Basic bread contains flour, salt, a leavening agent and liquid. Flours are not always made from wheat, but wheat flour is the only one with the gluten that provides the structure to most yeast breads. Leavening agents are typically baking soda/powder or yeast; yeast can be cultivated or wild, as in sourdough starter and other fermented breads. Not all breads have European origins, but as European settlers spread around the globe, they took their traditions with them and influenced local cultures abroad.
The flatbread family includes breads like pitas, roti, naan, injera and crackers. Pitas are a Mediterranean staple, and have pockets that make them ideal for sandwiches. You can also try them with accompanying dips, such as hummus or baba ghanouj. Roti and naan both hail from Pakistan and India, and can be plain, flavored with spices or stuffed. Injera is a spongy, soft flatbread staple of Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine. If you're eating food of the region, use it as a utensil to scoop and eat other food on the table. Crackers are the hardest of the flatbreads, but you can enjoy them plain or topped with any number of foods. Although they originate in several European countries, crackers of different types are popular throughout most of the world.
Water Roux Based
Author Yvonne Chen published a book with a title that translates to "The 65 C Bread Doctor" in the 1990s, and it turned the Asian baking world upside down. Go into any Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, or Filipino bakery and you're almost guaranteed to see bread that utilizes the water roux method Chen popularized. While the flavors of the breads may vary by both country and region, the texture is unmistakably soft, fluffy, and tender. The water roux bread method keeps breads baked moist and fresh for days, without using any preservatives -- unlike traditional European recipes such as baguettes. Asian breads have strong European influences regarding composition and shape, but fill them with region-specific ingredients like sweet red bean paste, takoyaki -- grilled octopus pieces -- and lotus seed paste.
Traditional Yeast-raised Breads
Most of the breads you think of when you think of bread are traditional yeast-raised bread, like sandwich breads, rye, baguettes, Italian breads and cinnamon rolls. This tradition comes from all over Europe, and spread around the world. This is why Mexican pan dulce, or sweet bread, looks and tastes very similar to Japanese melon pan. Vietnamese breads show a strong French influence due to the country's history. The roll used for the world-famous banh mi sandwich looks a lot like a baguette, but is made primarily with rice flour, not wheat flour, as is most common in bread recipes.
Unlike yeast-raised breads, quick breads use chemical leaveners such as baking powder and baking soda to expand. Their composition is closer to that of cake than yeast bread, as a result. This is not surprising, since cake uses many of the same ingredients. Quick breads were borne of necessity; cooks didn't want to waste fruit or nuts that were past their prime, so they threw them into quick bread batter. Banana bread, pumpkin bread, and all manner of fruit- and nut-filled quick breads sprang from this necessity and frugality across America and Europe.
Pretzels are largely credited to the Bavarian region of Germany, but a sesame-seed-coated close cousin is a Lebanese bread called sukkar bin tahin. Thailand doesn't have a great bread tradition of its own, but uses Indian roti in a different way -- as a quick dessert served with sweetened condensed milk and fresh fruit. Since the world is less isolated than it once was, chances are you can find many other examples of the world's bread cultures influencing each other in your own neighborhood.
- "Home Baking"; Jeffrey Alford et al.; 2003
- "The Bread Bible"; Rose Levy Beranbaum; 2006
- "The Professional Chef (Eighth Edition)"; The Culinary Institute of America; 2006
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images
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