Saturday, August 30, 2014

the theology of breads

At Easter, my congregation started using loaf bread for Communion, as is the preference of our bishop. Being lazy, I would bake up a double batch, which would give us 4-5 loaves and freeze most of them.
Unfortunately, rapid defrosting did Bad Things to the internal structure, making it a mass of glue. My priest objected, parishioners objected, and I went back to the drawing board.

Communion bread is elemental, and it's ingredients and making are matters of long tradition. Wheat, water, salt, oil. Simple bread. But what to do when members of your congregation can't do the wheat?
Last time, I started with someone else's recipe, handed to me with a "let's try this!" This time, I needed to think both about the theology and the requirements of my community, as well as the structure of the bread itself.

Loaf breads with yeast are...theologically problematic. The original one was Passover-bread, specifically enjoined from having contact with yeast. (There's a reason a lot of churches use wafers. They're just pretty matzah.) They are also time-eating, between proof and rising. No making it in the hour before church. But if I must make loaves, then why not look for something that embraces our modernity? Cue all the bakers "there are two types of bread: yeast breads & quick breads." So- modern, artificial leavening agent.

I needed something designed for tearing & dipping, without disintegrating, and not tasting like crap. Not nut-based. Every culture has it's version of trencher-bread, something that serves as eating utensil or plates. Pita or naan or focaccia or tortilla or injeria. I also wanted something easy, with readily available ingredients within walking distance of the church. My condition for the flour was that it be something people actually make bread from. There are a lot of 'weird flours' out there for gluten free baking. I didn't want those. Looking at my books, I realized most of the quick breads were using a high protein flour. That makes sense, given that quick breads don't have to accommodate the stretching associated with yeast-based rising or shaping.

One of my books had a nut-free focaccia bread, using brown rice flour and baking soda/vinegar. Meh, rice is not really a good bread flour, as the texture isn’t ever quite right. Our modern, western thinking sees bread as having to be wheat-based, but in 1st c. Palestine, there were several options for flour - millet, chickpeas, lentils, wheat, spelt, and barley. Wheat, spelt, and barley all contain similar gluten proteins, so they’re out for this project. So, noodling around the flours available from our last foray into GF communion bread and what was still in my stock, I decided to try chickpea flour as an alternative. Taking chickpea flour, olive oil, egg whites, salt, sugar, baking soda, vinegar, and xanthan gum, throwing them in a bowl, mixing, and baking took about 30 min total, and came out a dense bread, tasty, that holds together well when dipped and also absorbs liquid into its crumb. I get two loaves a batch, and we’ll see how well it does defrosted this week.

 Now the only problem are those pesky egg whites, and I have some ideas there...

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