The assignment wasn’t as easy as he’d anticipated, the telegenic chef confesses before whipping up a lovely brown miche that appears far more mouth-watering than the carbonized round found in the Herculaneum oven.
His recipe could be mistaken for modern sourdough, but he also has a go at several details that speak to bread’s role in ancient Roman life:
Its perimeter has a cord baked in to provide for easy transport home. Most Roman homes were without ovens. Those who didn’t buy direct from a bakery took their dough to community ovens, where it was baked for them overnight.
The loaf was scored into eight wedges. This is true of the 80 loaves found in the ovens of the unfortunate baker, Modestus. Locatelli speculates that the wedges could be used as monetary units, but I suspect it’s more a business practice on par with pizza-by-the-slice.
(Nowadays, Roman pizza is sold by weight, but I digress.)
The crust bears a telltale stamp. Locatelli takes the opportunity to brand his with the logo of his Michelin-starred restaurant, Locanda Locatelli. His inspiration is stamped ‘Property of Celer, Slave of Q. Granius Verus.’ To me, this suggests the possibility that the bread was found in a communal oven.
Locatelli also introduces a Flintstonian vision when he alludes to specially-devised labor-saving machines to which Roman bakers yoked “animals,” presumably donkeys…or knowing the Romans and their class system, slaves.
His published recipe is below. Here is a conversion chart for those unfamiliar with metric measurements.
400g biga acida (sourdough)
405g spelt flour
405g wholemeal flour
Melt the yeast into the water and add it into the biga. Mix and sieve the flours together with the gluten and add to the water mix. Mix for two minutes, add the salt, and keep mixing for another three minutes. Make a round shape with it and leave to rest for one hour. Put some string around it to keep its shape during cooking. Make some cuts on top before cooking to help the bread rise in the oven and cook for 30–45 minutes at 200 degrees.
True Roman bread for true Romans!
Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in 2015.