What Is Porridge Bread, and How to Bake It
Yeah, yeah, it’s porridge.blog, not bread.blog. We’ve got some thoughts on bread that we knead to put out there, dough. ;) So roll up your sleeves, and let the baking begin!
Introduction / Bread History
While we firmly believe that porridge—grain, water and heat—is the founding food of civilization, there’s another food made of grains that has been around for a long, long time, and that is bread. Bread is just as versatile as porridge in terms of cultural and material expression: there are flat breads, squishy breads, rustic breads, rye breads, French breads (les baguettes), dense bread, seed bread, sandwich bread, you name it!
Recent studies have placed the first bread in the archaeological record in modern-day Jordan, about 14,000 years ago. It was made of emmer wheat and smashed tubers (potatoes/roots). People baked it by sticking the dough on the inside of a hot clay wall, similar to a tandoor oven. This super early bread predates the agricultural revolution; archaeologists hypothesize that it was prepared for special occasions, as a treat. Meaning: perhaps this bread was so enjoyable, such a handy source of portable food, that it inspired the agricultural revolution, and ancient peoples started farming in order to have a steadier supply of grains from which to bake their bread.
Soon people started experimenting with yeast and milling and different methods of baking. Around the world, one billion different bread cultures—metaphysical codified rules and expressions of human society, and small colonies of living yeast bacteria alike— were born. Porridge is the primitive food, and bread is more complicated. It took a while to get to “the daily bread,” but we humans have never looked back. Even us porridge.blog gruel groupies aren’t denying that bread is the bomb. And so, we are very excited to tell you about a very special type of bread…. Porridge bread!
What is Porridge Bread?
Porridge bread is a bread that uses porridge as one of its ingredients. The porridge must be cooked before adding—bread made out of oat flour is not porridge bread. Bread made with oatmeal is porridge bread.
Porridge Bread History
Fact #1: The first recipe printed on a package of food was “oat bread” (porridge bread) published by Quaker Oats in 1886. You can tell a lot about a time period based on how they cooked, and this is a domesticity-championing Victorian recipe, through and through.
Quaker Oats Oat Bread Recipe (1886)
For each loaf, soak overnight a sponge of yeast dissolved in a pint of warm water and a cup of sifted flour. In the morning take a cup of Rolled Oats, pour over it a cup of boiling water and set it to stand until nearly cold. Add two teaspoons of melted butter, two tablespoons of sugar, and a pinch of soda. Add all to the sponge and stir in white wheat flour until it is as stiff as can be stirred with a spoon. Let it rise until night, and bake one hour.
Housewives and domestic workers around the country knew how to make a “sponge” (an instant yeast and warm water quick-start bread recipe). They also knew how to make porridge! Thus, following along on the back of the novel tin container, cooks mixed their sponge with an oatmeal porridge, kneaded the combo along with milk, butter, and a lot of white flour, and created bread. They served that baby up with more butter and served it to the children for breakfast, or packed it for the husband heading off to the factory.
Personally, we think this recipe sounds like it would sit pretty heavy, or “stiffly,” in your stomach. Cooking was weird in the Victorian age—lots of flour, lots of dairy, long and complicated recipes, not a whole lot of spices or fresh vegetables. It was both poverty food and an ostentatious show of wealth (TOO MANY animal products, not enough thought about waste or relating to the environment). [Recommended reading: Kellogg’s cereal and muesli were the Victorian health food craze]
Fact #2: Smart cooks everywhere make porridge bread because it’s what they have. There are lots of recipes out there for porridge breads that exist simply as a way to use up leftover porridge, such as this one from King Arthur flour’s website.We like this idea, as it is true to one of porridge’s defining traits: porridge is economical. Leftover porridge? No problem, let’s add it to the daily bread. It’s all grains, anyways.
Fact #3: Porridge bread has a unique and incredible texture and it is a great way to add more flavors to a plain loaf. !!! Let’s back this up a bit:
Hipster Baking and the Sourdough Bread Revolution
Baking bread: it’s not just for homemakers, French people, and health food hippies anymore.
