There are so many different breads from around the world.
Although it can be found in many forms, shapes, sizes textures and tastes its difficult to get away from the fact that bread truly is a universal food which can be found wherever there are people cultivating grains.
Every country has its own characteristic breads. Some are baked for special occasions and festivals, but many are regional or national favorites baked every day.
Some are served alongside some other dishes, some are an accompaniment and eating utensil in one, some are meals in themselves and others are sweet treats.
The United States
Bread in the United States is the result of many influences, including Native American customs, frontier needs, and the importation of ethnic specialties from around the world. A variety of corn breads are still made, particularly in the South, and corn is also an ingredient in the steamed brown breads of New England, also often made with a mixture of flours.
Early pioneers developed different sourdough bread recipes and salt risin’ breads, that are still popular. In the north of the country and into Canada, bannocks, cooked over the fire on a flat pan, were food for trappers, probably originating from Scotland. Doughnuts came from the same area.
In the East, more sophisticated types of bread were developed, such as Parker House rolls and Philadelphia sticky buns. Immigrants coming to America brought their own specialties. Jewish bagels, for example, came originally from Austria, and the inspiration for muffins came from England.
Central and South America
The grain indigenous to the countries in this area is corn, which is used to make the thin, flat breads called tortillas served with every meal in Mexico. Tortillas can also be deep-fried, either whole or in wedges, to make tostadas and tostaditas. The Spaniards introduced wheat to Mexico and it was soon adopted by the local people. South Americans like sweet foods and many of the breads and rolls there contain a small amount of sugar.
The West Indies
Originating in the West Indies was cassava bread, which is still popular. It has an earthy flavor and can be eaten plain or fried. Corn is also indigenous to the area and corn breads are still popular. Wheat was taken to the West Indies by the first European settlers and today it is made into tin loaves, flat breads, and rolls.
Deep-fried pieces of plain dough called “floats” are a popular carry-out snack in Trinidad. All over the West Indies there is a taste for sweet breads, containing ingredients such as bananas, limes, coconut, nuts, and spices.
The Middle East
Wheat was first grown around the Middle East, where it has remained the staple grain used in hundreds of different breads. Widespread is lavash, a thin, slightly crisp bread baked in ovals and rounds in a clay oven called a tonir.
Other flat breads include pita bread from Greece, mannaeesh from the Lebanon, khobz-el-saluf from the Yemen (both topped with herbs), and barbari from Iran. In Egypt, bread rings coated with sesame seeds are sold in the streets. Israel has bagels and also challa, a rich, braided bread made for the Jewish Sabbath.
When the first Europeans arrived in South Africa, they had to devise ways of making bread without raising agents and without conventional ovens. They developed various sourdough breads and a salt-rising bread very similar to the American ones. They also made small, hard rusks that would keep well on long journeys.
Mos, made by fermenting raisins in water, was used as a starter for small, sweet buns. Bread was variously baked on a griddle or in a cast-iron pot, and pieces of dough were deep-fried to make vetkoek and koeksisters
Flatbreads are characteristic of India. The best known is chapati, made with a simple mixture of finely ground whole-wheat flour, water, and a little salt. A smaller, thicker variation is made from gram (chick-pea) flour, often flavored with coriander and chili.
There is also roti, made with chapati dough but fried so it puffs up. Purls are a deep-fried variation. More substantial and thicker again are parathas, which are enriched with ghee, similar to clarified butter.
Although China is more often associated with rice or noodles, it still has some bread recipes, mainly from the north of the country. The dough is often steamed to keep it white and glossy. Most popular are the flower rolls, which are shaped by a sharp knife and a chopstick into elaborate spirals.
Dim sum from Canton are steamed bun snacks with sweet or savory fillings. The traditional accompaniment to Peking Duck is mandarin pancakes.
Australia and New Zealand
The first bread made by settlers in Australia was a round, unleavened loaf called a damper, baked in the ashes of a campfire. It was originally made from plain flour and water, and extras such as salt and powdered milk were added when and if available.
