Just what it sounds like. Today I made bread in the ashes of the fire.
This has become known as kind of an Australian food. But that’s because European colonists copied the Aboriginal peoples who had been doing it for thousands of years.
Many modern people with nomadic traditions, such as the Berbers of North Africa, still cook bread this way, but the roots go deep back into prehistory. Evidence for this practice can be found in ancient cultures all over the world from the Americas, to aboriginal Australia, and most famously in the middle east.
These Eastern Mediterranean foragers of the fertile crescent made flat breads from coarsely ground wild grain. There is no decisive evidence for just how far back this practice goes, but some estimates go as far as 20,000 years ago. Over time, as agricultural society progressed, ovens were invented, and more complex baking methods developed.
But ash bread was the original.
This recipe is simple if you’ve ever made a bread dough before. You simply cook the dough by burying it directly in the leftover ashes of a fire, but there’s a couple ways you can go.
This is maybe my favorite way to make Ash Bread, as it emulates pita or naan and who doesn’t want to emulate that?!
Take a small piece of dough, a little smaller than your fist and shape it into a ball. Then flatten it and stretch it out until it’s very thin, like a quarter inch or less.
Take your dough and lay it directly on top of some white hot coals. Cook for two minutes or until the bread lifts up without sticking. Cook the second side for one or two more minutes until it’s done. Every fire is a bit different, so it’s good to do a tiny tester piece to see how hot your cooking zone is.
Ashes left to burn in a firepit actually stay hot for quite some time. If you let a big bonfire ember out overnight in a dense pile, you should have plenty of warm ash the next morning to bake up some formed Ash Bread for breakfast.
You don’t have to wait all night though. Break up your charcoal with a shovel and let it ember down for about two hours, and you’ll have some warm, but not too hot ash for baking. Under these conditions, a normal size bread loaf will about 40 minutes to cook..
Who would ever know there was bread baking there. Until the fiery, smoky dough smell starts to fill the air.
If you have a lot of ashes, simply let your bread cook the whole 40 minutes. If you have a scant amount (and the sides of your loaf start to pop out from beneath), brush the ashes aside, flip the bread over, and re-bury halfway through cooking.
When it sounds hollow if tapped, or an ancient instant-read thermometer reads 195-200, the bread is done. Take it out and beat off the ash with some shrubbery. Pick out any individual coals that have stuck in with your fingers.
And that’s it! Smoky, crispy crust, delicious interior. Ash Bread.
Choose your recipe:
What are you going for here? Something authentic? Or something that tastes good? Unleavened bread with ancient flours is dense, quite chewy, and not exactly the tastiest. But it’s good for you! And there’s something enjoyable about tasting something straight out of the fire.
All these doughs work for flat or formed breads. Buried in ash, the bread doesn’t get to have much “oven spring”, and even leavened loaves still come out flat, and pretty dense even for light and stretchy doughs.
But any wanting of texture is easily overcome by amazing smoky flavor unlike any bread you’ve every experienced.