We’ve talked about the slow-foods movement in great depth before. Its principles of local, artisan, sustainable production are just as applicable with bread. Projects like Washington State University’s Bread Lab, and baker/authors such as Peter Reinhart (The Bread Revolution), Chad Robertson (Tartine Bread), and Richard Bertinet (Crust, Dough, Crumb), have championed simple recipes, slow rising, and knowing where your ingredients comes from. Since mainstream American cuisine hit rock bottom in the mid 20th century, New American cuisine has made a concentrated effort at artistry, and rustic country-style bread is an essential part of that palette. Maybe it was the rising awareness of health food, the pushback against industrial food production (ie, Bread Lab is running a contest right now for bakers around the world, challenging them to reinvent a sliced sandwich bread that hasn’t had all of its nutrition stripped from it and still tastes good). Maybe it was because travel to Europe became accessible to the American middle class; Statistics estimate that 98% of French people eat bread every day; French boulangeries are an intangible cultural treasure. Once you have eaten French bread (the same as once you have eaten Italian gelato, or Japanese ramen, or Mexican fresh tortillas, or farm-fresh eggs and produce, etc, etc, all world cuisine?), it is challenging to live without it, and the grocery-store substitutes available to you become offensive at how poorly they imitate the real thing. Anyways. Bakers in America have gotten better at baking bread.
The bakery that was instrumental in bringing country-style sourdough bread to the young, the hip, and the culinary-minded is San Francisco’s Tartine. Run by husband and wife combo Elizabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson, Tartine began as a pastry shop in 2002 and has since expanded into a small empire in the Bay Area, pumping out loaves at the bakery’s hip warehouse, the “manufactory,” and supplying them to loads of restaurants in the region. When Robertson published Tartine Bread almost a decade ago, he inspired many to try their hand at a sourdough starter and a slow rise loaf.
(Eater wrote a pretty compelling article about the bread scene in the Bay Area, arguing that detail-oriented tech engineers are natural bakers, as slow-foods bread-baking is highly variable, and allows multiple opportunities to nerd out about hydration percentages and proof times. Tech bros = bread bros?)
Tartine is a respectable place of grains: if anyone shows up at a Tartine location to buy a loaf of fancy bread, they will have many options of which to try. Three types of bread that are always in stock: the country-style white bread sourdough (the classic, it’s very puffy and rustic), an ancient grain loaf (cool anthropology here – these breads are baked with the founding grains of civilization, including emmer and einkorn wheat, barley, and millet), and… a PORRIDGE loaf!
We interviewed one of Tartine’s bakers about porridge bread, and learned this:
- It’s basically the country style sourdough loaf with porridge stirred in at various stages in the dough’s development.
- The porridge is cooked to a “secret porridge formula” (which we reverse engineered: take the grains… add some water… a little salt… boil…. Oooooh mystical!)
- The porridge varies depending on what grains are available in the bakery’s pantry. On the day of the interview, we took home a loaf made with rough mill-ground polenta. Sometimes the bakery uses amaranth, other times it’s oats.
- The porridge makes up about 20% of the final dough. The bread’s rise changes depending on the porridge, so it’s an experiment every time. The porridge’s purpose is to make the final bread, once baked, much more moist.
Our review: Tartine’s polenta porridge bread was a damn fine slice of bread. We took it camping, and the bread stayed moist for several days after it had been sliced open. We didn’t taste polenta really, but it added some fun flecked texture.
How to Make Porridge Bread
When we got home, we tried our hand at a porridge bread. Since we were going to be making sourdough, we decided to pull out our old fermented porridge recipe and add some sour porridge to the sourdough bread. We mixed hulled buckwheat, water, and a half a spoonful of sourdough starter, then soaked it overnight, at the same time that the bread leaven rose. The next morning, we mixed the leaven into water and flour, as per usual in the bread baking process, and while we let the dough do its first rest, we boiled the buckwheat into a porridge. Then, after it had cooled, we began to add in large spoonfuls of buckwheat porridge to the bread dough at each half hour increment that we kneaded the dough. By the time we let the dough do its bulk rise overnight, all of the porridge had been incorporated. The result was great, very moist, good flavor. (Note: we use a much higher ratio of wheat to white flour than Tartine does (80 wheat:20 white, vs. Tartine’s 10 wheat:90 white), hence the difference in color. It’s a different flavor, too. We prefer it because whole wheat is a slower digesting carbohydrate, thus whole wheat toast will leave you full longer than white toast. The flavor is also more complex than pure white flour.)
Like good scientists, we repeated the process a few weeks later to test the hypothesis, but this time we changed a variable: we used white grits instead of buckwheat. The fermentation was the same, we cooked the grits a little on the al dente side for texture, and then we spooned in with each kneading. After the bread came out of the oven, the results were conclusive. The porridge adds a certain glossy moisture to the sourdough loaf that is very special, and very good. The flavor of the porridge makes a minimal difference, but that’s okay because overall bread has a wonderful sourdough taste.