Today, health breads have come to the fore. The most popular recipes for home baking are quick and easy, sweet, teatime treats. Wheat was first grown in New Zealand in the early 1800s. It was quickly adopted by the Maori people, who devised a sourdough loaf, baked in a covered dish, called rewena paraoa. Nowadays, whole-wheat and mixed-grain breads are very popular in New Zealand.
The breads of Great Britain range from simple, griddle-cooked oatcakes to rich, yeasted buns and cakes. The griddle, or girdle, was once common to the British household, and oatcakes and bannocks, Welsh cakes, Northumbrian singin’ hinny, muffins, pikelets, and crumpets were produced on it. Most bread is made from wheat, and the most popular has always been white. Loaves are baked different shapes, including the large, oval bloomer and pan loaves.
Rich, sweet breads, such as the Scots black bun, West Country saffron cakes, tiara brith from Wales, and dough cake are still popular. The specialty of Northern Ireland (and indeed of the Irish Republic) is soda bread, which is widely available in both white or whole-wheat types.
The long, white baguette is the most recognizable of French breads, but there are many others. Some are made with the same dough, differently shaped, and others are made with different flours or by using different methods. The French make superb rich breads. The Brioche is light and golden and can be made plain or filled, and the flaky Croissant has become a favorite breakfast food throughout the world.
In France, very little bread is baked at home. There is a baker in every community and French housewives shop for bread daily. The boulangerie, or bread store, is open even on a Sunday morning, and sometimes all day Sunday if it is combined with a patisserie (a section of the store selling sweet pastries and cakes). Where there are several bakers in a community, they may stagger their working hours to fit in with each other and to keep their customers supplied.
A boulangerie is often connected to a working bakery producing fresh bread two or even three times a day. The proliferation of local bakers, rather than large, central bakeries producing sliced, wrapped loaves, guarantees a wide variety of bread is available throughout France. Besides the classic French baguette, boulangeries often sell up to 25 different types of bread, including regional specialties, many of which are peculiar to a small locality only. This turns shopping for bread inFrance into a culinary adventure.
Germany and Austria
There are countless varieties of bread produced in hundreds of different shapes. Rye and whole-wheat flours are popular, as are sourdough breads. These can be plain or flavored with onion or caraway seeds.
The everyday bread of Germany is Landbrot. Usually made from rye flour, it has a dark, crispy crust and a light brown crumb. White flour is made into shaped breads and also into small, crusty rolls. Pretzels, made in twisted knot shapes, are a tasty snack. Austria is justly famous for its rich, sweet breads such as kugelhupf.
There are many regional breads in Italy. In the northernmost region, hearty bread made from rye flour is eaten with main meals and soups, but wheat flour is used everywhere else. There are flatbreads, such as focaccia and pizza, and small, crispy breadsticks.
The newest plain bread is the ciabatta, made with a long rising method to ive a slightly sour flavor. Sweet specialties are Panettoni, Colomba and the Christmas bread pandoro.
In Italy, every town or village has its own baker. In a large town or city it is referred to as a panetteria, and in the smaller towns and villages as the forno.
The panetteria often has shelving and counters, and the windows display elaborate scenes of castles, farms, or palaces all made from bread It sells many different kinds of rich and specialty breads, such as focaccia, pizza, panettoni, and even the French brioche.
Throughout Scandinavia, rye is the most widely used grain for everyday breads and crispbreads which are made both with yeast and sourdough. Plain white bread is not frequently eaten and it is often referred to as “French bread.” However, enriched white breads such as pulla, a braided wreath made for Christmas, or the many versions of Danish pastry, are very popular.
Spanish bread is often baked in large loaves with a crisp crust and a soft crumb. White wheat flour is used throughout Spain, and loaf shapes vary from region to region. In tapas bars you may find a bread snack called la pringa, made from small buns topped with a spiced pork filling. The New Year specialty is roscon de reyes.