A Brief History of Baking

The first breads produced, around 4000 BC, were unleavened flat breads, though there was usually some natural leavening due to the fermentation of noble rot, wild yeast or steam. The Egyptians are credited with inventing grinding materials, enclosed earthenware baking containers, crude ovens, and the use of the levain process which utilizes a piece of day old dough to introduce fermentation. The Greeks expanded on these baking concepts and became specialists in baking cakes and pastries. The Romans ere the first to promote the training and refining of baking skills and established the first corps of bakers in the western world. The United Kingdom established the first guild that set standards of baking and an apprenticeship of 7 years leading to a master baker certification.

In the Americas, Native Americans cultivated corn. The Pilgrims wanted to get in on the act and developed what is known as Johnnycakes. Wheat grasses were grown and cultivated as settlers moved West and built grist mills near streams and rivers to grind the grain into a fine meal. Steam engines allowed the grain to be ground closer to where it was grown. Out on the range, cowboys made bread with flour and potato water which was fermented by bacteria and wild yeast. If they felt like something a little different, they also used a mix of cornmeal, water, and sugar.

Aside from the steam engine, there were other improvements in baking. In 1856 baking powder was introduced and a mere 12 years later, in 1868, commercial yeast was sold which made life a lot easier for bread bakers as they didn’t have to wrangle those rascally little wild yeasties. Life got even better for bakers and pastry chefs in the 1930s when the first mechanical mixers were developed.

Baking utilizes carefully balanced formulas. What goes into a flour based baked good either strengthens/toughens (proteins and starches), weakens/tenderizes (fats and sugars), moistens (any water containing ingredient), dries, or leavens it, but not by themselves. Without heat and water, the important chemical and physical reactions wouldn’t take place. Hence the boom the cavemen experienced after the invention of fire.



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- SReardon