Crafting a loaf of bread from scratch can be challenging at the best of times, but when you’re dealing with yeast that’s 4500 years old, your bread-baking game hits expert level.
That's the case for a physicist, video game developer and self-professed ‘bread nerd’ Seamus Blackley, whose adventures in (ancient) bread-making recently went viral. Teaming up with Egyptologist Dr Serena Love and microbiologist Richard Bowman, Blackley recovered yeast from an ancient Egyptian pot and then did what any respectable bread aficionado would do – baked a loaf with it.
Blackley documented the fascinating process on Twitter, from yeast retrieval all the way through to the end product: a delicious-looking puffed up sourdough, complete with the hieroglyph for “loaf of bread”.
“Using a nondestructive (sic) process and careful sterile technique, we believe we can actually capture dormant yeasts and bacteria from inside the ceramic pores of ancient pots,” Blackley wrote on Twitter. “We sampled beer- and bread-making objects which had actually been in regular use in the Old Kingdom.”
After carefully tending to the sample organisms, he added flour milled from grains that would have been common in ancient Egypt. The intention was to emulate Ancient Egyptian bread and baking techniques as closely as possible.
“This is a hobby,” Blackley told The New York Post. “It’s amateur science, and our intention is to make really good bread and beer. So you can taste what it’s like to be [in Ancient Egypt].”
If you talk to microbiologists around the world, they might tell you ancient yeast is having a moment. In May, scientists used 5000-year-old yeast to brew beer, after a team of archaeologists discovered a brewery in a cave located in the northern Israeli city of Haifa.
Back to the bread: once Blackley’s dough rose, it was time to switch to 21st-century methods, proving you can’t go past a trusty conventional oven when it comes to baking the perfect loaf.
The result? Crusty on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside. Perfection, according to Blackley.
And there might be more Ancient Egyptian bread just around the corner.
We all love sourdough, but what do we do when it goes stale or we have offcuts? This is a great warming dessert or sliced and served with tea. Rich, flavoursome and very economical to make. Peter Kuruvita's Coastal Kitchen
A practical, step-by-step guide with tips, tricks and timelines to making your own sourdough starter and baking with it. The method is logical and simplified for beginner bakers to follow (and expert bakers to hone).