Cereal Doughs and Batters: Bread, Cakes, Pastry, Pasta

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Bread is the most everyday and familiar of foods, the sturdy staff of life on which hundreds of generations have leaned for sustenance. It also represents a truly remarkable discovery, a lively pole on which the young human imagination may well have vaulted forward in insight and inspiration. For our prehistoric ancestors it would have been a startling sign of the natural world’s hidden potential for being transformed, and their own ability to shape natural materials to human desires. Bread is nothing like the original grain, loose, hard, chalky, and bland! Simply grinding grains, wetting the particles with water, and dropping the paste on a hot surface, creates a flavorful, puffy mass, crisp outside and moist within. And raised bread is even more startling. Let the paste sit for a couple of days, and it comes alive and grows, inflated from within, and cooks into a bread with a delicately chambered interior that the human hand could never sculpt. Plain parched grains and dense gruels provide just as much nourishment, but bread introduced a new dimension of pleasure and wonder to the mainstays of human life.