Bread is a staple food around the world -- one of the cornerstones of civilization, according to archaeologists, who note that bread was being baked in the earliest known historical records of the Egyptians and the Sumerians. Bread can be baked from wheat, rye, oats, corn or a number of other grains. It can be leavened with yeast or with chemical leaveners such as baking soda, or it can be unleavened. It can be baked in an oven or atop a stove or grill. Every world region has their own delicious variation.
The French baguette is elegantly iconic, the long thin loaf of white bread that sticks out of the top of grocery bags. It has a crisp, brittle crust and a fine crumb, and can be used for a variety of purposes such as sandwiches and canapes. The name means "small baton" or "wand."
Bagels are a round bread with a hole in the middle; they are boiled first, then baked to produce a characteristic chewy, shiny crust. Originally of Jewish origin, they have gained popularity throughout the U.S. as a breakfast food and sandwich base and now come in a wide variety of flavors from sesame seed to blueberry.
Boston Brown Bread
Boston brown bread isn't baked; it's steamed in a can. Its brown color comes partly from the mixed grains its made from and partly from molasses, which gives it a slightly sweet taste. Technically, Boston brown bread is a quick bread, defined as being made with chemical leavening rather than yeast. It's often used to accompany that other iconic Boston food, baked beans.
Challah is a soft, slightly sweet braided egg bread of Jewish origin. In fact, Jewish tradition mandates that two loaves of challah be served at the beginning of the weekly Sabbath; it's also a star player at many holiday feasts.
Ciabatta, which means "slipper" in Italian, is a wide, flat loaf of white bread with a chewy, porous crumb and a dense, flour-dusted crust. It's used for making sandwiches such as panini, where the crumb can soak up spreads and dressings such as olive oil without becoming soggy.
Focaccia is another bread of Italian origin. It's baked flat in a pan and closely resembles pizza dough in composition, although with more yeast and thus a higher rise. It's usually brushed with olive oil prior to baking, resulting in a rich, soft crust.
Irish Soda Bread
Irish soda bread, as its name implies, relies on the leavening action of baking soda rather than yeast for its rise. It's thus quicker to make than traditional yeasted breads. It's often baked on the stovetop or griddle rather than in an oven.
Pita bread comes from the Middle East. In its classic form, it appears as a round yeasted flatbread, baked in the oven or on a griddle or grill. Some styles of pita have a pocket formed by hot air in the middle; this pocket is often stuffed with various fillings to create a portable sandwich. Other times pita is torn into pieces and used to scoop up savory dips and other foods. Pita is closely related in form and concept to other flatbreads of nearby regions such as the Indian naan and the Armenian lavash.
Rye used to be a much more important grain than it is now, partly because rye is a hardier crop than wheat. Thus northern countries such as Denmark and Russia still feature rye bread as an important part of their cuisine. Rye bread is generally denser and darker than wheat bread and more strongly flavored. It forms the basis for the Danish open-faced sandwiches known as smorrebrod.
Tortillas are a Mexican flatbread formed from lime-treated cornmeal, also known as masa harina. They are unleavened and cook quickly on a griddle. Tortillas are used to wrap various foods for ease of eating. Other Latin American countries have their own versions of corn-based flatbreads, often stuffed with savory fillings -- Columbian arepas and Ecuadorean pupusas are two examples.
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