In the German town of Ulm there is a famous museum.  I think it’s the only one like it anywhere.  Ulm, we know, is the birthplace of Albert Einstein and has the tallest church steeple in the world.  But this museum is far more important to all humanity, a hidden thread woven through everyone’s daily life, even today. 

It is a Bread Museum.  I visited it twice, decades ago.  Here I saw and read about the earliest bread ever made, by cave dwellers.  They said that the process of baking bread has not really changed in all the centuries from that day to this.    I saw a display about how bread is key to worship in many religions and how it also takes on a spiritual dimension.  (I was rather disappointed that I didn’t see the traditional harvest loaf that appears in English churches here, around Harvest festival, but probably by this time it exists.)  I learned that the symbol of the French horn outside German bakery shops was used to announce to the village that the bread was ready to come out of the oven – fresh indeed! 

On one visit there was also a special display of how bread was used politically in the 1940s, how the German Jews – even before the internment camps – were only allowed to buy bread an hour a week.  Looking at the website today I realise that the displays have advanced much farther than they were when we visited decades ago.  It makes me long to return. 

When we were in Iran, bread came fresh to our doors three times a day.  There were magnificent two-feet long breads, the raw yeast dough thrown on tiny hot stones in a firey oven – reminiscent of the way the cave dwellers baked bread on hot stones, 10 000 years ago.  There were other Iranian breads – all eaten freshly-baked, all comfortingly delicious.   Even writing about it now makes my mouth water! 

Over the decades I’ve learned a bit more.

  • Ancient Egyptians are believed to be the first to have baked leavened (raised) bread.  About 3,000 B.C.E, they started fermenting a flour and water mixture by using wild yeast, which is present in the air.  Sourdough bakers take note – the process has been going on for 5000 years!  The gold rush people streaming west across America were sometimes called Sourdoughs, because they kept a lump of starter from the previous batch in their back pocket as they moved. 
  • Yeast has 3200 billion cells to the pound – not one cell is like any other.  (Who did the counting?) 
  • Spelt flour, originally used by the Romans, is making a comeback, thanks to organic farmers.  More volatile but v tasty. The Romans developed the first bakers’ guilds in 150 BCE.
  • The word “focus” comes from “domestic hearth”, or “fireplace”, and therefore focaccia, and fougasse were originally considered hearth breads.   

Interested?  Want to find out more?  Have a look at the Real Bread Campaign. .

Making Bread Yourself

OK.   There are shops full of “bread”, and there are bread machines, but making it yourself means that right under you hands you can feel the magic of molecular change and you get to feel the ingredients as they blossom into dough, disparate items developed far from each other, coming together, made into one.

Baking bread by hand is far simpler than this long explanation suggests.  How about sitting down with a glass of your preferred juice, and read through the directions before your attempt?  You may not need instructions at all.

Here’s what you need:

Dry things:

High gluten high protein flour – called strong flour in UK, or just plain Bread Flour.    Probably a 2 – 3 lbs (1.5 kg) bag is plenty.   Use white to start with., salt,  and yeast in packets that can be added directly to the flour before the liquid is applied. 

Optional dry things: dried fruit, seeds, nuts, oats, dried spices and herbs, 2 – 3 tablespoons of sugar, a grated raw potato (a Bedfordshire trick for keeping the bread moist a bit longer).   

Wet things:

One, or a combination of some:   water, milk, eggs, oil, syrups, vegetable water, butter, margarine, sour cream, yogurt, coffee, tea, soups, beer, juices, etc. Warm.  105-115 F.

Bread needs very little fat but adds flavour.  Too much sugar (more than 4 tablespoons) will slow down the rising. 

For 2 large loaves:

In a capacious bowl, add about 2 cups or so of flour, 1 tablespoon salt, and two packets of yeast.  Stir with a wooden spoon ensuring that the yeast is well-mixed with flour.  Add your dry optionals now. 

Liquids: your choice of combinations for 28 fl ozs (3 ½ US cups  800 mls).

Here’s where the wonderful experience begins:  Empty all the liquids into the dry ingredients, and gradually beat in more and more flour until the dough leaves the sides of the bowl.  This starts the stretching, glutenising process.

Leave for 10 minutes for grains to absorb the liquids.  Meanwhile, grease two 2 lb loaf tins. 

Now, on a lightly- floured surface, empty out your dough, with just enough flour to keep dough from sticking.  As you knead, you may need to add a sprinkle of flour now and then.   The molecules are getting longer under your hands.  Kneading is pushing, folding, turning, and messing about with dough – it is very forgiving, and loves to be handled (not like pastry crust).  Knead for 5 minutes or so, revelling in the dough itself as you play with it.  You will notice that the dough develops a shiny skin, called a cloak. 

Return the dough to the bowl (oiled or not) , and cover it.  Let it rest for 40 minutes in a warm place.  Some suggest filling the sink with a few inches of warm water and placing the bowl in it.  If your yeast is active, your dough will rise.  After it has risen awhile, plunge your finger deep into it.  If the hole remains, it’s ready for shaping.

Now bring the dough out onto the floured surface again, gently squeeze out the air (don’t punch it), cut it into two equal-ish pieces.  Flatten into an oblong, fold in the ends, roll up the dough, and place in the tins, seam side down.  Cover again, and let rise about 40 minutes.  This time, touch the loaf gently, and if the indent remains, it’s ready for your oven.  You can carefully slash the loaf diagonally.  Nice design.

Place in a COLD oven.  Turn on the heat to 190 degrees (350 F – 375F) and, depending on your oven, bake for 40 – 60 minutes.  Bread should be crusty on the bottom and sound hollow when thumped.  Lay the loaves on their sides to cool.  Cover with a clean cloth. 

They say that eating hot bread straight from the oven is bad for you.  Most people disregard this warning, and suffer no harm.

Notes:  If you can only get fresh yeast, or yeast that needs to be soaked (proved) in liquid, place it in little warm water with a little sugar, and let it foam up for 10 minutes.  Then add with other liquids. 

Rising times vary, according to how cold your kitchen is. 

Author’s blunder….these pictures aren’t entirely accurate!  They were made with the wrong amount of liquid (now corrected in the recipe).  Your bread will bigger, more voluptuous, more wonderful, and will probably have ears.  Enjoy the taste, the fact that there are no weird additives, and that you made it yourself!  Send us a picture!    


  1. I didn’t know that about Ulm! What I do know is that it’s the highest navigable point on the Danube, which is why I and my then boyfriend went there to start our rubber dinghy cruise. (We had hoped to reach Vienna, but only got as far as Passau, because the flow of the river had been slowed by so many hydroelectricity works.) I wish we’d known about the Bread Museum!


  2. Haven’t baked bread for eighteen months- trying to eat very low carb to be gout free. Recently made a batch for a friend, what a food for the soul the whole process is?
    Have been making bread for fifty years in a couple of months and making this recent batch talk about Proust – keep your madellienes – bread is the thing. The transformation under the kneading from a mass of flour water and yeast to the skin smooth ball left to rise. Then the cooking and being taken finger burning hot from the oven it pleads with you ‘eat me’. The melting butter are you rip the roll open and the slab of cheese – affirms one’s faith in paradise


  3. I have been enjoying these posts for the past 8 years. Words about cooking and eating are a real art. Thank you. Heather


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