Gluten-free and Paleo-inspired diets, which give wheat and many other grains and starches the cold shoulder, are increasingly popular in the West. But even as more people enjoy their dinner without the dinner roll, bread remains a beloved staple for billions of people around the world.
Because what’s a burger without a fluffy bun, pizza without a chewy, yeasty crust, or lox without bagels? (Here's an authentic New York bagel recipe, by the way.) And it’s hard to imagine Germans ditching the pretzel or the French abandoning that enduring symbol of Gallic life, the baguette.
Indeed, in much of the world, bread has been an essential part of the daily diet for millennia. As it turns out, even those Paleolithic stone-agers ground and consumed oats more than 30,000 years ago.
While Americans tend to think of bread as a wheat product, people the world over have been making dough from myriad grains for centuries. Rye, teff, millet, corn, barley—you name the crop, someone’s making a bread with it somewhere.
Bread is baked into countless variations, but at its most basic, it’s actually pretty simple: grain flour, water, and often yeast or other leavener. But that simplicity doesn't mean turning out a perfect loaf is easy, mind you; for any given recipe, the balance of those elements must be just so.
For the yeasted breads Westerners are most familiar with, the temperature of the water is critical; too hot or too cold, and the yeast can’t do its job properly. Then there's the humidity where you're baking (that can influence how much liquid is needed), and the type of oven you're using (a clay tandoor is just the thing for Indian naan, but you'll have a hard time baking a sandwich loaf in one). And while kneading is essential for many breads, you need to take care with that, as well. Too little or too much and you’ll end up with a hefty brick instead of an airy loaf.
While you're milling—er, mulling—your bread-baking technique, perhaps you'll find some inspiration in these lovely images of bread around the world, courtesy of our Your Shot community.
A version of this post appeared on The Plate on November 16, 2015.