A ROMAN DINNER
Nonne alium cibum habes praeter Bubulam Sorbiodunensem et Pullum Coctum Modo Venatoris?
Project Unit: Baking
Although bread baking originated with the Egyptians, who discovered leavening by fermentation, the Romans were the master bakers of the ancient world. Typical Roman loaves of bread weighed a pound, was shaped into a mound and cooked in either of two ways: on top a stove (panis artopicius, "pan bread") or in an earthenware vessel (panis testustis, "pot bread"). The Romans also enjoyed an offula, a sandwich-like snack between meals.
The Romans also made the first pies, for which a recipe was recorded by Cato the Elder, a 2nd Century Roman statesman, in his treatise on farming called De Agricola. This popular pie was called placenta, had rye and wheat flour in the two layers of crust, and a sweet, thick filling made of honey, spices, and sheep's milk cheese. The pie was coated with oil and baked on bay leaves. (see Dalby and Grainger, pgs 94-96.) This pie was also a sacrificial cake offered on temple altars. In one of his poems, Horace describes a temple slave who ran away because he was sick of honeyed placenta and just wanted some plain old bread!
The Romans also made cake, or libum (libare, from which the word is derived, means "to offer to the gods"). Libum was sometimes a sacrifical cake offered to household spirits, other times it was a farmhouse cake, served hot, and sometimes it is a delicate honeyed cake served as in our culture, at the very end of an elaborate Roman dinner. Cato gives a recipe for a libum that includes goats cheese, and is similar to modern baked cheesecake.
The cookie began in Rome around the 3rd century, BC. It was a wafer-like biscuit, called a bis coctum, "twice baked," which indicated that it was less moist than bread or cake. The Roman cookie was a thin unleavened wafer, hard, square, and bland, whcih the Romans often dipped in wine to soften.
Activity #1: According to Dalby and Grainger (The Classical Cookbook), the ratio of ingredients in Cato's recording of the recipe for Placenta are off. They say that there is too much flour for the amount of soaked seminola, and the rolled out dough would be several feet across. Let's see if we could verify this. Following a standard pie crust recipe, and determine a ratio between amount of dough and thinness of crust. Then apply this ratio to Cato's measurements, and determine how big the crust he describes would be, if it was rolled out.
Here is the revelant part of Cato's recipe: Placenta is to be made thus: 2 lb. bread-wheat flour to make the base; 4 lb flour and 2 lb semolina to make the layers. Turn the semolina into water. When it is really soft, put it in a clean mortar and drain well; then knead it with your hands, and when it is well worked add the 4 lb flour gradually and make into sheets (tracta); arrange them in a basket to dry. When they are dry, rearrange them neatly. In making each sheet, when you have kneaded them, press them with a cloth soaked in oil, wipe them round and damp them. When they are made, heat up your cooking fire and your brick. Then moisten the 2 lb flour and knead it; from this you make a thin base....