Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ancient Cooking: Silignites (Whitest Wheat Bread)

I was so excited about my son's last 6th grade project (yes, I know the new school year has already started for us, and my son is now in the 7th grade, but better late then never). I am hoping that some of you moms (or dads) out there that might need this recipe this year for Ancient Roman days, and now you'll have it.

My son, came home one day after school last year and told me we needed to cook. YAHOOO! My favorite thing to do, then he told me that the recipe had to be from Ancient Times, Roman or Greek. YUCK! What the heck were we gonna make, and to make enough to share with his whole class. Good thing his teacher had a cook book called "Cooking in Ancient Civilizations". I told him to pick out a recipe and bring it home. Guess what he picked; Bread. Okay, I never ever make home made bread. (I can only make Grandma's Homemade Rolls and that took me forever to get it down good.)

So, let the adventure begin. (and yes, my son helped the entire time) That's my rule, I will make anything, anytime, but my kids have to help if its for their school projects, friends birthdays, sports teams and/or they just get an idea in their head to make something, they must be in the kitchen with me. (and they must be willing to be photographed, of course, so I can blog about it later)

Here is the page he copied and brought home to me.... taken from the Cooking in Ancient Civilizations" cookbook:

According to Galen, Romans throughout the empire ate silignites, the whitest wheat bread, whenever possible. He considered silignites the most digestible and bread baked under a dome (sub testu) the healthiest. His second choice for baking was a tile-lined oven with a moderate, rather than intense, fire: he strongly disapproved of the dark, burnt crusts that hot ovens created, resembling a shell that encased a raw or undercooked crumb.

Silignites ideally should be baked under a clay dome such as those available from La Cloche. The cloche approximates the testum used by Romans, although the shape and size differ somewhat. The Romans preheated the testum by creating a fire underneath the dome on a baking stone. Once the dome was heated, the ashes were swept away, the bread was placed on the hot stone, the dome was replaced, and the flattened top was mounded with hot coals to maintain heat. A modern alternative is to preheat the cloche and baking stone, place the bread on the stone, and cover with the cloche. You could also use a relatively flat, unglazed terra cotta flowerpot along with its drip tray to simulate the testum, but it will be deeper than the authentic testum and the heat will not penetrate the bread as quickly. If using a cloche or flowerpot, handle carefully with thick, dry potholders. If neither a cloche nor a flowerpot is available, the bread can be baked normally in an oven (this is the option I choose), in keeping with Galen's second choice of cooking techniques.

This recipe borrows from Pliny to use milk, resulting in a soft loaf. The mix of white and whole wheat flour approximates the extraction rate of the finest ancient flour.

I found these wonderful replica pictures at: Graham's Potted History

This is a testum.
Okay, so did you get all of that! I have no idea what it all means. But I will share what we did, and the bread came out just wonderfully. It's actually a bread, I would even make again! My son brought home the left overs and we ate it with a touch of olive oil & red wine vinegar and it was so delicious.

Whitest Wheat Ancient Bread
2-1/4 cups all-purpose white flour, plus more for kneading
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp instant yeast
1 cup plus 2 tbsp lukewarm milk
Olive Oil as needed
2 tbsp millet (okay, so seriously what is this? I looked it up MILLET: The millets are a group of small-seeded species of cereal crops or grains. None of this is in my house, so I used some Buckwheat and Flax Seed and it worked great!)

Combine the white and whole wheat flours, the salt and the yeast. Make a well and stir in the milk to make a slightly sticky dough. Dust a work surface lightly with flour and turn the dough out. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 7-8 minutes, adding flour only as needed. If the dough is too sticky to work with, let it rest, covered, for about 15 minutes, this will make it more manageable. Continue kneading until smooth but slightly sticky. Lightly grease a clean bowl with olive oil, add the dough, cover, and set aside in a warm place until doubled, about 1-1/2 hours.

Deflate the dough and shape into a round ball. Sprinkle millet on a baking sheet or pizza stone to prevent sticking, and place the dough on top. Cover with the floured cloth and let double, about 45 more minutes.

While the dough is rising, adjust your oven rack to the lowest portion of the oven. Place the baking stone and clay dome, if using one (we just used my pizza baking stone), on the lowest rack in a cold oven. Then turn on to preheat the oven to 425. (I don't know why you do all this, but I just followed the directions and it worked!)

When the bread has risen, carefully slash the top of the bread with a knife or razor blade held at a shallow angle to make incisions no more than 1/4 inch deep, to allow the dough to expand in the oven. Place the baking sheet on the lowest rack and carefully over with the dome. (We did not use a dome)

Bake for 15 minutes and then reduce the heat to 400 and bake for another 20-30 minutes, or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. (this totally works too, it really sounded hollow) Let cool before cutting to firm up the crumb.

A Perfect School Project
A Delicious Ancient Whitest Wheat Bread

One Year Ago Today: Fresh Mozzarella BLT with Pesto


  1. Wow this recipe looks great! It looks like your son had a great time trying it out too :) I'm currently studying to become an elementary school teacher and this looks like a great project to hold in the classroom. Thanks for sharing :)

  2. This bread looks so delicious. I like your rule about the kids helping out in the kitchen.

  3. I am so glad you had fun with this. Thank you for including me on your post. It makes my day as an educator when history becomes a great family project and a learning experience. I plan on doing this project again since it was such a great way to end the year! Thank you for making this a great experience for all involved!!!

  4. I am very happy to here and share this one with my good friends. You done superb work. also make this same with the help of this blog. Now it's time to avail Chauffeur Services in Stretford" for more information.


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