We tried again and again with different porridges. It’s pretty fun! Baking is a hobby that makes the day go by in wholesome increments. It is an ancient ritual, it’s meditative, it’s constructive, it’s creative. We recommend that you give it a try with the recipe below. You’ll need a sourdough starter, which you can make quite easily, buy online, or obtain from your friendly neighborhood home-baker. Ask around, enjoy, and let us know how your porridge loaf turns out! We’ll leave you with these great quotes about baking:
“The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight… [Bread making is] one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with one of the world’s sweetest smells… there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of meditation in a music-throbbing chapel that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread.” ― M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating
The joke went that everyone gained 5 pounds in baking class. I could see what they meant. It was held in the morning, when everyone was starving, and after a few hours of hard labor, hefting heavy sacks of flour, balling and kneading dough, loading giant deck and windmill ovens with cinammon buns, croissants, breads and rolls for the various school-operated dining rooms, the room would fill with the smell. When the finished product started coming out of the ovens, the students would fall on it, slathering the still-hot bread and buns with gobs of butter, tearing it apart and shoveling it in their faces. Brownies, pecan diamonds, cookies, profiteroles-around 10 percent of the stuff disappeared into our faces and our knife rolls before it was loaded into proof racks and packed off to its final destinations. It was not a pretty sight, all these pale, gangly, pimpled youths, in a frenzy of hunger and sexual frustration, shredding bread. It was like Night of the Living Dead, everyone seemed always to be chewing. — Anthony Bourdain on culinary school, Kitchen Confidential
Sourdough Whole Wheat Porridge Bread Recipe
This is the bread base. It is a culture of living yeast and therefore needs food and proper living conditions. The yeast grows faster in warm air, slower in cool air, therefore if you are not planning on baking every few days, you should keep it in your fridge. You do not need to warm it up to use it.
75 g water, 75 g flour, spoonful of old starter or leaven.
Split the flour according to the percentage you want your bread to be (white flour vs. wheat flour vs. rye or einkorn, etc.)
Feed it every 2-3 weeks by making the recipe above and using a spoonful of the old starter to begin a new jar.
You can fry the leftover starter in olive oil in a hot cast iron to make a delicious flatbread sourdough pancake. Spread the starter thinly in the pan of hot shallow oil with a spoon, let it fry for a minute or two, until you can easily unstick it from the pan, flip, and cook again. Eat it hot with salt and herbs or cheese or a light drizzle of molasses.
The night before you want to bake bread (or you could do this early on the morning-of), you are going to make leaven.
150 g water, 150 g flour, spoonful of starter
Mix, cover with a wet towel, and let sit for at least 2.5 hours. When it is bubbly and floats in water, it is ready to bake with.
Baking Bread (makes 2 loaves)
- Mix 700 g warmish, non-chlorinated water [the hydration depends a little on your climate and type of flour that you’re using – less water is necessary for a moister flour, and if you’re making porridge bread you want to use less water. You might need more water if your dough is really dry. A safe bet is to stick with 700 g and experiment after making the bread a few times] in a big bowl with 200 g leaven. Add 1000 g total of flour, splitting according to what white/wheat percentage you want. [We use 700 g wheat, 100 g spelt, and 200 g white usually.]
- Stir all of that together, and then measure out 50 g water and 30 g kosher salt. Let the salt dissolve and then mix it with the bread dough. Knead a few times [not too many! In general you don’t want to overwork the dough, because it won’t rise as well later on], and let rest for 30 min.
- For about 3 hours, give the bread a light knead every half hour. Turn it three times or so, and cover it with a towel in between kneading periods.
- Split the bread into two loaves and let them rise for at least 3 hours. You could also put them in the fridge overnight for up to a day.
- Preheat the oven to 500* F with a Dutch oven cast iron pan, with the lid on, in the oven. When the oven has preheated, shape your loaf into a ball [fold it up like an envelope and tuck the ends into each other, smooth and roll out in your hands like you are rolling a play-dough ball] and dust it lightly in flour. Put it in the Dutch oven, score the loaf on top, put back in the oven with the lid ON.
- Bake for 25 minutes at 450* F with the lid on.
- Bake for 20 minutes more at 450* with the lid off.
- Remove from oven and let rest for ~20 min before cutting.
- This recipe makes 2 loaves: bake the other loaf [you could do this quickly by transferring the first loaf to a separate pan after the lid stage and using the lidded pot for the second loaf] and freeze one of the loaves for eating at a later date. We freeze it in a gallon-size ziplock bag and thaw it the night before, then eat it as toast. [Store your bread in a ziplock or brown paper bag to keep it from getting stale.] Enjoy!