firm ball with an elastic feel.

3 Put the dough back into the bowl and cover with a kitchen towel and let it rise. This could take anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour. It all depends on the temperature in the house and the humidity. Since I am in Houston, Texas this takes me about 45 minutes.

4 Once it rises take a little more flour, pat it down and roll it into a ball again.

5 {OPTIONAL} Put the dough back into the bowl and let it rise 1 more time. When you let the bread rise twice it really makes for a better bread but if you are short on time then don’t worry about it.

6 After you are done with all the rising, you will take the dough and put it on the parchment paper that is on a baking tray. The dough should be elongated and oval-shaped, with tapered and rounded (not pointed) ends.

7 Take about 1 tablespoon of olive oil and coat the dough with it. This will make it nice and crunchy on the outside.

8 After you rub it down with olive oil you can sprinkle a bit of sea salt or sesame seeds on top.

9 Next, score the top of the dough with a sharp knife at a 45 degree angle. See image below in my post.

10 Bake 30 minutes, until you hear a hollow sound when you tap the bottom.

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